Stellaris is surprisingly playable on M1 Macbook Air

TLDR: Stellaris is surprisingly playable, on the go (especially earlygame) on a macbook air <30W

For reasons beyond my control, I had to isolate due to the “thing”, overseas on a work trip. And was too sick to even code …

So I did not have a gaming PC on me. Nor could I fly back home. And only a M1 Macbook Air - with 16 GB ram. So I went to try to see what I could game on it …

A mix bag of success in general, some really old low end games worked really well (expected), many of them had game breaking rendering bugs, assuming it loads.

But let me put that aside

Stellaris is surprisingly playable on the largest map settings (without wierd mod settings to make it larger). With a an extremely playable FPS range of 30 FPS in early game to 15 FPS towards late game.

This is comparable to some really old gaming systems I had, which consumes over 20x the wattage.

Only real big complain is that in late game (nearing the crisis) - the “fastest” speed is pretty much cap at “fast” speed, as it is CPU bound. But this is something even high-end CPU at 10x wattage struggle to achieve significant difference (it is faster, but by how much?)

So, just wanted to rant, IMO - i am super impressed with how reasonably well this plays under 30W and on the go (or whatever less the macbook Air drains).

The following are my notes, on how to play stellaris on the macbook Air on the go:

  • early game is typically no issue
  • reduce your particle effects, its a slight FPS boost (optional)
  • just dun bother watching battles with over 100k fleet : it will lag
    • pause first : if you must plan micro fleet movements within a system with a 100k fleet battle
  • “fastest” speed is CPU bound, and pretty much cap at “fast” in late game

I suspect the 100k+ fleet battles will perform better on the higher end macbook pro as its a GPU bounded problem. “fastest” speed may also improve slightly, but probably not significantly.

It probably will never beat any decent gaming laptop, or previous gen laptops with any GPU.

But once again <30W : Including the screen !!!

This is the most efficent way to play stellaris on a per watt basis (some desktop screens consume more then the macbook air)

Apple really is missing out on the gaming market without properly supporting the needed tech for it out of the box (eg. OpenGL, etc)

– end of rant –

PS: I am still somewhat an apple hater, due to right to repair issues, etc. But lets put that aside. Im all here for the Gaming per Watt

Other notable games that played well, but they usually didn’t require a strong CPU / GPU anyway

  • rimworld
  • factorial
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I kind of wish Apple would extricate the stick from their rear end with respect to gaming. There’s no inherent reason their hardware should be bad at gaming, especially now. Considering how competent the Switch is as a game console, I would be fascinated to see AAA games running on an Apple TV with the innards of an iPhone 13. Something like Proton for MacOS would be amazing on the less mobile side of things too. The hardware is there, it’s just the will to do anything with it.

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They’re certainly starting to push. The new version of metal has various upscaling and other features aimed specifically at gaming.

This would never have happened 5 years ago. There already exist some fairly nice games on the Apple ecosystem, particularly if you’re using iOS or M1 based hardware.

Like you said the hardware is there, it’s just a case of software catching up at this point.

How is game speed performance in late game? especially compared to x86 machines. Because everything can run Stellaris at good framerates, including my laptops crappy business class intel iGPU.

Real problem with Stellaris is year 2400+ with tens of thousands of pops especially when having a large number of different species.

While metal upscaling is nice, i suspect their goal is really to simply support the upscaling of existing “mobile/ipad games” which they can monazite from the app store, onto their platform. The intent is to lock things in their eco system.

Anyone supporting metal, would already be doing the effort to support macos, would highly list on the appstore platform as well.

If they really want to support gaming - what is really needed is : openGL, openCL, or Vulkan to unlock the back catalogue, but… oh wells…

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Its playable at late game

  • “fastest” speed is CPU bound, and pretty much cap at “fast” in late game

its definitely slower then any new modern CPU (managed to compare to a recent laptop)
its faster then some old i5 CPU’s or even i7 CPU’s i have played with

but flipping it around, i dun think there was any specific optimisation that stellaris did for M1. So there might be some room here as well.

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At WWDC Apple announced Metal 3, which brings Apple’s proprietary API much closer to parity with Vulkan, in terms of features. This will (hopefully) allow the MoltenVK developers to flesh out MoltenVK with better Vulkan compatibility (geometry shaders, yay) and perhaps even DirectX 12 support.

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For additional performance on the M1 MacBook Air, you can look into the ‘thermal mod’. Warranties voided here…

Not really, because the ipad renders in similar resolution to the macs…

Metal pre-dates vulkan (essentially Apple gave up waiting for the Khronos group to pull their finger out and compete) so that’s what Apple went with, also enables tight integration with their custom SOC so it is what it is. There’s a shim for Vulkan-Metal (MoltenVK).

OpenGL won’t unleash the performance potential of their custom hardware.

Good point… will give some benefit of doubt then.

Im by default skeptical on apple, but if they do bring metal close to vulkan, and eventually shim it - would be interesting in how many games would be willing to make the switch.

Especially since with the growth of steamOS, there is already a growing interest on supporting linux-like OS systems.

Hopefully apple will prove my skepticism wrong with time

Gosh thats a huge bump

Wish I knew of that, could have ordered it over those thermal pads in isolation.

Stardew is great too tho not a heavy game

I play stuff on my m1 mini

There’s already a shim, already being used to port to Metal. It’s been around for 7 years at this point. The big thing with gaming on Macs has been hardware, not Metal vs. Vulkan.

The fact that on Apple platforms you’re running on Metal underneath is a non-issue. Write for Vulkan everywhere, use the shim.

The problem with the shim (MoltenVK) is that it can only support the features that Metal 2 does. Certain games (in particular Unreal Engine 4 games) like to use ‘geometry shaders’ which are impossible to translate to Metal 2. Thus in Crossover, you will find certain games (like The Outer Worlds and Pillars of Eternity) have problems like missing textures and models, even though they otherwise ‘run.’ Once Metal 3 provides a comparable feature that MoltenVK can ‘map’ to, then Macs should be able to render those games with Metal 3 and MoltenVK.


Everything Apple does “to be with the rest of the industry” always turns out to be a half-working bodge job.
Then again, we are talking about a company advocating to keep forced labour in China going.

Thats actually a promising detail to hear, that Metal3 bridges that gap. (these are the details easily missed in the key notes)

Once there is a good working version for Vulkan, perhaps the winds will change on gaming on the mac.

Also a shim is resonable i suppose, as long as it works well. The bulk of the games will probably be using the x86 shim anyway

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You could also include any android maker, windows PC maker, etc. in that statement.

Also, MoltenVK is via the Khronos group, not Apple.

You actually can’t. It was specifically Apple making headlines for it. Does not mean the others are not pulling the same strings behind the curtain.

Well, Apple could have stopped being special and also adopted Vulkan.

Vulkan did not exist for like… 2 years after Metal. The alternatives at the time were OpenGL which was way behind or DirectX which was/is proprietary, and this was DX11, Metal pre-dates DX12 by around 9-12 months (in terms of public release software).

Vulkan does not take full advantage of their custom hardware - and likely would not have existed if it was not for Metal/DX12 exposing the performance deficiencies in OpenGL and previous DX.

So basically you’re saying they should stop innovating.

May as well tell Nvidia to stop developing things like DLSS, RTX, etc. while you’re at it.

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@MazeFrame - i do dislike apple too, but lets please put the other topics not related to the CPU or GPU performance in gameplay (like how its manufactured) aside into another thread.

@thro - Given that low level GPU / CPU development requires huge lead time (easily over a year), agreed on giving them the benefit of doubt on how they are sunken cost on Metal (especially since their Mobile Gaming Apps depend on it)

Fingers really crossed that the shim can reach feature parity with the latest update, as that would help unlock a large variety of steam games.