Nvidia GeForce Now magically makes your Mac a beefy gaming PC [Review]

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BioShock Infinite looks gorgeous on a MacBook Pro.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Nvidia GeForce Now is ready to stream the latest PC games to your Mac. It sells us a dream that sounds too good to be true, a future that macOS fans gave up wishing for a long time ago. And most importantly, it actually delivers it.

I’ve been playing games on GeForce Now for several days (I love my job!) so that I can tell you whether it’s worth your hard-earned cash. And although I’ve run into a few teething troubles that I can’t ignore, I’ve been blown away by what it can do.

Nvidia GeForce Now review

When I first bagged my 2019 MacBook Pro (13-inch) some months ago, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try playing some Fortnite on it just to see how it would run. Obviously, it was a disaster, so I gave up very quickly. And that mostly sums up how gaming on a Mac has been for a long time. But not anymore.

GeForce Now uses the magic of streaming to make the latest games playable on machines that would otherwise have no business running run. It uses incredibly powerful hardware that the average gamer can only dream of to do all the processing, then beams it to whatever device you’re using at home.

Others have tried a similar approach in the past, but they didn’t stick around long. Now some of the biggest names in the technology industry — Google, Microsoft, and Nvidia — are taking a stab. At least one of them is getting it right.

Here’s what we think of GeForce Now so far.

Instant access to your games

After you’ve installed GeForce Now on your machine, you get instant access to some (but not all) of the games you’ve already purchased through platforms like the Epic Games Store, Steam, Uplay, and others at no extra cost. Simply find the titles you want to play, add them to your library, and you’re good to go.

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The Now launcher makes it easy to find games and add them to your library.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

One of the many advantages of a game streaming service is that there’s no need to wait for installs and updates. After you’ve added a game to your library, hitting the play button launches it immediately. It took me just two clicks to get into Fortnite after finding the game inside the Now launcher. It’s insanely fast.

Game updates are installed automatically on Nvidia’s end — as are system and driver updates — so there’s no need to worry about any of that. Cloud saves are supported too, so you can start a game on your PC at home, then continue playing where you left off using Now on your notebook.

Around 400 titles are supported right now, including some big names like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Destiny 2, and the BioShock collection. You will also find a number of popular free-to-play titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Paladins, League of Legends, Apex Legends, and the aforementioned Fortnite are available.

Some of your favorite games will be missing for now. There is no Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, FIFA, or Fallout. But the launch lineup is still impressive — substantially bigger than Google Stadia’s — and it’s only going to grow over time. You can also ask Nvidia to add a game you’re itching to play.

One interesting thing I discovered is that when playing a game from your Steam library, Now first provides you with access to the Steam interface. But if you attempt to install and play a game that isn’t supported yet — or is just different from the game you chose in the Now launcher — you’ll be greeted by an error message that says “you can’t play this game right now.”

Unbelievable performance

Another big advantage to game streaming is that all the heavy lifting is taken care of on Nvidia’s end. What you see on your screen is essentially a video feed of your game, which is being beamed from a beefy rig somewhere else. Very little work is done by your Mac itself — and that’s the big selling point of a service like Now.

It means you can enjoy the latest games, with high-quality graphics and super-speedy frame rates, on a machine that would typically struggle to play Minesweeper without any hiccups. Nvidia says Now supports a long list of Macs dating back to 2008, including the MacBook and MacBook Air.

It’s been a while since I tried a game streaming service, so it blew my mind when I first loaded up BioShock: Infinite on my 13-inch MacBook Pro. It was bizarre but spectacular to see a demanding game running so well on a computer that struggles to play Fortnite on even the lowest settings when it’s running natively.

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A MacBook Pro wasn’t supposed to play games like this.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

It’s also strange that my Mac doesn’t even break a sweat while playing through Now, even after several hours of play. The fans don’t need to kick in because, again, the brunt work isn’t done on the Mac, so it’s not getting hot. And Now doesn’t guzzle battery life like playing a native game built for macOS would.

The visuals are outstanding, and as long as your connection allows it, you’ll enjoy 60 frames-per-second (FPS) at all times. The systems behind Now are capable of delivering a lot more than that, of course. In Fortnite, the FPS counter reads at least 240 most of the time on high settings. But 60 FPS is the most Now will deliver.

Having said all this, yes, there is a catch.

Speedy internet a must

You might not need high-end hardware to enjoy GeForce Now, but there is one thing you must have — a fast and stable internet connection. If yours isn’t up to par, it’s going to make your gaming sessions a frustrating nightmare. That’s the biggest downside to game streaming today.

Now requires a 15 Mbps connection to deliver 720p video or a 25 Mbps connection to deliver 1080p video at 60 frames-per-second, Nvidia says. But even if yours meets those requirements, you may find that you run into some stuttering and other annoying glitches while you play. It can be a real headache at times.

I have a 40 Mbps connection to my home and typically have my game resolution set to just 1280 x 800. There are times when my stream quality drops or freezes to the point where the game is completely unplayable for a second or two. It doesn’t happen too frequently, but it’s certainly not a rare occurrence for me, even when using a wired connection to my router.

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Now doesn’t seem to like my connection, even though it’s fast enough.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

According to the network test baked into the Now launcher, I don’t have any ping or packet loss issues, and my speed measures 37 Mbps even over Wi-Fi. I also don’t run into issues when playing online games on other devices. But Now warns that I may experience lag or stutter. It’s hard to tell what causes this, or if it might fade away as Nvidia continues to make improvements.

It should be noted that Now makes automatic adjustments to your stream quality in real-time, based on your connection. Even if you specify that you want to see 1080p gameplay, then, there may be times when the resolution is reduced if your bandwidth dips. This helps ensure your stream keeps going, even if it does get a little blurry at times.

Another thing you should be aware of is input lag. Whether you’re using a mouse and keyboard or a game controller, it always takes a little bit of time for your game to respond to your actions. This might be just a few milliseconds, but if you’re an experienced gamer, it’s noticeable.

Input lag is still a problem

Sadly, input lag is unavoidable when you’re streaming a game from a different system via the cloud. It’s never (maybe one day?) going to be as responsive as playing on a local system that’s processing everything itself no more than a few feet away from you. How much input lag you encounter depends on a few different things.

A faster connection will obviously result in less input lag, while enabling direct mouse input and using wired peripherals (keyboards, mice, and controllers) where possible can help. It’s also a good idea to have your Mac connected to your router via an Ethernet cable (as opposed to using Wi-Fi) if you can. This provides the best possible connection.

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Now won’t let you load Steam games that aren’t supported yet.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

You can also try adjusting your stream quality settings. Nvidia sets this to “balanced” by default, but there are also “data saver” and “competitve” options inside the Now launcher’s settings. The latter “optimizes your streaming settings to deliver the lowest possible latency during gameplay.”

Input lag may not be as noticeable to you if you’re new to gaming; it’s more obvious to those who regularly play on other systems that don’t have this issue. It’s also less of a problem in single-player games. But if you’re playing a fast-paced online multiplayer like Fortnite, it can be the difference between winning and losing a fight.

The best way to game on a Mac?

Despite the teething troubles that game streaming services are likely to face for some time, GeForce Now is a great way to get your game on if you use a Mac.

Apple computers are notoriously bad at gaming. Even higher-powered machines struggle to compete with Windows systems that cost a lot less. But with Now, you can enjoy the latest titles — with excellent visuals and plenty of frames — on almost any Mac. It’s really quite remarkable when you first try it out.

And it’s no wonder that streaming is being pegged as the future of gaming. It breaks down the barrier so many people are blocked by when they first get into gaming — the cost of a decent gaming PC or console. And it takes away the hassle of maintaining your own hardware. It makes gaming so accessible.

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Some of the many games available on GeForce Now.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

I certainly don’t think streaming will replace PC gaming in the foreseeable future. But Now is a terrific option for those who can’t or don’t want to dole out the bucks for their own desktop — and those who also want to enjoy their games away from their PC. It also is likely to be the closest we will ever get to true PC gaming on a Mac.

Now isn’t just for your Mac, either. You can also enjoy it on Windows, the Nvidia Shield TV, and even Android devices. (Nvidia tells us there is nothing to announce for iOS at this time.) That means you can play your PC games almost anywhere and have a darn good time.

Just $4.99 a month

You can enjoy Now for free if you don’t mind being limited to hour-long play sessions. But a subscription to the Founder’s Edition plan is well worth it. That’s also free for the first 90 days, then $4.99 a month for 12 months. It gives you unlimited play time, priority access to Nvidia’s streaming servers, and the best graphics.

That’s the same price you’ll pay for Apple Arcade, which obviously isn’t an option if you want to play PC games, and half the price you’ll pay for Google Stadia, which offers significantly fewer titles.

It’s not yet clear how much Nvidia will charge for a premium Now subscription after the first 12 months. But assuming the service only gets better, and the catalog of games keeps on growing, I’ll have no problem coughing up my cash in the future.