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Complete guide to Apple Metal, and what it means for Mac, iPad and iPhone gamers

Lou Hattersley | June 19, 2015
At WWDC 2015, Apple announced that its Metal graphics technology will be coming to Mac. But what is Metal, and what does its inclusion in OS X mean for Mac gamers?

What is Metal, and what does it mean for Mac gamers? Will the Mac games market now become as successful as the iOS gaming market?

Metal is an API (Application Programming Interface) designed by Apple that makes it easy for developers to create visually impressive apps - and games in particular. It was introduced in 2014 alongside iOS 8, but at WWDC 2015 Apple announced that it was bringing Metal to Mac OS X.

This is good news, because Mac OS X has more demanding apps in general than iOS. Metal is mostly used by games developers, but builders of other visually demanding apps (such as Adobe) can also use Metal to make their apps run faster. It also makes it easier for game developers to move their games from iOS to OS X (and vice versa).

What is Metal for Mac OS X?

If you're not a programmer then the concept of an API may be a little vague. When coders develop apps they don't create everything from scratch. Instead they build apps, like games, using code developed by other people. These blocks of code fit together to make the most of an app. Sensible programmers use APIs because the code is typically optimised for best performance and it frees up the coder to think about other things.

There are all kinds of APIs made by Apple. There's an API to control the camera, another one to play music, one for Apple Maps and so on.

Metal is an API for graphics processing. The Metal API supports GPU-accelerated advanced 3D graphics rendering and data-parallel computation workloads. According to Apple, "A primary goal of Metal is to minimise the CPU overhead incurred by executing GPU workloads."

The API is designed to take graphics tasks away from being rendered as code by the CPU, and send it directly to the GPU. This is why it's called "Metal": because it sends code that needs running directly to the metal of the graphics card.

What kind of graphics performance gains will I see with Metal?

Craig Federighi, announcing Metal's debut on Mac at WWDC, claimed performance gains "up to 50 percent faster" when rendering graphics in Metal, and a 40 percent reduction in the CPU usage.

Apple says Metal combines the computing power of OpenCL with the graphics power of OpenGL (both APIs currently used by developers). The performance of Metal results in a higher performance from a single API.

Federighi claimed that Adobe saw an 8x performance improvement when rendering effects inside After Effects. Adobe has said that it is committed to adopting Metal in its Mac OS X apps.

Metal for OS X and iOS gaming


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