MetalFX could turn Apple into an Alienware rival

Apple MetalFX Upscaling tech.
(Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple unveiled its MetalFX graphics upscaling technology during the company's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC)  2022 keynote as part of its Metal 3 API for developers.
  • MetalFX works in a similar way to Nvidia's Deep Learning Super Sampling and AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution technology by leaning on machine learning to deliver upscaled images for better game performance than pure hardware-based rendering.
  • The second-gaming centric announcement Apple made was around the Fast Resource Loading API, similar to Microsoft's DirectStorage and AMD's Smart Access Storage to help reduce game loading times. 
  • Apple announced that No Man's Sky and Resident Evil: Village will be among the first games for the Mac to utilize this new technology, allowing the game to scale from 1080p on lower-end hardware to 4K on premium devices, like the Mac Studio. 
  • Mac gamers could benefit from solid graphics performance despite the lack of a discrete GPU. Another key benefit include longer battery life on notebooks, which could be attractive for mobile gamers playing on laptops. 

After unveiling new hardware, like newly redesigned MacBook Air and a refreshed MacBook Pro 13-inch that are both powered by the company's newest M2 silicon, Apple slyly announced its intent to be the next gaming power house. The company showcased new developer tools, primarily the Metal 3 APIs and MetalFX, which is an upscaling tool for games that is powered by artificial intelligence. These moves signify Apple's intent on shifting from a mass market PC company, based on hardware such as the iMac and the MacBook Air, and one that's focused on creators with devices like the MacBook Pro, to a gaming brand. 

Though new to the Apple ecosystem, tools like MetalFX have existed in the PC space for years, largely driven in the past by Nvidia and more recently supported on rival graphics cards made by AMD. In the Nvidia GeForce world, MetalFX is akin to Nvidia's Deep Learning Super Sampling, or DLSS, technology, which uses machine learning to analyze different parts of a scene in a game and upscale it to create a crisper, more detailed image. 

Because artificial intelligence is used, MetalFX and DLSS would require less hardware power than if the scenes were natively rendered using the device's GPU power. 

"Gaming at maximum resolution and quality looks awesome," Apple senior director of GPU software Jeremy Sandwell said at WWDC. "And to help game developers increase the performance of realistic and immersive graphics, we're introducing MetalFX Upscaling, which enables developers to render rich, immersive scenes even faster."

Apple explained that the tech analyzes smaller, less compute intensive frames and then applies high quality spatial upscaling and temporal anti-aliasing to the scene to get the more detailed graphics. 

On the AMD side, Radeon gamers will know the technology as FidelityFX Super Resolution, which aims to achieve the same purpose as Apple's Metal 3 toolkit. 

In addition to A.I.-driven upscaling, Apple also announced a new Fast Resource Loading API, whioch aims to help games load faster without delay. The technology is similar to Microsoft's DirectStorage and AMD's Smart Access Storage that are employed today on the PC gaming side. 

While the news in itself isn't that exciting, Apple's investment in its own silicon and the subsequent software tools to help take developer's visions and make them reality could signal a shift for the Mac. It should be notable that MetalFX's debut at WWDC comes ahead of an oft-rumored Mac Pro revamp, which could help shift Apple's pro-grade workstation from a creative tool to a versatile desktop that will satiate the power needs of developers, gamers, and general purpose PC users. 

This could mean that in the future, PC gamers will be able to confidently choose between gaming desktops, like Alienware's Aurora systems, and the Mac in various configurations. 

"This really is a new day for gaming on the Mac," Sandwall declared. 

Unlike the Windows world, Macs haven't been known in the past to be powerful gaming systems, and Apple's shift to its custom processor could shake things up a bit for the Win-tel world. Despite lacking its own dedicated GPU, as the Apple M2 processor includes integrated processor, graphics, and neural engine cores on an integrated chip design, software like MetalFX could help Apple gain gaming momentum if the company can demonstrate that performance is up to par with traditional PC gaming that's largely been driven by power-hungy GPUs.

If Apple plays its cards right, MetalFX could turn the Mac into an attractive PC gaming alternative. Given that the M2 already draws less power than comparable x86 processors from Intel and AMD, not having a discrete GPU will give the Mac even more battery stamina. For mobile gamers, a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro could mean even longer gaming sessions without having to be tethered to a power brick. And in terms of form factor, the MacBook Air, for example, measures just 0.44 inches thick in a package weighing just 2.2 pounds. By comparison, the Razer Blade Stealth 13-inch measures 0.6- inches thick in a heavier 2.86-pound body. 

The attractiveness of Apple's hardware proposition is there, but Apple will need to prove to gamers that it will continue to drive innovation and improvement where it matters for its platform to truly be appealing in the long run. In the PC gaming space, Microsoft and its partners have already shown that they are committed to gaming. 

Apple's entry into the gaming space should be welcomed, even among loyal Win-tel gamers. The company's design commitment could lead to more refined gaming rigs over time as PC rivals will be forced to compete on build quality, and Apple's intense focus on power-efficient performance could lead to more silicon innovation across the board. 

Chuong Nguyen

Chuong's passion for gadgets began with the humble PDA. Since then, he has covered a range of consumer and enterprise devices, raning from smartphones to tablets, laptops to desktops and everything in between for publications like Pocketnow, Digital Trends, Wareable, Paste Magazine, and TechRadar in the past before joining the awesome team at Windows Central. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, when not working, he likes exploring the diverse and eclectic food scene, taking short jaunts to wine country, soaking in the sun along California's coast, consuming news, and finding new hiking trails.