Low-to-mid-spec gaming computer in addition to Mac ...?

Does anybody have any advice on a budget-friendly PC that can run the low-to-mid range games on platforms like Steam?

I’m not looking for the high-framerate twitch game stuff - mostly just older strategy & sim games. It looks like the best platform is Windows for those. My main computer is an M1, my “server” is a 2018 Mac Mini that I could theoretically install Windows on, but I have it running 24/7 for things like Plex and such…and the onboard graphics aren’t fantastic on it.

Any advice for something on the less expensive side? Compact form factor would be a huge bonus as well.

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If you’re sticking the Steam, have you gone through all the specs and such for a Steam Deck? I was looking at that once. Ultimately I decided against it and eventually just invested in an xBox, but it seemed like a good affordable deal.

I think you’ll have to watch carefully to make sure the games you want to play can be played on it. I think some of the older games wouldn’t run on it.

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A Nuc would probably be perfect for this, their integrated graphics are great these days, and the form factor is a big plus. I’ve even run something like Stellaris on a 5th Gen NUC with good performance, and that game is a resource hog.

I think you might really like a Steam Deck. I actually just sold mine after about 6 months of use. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a product, but I already had a Switch and PS5 and just didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. You can dock it via USB-C to use a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. The trackpads make playing K+M games handheld work surprisingly well. I played Case of the Golden Idol entirely handheld with the touchpads and that’s a point and click game. (Highly recommend btw)

You can get a refurb model from Valve starting at $320 and add a micro SD card to expand storage. What I would do is go to ProtonDB and search for some of the games you want to play. People leave reviews on how games run on Steam Deck and suggest tweaks to settings. Let me know if you have any questions!

Get a good specced Mac. Install VMWare Fusion, Parallels or Virtualbox. Now you have a low specced Windows PC.


Steam is just an example, although I do have a bunch of games on there. I’d need to be able to play PC games as well for my purposes.

This is a really interesting idea. I’m so far out of the PC game it’s not even funny - any suggestions for what specs (CPU/RAM/etc.) I’d probably be looking for?

This is more hilarious than it really should be. :smiley: I’ve actually considered spinning up a VM on my Mac Mini and calling it good, as I do have the headroom for it. But I just hate Fusion and Parallels for any sort of gaming.

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I was joking, but after my post I saw VMWare Fusion supports DirectX 11, perhaps it’s worth considering it for running older games.

You can run basically any other PC launcher on Steam Deck. There’s a full Linux desktop and tons of guides on how to set them up.

As for a mini PC like a NUC, check out Retro Game Corps on YouTube. Russ reviews tons of mini PCs that are coming out. They mostly use AMD chips with great integrated graphics so you can run Windows and all that.

I’d probably get the last generation (12th Gen) with an i5 CPU. I’d add 16GB ram and an M2 SSD. I’d likely run PopOS or similar on it rather than Windows (if your games are listed as working in ProtonDB then you can run them in Steam without emulation) PopOS has Steam and Lutris out of the box.

This model would be a good example. Just add Ram & SSD, and you are good to go.

Also, if you are looking at older strategy games, it might be worth checking if they can run on Mac with Porting Kit. I use this to run Monkey Islands games from GOG.

Was also going to suggest the Steam Deck - I’ve been throughly impressed with mine, though I’ve not run it docked (though I bought a third party one to allow me to!) Have been impressed with the level of games it’ll run, when compared to a NUC type system I have for Windows (Asus PN50 - 4300U version, with 16GB RAM).

Ultimately it depends on the games you want to play!

Is there a reason you don’t want to partition your Mac? I used to do that (I don’t now though, but partly because I am fed up of Apple users being treated as second class citizens, and I only buy games that run on the devices I have. Then sulk about the ones I can’t play :joy:).

Because partitioning requires dual-booting, and the Mac in question runs a file server/Plex server/etc. that other people in the house use. They would be Very Unhappy if it were inaccessible while I wanted to play games. :slight_smile:

I have a decommissioned 2012 Mini laying around that I tried to get working, but the integrated graphics on that model just don’t do what I need for this purpose.

The Asus Rog Ally has been a fun device. It runs Windows and you can play just about any Windows game. I can’t say I am a big gamer at all, but Steam games run well as do GOG games, Amazon, and EA games. Some require tweaking of settings, but it has been mostly older games.

I’ve only tested a few XBox games, but there were no problems there either.

The battery life is ehh, but it is it lasts long enough for me to unwind and complete a segment or level.

Can it dock to a TV, and support an Xbox controller or something similar?

There is a dock available. I use it with an OWC dock connected with USB-C and have my monitor and some times TV connected through the dock. It works well. I’ve only been able to get the one additional screen working at a time, but no challenges there. I haven’t tried the XBox controller myself, but from some of the groups I have followed, it looks like it works well. I have tried it with another Bluetooth controller and didn’t notice any difference in my game play…that is perhaps because my game play is not outstanding, so I am not sure I would notice a difference in lag or anything…:slight_smile:

Have you tried CrossOver? I’m currently using this to play Age of Empires II DE for a while.

I play lots of Steam games on my Mac Studio M1 Max using Parallels. They work very well. These are not low end games, but games like Steel Divisions, Steel Divisions 2, Rome II Totla War …

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Are these games built for ARM? Or are you running old Intel stuff on the M1 somehow?

Using “old Intel” on Parallels with Windows for ARM. Parallels officially supports it and has an agreement with Microsoft. You install Parallels, then install Windows ARM, then download Steam. Your library is available.

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Here’s the screen on my Mac Studio …