Mac games will see a big boost from new Vulkan graphics support

Dota 2

Khronos Group has just unleashed MoltenVK, a new implementation of Vulkan for Apple’s Metal graphics framework, allowing developers to build Vulkan-powered games and apps for Mac computers (and also iOS devices) – with major potential benefits in terms of faster frame rates.

MoltenVK is essentially a layer that sits on top of Metal, effectively translating and allowing Vulkan games to work seamlessly with Apple’s graphics framework. At the very least, it will do so with very little overheads – and not much difference in overall functionality from running straight Vulkan (although not every feature of the latter will be carried across).

In case you’ve forgotten, Vulkan was introduced three years back by the Khronos Group as a cross-platform and low-overhead API (application programming interface). For Macs, it potentially represents a much slicker way of operating than the OpenGL drivers on macOS – which are clunky and outdated.

Thrash Metal

As Ars Technica spotted, Valve is putting its weight behind MoltenVK, and has demonstrated that Dota 2 on the Mac can witness frame rate boosts of up to 50% compared to the performance seen with OpenGL.

That’s a best case scenario, and some of the gains are much more modest – like a 13% increase on a 2014 MacBook Pro with integrated Iris Pro graphics – but nonetheless, these are only early test results, and they look pretty promising on the whole.

Any boost at all is welcome, of course, and there’s another strength here: because Vulkan is a cross-platform API, developers can make games that run across Windows, Linux, and other platforms now, including Apple’s machines.

This opens another market that developers can target and benefit from, and another reason to work with Vulkan. And, of course, this means more PC games potentially coming to the Mac.

So, this looks like a clever idea and a positive turn of events indeed. But, before we get too carried away here, it’s far from clear how much impact this move will realistically make, and how many devs will actually turn to working with Vulkan and MoltenVK.

Having Valve voicing support definitely won’t hurt though, and today, we could just have witnessed the sowing of a very important seed regarding the future of Mac gaming.

An interesting side note is that MoltenVK can also be implemented on top of DX12, and this is in the pipeline for the next few months. And that will mean that Microsoft Store apps, which are only permitted to use DirectX, will be able to play nice with Vulkan, again opening up the market further for Khronos Group’s API.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).