I’m working with extremely large illustrator files on a MacBook Pro 2015. Now I’m looking for a setup that will make life smoother for me.
I need to know what’s most important – fast CPU or GPU?
Would it get a lot faster if I for instance install an external GPU to my Macbook Pro or should I forget Mac and go for a Windows computer?
I mean since Illustator still(!) only uses one core from the CPU I guess it’s all about gigahertz when it comes to CPU?
A lot of questions in one post here but the main issue is: how should I think when it comes to make Illustrator fast?
Edit: I should perhaps add my current config:
Macbook Pro 2015, 2,5 GHz Intel Core i7 with NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M 2048 MB and 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
Also I should note that when working with my documents Illustrator runs at 100% of CPU constantly. 100% as in one out of four cores.
Update oct 2017: I have now tested my document on a Windows computer with one of the fastest desktop processors out there right now, the i7 4.0 Ghz and it wasn’t that much faster to be honest. Next up will be testing with a computer that has a major GPU.
If you’re sticking with Mac, then buying the fastest CPU and GPU that you can afford will get you part / most of the way to the speed that you want, but having lots of RAM will make just as much (if not more) difference. The speed shift from a Mac with 8GB RAM to the same machine with 32GB RAM (particularly when running Adobe stuff) can be astonishing. It’s also worth considering the speed of the storage if you are working with big files and (hopefully) saving them regularly, but most new Macs have SSDs by default now. If not, choose the SSD option. Adobe Illustrator (and Photoshop, Indesign, etc) is very greedy with RAM and very inefficient with files sizes so the more headroom the better.
I would not recommend any external GPUs that I have ever seen for Mac. I’ve worked at a couple of places that trialled such devices and the speed increase was negligible, if noticeable at all. The software needs to know how to use the extra power and (as with the multiple cores that don’t get used) Adobe software isn’t the best at this and Macs do not generally play nice with third party external CPUs / GPUs. Also, every additional processor is another thing that can crash! I’m sure someone will chip in with a comment if their experience is different from mine…
Now, if you decide to go the PC / Windows route then the rule are very different. In the same way that you can build a PC that is tailored for the best gaming experience, you could build a PC specifically for optimum Illustrator / Graphic Design purposes. The advantage of this is that you could hand pick each component to be the best fit, replace individual bits as better ones become available and make use of your existing 4K screen. You’d have to do a lot of research and you’d probably end up building something that cost similar to (or more than) a comparable Mac, but you could create an extremely fast piece of kit. I’m no expect on this (because I can’t bear Windows), but I’ve worked with people who swear by their PC workstations and insist that Macs are tediously slow in comparison.
Back in Apple world, I would always recommend an iMac over a MacBook Pro for serious work and would definitely not recommend the Mac Mini. Even if it gets updated, they just don’t have the muscle. The Mac Pro is currently suffering from the same upgrade neglect – there are faster iMacs now!
One last point; If you are working with ‘extremely large’ files then there may be improvements that could be made to your workflow that could ease the strain on your hardware. For instance: working with low res images until the file is finalised for release, breaking projects into component parts and combining them as they are approved, working in outline view, etc Depends on your specific use case, but anything that reduces the load on your machinery could save you lots of money and time in the long run.