Advice on a desktop computer

I’ve been working on a MacBook Pro for most of my career and recently started incorporating photorealistic rendering into my workflow. As a result, my models are getting larger and more complex due to the level of detail needed for realism. I do all the standard strategies to increase performance (purging model, “working” scenes, using components and layers, etc.) but have noticed that Sketchup is having a really hard time keeping up. Way more spinning beach balls, crashes, and hangs. I’m thinking its time to get a desktop computer for 2 reasons:

  1. Increase performance in Sketchup and V-ray
  2. Have a second computer to process renderings on and still be able to continue modeling on the laptop.

Since my entire workflow has been on the Mac, I’d like to stick with that even though I know it is more expensive and sometimes not as good as comparable PC’s. If I am reading some of the similar threads here correctly the processor speed is the most important factor in Sketchup performance since it is single thread but the number of cores makes a big difference in rendering speed. With that said, can anyone help point me to the best option that has the features for optimal performance to my specific workflow?

I’m using Sketchup and Layout for entire Construction Documentation and then V-ray Next for rendering. I’d like to spend around 5K or less, but if there is a system that would significantly improve performance for 1 or 2K more I’d consider. I’d also like to know if an iMac that is fully maxed out (3.6GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz, 64GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of HBM2 memory, 1TB SSD storage, $4450.00 price) would be better than going with the iMac Pro base model @ $5,000. Is there anything specific to the iMac Pro that really makes a big impact in Sketchup? More cores, better graphics, better cooling system, more upgradeable? I appreciate any help!

Having gone through this process from a 2013 MBP to a desktop 18 months - 2 years ago and now making another shift back to a MBP, I thought I would share my thinking with you from both a hardware and software perspective since my use case sounds almost identical to yours.

I made the decision to shift from my MBP to a desktop in order to use Vray for Sketchup with some sort of performance but also to process photogrammetry datasets from my drone surveys.

Apple didn’t make a machine that could do that at that point and I did not want to lock myself into an upgrade deadend with an iMac (and also not having a large budget).
I decided to go and build a Hackintosh with an Nvidia card (1080 Ti) which would allow me to benefit from GPU/Hybrid (both interactive and production) rendering in VRay and also massively boost the photogrammetry performance via CUDA based GPU compute on the card. I chose a 6 core Coffeelake i7 8700K 64Gb RAM and 1TB NVMe SSD and (mostly) all was good. Performance was (is) great, it ran rings around any Mac on the market at the time (at a fraction of the cost) and I got GPU rendering and CUDA (once you have GPU rendering, you never, ever want to go back to CPU). It did, however, mean that I have to stay on High Sierra as Nvidia and Apples’ spat meant that Nvidia stopped making web drivers for their cards from that point onwards. (all the bits cost just under 3k Sterling)
At that point in time OpenCL was being deprecated by Apple as was OpenGL, Vulkan wasn’t mature, and Metal…well. So CUDA was the only GPU compute in town and I am a VRay for Sketchup user - the integration is awesome, I use the asset manager and VRay Tools as part of my SU/Layout construction documentation workflow even if I am not rendering in Vray.

Things have moved on a bit, AMD looks like its getting back in the GPU game with both feet with Navi and the forthcoming Big Navi, Metal compute shaders have matured, realtime engines are where its at and after 18 months and lots of consideration about where to go next, I think its worth separating SketchUp performance requirements from Vray / Other rendering performance requirements.

  1. SketchUp Performance
    SU is single threaded as is Layout, on my 3,6Ghz Coffeelake that single CPU core is rarely 100% utilised, usually it will be Skalp generating rear-view projects that mostly utilise it.
    As for GPU, most of the time I don’t think the 1080Ti realises SU is running, looking at the GPU load it is mostly well under 50% - If I have a big model open with all the 4k textures then it can spike to maybe 60% and that is where lots of VRAM is beneficial.
    Main memory headroom is where I seem to suffer with SU, even with 64Gb Ram occasionally I still need to manually manage memory purges to provide overhead with several large model files open.
    Your maxed out iMac is going to give you way more bang for buck than the base model MacPro but you are locked in to that config (sort of - eGPU not withstanding) and SU probably wont even touch the sides of the capability of that machine.

  2. VRray performance.
    To cut to the chase, because Vray doesn’t support GPU rendering on anything but Nvidia GPU’s, the GPU in your hardware is not relevant, so the performance question is purely down to CPU core count and on Apple’s price equation on the iMac Pro that equates to 400 dollars per core increase over the base spec (so 8 core to 10 core = 800, from 8 core to 14 core =1600 etc). I am not sure that provides good value in terms of raw (rendering) performance over that 1600 dollars spent on a GPU (if it were currently possible to run an Nvidia card on a Mac - that 1600 buys you a RTX 2080Ti with change).
    https://www.chaosgroup.com/blog/understanding-v-ray-hybrid-rendering

TBH I do most of my production renders on Chaos Cloud now - its pretty darn good value and my machine is not tied up rendering and I can carry on and earn money working on another project whilst it does the job in the cloud. Obvs where the GPU is beneficial (in my case) is for interactive rendering during look development etc.

But. I need some portability, I still want to use VRay , although I am moving towards realtime engines - ultimately Unreal once the Datasmith plugin is available for MacOS :crossed_fingers: but for now mostly TwinMotion.
Also, I would like an OS upgrade path, (as I said, I’m locked to High Sierra), I don’t want to move to the Windows platform as my primary OS, I’ve been a Mac user for decades. I would also like some hardware upgrade path and I think, from the ways things are going, the most important upgrade element will be the GPU.

So my current plan and thinking is to plump for a maxed out 16" MBP in October / November when the refresh is released with whatever CPU bump we get and whatever GPU bump (probably the M variant of the 5700 - maybe a nice surprise with the M variant of Big Navi if it gets announced in September but I doubt it. I would then add an eGPU enclosure to give me an upgrade path in terms of Big Navi or if hell freezes over and Apple and NVidia play nice again. This would be more than enough to run SketchUp for years to come
My current Hackintosh I would then turn into a PC to run as a Vray render node, the photogrammetry stuff, any element of my workflow that currently is difficult / impossible under macOS and as a bonus run VR hardware for SU viewer and Twinmotion VR modes.

Mac users are in a hard place when it comes to rendering and Archviz, on-one really uses OpenCL anymore, CUDA hasn’t been updated since High Sierra and Metal Compute Shaders haven’t been adopted really outside of Apple (although Adobe just made an announcement last week that they are going to optimise their apps to take advantage of Metal acceleration) Chaos Group are understandably firmly wedded to CUDA currently - I was on the beta for Vray Next and one of the techs said they looked at Metal for raytracing but it just wasn’t viable or mature enough at the time.
I am optimistic for the future however, Metal seems to be getting mature, AMD are getting back in the game with Big Navi and raytracing, Apple’s Intel performance offerings are getting better (although the thought of a 64 core Zen 3 is mouth-watering), so things may be coming together.

Sorry for the ramble but these are just my current thoughts having been around the houses a few times - and may not be considered ‘help’ in the traditional sense :grinning: but it might provide some alternative perspective.

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Appreciate this account of your experience — it foreshadows where I have been thinking of going…

I’m currently on a 2014 13" MacBook Pro — so my rendering forays (with Twilight Pro) are severely constrained by my hardware limitations. I had been planning on buying a PC gaming desktop this year to use as a rendering machine, though the COVID crisis has delayed those plans.

But the forced shutdown has given me plenty of time to rethink my plans, and I’m wondering whether the 16" MacBook with an eventual EPU would keep things simpler, yet still meet my needs.

I’ve also stayed on High Sierra, primarily because I still have a couple of 32 bit apps that I would have to find replacements for before upgrading — plus there’s been nothing that compelling in the last two OS revisions to make me think I’m missing out on much.

It seems a huge miss for Apple in their appeal to the pro market not to support Nvidia in any way (even if they just certified drivers for eGPU’s). It’s not just 3D/AEC/Arch Vis side, but much of the AI/machine learning market also require CUDA. That’s a big chunk of the high-end Pro market that Apple isn’t even competing for.

Like you I’m planning on waiting out the next Apple upgrade cycle before pulling the trigger either way — but your account helps me to clarify some of my thinking, so thanks!

Hey Bifterx,
I read your entire “ramble” (and liked it) and am hopeful you can clear up a question I’ve tried asking elsewhere in these forums. I’m running SU/LO on a 5K 27" iMac Late 2015 w/ a 4 Ghz i7 and 32 GB Ram, and an AMD Radeon R9 M395X 4 GB video card. I have also been looking for a potential performance upgrade within the Mac family, and have looked at the same value/price trade off of going to an iMac Pro.
My main beef is slow LayOut performance, and I’ve been trying to figure out if a bigger better video card would help solve this … I’ve also concluded that there isn’t any way to utilize an external eGPU w/ an iMac and LayOut to solve this - right?
So, if I jump up to an iMac Pro with a top of the line 16 GB video card, will I see any significant improvement in LayOut speed and performance? Would it be worth it?
I’m hoping you can give me a knowledgable, informed opinion on this!
Thanks,
Beamer

Hi @Beamer2

The short ‘answer’ to your question is no. And yes but its not a panacea.

The long version of opinion is this. Without a doubt that machine will significantly improve sketchup performance particularly if you have large scenes with lots of textures, the GPU will make a difference.
I went from a 2013 13" MBP with integrated graphics to a Hackintosh with a 1080Ti and 11Gb VRAM. That was transformative. Thing is, in situations were SU was CPU bound, such as Skalp rearview projections and general SU snappiness I didn’t really notice much (significant SU) difference between my 2.4Ghz dual core i7 in the 2013 MBP and the 3.7Ghz Hexacore i7 in the new machine (obvs bound to a single core). There was a difference obviously but not workflow transformative.

But I had built the Hackintosh to do other heavy CPU and GPU workloads dealing with things that either fed out of or feed into SU, so SU was only one element of the overall package and really not at all part of the reason for the build (apart from a GPU benefit (as I wanted to use large textures for Vray).

Getting onto Layout, my beef is Layout performance too and always has been (along with many, many people), see here from back in the day. Layout 2018 - not up to par with other drafting software?

I’ve stayed on version 2019 (2019.3.252) as this seems the best version I’ve used, the Mac transparency issue was finally fixed after 2 years, SU styles are displayed correctly again etc. I’ve got 2020 installed but don’t use it and I can see lots of problems reported on the forums about it so I’m staying clear for now.

Did I see an improvement in Layout with the Hackintosh and associated £1000 GPU, of course, was it significant, no.
Knowing what LayOut’s performance profile is, I wasn’t expecting it to I guess, its certainly better but then 2019.3.252 version had a hand in that too.
So in part, that is why I’m moving back to a MBP, I can accept the base clock frequency ‘sacrifice’ going from 3.7Ghz down to 2.8Ghz because I honestly don’t believe it will make ‘that’ much difference to SU / Layout, there is a processor generation difference so I’ll maybe be getting a better IPC on the new MPB but I actually get a couple of extra cores and a higher boost clock too, so for my other workloads the multi-core score is roughly the same.
The new 5600M GPU for the MBP announced this week’s an absolute beast and even bests the Vega56 in the top of the line iMac Pro in some circumstances but Ill be adding an eGPU anyway so have an upgrade path there.

My whole workflow is and always has been on a Mac and I have no plans to switch. Thats a decision I’ve made and maybe you have too (even though people will say you can do X,Y and Z on a PC for cheaper and TBH you probably can).

If you have other workloads that will benefit from all those cores and that GPU then that absolutely has to be the main thrust of the value proposition when looking at a machine like the iMac Pro (I’d get one myself but I want some portability and I have a different screen setup requirements, space etc).
If you are basing the purchase around SU/ Layout performance, I honestly don’t think the software will touch the sides of the capability if that machine (Maybe on single core utilisation) and that machine will have a long productive lifetime (I used my MBP for 6 years as my primary workstation), it wont be a Layout silver bullet but it will be (a bit) better.

Hope this helps, this is just my opinion based on my experience.

PS - It’ll be interesting to see what happens today - its WWDC and rumours of an all new iMac abound!

Laptops arent great for rendering. The amount of power and heat used by GPUs is crazy. Bad idea.

Sadly layOut doesnt improve performance much at all with a better video card.
Even an i7 vs i9 doesnt show much improvement either to SketchUp or Layout. So spending big dollars for SU & LO performance doesnt stack up, unless you’re chasing the last 5% of performance.

VRay using CPU only is a HUGE bottleneck

If you dont need true photorealism (like in the movies) then you should consider realtime rendering as a next step - the current generation (twinmotion, lumion, esncape) quality is excellent and works with Sketchup very very well. Depending on what sort of renders you are doing it will save a lot of time and you’ll get videos/animations as part of it (and VR).

However they take a LOT of GPU grunt for larger scenes (with lots of vegetation or glass, and effects, etc).
You should, therefore get the best GPU you can -ideally wait for Big Navi release and get whichever Mac has that.
However it will be megabucks.

Honestly, do consider getting a windows-based PC or Hackintosh and using it just for rendering. Keep the Macbook or imac for SketchUp & Layout and just bring rendering files across to the windows PC which can be a very basic computer running a top-spec GPU (eg 2080 super).

I can’t belive the irony in Mac choosing Intel CPU and AMD GPU at a time when AMD CPU is king and Nvidia GPU is king. 3 years from now it may be the reverse. Bur right now…it seems a bad time to upgrade mac hardware.

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Hence.

Yep I totally agree with you.
Just offered my ‘backup’ perspective.

Question you may know the answer to: if you are using realtime rendering AND an external GPU, can it still do the “live sync” type function? (eg lumion)

no idea. yet.

I use TwinMotion 2020 too. The live sync is next to useless. I just keep intermediate .fbx exports of scene ‘chunks’ and that works well.

TBH, I’m just holding out for a Mac Datasmith plugin, then I’ll go full Unreal I think.
To be fair, I have got some good results out of TwinMotion 2020

Dear Bifterx, Can you point me to the instructions on how to create a Hackintosh.

Thank you in advance.

Duncan Smith

http://wiki.osx86project.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

:wink:

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Thank you Sean, Will peruse.

I did one YEARS ago. I had 10.4 Tiger on a Dell P4 that worked …well.

Hi, yes, I used the insanely Mac forums as linked by @Sean-WFU, I also used TonyMac which also has a ton of info but uses a slightly differing set of software tools - https://www.tonymacx86.com

I ended up basing it on a build guide on the InsanelyMac forums - I found one that happened to sort of match the hardware spec I had decided on. Just do plenty of research and its all pretty straightforward, the hardware build side is easy, as long as you select compatible components, for instance make sure you use a wifi / bluetooth PCIe that is compatible with Apples stack (you can actually use flashed versions of Apple cards) so you can use Messages and unlock with Apple Watch etc.

Its all probably a slightly different conversation now ( my build is nearly 3 years old) with the switch away from Intel announced. There is a more finite lifetime, although if your horizon is just 2 or 3 years, then you should be good to go.
Just a reminder that if you want to go wandering happily around in CUDA land on Nvidia hardware - you will be locked into High Sierra, so you will need to asses your workflow and software.
If you are after an AMD GPU build, then I think you will have a longer useful lifetime from the hardware - there are some super 32 core :heart_eyes_cat: ThreadRipper builds that are very very easy to get working.

Also remember, bling comes as standard, I tried to resist but its so hard. :weary:

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