SU Podium on Mac

I am thinking of using the current situation to learn a new skill: photo-realistic rendering. I have tested one or two render packages in the past but only “toe in water”. They seemed to me either too basic to add much to what SU offers, too expensive, or too hard to learn. But I have watched the very good tutorials for Podium and am encouraged that its integration with SU and its relative simplicity might make it worthwhile. BUT (and isn’t there always a but?)…

I have a late 2012 iMac and it just won’t cut the mustard for high end rendering. Happily, I have been thinking of upgrading for a while anyway. So it may make sense for me to spend a bit more to get something that can actually handle rendering as well as SU. I am looking at a 21.5" iMac with the following spec:

3.2Ghz 6-core i7 CPU
32Gb RAM
Radeon 4Gb CPU

You can get much more powerful Macs than that but they become astronomically expensive and I can’t justify that for my use.

Does anyone have enough experience of SU Podium and iMacs to know how well this spec would work for me?

BTW, I know many people will say that PCs are better for rendering than Macs but it’s like advising someone to vote Republican when they have voted Democrat all their lives!

Hi Simon
I don’t use Podium (VRay and Twinmotion) but it’s basically the same question.
My only recommendation in this case would be to get a GPU with the maximum VRAM (so probably 8 in the iMacs case)
I posted some stuff a couple days ago in response to a similar question (not exactly the same but some of the concepts are transposable), it might help…

Podium for MAC is not GPU accelerated , for many of the same reasons as detailed in that post.
It is worth considering an eGPU should the situation change for the better in the future.

Hope this helps.

Cheers
Rob

Rob

Thanks for this and I see that, like me, you are in the UK.

I tried reading your earlier post but I’m afraid most of it is way beyond my pay grade. I am guessing that VRAM is video RAM and you are saying that a GPU with 8Mb would be worthwhile. I did take a look at a 27" iMac with an 8 core i9 processor, 64Gb of RAM, and an 8Gb Radeon video card. But that’s £3,650 instead of £2,250. For the amount of use I have, I can’t justify such big expenditure.

I realize that the less powerful the machine, the longer any rendering would take. I just wanted to make sure that the spec I posted will make a meaningful difference to what I have now and that I haven’t slipped up out of ignorance. For example, I am aware that multi cores are good for rendering, useless for SU. I have also read that Xeon chips (as used in the iMac Pro) offer no substantial benefit.

Another thing I don’t understand is the significance of the storage medium. I know SSDs respond much faster than hard drives but don’t know why that matters.

From the tutorials, I got the impression that Podium uses a number of tricks to make rendering faster, at least during the pre-final run phase. I imagine the idea is that it only takes a few minutes to do most simple low res rendering and once you’re happy, you can set it going on the full fat version which might run for hours.

I did briefly think of going for a PC alongside my existing iMac using it just for CAD work. But when I looked at a similar spec to the iMac I was considering, it seemed to be just as expensive.

If there is anything more you’d like to add to your advice, please do.

1 Like

If you have made the decision to go down a particular route, I would just say, get the most memory you can afford and vram. Memory will give you longevity in any configuration. You can always add an external drive and an eGPU in the future.
I bought my 13 “ MBP in 2013 and got the max memory at the time (16gb) I used it until 2018 mostly because of the memory.

When you start texturing for Podium renders In SU you will need to to rock as much VRAM as you can, normally its pretty cheap to add VRAM to apple configs, usually 100 dollars.

I’ll make no claim to be a master at it, but I have Podium, and I’m (embarrassing long story) still stuck on an old 2012 MacBook Pro 15", 2.6 Ghz, 8 GB Ram, and NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 1024 MB card, that’s also got a bad case of “Staingate”. I just got pushed into my first foray into artificial lighting in Podium for a project with a colleague, and achieved good results. The renders were generally 10 minutes or maybe 20, but not hours. The biggest factor for speed is sheer size: I didn’t make anything larger than 1920x1024. I’m not even using the most current version (2.5 vs. 2.6), and I think they recently announced they have multi-threading, which, I guess they weren’t doing before?

All said, I am interested in other renders, but I can’t say I’ve completely exhausted what Podium can do yet.

Edit: previously posted examples from Podium with the above hardware:


and

Now that’s really interesting, Robert. Your setup is almost exactly the same as mine (similar date but iMac not MBP). The main difference is that you have twice as much video memory and that probably does make a difference. Being able to do a render in minutes, even at relatively low res, seems to me to be fine. It’s a shame that those who make the official tutorials don’t tell you the specs of the machine they are running on (though of course you are not always watching things in real time).

V-Ray seems to be the ultimate renderer for SU users but it’s almost three times the price. Learning curve may be steeper too. But it does have the advantage of Chaos Cloud. I guess that means that if you can at least produce a low res version of what you want yourself, you can get the supreme computing power of CC to do the high res work for you (quite cheaply and quickly). So one option there would be to save on computer power and spend on software instead.

I guess I should download a trial version of Podium and see what my old girl can do. Might give me a vague idea of how much more power I really need.

My impression is that you can’t enhance an iMac much post sales as everything is sealed. And some things are only available on the much more expensive 27" model. Or do I have this all wrong?

Those upgrades are external, they’re peripheral devices outside your iMac. The eGPU is connected by Thunderbolt and the drives could be Thunderbolt or just USB 3.0. You can get some very fast storage that uses M2.NVME cards over Thunderbolt that’s almost as fast as the internal SSD inside your iMac. If your existing iMac doesn’t have an internal SSD, getting a fast external one could speed things up for you without buying a new machine.

Also be aware that even if the eGPU can take an nvidia card, it won’t work on macOS so the only use of that would be to run Windows on your iMac in bootcamp. If you put an AMD card in it, you’re back to looking for a renderer that uses AMD GPUs. GPU rendering is usually much faster than CPU. I think the only option for GPU rendering on AMD is in blender or Indigo as someone mentioned then deleted (not sure why they deleted?).

The 27" iMac has a door on the back to let you upgrade RAM, but that’s all. If you buy the minimum 8GB from Apple, then buy your RAM from Crucial, OWC or Amazon you can save hundreds of pounds. Also, OWC has 128GB kits which gives you twice the RAM for about the same money as buying 64GB from Apple. OWC even lets you post back your old RAM afterwards (up to 60 days after) to trade it in.

You can do some upgrades internally if you’re feeling brave. I’m not up to date on this, but you used to start by removing the screen with glazier’s glass suckers, not something I’d want to do.

I’m about to buy a new Mac myself soon as this old Mac Pro has serious problems now, shutting down at random times. I’m thinking about the 27" iMac with 3.6GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 (Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz), for the fastest single core speed with 16 threads for CPU rendering. When I bought this Mac Pro originally I opted for the most cores, but now I’d choose fastest clock speed over more cores as rendering isn’t what I spend most of my time on. Unless you’re rendering for hours a day, your computer will feel faster in normal day to day use with a faster single core speed. Of course SketchUp will be happier with a fast single core speed.

I did have GPU rendering with a GTX970 in blender and Thea but I’ll just have to give up on that moving forward as Apple and NVDIA aren’t the best of friends. Thea went subscription a year after I bought it. The version I have only works with SketchUp 2019 and I won’t be able to move that version of SketchUp to my new computer (as I’ve used 2020) so Thea and I aren’t best friends either. Maybe things will get better with AMD GPU rendering support with Metal in the future, who knows?

1 Like

The only thing I would add here is that if you perhaps decided to go for a realtime engine for your rendering (Twinmotion or Unreal Engine etc) and visualisation then an AMD GPU is back on the table in terms of GPU accelerated rendering, in which case the amount of VRAM is an important factor again.
A realtime engine is certainly worth considering if you wanted to do animated sequences.
I’ve just used Twinmotion as an experiment for a domestic resi job and was pleased with the results as a design communication. It was certainly ‘good enough’

I realized that I got into a similar discussion more than four years ago when I was considering upgrading. I felt so flummoxed by the tech intricacies that I gave up and never did upgrade. I am still where I was then!

For me, once someone starts talking about peripherals, I start to lose interest. One of the beauties of the iMac is that pretty much everything is in one neat box. I already have an external DVD drive and back-up hard drive and that’s two more external components I would prefer not to have.

Besides neatness, the other great thing about having it all in one box is that you know it will just work. That’s huge for a non-techie. There are far too many hours I have spent on trying to make things like computers talk to printers that I will never get back. I don’t strap jet engines to the side of my car to give it an extra boost, for example.

In my case, the heaviest use my iMac gets is running SU/LO and even then my files are modest in size. They are architectural drawings and I deliberately avoid high poly components to keep work speed high. Like anyone, I would like to avoid crashes and beachballing and CAD is what causes most of those. Overloading the hardware may not always be the cause but it may be the cause sometimes. But the truth is that even my doddery old iMac runs SU/LO pretty well.

Being able to run rendering programs is simply icing on the cake. No client is going to pay me for turning a drawings that produces something as good as SU into a photo-realistic version. No employer (if I had one) would allow me to spend time on something that didn’t obviously return any money. So my aim is to find the sweet spot between a machine that simply runs SU/LO very well (which I reckon would cost about £1,000) and one that can also do some half decent mid-level rendering (which may cost about twice that). What I want to avoid is paying for tech baubles that won’t actually help me much at all (which it looks as if it is all too easy to do). I don’t know how you get an answer to this kind of question. Perhaps I have to ask something like: “If we start with the £1,000 basic, what would you spend an extra 50% on? Or 100%?” (and it has to be from the stable of Mac products currently available).

I’ve just taken a look back at what is currently available. I have narrowed the choice to the following options:

OPTION A

21.5" iMac (£1,449) with
3.0 Ghz 6-core i5 processor
8GB Ram
Radeon Pro 560X GPU 4 GB
1TB Fusion drive

Upgradeable to a 3.2Ghz i7 processor for an extra £200 and to a Radeon Pro Vega 4GB GPU for £350, making a total of £1,999.

OPTION B
27" iMac (£2,249) with
3.7Ghz 6-core i5 processor
8GB memory
Radeon Pro 580X GPU 8GB
2TB Fusion drive
Upgradeable to a 3.6Ghz 8-core i9 processor for an extra £400 and to a Pro Vega 48 GPU for £450.

Whilst I don’t need a wider screen, it would be nice to have. But its chief advantages are that the non-upgraded version may be faster to get hold of in the current climate and (according to @McGordon) has a handy door to allow easy RAM upgrades. Looks like a pair of Crucial 16Mb DDR4 chips would cost about £115 and take the RAM from a basic 8MB (what I have now) to a tasty 32MB. But most of all, it seems to be the only way to step up to a 8GB GPU (16x what I currently have). Of course, if someone told me I’d need that just to handle the bigger screen and I won’t see any speed advantage over a 4GB GPU on a smaller screen, I might think again.

I have no idea what value the Pro Vega GPU options grant since they are the same memory in each case.

I am leaning towards the non-upgraded 27" on the basis that it is hopefully available, has twice the GPU power, and has RAM that is easily upgraded with third party chips. The bigger screen and drive are inessential but nice to have. What do people think (given that the main task is to make SU fly and allow reasonable rendering potential)?

My main point is, a new machine might indeed be helpful, but there’s little value in going wild throwing money at exotic specs thinking it’s going to make a profound difference.

I don’t know the iMacs as well as MacBook Pros. I’d always go for more screen space when it comes to CAD. Also, I don’t know about upgrade capability in iMacs, but you can’t upgrade MBPs anymore, so having a hard drive big enough for the future becomes an issue.

Having it all in one box would be nice, which was what the Mac Pro used to be. The new Mac Pro is still like that, but too expensive for me now. Unfortunatley Apple seems to think someone cares about how thin your desktop computer is, so you get a laptop on a stick instead of a case that’s easily upgradeable with internal drives, expansion cards and RAM. As it won’t all fit inside the box, I’m having to accept that some of it will be periperhals, especially storage.

If you want a faster Mac, don’t buy the Fusion drive! The 1TB Fusion drive in one of your choices only has a 24GB SSD inside, that won’t hold much, then everything will be going at HDD speeds. So larger files (that won’t fit on the Fusion’s SSD) will read/write about 10 times faster on the SSD. I’ve seen the iMac’s SSD tested at read/write of 2.5GB/s and 1.9GB/s. In theory it could do 3GB/s. That’s Gigabytes a second, be careful with your b and B. B (byte) is eight times bigger than b (bit). They are not interchangeable. I know their internal SSDs are expensive, but they’re fast. You can always add cheaper external drives for extra storage. Even hard disks would be fine for your less commonly accessed files.

Don’t take my word for it about user upgradeable RAM on the 27" iMacs, it’s on Apple’s specs or just google it. You could also look up how easy or not it is to replace the Fusion drive yourself. I’d say not very easy, it’s more like working inside a laptop.

I would hold on a few weeks if you can. The iMac last refreshed over a year ago and all the signs are that a refresh is due shortly. The specs will likely bring them in line with MacBook Pro’s in terms of processor generation and graphics. I think I’d bet that the base memory will be 16Gb.
At the moment you would be buying at quite a disadvantage.
On the new generation processors the difference between i5 and i7 has narrowed considerably for certain workloads.

I wouldn’t want to plonk down 1500 quid that was immediately at least a year out of date.

PS the larger screen wouldn’t have too much efffect on VRAM, 4K texture sizes Are Still 4K textures whether they are displayed on a 21” or a 27” display.

The rumours might be right, but unfortunately for me I don’t have much choice right now as the old one is ‘broken’. If Simon can wait a bit, then that’s a good idea.

I’d agree with this for rendering. Where the extra pixels would slow it down would be playing games, which you haven’t mentioned as a requirement. Even if you do want to play games, you can always choose to play in a lower resolution for more speed.

This is all splendid stuff. I really hadn’t understood the significance of SSDs.

I tried using a SSD card as a storage device as it plugs rather neatly into the back of my machine. But like every other external storage device I have owned (and I’ve owned a lot), they just don’t seem to last. I haven’t yet had any kind of internal drive fail.

I am certainly prepared to wait if we think there will be a new release soon. However, I seem to remember that this happened last time and was one of the reasons I didn’t do anything then. Seems like there’s always a new release just around the corner! I read that purpose specced machine are on quite long delivery - an effect of lockdowns. Specifying the SSD options would take us into that territory at present. Whether newer machines will come with SSDs in base models remains to be seen.

Reassuring to know that screen size won’t really affect GPU performance.

Re gaming, Gordon, I have no requirement for that nor for any kind of video work. Indeed, any rendering I might do is very unlikely to involve any dynamics, just static images.

This may be another option.

Mac Mini (£1,099)
3.0 Ghz 6 core i5
8GB RAM
UHD Graphics 630
512GB SSD

Use the above with existing kit including using existing iMac as a monitor. The main drawback to this approach is that you would presumably be forced to have an eGPU as the graphics card is just an integrated one. And the bits of kit are just proliferating.

Not being a techie, I’ll bet there are other downsides I haven’t even foreseen.

Yep. eGPU

I wonder about this. I use an Nvidia card on my Mac. I think what might NOT work is using it in programs that require CUDA for GPU based rendering or things like Optix denoising. These are things I do on a High Sierra Mac but cannot do in Mojave. Still I can use the Nvidia card in Mojave.

The thing that bothers me most about Apple’s offerings for desktop is that they think they only need to cover the bottom end with the Mac Mini and the high end with the Mac Pro, and no “Sweet Spot” machine at all in the middle. The last Mac desktop I ever bought was in 1995. I’ve relied on laptops and an external monitor ever since. The monitors have lasted a lot longer than the machines have, which you can’t separate with an iMac - seems wasteful to me.

Good point about SSD vs. Fusion dirves.

1 Like