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Which Mac is the best for product design?

3 months ago from , Founder at Bjango

I just did some tests that others here may find interesting — I pushed some design tools to the point where they were lagging a lot on the canvas, to see how they use the hardware. This was an extremely non-scientific test, but it still may provide some value.

The test

Draw lots of rectangles that have a fill and a stroke. Then select all the rectangles and rotate them as a group. How many rectangles? As many as was required to make the tool get very stressed. It was a different number of elements for each tool, so this isn’t a like for like comparison. It’s more about resource usage and what’s important when speccing a Mac for design work.

Why boxes with strokes? Why rotating? It will alter the object data and cause a repaint of all objects. I also wanted to focus on a common operation. The results will vary pretty wildly in a tool like Photoshop, depending on what you’re doing.

For this test, lower usage is bad news, not good news. I pushed them all until the canvas was very laggy. All going well, the app should be pegging the CPU or GPU, making the best use of available resources.

The results

It’s interesting how different the results are. Sketch is almost entirely CPU bound (due to heavy use of Core Graphics). Figma is almost entirely on the GPU. Illustrator predominately uses one thread.

Which Mac should you buy? It’ll depends which design tool you’re using.

37 comments

  • Abdus Fauzi, 3 months ago

    Nice infographic :D I guess, the new Macbook 13 would do great for me.

    3 points
  • Fernando Lins, 3 months ago

    Figma does a lot of cache-writing in the browser, so whatever you do, get an SSD and a lot of ram too. Might matter more than the GPU.

    2 points
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t think to include disk writes. I’d honestly hope for these test docs they’d never write to disk, but I guess you never know until you test.

      1 point
  • Mac Peterson, 3 months ago

    Nice! I like the results! I would have been curious to see the results with other apps running though. It's rare that you will only run sketch or Figma for example. Did you try? Does it influences the results?

    All-in-all this is very useful!

    2 points
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      If the other apps are idle, I don’t think it’ll influence the results too much. The tests were done on an iMac Pro, and when I wasn’t pushing the tool in question, the graphs were as close to zero as you’d expect (just bits of noise as background stuff fires up and finishes).

      1 point
  • Nikola DurkanNikola Durkan, 3 months ago

    very interesting findings. I'm using a 13" MBP with an i7 and primarily use Figma because Sketch just grinds to a halt once the project becomes complex enough. But at the same time, my computer almost never gets hot enough for the fans to kick into high gear when using Sketch. The same can't be said about Figma where I have to live with the fan-noise throughout most of the workday. Thankfully there is such a thing as noise-canceling headphones :)

    1 point
  • Stefano TirloniStefano Tirloni, 3 months ago

    I would like to see slack too!

    1 point
  • perfume lperfume l, 3 months ago

    I wish Adobe rewrite Illustrator from the ground up. A lot about it is ancient. ugh..

    1 point
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      Yep. Start by throwing out the rendering engine they have, which looks worse than all other tools. Just make sure to keep all the cool vector wrangling abilities. :D

      2 points
  • Devin FountainDevin Fountain, 3 months ago

    Marc, when you were performing the Figma test, was this primarily through the downloadable app or via one of the browsers? If so, which?

    1 point
    • Ryan MackRyan Mack, 3 months ago

      Same question here. Figma has been the most buttery experience on my 2016 13" MacBook Pro and haven't looked back. That goes for browser or native wrapper.

      0 points
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      The test was made using the desktop version of the app. I haven’t checked using Figma running in Chrome, but I would assume the results should be very similar, given the desktop Figma app uses Electron/Chromium, and I believe it runs identical code to the browser version (WebAssembly and WebGL). I should test to confirm that though.

      1 point
  • Joseph ReniJoseph Reni, 3 months ago

    Did you run framerX too? i'd love to know how that behaved.

    0 points
  • David ThornDavid Thorn, 3 months ago

    Was the Figma tested started from a fresh restart? I've noticed in the Help > Show Developer Tools section to get lots of console errors if I left the program open for a couple days working and it getting laggy.

    Also, what hardware was this tested on?

    0 points
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      All the tests were conducted from a fresh launch of the app, on an iMac Pro (the base model, 8-core, Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8GB). Hyper-threading is shown in the CPU graphs, which is why there’s 16 cores.

      2 points
  • Dustin Dahlberg, 3 months ago

    This is super interesting. I'd love to get spec recommendations for each app.

    0 points
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      I think the bad news is that you should buy what you can afford, and that’ll change depending on your situation.

      My main take away is if you use Figma, getting a dedicated GPU MacBook Pro is probably worth it. If you use other tools, it’s probably not worth it.

      If you use Sketch, Photoshop or Affinity Designer, getting more CPU cores is probably worth it. Don’t bother with the dedicated GPU though.

      As for memory… 16GB is probably fine. 32GB is nice. More than 32GB probably isn’t worth it for product design work (and not possible on Mac laptops anyway).

      1 point
      • Liam StanleyLiam Stanley, 3 months ago

        Can you test InVision Studio? I use it, and very slow on my Mac =]]

        1 point
        • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

          I uninstalled it after I caught it doing something I found a bit… not nice. If I get a chance I’ll give it a test though.

          3 points
          • Matthew O'ConnorMatthew O'Connor, 3 months ago

            not nice

            ??

            1 point
            • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

              I hadn’t run the app for ages. A few seconds after I launched it, an email from InVision landed in my email inbox (I can’t remember exactly what it said). I assume this means they’re tracking launches and other usage, sending that data to their servers, and triggering emails and other things based on events. Other companies have done worse, but I’m getting pretty tired of privacy violations. I just don’t need that stuff in my life.

              1 point
              • Mauricio Paim, 3 months ago

                I am glad you mentioned that, I had the same impression one day, and since that day I decided I would move away from Invision.

                Told that to my manager and was able to get an all in from the team to migrate to Figma.

                1 year later, everyone is happy. Figma might be collecting a lot of stuff, but to be honest is not being invasive, instead seems they keep improving. Just my own opinion not about the tool, but agreeing with the feeling on privacy violations.

                Thanks for the reports as well, nice to have

                2 points
              • Steve O'ConnorSteve O'Connor, 3 months ago

                8⋀O

                1 point
              • Jeff CouturierJeff Couturier, 3 months ago

                Things like this are exactly why I will always use LittleSnitch on my macs. Not cool, InVision.

                1 point
  • Tejas Bhalerao, 3 months ago

    Thanks for running the tests and sharing the results, Marc. Curious to know why Figma's GPU usage is so high as compared to other tools. Any thoughts/pointers?

    0 points
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      I think that’s great news. Figma is using WebGL for most or all rendering, which means graphics are drawn on the GPU. GPUs are incredibly quick at rendering graphics, and they’re better suited to the task than CPUs. Sketch uses Core Graphics to draw shapes, and Core Graphics does it’s rendering predominately or entirely on the CPU. There’s quality benefits in the strategy Core Graphics uses, but I think Figma’s results are what I would be looking for in a well made design tool.

      In this test, if either the CPU or GPU graphs aren’t being pegged, that’s a sign that there’s a lot more headroom for improvement, and that there is likely stalling or mutex issues that are slowing the tool down.

      XD’s graphs are especially interesting — XD is fast, but there’s a lot of CPU and GPU not being used. That leads me to think it could be a lot quicker.

      2 points
      • Andrew C, 3 months ago

        This seems like an odd takeaway to me. If it’s performing well at that benchmark speed-wise it wouldn’t need to be tapping more power than necessary to do the job. Meaning Figma/Sketch could be at peak GPU and sluggish af while XD could be using 3/4 that and being a boss at it. In my experience Adobe products are usually engineered to the nines for efficiency. It’s their product design/mgmt that’s generally questionable not their prowess.

        Also illustrator files tend to be denser because of the depth required in many illustration styles. It tends to handle big vector files really really efficiently compared to other software I’ve tried

        0 points
        • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

          The tests were conducted to find which parts of the system were being used when the tool was doing enough that it lagged severely. The intention was to find the system bottleneck for each app, so people speccing out a Mac can make an informed decision on which components will give them the best results, based on the tool they use.

          The tests were NOT like for like — I kept adding rectangles until there was severe lagging. XD’s graphs show that the system has lots more power available, but there’s stalling or other issues that are stopping it from fully using the hardware. I realise this is a nuanced discussion, and there can be many reasons for certain results — seeing the CPU or GPU graphs pegged can be an indication of efficient OR inefficient use of the hardware. But, for this test, seeing the canvas lag and none of the graphs pegged almost certainly means the tool is not as optimised as it could be.

          I will be doing some like for like tests very soon though. Those will show which tools are quick, and which are not. XD is definitely very fast, and I agree that Illustrator handles large numbers of objects very well.

          0 points
  • Siniša ŠašićSiniša Šašić, 3 months ago

    Excellent.

    0 points
  • Steve O'ConnorSteve O'Connor, 3 months ago

    Interesting results, thanks for posting.

    0 points
  • Millan Millan Ta, 3 months ago

    Informative post ...!

    0 points
  • isral Duke, 3 months ago

    This chart is super helpful. I am looking to replace my 2012 retina mbp next year.Figma and Affinity have become my most-used tools. May we get this chart in a larger size? Btw, when is your design tool coming out?

    0 points
    • Marc Edwards, 3 months ago

      Thanks! Sorry, but I don’t have the chart bigger — it’s a screenshot from iStat Menus. The graphs jump around a bit, so I think the finer details may not be important. It’s more about which parts of the system are being stressed by common UI design actions on large documents. We don’t have a release date for Skala, but we’re working really hard on getting everything done. Hopefully we’ll have more to share soon. :D

      0 points
  • Jimmy Koli, 3 months ago

    Nice results :)

    0 points