Testing 3D software on Macbook Pro M1 Max

I just bought M1 Max MacBook Pro for production work, here are some tests with 3D software on M1 Max. I want to see if I would be able to use this as a truly portable 3D creation machine. Truly portable meaning something that actually can do 3D on battery power, also without the fans getting wild.

My initial 3D software tests on M1 Max are following:

  • Substance 3D Designer runs very well currently via Rosetta 2, iRay renders also working fast, similar speed to modern gaming notebooks. Native version is coming according to Adobe.
  • Substance 3D Painter runs amazing. Just tested painting on 10 UDIM tile VFX model. The model has around 1 million quads. I was able to paint across tiles in 4K smoothly on battery power. Ambient Occlusion baking was the only area where this fell (significantly I must say) behind Nvidia powered computer. Currently Substance 3D Paintel runs through Rosetta 2.
  • Marvelous Designer is defunct on M1, does not work with system hanging on complex garments.
  • ZBrush works very well, similar to high end desktop such as 3950X based machine. Single core performance of the machine is really that good.
  • Maya runs fine, similarly to other modern notebooks. If this gets native M1 code could be amazing.
  • Redshift under Maya host was a bit disappointing, unsure for the reason why, unsure if the plugin runs native under non-native Maya.
  • Blender runs okay. I tested M1 version. Completely usable for high-end 3D work and high end cycles renders, well render fine, although not very fast. Maybe the M1 optimization is not maybe in ideal state yet.
Testing 3D software on M1 Max. Substance Designer will have Native M1 version coming.
Downloading Substance 3D Designer from Adobe will give this note – Apple silicon version is coming.

I will keep testing different 3D software in more lengthy tests, but the initial tests are mind blowing. Especially what Substance Painter was able to pull off, 10 4K UDIM texture sets on multi million quad model is not easy feat for a notebook. While working on this model the fans did not even spin up, and I could do such work in a cafe if I really need to.

Even in it’s current state I cannot see why I wouldn’t be able to use this in production. And if the apps get optimized for M1 this can change the industry.

See also

Here is a handy website for checking which apps are M1 ready.

What Apple just announced is definitely fascinating. There is tons to unpack here, but let me just put my thoughts together from the point of view of ex Adobe demo artist who had to run Unreal on a laptop in front of corporate clients.

Running heavy 3D software on notebook (such as Unreal or Substance Painter with something actually in viewport) has so far meant immediately finding outlet and plugging kilograms worth of power brick to outlet. That, or letting the performance die. I can’t stress how huge difference there has been on either plugged or unplugged. To put it simply, without a plug, no 3D, period.

I am quite happy with my 17 inch Zephyrus with 32gigs of memory and a 2080. This works well, as long as it is plugged, and if I set the performance profile to quiet it is also decent quiet, not bad at all. Can also run games in silent mode decently enough. But compiling shaders in Unreal engine is painfully slow when comparing to my AMD tower. If I was to travel and needing to answer to a client work, this would be near undoable, as average shader compile of a new project can take 3X as long as it does on my desktop, the computer being unusable at that time.

Same goes with my 2019 Macbook Pro, by the way, or make that 4X the wait. If Mac would do the same job on battery power, this would be fantastic.

The unified memory is fascinating as well, if Substance Painter got optimization to take advantage of the shared GPU memory, this could potentially challenge RTX3090 machine. I don’t know how feasible this is, but I am a dreamer.

However. At this point it is hard to say how useful the new Mac would be for someone running Substance or Unreal. Unreal key features such as ray tracing support or nanite do require NVidia graphics card which are non-existent at the moment for Apple. I would doubt there will be a workaround for this anytime soon.

No matter how attractive the Apple system is, this would be the deal breaker for me – so many workflows are tied CUDA or Nvidia Raytracing. Also add to this the missing software on Mac. And there is for example the Delighting feature of Substance Sampler.

Cinema 4D and recently Redshift are fascinating though which both run reportedly well on M1. Having Unreal run natively on M1 with Raytracing and Nanite, that would be very interesting.