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MacBook Pro Benchmarks 3: 3D Performance

LightWave, Maya and Cinema 4D tests By Dave Nagel
We've seen now the difference in performance between native and non-native software on Apple's Intel-based MacBook Pro. For native software, performance on this powerful laptop can exceed that of G5-based desktop systems. With non-native software running in Rosetta, the lag can be sometimes small, sometimes crippling. But nowhere are the differences in performance more pronounced than in the case of 3D software.

In our first article on MacBook benchmarks, we tested Apple's own Final Cut Studio 5.1 running natively on the Intel CoreDuo processor and found it to exceed the performance of a dual 2.0 GHz G5 desktop in the vast majority of the tests. (You can find that article  by clicking here.) In the second benchmark series, we tested Adobe After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator, all running non-natively on the MacBook. Here, the emulation used on the MacBook (Rosetta) failed to deliver anything close to the performance of the desktop PPC system. In the cases of Photoshop and Illustrator, the differences could be considered tolerable; but in the case of After Effects, those differences were beyond the threshold of pain for most mere mortals. (You can read the second benchmark article  by clicking here.)

Now we arrive at our third and final test of the MacBook Pro's performance in OS X. (One future article will deal with Windows performance on the MacBook.) This last series of tests involves 3D software, including Maxon's Cinema 4D 9, NewTek LightWave 8 and Alias/Autodesk Maya 7. The results are telling.

Of these three major 3D systems, only Cinema 4D runs natively on the MacBook's CoreDuo processor. And so, as with other native software we've tested, it exceeds the  reference desktop PPC system in processor performance. LightWave and Maya are different stories though. While it's practically a miracle that such complex programs could function at all in Rosetta (being written for a different hardware platform altogether), it's not shocking that the performance hit is virtually exponential.

What follows are the tests of each of these 3D applications. All tests involve the 2.16 GHz dual-core MacBook Pro equipped with 2 GB RAM and an ATI X1600 (256 MB) graphics processor. The reference system is a dual-processor 2.0 GHz G5 desktop also equipped with 2 GB RAM. Other systems are also included in some of the tests.

Maxon Cinema 4D
We begin with the good news. For those of you currently working in Cinema 4D on G5 systems and looking to adopt a MacBook into your workflow, you're going to be pleasantly surprised. What the results of Maxon's own benchmarking utility show is that the MacBook's processing power dramatically exceeds that of the reference dual-processor G5 system, though, of course, it doesn't come anywhere near to matching the multi-processor performance of the G5 Quad. (Note, however, that the MacBook's result for Cinema 4D shading does come close to that of the Quad.) Here are the results.

All results for these tests are shown in units defined by Cinebench for cross-platform reference. Higher numbers are better.

Now, what we see from these results is that in terms of CPU-based operations, the MacBook far exceeds the performance of the desktop 2 GHz G5. It's worth noting that this score comes quite close to that of a dual 3.6 GHz Xeon system. And, on a per-processing-core basis, it exceeds the results of both of the G5s and the 2.21 GHz Opteron 275 system. And this is just a laptop computer running on a mobile chip. I'd say this bodes well for the forthcoming Intel-based Mac desktop systems, wouldn't you?

As far as graphics go, the MacBook's 256 MB ATI X1600 isn't a match for the other cards tested (shown in the OpenGL Hardware column). In separate tests, it seems to be about equivalent to an ATI Radeon 9600 AGP 8x 256 MB card.

It's worth noting that these results are based on the Universal Binary version of Cinema 4D, not the PPC version. The Universal Binary requires a previous installation of the PPC version of Cinema 4D R9.5 or later. There is no Universal Binary version of previous releases.

NewTek LightWave 8
And now for the bad news. For those of you out there who depend on NewTek's LightWave, the option of switching to an Intel-based Mac really isn't available for you. Performance of LightWave in Rosetta is so cripplingly weak that it really can't be considered a viable platform until NewTek comes out with a Universal Binary version of the software. Here are the results.

All of these tests are based strictly on rendering times on scenes that are included with LightWave.

Test 1 rendered out the scene called Radiosity_BOX.lws (/Content/Scenes/Benchmark/). It contains 7,294 polygons and renders at 600 x 600 with anti-aliasing set to "Low" and radiosity turned on.

The second scene is SunsetSample.lws (/Content/Scenes/). This is the simplest of the scenes tested and includes one polygon with four points. It's rendered with no anti-aliasing and no radiosity.

The third test involved the scene called Teapot.lws (/Content/Scenes/Benchmark/). It contains 25,938 polygons and renders with anti-aliasing set to "medium." Radiosity is off for this test.

The fourth test uses The_Matrix5.lws (/Content/Scenes/Abstract/). This is the most processor-intensive of all the tests. It involves 24,288 polygons and renders with anti-aliasing set to "enhanced low" and radiosity off. The render resolution is 800 x 400. It took the MacBook Pro a little more than 4 hours, 45 minutes to render a single frame of this scene. (I believe epochs have come and gone in less time.) The dual G5 did it in about 2 hours, 13 minutes. The 2.5 GHz G5 Quad did it in roughly 43 minutes.

The final test involved depth of field. It uses the Virus_DOF.lws scene (/content/Scenes/Surface/). For this scene, the MacBook's render speed was less than a third of that of the dual G5.

Alias Maya 7
The results from Maya 7 weren't quite so disparate between the MacBook and the G5. Based strictly on render times using the Maya Software renderer, the MacBook was soundly battered by the dual 2.0 GHz G5, but it wasn't quite the slaughter experienced with LightWave. Again, Maya 7 is not running natively on the Intel-based MacBook. It's running in Rosetta. And, again, it's practically a miracle that it runs at all with no errors or incompatibilities. But in its present form, it doesn't run quickly.

Here are the results.

So you can see that the MacBook is giving me roughly half (a little worse than half, actually) the rendering power I get out of a comparably equipped G5 desktop.

Test 1 involved rendering a smoke-filled scene at 320 x 240 with highest-quality anti-aliasing. The G5 rendered this in 40 percent the time it took the MacBook to render the same scene.

Test 2 rendered a fog scene at 200 x 200 with anti-aliasing set to high quality. This was the MacBook's strongest showing, coming in at about 58 percent the rendering power of the G5.

Test 3 used a scene with a soft-body object and particles. It was rendered at 640 x 480 with anti-aliasing set to high quality. In this test, the MacBook took almost three times as long as the G5 to render the scene. It was the weakest showing for the MacBook.

Test 4 involved rendering a cutaway scene of a building that included a number of several objects. It was rendered at 768 x 415 with anti-aliasing set to "highest quality." The G5 performed this render in 38 percent the time it took the MacBook.

And the final test involved rendering a complex object at 720 x 486 with anti-aliasing again set to "highest quality." The MacBook handled this in a little more than twice the time it took the G5 to render.

The 2.16 GHz MacBook Pro is, without a doubt, good to go as a mobile platform for 3D work. It's certainly not as strong as the highest-performing workstations out there, but it's a match for mid-range desktop systems, at least when the software is written natively for it. And that's the trouble here, just as it was in our benchmarks of Adobe software. While Maxon has proved once again that it can keep up with any Mac hardware or OS changes (being the first 3D developer to come out with a Universal Binary), the other major developers aren't there yet, and it's difficult to say when they will be. If you work in LightWave or Maya, the MacBook Pro clearly isn't for you, at least not at this point. But for Cinema 4D users looking to go with a laptop system, the MacBook Pro is clearly viable.

In future reports, we'll take a look at Windows software running on the MacBook Pro, and we'll follow that up with a formal review of the system--a qualitative as well as quantitative look at the highest-end system in Apple's current Intel lineup. Until then, if you have any questions or comments, be sure to drop me a line or visit me in one of the forums listed below.

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Related Keywords:macbook, benchmarks, lightwave, maya, cinema 4d, 3d performance, rosetta, cinebench


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