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Testing ZBrush on my new Retina MacBook Pro

Testing ZBrush on my new Retina MacBook Pro

I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a new Mac Book Pro for sometime now. My late 2009 MBP had started to feel sluggish on big renders and it has never performed as I’d like with ZBrush. When the new Apple machines were announced on the 11 June I ordered my right after the conference. I opted for the new 15″ Retina macbookpro with  2.6 Ghz, 16 gig of ram and the 512 SSD. Having read the reviews that said the machine was the least upgradable/repairable laptop ever, I went back and reviewed my choices and remained positive. 16 gig is the max for that machine so having it soldered onto the board made no difference to me. 512 SSD was double the space of my old machine and for several years now I’ve kept everything on external firewire800 lacie drives. The lack of ethernet made no difference to me and I bought a superdrive at the same time as I have lots of software still on disks. I immediately installed Cinema4D R13, Abobe production premium and ZBrush and started to test them all out.

First thoughts, It’s fast! Bear in mind my main graphics/3D machines are twin iMac core I5’s with 16 gigs a piece and my old MacBook Pro. So it was always going to feel fast. With an SSD and the new Quad core Ivybridge chip I wasn’t expecting anything less (certainly not for the price tag). The second thing you notice right away is load times. It boots in seconds, programs load in seconds and the whole operating environment feels zippy. The fact that the gpu can handle three external video outputs simultaneously is amazing (via two thunderbolts and a HDMI)

Next thing is the retina screen. Having 2880×1800 pixels on a 15 inch screen isn’t as straight forward as you think. This version of Lion gives you two main display options. Retina and scaled. Retina mode uses the full 288o pixels but it makes the interface just look like a super crisp version of a 1440 laptop screen. It’s nice but it’s not for everyone. If you use the scaled option you can set it to sizes upto 1920×1200 which feels about right for me. You can FORCE it to go to  2880×1800 (read the mac rumours post) using a little script as apple doesn’t give you the option in the display settings. When you ramp it up to this full retina everything is microscopic. The interface items, panels, text etc. is all so small as to be rendered pretty useless.

ZBrush is amazing on it for me. I heard today of an artist with a new machine that is overheating when running ZBrush but so far after 15 hours of ZBrush work I’ve not even heard the fans kick in. I updated the Wacom drivers to the latest ones on their site (not new for the retina but at least the most up to date). I tested ZBrush with an Intuos 4 wireless and a wired one. Both performed well. The Wireless Intuos does give a microsecond of delay intermittently but but it’s not so annoying that I couldn’t use it. I expect that dedicated drivers will sort that out soon. I also used a Cintiq 24HD with simlar results. I quickly sculpted some dynamesh heads and then ramped them upto to 11 million polys for detailing and experienced no lag and no writing to disk that I could tell. Going up and down subdivision levels was fast even when ramping up to 10 million+. BPR rendering was faster than I’m used to on my iMacs and I was adding sub tools to test the performance and all seems fine.

Photoshop and After Effects ran well and performed as well as I could wish for as did Cinema4D. I haven’t spend a great deal of time in either yet but I have had no unexpected issues because of the screen resolution. EDIT: See comments from photographers who may not be as happy with Photoshop on the Retina MBP yet.

All in all I’m am very pleased with my first few days with the retina machine. I don’t agree with a lot of the gripes I’ve heard and I’m not experiencing any issues so far. The retina screen is clearly the way that all machines will go and this first implementation on a macbook pro seems to have it right. I will post my first few days test sculpts and sketches into this thread over the weekend.

If anyone wants me to test anything then please feel free to ask.


Photoshop CS6 on the Retina Macbook.

Problems to be aware of

Screen Burn?


  1. Would you mind posting your Cinebench scores? I found my macbook pro of late 2011 breed score nearly as fast as the new macbook pro, being faster on openGL and a tick less on CPU.

  2. Gary

    As always amazing work. Inspires me to improve.

  3. Glad to hear the display holds up, but when working on your laptop, wouldn’t you normally use a secondary monitor? 

    • My main reason (or one or them) is that I needed a super powerful machine to use with a Cintiq 24HD. I go out demoing and thats the best setup I’ve been able to find for ZBrushing live.  IN the office I use an extra monitor on my second iMac especially with AE.  

      • Mike

        How portable is the cintiq HD then, I heard it was a back breaker?

        • It’s not portable at all. Seriously. It’s HUGE in a way I can only hint at. It took two people to bring it into the studio and set it up. If you need portability it would have to be the much smaller Cintiq 12WX ben even that is bigger and heavier than most laptops.

  4. Mike

    Genius thanks for this – now I inky have to wait 4 weeks for mine, how are the cinema 4d icons at the 1920 res?

    • Every icon looks better. However, shit icons look REALLY shit on this machine so designers have to really get them, right. Bad graphics on website stand out.

      Cinema4D does look pretty slick 🙂

    • Nothing yet. No over heating or burn issues. I’ve been hammering the machine for over a week now and I am still very positive about it. Much better than I expected.

  5. thomasthistle

    im so keen to buy this computer and use zbrush on it too. do you know if it will be as efficient with maya as you say it is with zbrush?

    • I would imagine Maya will fly on this sort of machine. I have Maya on my iMacs and it is fine so this higher spec machine would handle it no problem and the extra scene res can only help.  I’ll in tall it and try it out.

  6. 3dnv

    Hey, Glenn nice work as always, been a fan of yours since way back. Great that your MBP is working out so well. I too have the new 15″ – i7 2.6GHz and run an external monitor setup in clam-shell mode. You mentioned  earlier you heard of someone suffering overheating while running Zbrush, seems I am having the same issue and am wondering what settings or prefs you use in Z. For me after about 5 minutes and a couple million Poly’s I am hitting temps of 100 C on all for cores and the fans can’t keep up, so I have to step away from Z to let the machine cool down. Are you running 4r3? did you alter the ‘multithreaded’ prefs in Zbrush at all, just wondering? Also could you tell me where you found the info about the poor chap who is suffering heating issues, I can’t find any info on the web, which incidently is how I found this blog. Any insights or info would be great.


    • Hi there,

      I use the MBPR on a small stand next to my Cintiq 24HD in an open studio environment (usually about 21 degrees). I am using the current ZBrush R4 and I am also beta testing the next version and I’ve had no over heating at all. Not even close to be honest. The fans kick in after a while but they go on and off. I haven’t changed any settings in ZBrush at all yet other than allowing more polygons per mesh. You are only the second person I’ve heard of who has had the issue so I am guessing its not widespread or there aren’t many ZBrush users on the new MBPR yet. I guess time will tell. I’d take it into apple and run ZBrush in front of them and see what they say. Keep me in the loop if you don’t mind and I’ll ask around.

    • Yesbes

      I wouldn’t mind knowing this aswell. I got the new macbook air, and its getting hot in zb 4r3. Seems no matter what (1 or 8 mil polys), I’m around 100% on 4 cores. It handles really really well, but at that kinda load the fans will climb.

      • I got the same problem with iMac 27 i7 + 8 gb of ram. the problem is in Zbrush. I hate that. The cpu become hot like crazy. Only solution: take down multihread or disable it completely. But nav view become a pain in the ass.

  7. Roflbrso14

    hi i was wondering if you could do a video on after effects showing off the ray tracing 

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