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smadell

Benefit from upgraded GPU?

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Sometime in the next 6 months, I expect to purchase a new iMac. I'm currently running a late-2015 model, and most of my work is done in Affinity Photo (even though I own Designer and Publisher also). Financial considerations aside, what benefit(s) should I see if I choose the upgraded GPU processor instead of the standard one? Specifically, which operations are GPU intensive and will I see any noticeable improvements with a more powerful GPU?

Also, on a related note, how stable is "Metal" processing these days? As soon as it was available in Preferences, I turned it on. But, it seemed a bit buggy and I got (I think) better performance when it was switched off. What's the current take on that?

Thanks in advance.

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The new iMacs have the new Metal 2 which the new 1.7 versions of the Affinity apps support and this improves performance over the previous versions of metal, as to which graphics card to choose this is down to the other requirements that you may have for the iMac as all three graphic card options support Metal 2  

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Thank you for the response, DWright. As to the first question, though, which operations (specifically) will be sped up by a more capable graphics card? Although it’s not, strictly speaking, a financial question, it would be helpful to know what I’d be getting if and when I purchase an upgraded GPU.

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@smadell LOL see (newsroom)

Quote

Serif
“Affinity Photo users demand the highest levels of performance, and the new, insanely powerful Mac Pro, coupled with the new discrete, multi-GPU support in Photo 1.7 allows our users to work in real time on massive, deep-color projects. Thanks to our extensive Metal adoption, every stage of the editing process is accelerated. And as Photo scales linearly with multiple GPUs, users will see up to four-time performance gains over the iMac Pro and 20 times over typical PC hardware. It’s the fastest system we’ve ever run on. Our Metal support also means incredible HDR support for the new Pro Display XDR.” — Ashley Hewson, managing director, Serif

Well, of course these sort of marketing statements should be always treated with caution and a grain of salt!


☛ Affinity Designer 1.8.3 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.8.3 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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The link and quote are appreciated, v_kyr. I am a big fan of the Affinity line, and have committed to them. Nevertheless, Ash Hewson’s comments are a bit hyperbolic (although appropriate for that particular venue).

I’m hoping that a real-world user can comment on the benefits that accrue from an upgraded GPU. Over-arching statements about “insane” power aside, just what specific operations are going to get noticeably faster if I get a more powerful GPU? As I said, this is not a financial question: I suppose I am in the enviable position of being able to afford the upgrade. I’m really not asking IF the upgraded GPU will make things faster; I’m asking WHICH specific things will get faster.

Any help will be truly appreciated!

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I sometimes wonder too that there are always no more concrete statements about the WHICH and WHAT here in this forum. Usually the Affinity team (at least a programmer/developer here) should know and be able to tell in detail what is API wise used here and benefits at all from GPU power then.


☛ Affinity Designer 1.8.3 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.8.3 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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34 minutes ago, smadell said:

I’m really not asking IF the upgraded GPU will make things faster; I’m asking WHICH specific things will get faster.

From what I understand and have read the GPU will handle all drawing to the screen and provide much smoother/faster scrolling/panning and zooming on screen.  It will not speed up other tasks that require a round trip to the GPU and back due to the overhead that involves.


Due to the fact that Boris Johnson is now our Prime Minister, punctuation, spelling and grammar will never be worried about ever again.  We now have far bigger problems to be worried about.

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I have read those comments, too, carl123. Do you think it’s fair to say that, with an upgraded GPU Affinity Photo may not actually BE that much faster but might FEEL much faster because of the smoother, better screen experience? (I should add that “feeling” faster is an admirable goal, and one which in and of itself could justify a faster graphics card.)

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For the Mac platform the Xcode build-in instrumentation (for timings/profiling) can give a detailed Metal GPU API call overview, which then shows what is when called and how often used etc., but for these infos the project sources are needed. - Thus I said a dev usually will/should know in detail then.

xcode_instruments_800.jpg.cdd86d73baf938d27307a69a2de53aa7.jpg


☛ Affinity Designer 1.8.3 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.8.3 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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2 minutes ago, smadell said:

I have read those comments, too, carl123. Do you think it’s fair to say that, with an upgraded GPU Affinity Photo may not actually BE that much faster but might FEEL much faster because of the smoother, better screen experience? (I should add that “feeling” faster is an admirable goal, and one which in and of itself could justify a faster graphics card.)

By offloading those functions away from the CPU it should free up the CPU to do other tasks so technically it should be faster but I suspect it will not be noticeable to most users and only those with demanding documents (pixel size?) and extremely large screens will reap/notice any real benefits from using the GPU.

For me and I suspect most "normal" users spending more money on a faster CPU rather than adding a fast GPU would see a much better performance improvement all round for the Affinity apps 


Due to the fact that Boris Johnson is now our Prime Minister, punctuation, spelling and grammar will never be worried about ever again.  We now have far bigger problems to be worried about.

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I think it is fair to conclude, then, that performance improvements will be felt more from (i) a more powerful CPU; (ii) a fully solid state drive; and (iii) more RAM. After that, a more powerful GPU may provide better performance (and experience) but on a more marginal basis. This is what I suspected, and I appreciate the help of v_kyr and carl123 in confirming those suspicions. Thank you, all.

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25 minutes ago, carl123 said:

By offloading those functions away from the CPU it should free up the CPU to do other tasks so technically it should be faster but I suspect it will not be noticeable to most users and only those with demanding documents (pixel size?) and extremely large screens will reap/notice any real benefits from using the GPU.

Not just that, GPUs are much better and faster in certain number crunching processing aspects, so everything related to higher math processing would benefit here, as far as it would be used.

Quote

For me and I suspect most "normal" users spending more money on a faster CPU rather than adding a fast GPU would see a much better performance improvement all round for the Affinity apps 

That's the actual state, especially or sadly for Windows users here, where a bunch of people have quite powerful desktop GPUs, but not much benefit from those at all by the Affinity apps. On Macs things might be slightly better due to the OS based Metal API integration, but here again it highly depends on making a lot of usage out of that API routines or not.

Beside the so far said, on the other side, if you also have to support a bunch of older and lower performance hardware too, then you have to make some compromises here and that's what the Affinity software probably makes, in order to keep up some overall degree of hardware/software compatibility.


☛ Affinity Designer 1.8.3 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.8.3 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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7 hours ago, v_kyr said:

@smadell LOL see (newsroom)

Well, of course these sort of marketing statements should be always treated with caution and a grain of salt!

True, but everything I have read about the new Mac Pro suggests that it is in fact "insanely powerful" ... & insanely expensive as well. The base model is $6000 but the higher end configurations are much more expensive, up to an eye watering $50,000+ for the top of the line, fully maxed out version.


Affinity Photo 1.8.3, Affinity Designer 1.8.3, Affinity Publisher 1.8.3; macOS Mojave 10.14.6 iMac (27-inch, Late 2012); 2.9GHz i5 CPU; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M; 8GB RAM
Affinity Photo 
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The stand is 1K, zero RAM lol.  


Cecil 

iMac Retina 5K, 27”, 2019. 3.6 GHz Intel Core 9, 40 GB Memory DDR4, Radeon Pro 580X 8 GB, macOS 10.5.4 iPad Pro iPadOS

 

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection 

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On 12/18/2019 at 12:19 AM, smadell said:

Sometime in the next 6 months, I expect to purchase a new iMac. I'm currently running a late-2015 model, and most of my work is done in Affinity Photo (even though I own Designer and Publisher also). Financial considerations aside, what benefit(s) should I see if I choose the upgraded GPU processor instead of the standard one? Specifically, which operations are GPU intensive and will I see any noticeable improvements with a more powerful GPU?

Also, on a related note, how stable is "Metal" processing these days? As soon as it was available in Preferences, I turned it on. But, it seemed a bit buggy and I got (I think) better performance when it was switched off. What's the current take on that?

Thanks in advance.

Hi @smadell, hopefully this will give you a clearer answer!

What upgraded GPU option are you considering over the standard one, and is it the 21" or the 27" model you're after?

Looking at the specs, for the 21" the cheapest model has Intel Iris Plus graphics whereas you can upgrade to a Radeon 555X or 560X. With the 27" model the cheapest option is a 570X, and the most expensive upgrade gets you a 580X.

Any of the upgraded GPU options will give you an appreciable boost in performance with pretty much all operations in Photo: the vast majority of raster operations are accelerated with a few exceptions—for example, blend ranges will currently fall back to software (CPU). Vector layers/objects are also not accelerated. The biggest advantage I've noticed is being able to stack multiple live filters without significant slowdown: I typically use unsharp mask, clarity, noise reduction, gaussian blur, motion blur and procedural texture filters with compositions and photographs, and being able to use compute is incredibly helpful as it keeps the editing process smooth and quick. Export times are also drastically reduced when you have live filters in your document: in software (CPU), as soon as you start stacking several live filters the export time can easily take over a minute, whereas with compute on the GPU this is reduced to no more than several seconds.

However, the biggest limiting factor in my experience has been VRAM, and you will need to scale your requirements (and expectations) in accordance with a) the screen resolution, b) the pixel resolutions you typically work with and c) the bit depth you typically work in.

To give you a rough idea, 4GB of VRAM is just about sufficient to initially develop a 24 megapixel RAW file and then work in 16-bit per channel precision on a 5K display (5120x2880). If you move down to 4K (3840x2160) 4GB becomes a much more viable option. This is somewhat subjective, but I would say forget about 2GB VRAM or lower if those are your baseline requirements—you simply won't have a good editing experience as the VRAM will easily max out and swap memory will be used, incurring a huge performance penalty.

Ironically, if you can't stretch budget-wise to a GPU with 4GB or even 8GB of VRAM, the Intel Iris Plus graphics option may provide a better experience since it dynamically allocates its VRAM from main memory, therefore it can grow to accommodate larger memory requirements. From early Metal Compute testing I often found that disabling my MacBook's discrete GPU (with 2GB VRAM) and only using the Intel integrated graphics would alleviate the memory bottleneck. I believe the memory management has improved since then, but if you're on a budget that is an option to consider.

However, if you're looking at the more expensive iMac models, I think you should weigh up your requirements and what content you work with in Photo. Here are a few scenarios I can think of:

  • 4K resolution, light editing—development of RAW files, then adding some adjustment layers and live filter layers—you could get away with a 2GB VRAM GPU.
  • 5K resolution, light editing—definitely go with a 4GB VRAM GPU.
  • 4K resolution, moderate editing—development of RAW files, lots of adjustment layers and live filter layers, some compositing work with multiple layers—go with a 4GB VRAM GPU.
  • 5K resolution, moderate editing—4GB VRAM GPU minimum.
  • 4K/5K resolution, heavy editing—working with compositions that have many image/pixel layers, clipped adjustments, live filter layers—absolutely consider an 8GB VRAM GPU.
  • 4K/5K resolution, 32-bit/16-bit compositing e.g. 3D render work, using render passes, editing compositions in 16-bit—8GB VRAM GPU minimum.

However, if budget allows, do also consider the possibility of an external GPU: this might even work out cheaper than having to choose an upgraded iMac model. In the office I have a MacBook with a 560X GPU that has 4GB VRAM—this is sufficient for demoing/tutorials at 4K or the MacBook panel's resolution (3360x2100) but I work with an external monitor at 5K and for that I use an eGPU enclosure with a Vega 64 that has 8GB VRAM. The additional compute power is incredibly useful, but it's mainly the larger pool of VRAM that helps out here. You don't have to use a Vega, I believe the new Navi cards are supported so you could look at a 5500XT with 8GB VRAM which is a reasonably cheap option (although you would still have to get the GPU enclosure...)

As you mentioned, your timeframe is 6 months so it might be worth waiting for Apple to refresh the iMac lineup as they will hopefully switch to Navi-based cards like they have with the new MacBook range. No doubt the cheapest option will have 4GB VRAM but models with 8GB should also be available.

Apologies for the wall of text, but hopefully that gives you some more information to work with!


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James...

Please do not apologize for your "wall of text" – it was incredibly helpful. This is exactly the answer I was hoping to get! In response to your questions, I am definitely looking at a 27" monitor, and am considering a slew of upgrades (including a faster CPU, an SSD instead of a Fusion drive, and an increased amount of RAM - probably from Other World Computing, which I've used before). Based on the current offerings, the maxed-out 27" iMac can have its graphics card upgraded to a Vega 48, with 8GB of VRAM, and this is actually the option (from the current line) that I was considering.

Also, as you mention, Apple is certainly likely to refresh its iMac lineup sometime next year. This is the reason for the 6-month time frame. (I'm also waiting for another software company to release its database software in 64 bits, since their program is one I use every day for some important issues.)

Your comments make me quite likely to look at an upgraded graphics card when I get a new machine. They also seem to explain some of the bottleneck that seems to be occasionally present when I turn on Metal on my current machine (whose Radeon R9 M395 has only 2GB of VRAM).

Thank you again.

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1 hour ago, smadell said:

They also seem to explain some of the bottleneck that seems to be occasionally present when I turn on Metal on my current machine (whose Radeon R9 M395 has only 2GB of VRAM).

I had never really thought much about the VRAM limitation until I read the very informative 'wall of text' by @James Ritson, but now I know that my old iMac's NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M with a meager 512MB of VRAM is probably the single biggest factor that makes it so slow when processing large files.


Affinity Photo 1.8.3, Affinity Designer 1.8.3, Affinity Publisher 1.8.3; macOS Mojave 10.14.6 iMac (27-inch, Late 2012); 2.9GHz i5 CPU; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M; 8GB RAM
Affinity Photo 
1.8.3.180 & Affinity Designer 1.8.3.2 for iPad; 6th Generation iPad 32 GB; Apple Pencil; iPadOS 13.3.1

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Quote

Serif
“Affinity Photo users demand the highest levels of performance, and the new, insanely powerful Mac Pro, coupled with the new discrete, multi-GPU support in Photo 1.7 allows our users to work in real time on massive, deep-color projects. Thanks to our extensive Metal adoption, every stage of the editing process is accelerated. And as Photo scales linearly with multiple GPUs, users will see up to four-time performance gains over the iMac Pro and 20 times over typical PC hardware. It’s the fastest system we’ve ever run on. Our Metal support also means incredible HDR support for the new Pro Display XDR.” — Ashley Hewson, managing director, Serif

Reminds me of this:

Now with more MOLECULES...


I gave up using Designer (even for hobby use) - a "professional" vector drawing program without actual vector features. Waiting for five years in vain is more than any company can ask for.

Maybe if Affinity Designer 2.0 gets real and advanced vector features I can it use. Until then... I am a customer, potential upgrader and an active observer with an opinion. 

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23 minutes ago, Jowday said:

Now with more MOLECULES...

The 2019 Mac Pro has the capacity for more of just about everything that can boost the performance of the Affinity apps to insane levels if one can afford the pricey upgrades, but from what I can tell from some recently published benchmark tests & some semi-educated guesses, a regular 27" Retina 5K iMac (not the iMac Pro) when ordered with the 8 core i9 CPU, Radeon Pro Vega 48 GPU, a 1 TB SSD, & 8 GB of factory installed memory + 2 aftermarket 32 GB modules from OWC or Amazon (so 72 GB total) would cost about $2000 less than the base Mac Pro model & perform better in essentially every respect.

 


Affinity Photo 1.8.3, Affinity Designer 1.8.3, Affinity Publisher 1.8.3; macOS Mojave 10.14.6 iMac (27-inch, Late 2012); 2.9GHz i5 CPU; NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M; 8GB RAM
Affinity Photo 
1.8.3.180 & Affinity Designer 1.8.3.2 for iPad; 6th Generation iPad 32 GB; Apple Pencil; iPadOS 13.3.1

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5 minutes ago, R C-R said:

The 2019 Mac Pro has the capacity for more of just about everything that can boost the performance of the Affinity apps to insane levels if one can afford the pricey upgrades...

Same as can a Lotus Evija for 2.3 million € in contrast to my actual car. 9_9  - But finally I would as a common more mortal and reasonably (...hardware transience, amortization etc.) opt more towards that regular 27" Retina 5K iMac then.


☛ Affinity Designer 1.8.3 ◆ Affinity Photo 1.8.3 ◆ OSX El Capitan

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30 minutes ago, R C-R said:

The 2019 Mac Pro has the capacity for more of just about everything that can boost the performance of the Affinity apps to insane levels if one can afford the pricey upgrades, but from what I can tell from some recently published benchmark tests & some semi-educated guesses, a regular 27" Retina 5K iMac (not the iMac Pro) when ordered with the 8 core i9 CPU, Radeon Pro Vega 48 GPU, a 1 TB SSD, & 8 GB of factory installed memory + 2 aftermarket 32 GB modules from OWC or Amazon (so 72 GB total) would cost about $2000 less than the base Mac Pro model & perform better in essentially every respect.

 

A business tax deduction for some?  Software, tax deduction for some.  Regardless, as a hobby, I just pay my taxes and help with their deductions.


Cecil 

iMac Retina 5K, 27”, 2019. 3.6 GHz Intel Core 9, 40 GB Memory DDR4, Radeon Pro 580X 8 GB, macOS 10.5.4 iPad Pro iPadOS

 

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection 

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