2015 Hardware Survey Results

At the end of 2015, we invited you to participate in a casual hardware survey, and 854 of you clicked your way through it. Here are the results.

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Note: For questions that allowed multiple answers, the total percentages may exceed 100%.

Over half of the respondents were freelancers or self-employed.

When you’re self-employed, investing in gear means digging money out of your own pocket. With 52% of respondents working for themselves, that’s a lot of tax write-offs.

Dedicated OS X users outnumber dedicated Windows users 2 to 1.

12% of users reported using both Windows and OS X on a daily basis. Even with hybrid users factored in, Linux accounts for just over 2% of usage.

Software lines up pretty much as you’d expect.

No surprises here for motion designers. It’ll be interesting to track this year over year to see which packages gain/lose market share.

Most people spend less than $4k USD on workstations.

56% of respondents spend less than $4,000 on their workstations. About 1 in 10 of the respondents didn’t know how much their workstation cost, likely because it’s supplied by an employer.

5 years is the maximum lifespan of most people’s workstations.

With OS X and Windows upgrades now free, one of the major reasons for desktop upgrades has faded. But demanding users will always want to stay ahead of the performance curve. We likely won’t see much change in this data for the next few years.

Nvidia leads in graphics cards, but the market is highly fractured.

Perhaps because this question allowed for write-in responses (and a lack of naming conventions), there was a bewildering array of answers here. At the risk of oversimplifying the results, we tried to make sense of the data by combining cards into product groups.

GPU-Accelerated features in Adobe’s Creative Suite matter for 1 out of 3 respondents.

The high number of people considering Adobe’s GPU-accelerated features when making their graphics card purchase might be due to popular confusion about which features in After Effects actually take advantage of GPU acceleration.

For After Effects CS6 (11.0) and After Effects CC (12.0, 12.1, 12.2), CUDA-based acceleration (available on certain Nvidia cards) only improves 3D raytracing. Other features — and most plugins — rely on OpenGL (not CUDA) and so are supported by nearly all modern graphics cards. (Read more.)

VRay leads in non-native 3D rendering — but Octane’s not far behind.

As Octane and other renderers improve support for Cinema4D, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in this space over the next few years. There’s more competition than ever.

In the world beyond mice, Wacom still reigns supreme.

509 respondents weighed in on alternative input devices, with Wacom’s (pricey) Cintiq line of products accounting for a surprising 36% of responses.

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer and F5. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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  • These surveys are super interesting, I hope they keep coming. The Octane/Vray spread will be inverted by next year IMHO – that or V-Ray will do a GPU accelerated build to try and stay on top. Exciting times..

    • harm

      If Octane comes with OpenCL rendering, the playingfield with shift for sure looking at the amount of people who probably own a MacPro

      • I heard that will be offered with version 3, which I think is only a few months out.

  • Looking forward to more of these surveys; always interesting to fill more out and see results!

  • Thanks so much for doing this survey. Not to open that tired old Mac vs. Pc can of worms …but I’ve been very interested to see where the Mac vs. PC thing goes in the next few years specifically in the motion design field. Many motion graphics folks have their roots in graphic design, and designers are culturally attached to Macs.

    As much as I love macs, I really don’t care about having an attractive looking rig, and at the difference in price point and Apple’s migration away from power and towards portable devices, I have really been considering flopping over to non-mac hardware. It just feels like a tower-o’power isn’t of interest to Apple say 5 years from now, and motion graphics artists are always going to be in the market for the heaviest, fastest gear available (3D, VR, 4K etc.) You’ve got the design-culture attachment to mac on one side and the need for speed at a bargain on the other, and I wonder if the scales are tipping. I’ve heard that Buck, Psyop and other hot doggin’ shops use PC for anything heavy but use Mac for design, but in my shop those jobs are done by the same people at the same stations.

    I’ve got loaded new Mac trashcans, courtesy of the companies engineering team, but 2 fried after a couple months and they seem a bit buggy overall (though that could be attributable to our shared storage.) I hate to say it but I’m beginning to loose my affection. Just wondering if others are looking around wondering the same thing.

    • Man, it pains me to say this: But I’m right there with you. I’m a hobbyist CG guy these days (when I have time), so I don’t have to think about it too hard. But when I do consider buying/building the ultimate CG machine, it’s really hard to come down on the side of Apple/OS X.

      I really hate the Windows user experience — even Win 10, which is a step forward — but I guess if I’ll just be inside C4D and AE the whole time, does it really matter…?

      • If Windows has solved the screen-grab issue, that’s a step in the right direction. I am pretty out of touch with the state of the WinOS but last time I used it that was the biggest pain I encountered. And its always sad when ancient hair trigger muscle memory becomes totally useless.

        • JRI

          you can use snag-it pro or some such thing. But that illustrates the problem with windows, you gotta find all the programs you need amidst the freeware/shareware/virus ladden crap out there. you can’t even unzip a file from a stock install. its so annoying whenever I try windows again cause you really have to take time to set stuff like that up…..

        • davemograph@gmail.com

          What do you mean by screen grab issue?

          You can use the snipit tool which comes with windows(since 7) to capture an area on your screen. If I’m mistaken I’d like to know the real issue.

          • Dave- has been awhile since i tried – but i used to have to capture a screen image via some right click command, then open it in paint- then save it out. I use the targeted screengrab tool in mac os probably 20 times a day to quickly snap ref and send in emails. Control command 3 i think– muscle memory, not sure- but it copies the grab into temp storage then i can immediately paste into an email or document. Since i use it so often, 2 seconds vs a minute adds up in time and in frustration level. Gotta stay cool to stay in the zone and when these things just work easily it helps a lot. I imagine there is some way to do this in windows but last time i was working on a pc this was one of my frustrations.

      • Back in 2012 before I went freelance I had a chance to work on Windows Xeon-powered studio machine, and even spending most of the time inside Ae/C4D it kinda felt not as responsive comparing to OSX 15″ RMB. There are always micro-lags here and there, slowdowns for now apparent reason. Also I had to reboot Windows machine maybe like 3-4 times/day, it felt like there is some kind of memory leak in the system, so when you use 4-5 applications with relatively heavy files, system eats RAM and refuses to give it back when you close application. I’m occasionally rebooting my Macbook as well, but only once in 2-3 months.

        Hardware upgrade bothers me as well. What if there were C4D and Adobe Creative Suit for Linux? I never used Linux personally, but heard lot of good stuff about it.

        • This is my issue as well. Beyond the weird quirks in how windows works as an OS, the “feel” of the OS is different down to how the mouse moves. I never get in the “zone” with windows, i feel like i am always struggling with something technical which is really not conducive to getting anything done, especially something creative. So for me I’ll keep sticking to macs, i just can’t imaging Microsoft every getting it right after all this time.

    • JRI

      Apple is really making me anxious these days with the state of the Mac Pro. I have a trashcan, its a great edit box with the super fast SSD tech, but without a Nvidia GPU and dual cpu’s it doesnt have the muscle for serious rendering with on either the CPU or GPU side of things. I wish they would just build a simple box that gave us this and allowed for GPU upgrades. I shudder at the thought of using windows but I am just about out of options. You hit the nail on the head description those of us in smaller studios and freelance situations where you have to do both design and heavy lifting animation. From my experiences most places in NYC are kinda scratching there heads with the current mac pro or still even using the old one. I would like to hear if lots of others feel the same…..? it bums me out that no one in tech media ever talks about the mac pro. I swear there are lots of us suffering silently right now…

    • I’m a Mac guy. I dropped some serious cash on a custom-built Windows box at the end of 2012, with the nVidia Maximus config at the time (Quadro + Tesla). Still runs Windows 7. I still use my 2012 Mac Pro tower as my main machine. Max RAM and multiple SSDs on each.

      While the Windows box has come in handy on several occasions, along with providing a nice C4D Team Render machine, here are the problems I’ve had so far:

      – fonts (some success with TransType Pro)
      – I have never successfully rendered ProRes on Windows without color shifts, so I’ve had to go lossless and port massive files
      – networking
      – dealing with a bunch of anti-virus / malware software, popup ads on every boot
      – had to send the monolithic machine back to the nVidia-recc’d reseller TWICE to fix problems (although it was under warranty.)
      – useless as AE multi-machine renderer without buying extra seats of most plugins (Trapcode, etc.)
      – so far best use of the GPUs has been Element 3D and openGL in C4D working environment. Sadly never found much use for AE raytrace render (once in a blue moon.)

      In the end I’m still glad I have it, but to this day it is anything but seamlessly integrated into my workflow.

  • Yeah -I kind of wish I just kept my old mac pro boxes and pimped them out to the ends of the earth. Is there a way to formulate a survey about this that would be useful in some way? I am not sure what the goal would be. We’re too small a fragment of Apple’s business model to effect change there, and Hackintoshes certainly have their place but won’t fly just anywhere. Even when you look to PC’s you are most likely looking at a custom build which some will take on but some won’t. Anyone have knowledge of killer machines that are built for … well… us? If not, I think I smell a business opportunity.

    • Boxx has been around for a while, and their speciality has always been creating high performance machines custom built around specific media workflows:

      http://www.boxxtech.com/

      I’ve never used them, but I’ve heard great things about them for years.

    • Ken W

      Video editing centric, but a decent guide on how to pimp out an old MPT…

      http://www.onerivermedia.com/blog/?p=1572

  • LOL! Why did I buy MODO?!!!
    This was a very accurate survey. I get about 5years out of a £2k workstation/ After Effects/ C4D/ Premiere!

    My current is a 4 year old Quad3.5Ghz/ GT760 Hackintosh which has been amazing, although looks like a fridge. Same render speeds as my top spec 2014 MPB (and oddly enough beat the PowerMac on AE2015 for a while before adobe fixed that)

    Apart from a few crashes a week … traditional PC fare!

  • The neverending Mac vs. PC dilemma…
    I find myself trying to make up my mind about getting a 5k iMac or a high-spec’d gaming PC.
    Would like to try Octane and that requires a Nvidia card, but to be honest, I spend 99% of the time in After Effects, which uses RAM mainly and the 5k iMac would work great with 32Gb. Also, that screen is a joy to use.

    Anybody in the motion graphics industry using a Retina 5k iMac who can tell us about their experience?

    • I love building PC’s versus buying Mac’s. I’ve got nothing against Mac’s, they are just so fricken expensive compared to what you can do yourself. Have you considered building a Hack-in-tosh? They work surprisingly well.

    • Charlie

      I have the 5k iMac late 2015 release, which can actually go up to 64gigs of ram. I feel so so about it, when everything is working on it the speeds are good in C4D and AE. I don’t find it super stable compared to the Mac Pro trashcan I use at work. It hangs up or over heats and crashes out of programs while render more often then I like. Not sure if AE CC 2015 is also behind some of them problems because of the new way ram previewing works. For the price and with my old MP towers for additional render support it is working for me.

    • i am working on a maxed out 2015 iMac 5k with 40GB RAM too. so far i have not been experiencing any issues. works like a warm knife through butter. it is seriously amazing even when working with heavy AE files. would not wanna trade it for anything. however i am really curious how it is going to work in an C4D/Octane 3.0 Open CL environment…

  • antoine

    Hackintosh! but eventually thats going to hit a wall and were all going to have to switch to windows as apple moves even further away from the pro-market, feels like were being left kinda stuck between apples neglect (if your into GPU stuff… and VR.. ) and Microsoft’s suck. for now, I love my hackintosh. its the best computer ive ever known, half the cost of an equivalent mac, completely stable, and doing octane with osx.

    • Nice. I’m thinking about doing something similar. Would you mind a quick breakdown of your setup? Any advice is appreciated.

      • antoine

        sure thing; got a z97 m-atx mobo with a 4790k and a gtx970 running in yosemite.

      • antoine

        thats a 4.0-4.3ghz quadcore i7

  • I set up my new shop over the past three years with 2009-2012 MacPro towers. We can now find 12-core towers on Craigslist in the SF area for as little as $1200 (we usually boost the ram to at least 40GB and add an SSD). This is the best bang for the buck for multi-threaded software. We now have 30 of these macs used as workstations for artists to work on and they all double up as render nodes in the background/night using Pixar Tractor (easily disable or limit cores when people are working on the box). This 30 Mac farm handles all of our AE/C4D/Houdini/Nuke rendering needs, and if we need more Vray power for Maya we use Zync Render on the google cloud. I don’t think we will ever need any more macs in-house (power is maxed out) and will just scale in the cloud as we move forward.

    • Ervs

      Sounds super solid, Matt. I’m also sticking with 2009-12 MacPro Towers. When I benchmarked, they all ran fastest on OSX 10.6.8. Been running stable (enough) for years. But now there’s pressure from all over the place (software requirements mostly) to upgrade the OS. I’m thinking I wouldn’t want to go higher than 10.8. What OS do you run and have you seen any performance lag, especially with any recent updates?

      • We upgraded to yosemite a few months ago and everything is rock solid.

  • Aharon Rabinowitz

    Fantastic and revealing survey. For Mouse substitute, was a trackpad included in the options. I know some folks that prefer it. (I’m not one of them, but I’m curious.)