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Best Mac for heavy InDesign work

Community Beginner ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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Hi –

 

I have an M1 Mac Mini with 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD.

 

I'm finding large InDesign files can be very sluggish and wondered if my machine sounds like it's underpowered. My InDesign files can be large brochures of around 100 pages with lots of photography and Illustrator imported graphics. Or they could be presentations which include large PSD files, graphics produced in InDesign etc. Or they may be brand guidelines which will include all of the above – photography, lots of text, imported graphic files etc.

 

I think what I'm most unclear about is whether RAM, M1/M2/Pro/Max chips, CPU cores or GPU cores are most important. Or are they all just as important? I need a desktop not a laptop so any advice on making my current machine better or looking to the future what I should invest in next would be a great help.

 

Thanks

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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First of all - how often are you doing SAVE AS with a new name?

If not at all - then that could be the main reason for sluggishness.

InDesign, when you click just "Save" is saving info about Undo history, that history is "lost" for access after you close your file - but still part of the INDD file making it big and slow.

So you HAVE to do Save As with a NEW NAME at least once a day. As an extra bonus - you will have a backup copy of your file.

Of course, once a week or depends how many of those backups you have - you should delete most of them - leaving maybe one for each day - just in case.

 

The next problem - maybe your files are too big in terms of amount of information, number of pages - too many linked files - try to split your document into Chapters - then use Book option.

 

Then maybe your files are just to large to begin with - what is the destination of your files - are they printed - where and how - or just for web? What is the color space, resolution, pixel size? If PSD/TIFF - do you use a lot of layers?

Same for AI / PDF vector files. Are they complicated?

If your files are complicated - maybe try to export "lighter" version to be placed in the InDesign.

 

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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One more thing - do you work "remotely" - have some files linked over the network / VPN / some Cloud service ?

 

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Community Beginner ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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I forgot to say I work remotely but all my files are on my local HD.

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Community Beginner ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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Thanks for the detailed reply Robert.

 

I never do a Save As I have to admit so will try that. I also don't split the document up but am loathe to that if possible as I need to move back and forth all around the file making multiple design changes.

 

In terms of the PSDs, PDFs, AI's, JPEGs which go into the document, many are supplied and are so numerous I don't want to go in and change the file size although I know most aren't any bigger than they should be which is always 300dpi as this aprticular brochure is for print.

 

The reason I'm keen to find out the best configuration for a new machine is twofold.

 

Firstly because this also happens in Adobe Illustrator when I've been given files with multiple artboards – again containing graphic and image heavy content. It happens to a lesser extent in PhotoShop though.

 

Secondly because I'm thinking of upgrading my machine at some point. The Mac Mini was a stopgap which I was forced to buy just before the Studio came out. I'd like my next purchase to last me a while, as my Macs normally do so I'm keen to find out what to invest in – RAM, CPU cores, GPU cores etc.

 

Any help with this would be great. Do you use large InDesign files and if so what spec is your machine?

 

Thanks

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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I prefer Windows and PC so can't advise on Mac specs - which are overpriced anyway... 

 

Not sure if InDesign on Mac is single-thread application - like on a PC - so I would go for fastest CPU you can afford and a lot of RAM - internal drive isn't so important as you can always connect something external - I've heard that ssds on Macs are "soldered" inside so you won't be able to upgrade and the price difference between ssd sizes are crazy so I would go for something "in the middle" + something external. 

 

What I have - beside a laptop - is a Dell t7610 - 2x 10 cores = 40 threads and 512 GB of RAM... yeah, half of your current ssd. 

 

Handy, when you need to rasterize big and complicated map in PDF - for a friend - as 300dpi for the max size allowed in Photoshop - or run 10x VMs with 32GB of RAM each.

But for most people - it's overkill.

 

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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As a professional graphic designer and former hardware dealer for digital media, I'd spec this for you:

  • SSD drive (solid state drive) which is faster than older "hard" drives. This speeds up your performance overall.
  • 500 GB minimum, but I encourage you to invest in a 1 TB. Our digital media files use a lot of drive space for caching while we work on them.
  • RAM:  32 GB minimum, but based on your workflow, I encourage you to spring for 64 GB or even 128 GB, since you'd like to keep the computer around for a few years.
  • VRAM (GPU): this drives your display card for the screen and it has memory, too. The more RAM on the GPU, the faster your screen refreshes especially with a file loaded with graphics.  However, with the new M1/M2 Silicon Macs, the GPU is incorporated into the main processor, so this strengthens the argument for 64 GB RAM or more on the main processor — it's doing 2 jobs.
  • 2 monitors. And the RAM to drive them, too.

 

Do keep in mind that the Silicon systems are having lots of problems running InDesign. Too many crashes and installability. STILL, after 2 years since Adobe started retooling the creative suite for the new Macs.

 

So hold off for as long as you can and check the forums here where folks come to complain about the crashes <grin>

 

|    Bevi Chagnon   |  Designer & Technologist for Accessible Documents
|    Classes & Books for Accessible InDesign, PDFs & MS Office |

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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My view:

 

RAM is way more important than the difference between various Mx processors.

 

For example, if you have budget contraints and have to choose between an M1 Max Mac with 32 GB and M1 Ultra with 16 GB, then choose the first one.

 

16 GB is just a bare minimum sufficient to somehow survive. In my view, at least 32 GB is a must - but yet more RAM is much better.

 

Once again, that's just my take on it from my experience.

 

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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Exactly, RAM 1st, then CPU, then ssd drive. 

 

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Community Beginner ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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This is a reply for all that have responded – a big thanks for all the info.

 

My old iMac had 32GB RAM but as I said, I was forced into buying something out of necessity and a maxed out Mini with 16GB was my only choice at the time.

 

I'd like 64GB, ideally 128GB RAM but will have to see what I can afford first at the time. Thanks for the help, it's good to hear from others who've been using ID for as long as I have that it's RAM, CPU/GPU then SSD which was what I was guessing but wasn't sure of.

 

I still feel that even if I get a high spec machine that ID isn't going to fly in the way I'm imagining. I just have a niggling feeling it isn't optimised fully yet...

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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Other sources of sluggishness are large numbers of cross-refences and large numbers of GREP styles. GREP stykles are ALWAYS slower than other methods of applying formatting if other methods can be used. A full hard drive can be a problem, as well.

If you don't need the portability of a laptop, then yes, a desktop is a better buy, but I've switched from having a primary desktop and a laptop for the road to just having one really powerful laptop which I use on my desk with a 30" external monitor, USB keyboard and a mouse. Like Robert I'm a PC guy, so it's a bit easier to spec a high-end laptop (gamer machines are really graphics workstations in disguise). For about $2k I was able to buy a top-of-the-line gaming machine from the previous season with a fast 6-core processor, 32 gb ram, two 1tb ssd drives, and an nVidia video card with 6gb onboard ram.  Every bit as fast as my old desktop which I built from parts but probably about $500 more costly. On the other hand, I've saved the cost of a second computer...

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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I've got both Macs and Windows systems in my studio — a laptop and a desktop system for each platform. Everybody has their own thoughts on this, so please take this as just another one, to accept or reject as you see fit.

 

Since you're on the Mac platform and looking for a new system, a SSD drive is a given. Unlike some who have said buy a big drive, I'd suggest if speed is your goal you should buy a small one. Small is fast. 256GB of SSD space is enough to hold your MacOS, all of Creative Cloud, a full MSOffice install, plenty of utilities and fonts, and in my case a lot of music on iTunes for personal enjoyment.

 

It's not enough to store a lot of work, though. So I'd recommend a Thunderbolt 4 case using an NVMe "blade" SSD board for your external SSD. Your Thunderbolt 4 drive will have a max throughput speed of 40GBps, which beats M2/M2 Pro benchmarks for throughput speed on your native Silicon SoC, at a price considerably less than buying more storage space on/in your Mac. Onboard storage I/O for the Max and Ultra versions are up to 50% faster, at truly obscene prices, for measurable but diminishing terms.

 

Take those savings and buy as much processing RAM for your new Mac as you can afford, as it is not upgradeable and is absolutely vital to your real-world speed using Adobe apps. 64GB, or if you can spring for it, 128GB is solid future-proofing insurance for your investment. Processing memory reduces the need for accessing storage, since larger working files can be processed within RAM. Like the adage goes, you can't be too rich, too thin, or have too much RAM.

 

I'd suggest not getting lost in the number of CPUs/GPUs. Just recognize the hierarchy of Mx/Mx Pro/Mx Max and Mx Ultra. Prices go up dramatically as you climb that hierarchy, but as the expression says "Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?"

 

But if you're looking for a new, faster Mac I'd suggest maybe waiting a month or two before you make your investment. While Apple's September event is rumored to feature Apple Phone/Watch upgrades, there are running changes/upgrades to many Apple products in the runup to the Christmas shopping season. You may see a new M3something to covet, or a helpful price drop for the M2something sysytem you've had your eye on for some time. Jus' Sayin'.

 

Hope this helps,

 

Randy

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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Community Expert ,
Aug 23, 2023 Aug 23, 2023

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I didn't say anything about buying an SSD bigger than necessary either. I said it's cheaper to buy adequate storage with an external SSD, with Thunderbolt 4 connections, which easily rivals the speed of Apple's expensive SoC internal storage options sold for far more money. And that a smaller SSD on the Mac SoC platform is faster. Don't let your anger overcome your understanding. 

 

Randy

 

[remarks removed by moderator]

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Community Beginner ,
Aug 28, 2023 Aug 28, 2023

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Thanks for this, a lot of help.

 

I had wondered about getting a base Mac Studio but spend as much as I could on RAM and then buy an external SSD. I don't like too much stuff dangling out of the machine if I can help it, especially as the SSD would need to be permanent but with the way Apple is pricing it's machines and RAM at the moment it may be something I need to do.

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