MacBook Pro or Surface Pro 3 for art/animation?

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by jimmyrocket, Sep 29, 2014.

  1. jimmyrocket macrumors newbie

    Sep 29, 2014
    Hi everyone!

    I want to buy the new MacBook Pro or Surface Pro 3. I will use this notebook for my work. I do animations, game development, graphic design.

    I've been using MacBooks for some time now. They have always worked excellent and I was going to upgrade to the newest Macbook Pro. Surface Pro 3 has a really interesting touchscreen/pen feature thought. With this feature, I wouldn't have to carry my wacom tablet with me when I work outside.

    How well does Surface Pro 3 touchscreen/pen work with Adobe programs? Should I stick with Macbook Pro? Any experiences?

    Thanks for help!
  2. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I think the SP3 can be a good choice, but I believe the MBP is a better all around computer, as typing and running the apps will perform better but that's just my $.02
  3. geoff5093 macrumors 68020


    Sep 16, 2014
    Dover, NH
    Just get a MacBook Pro with a Wacom tablet, best of both worlds. I had a Surface Pro 2, and ended up returning it for a 13" MacBook Pro Retina. I know the new Surface Pro 3 is better in every regard, but I still feel it isn't a complete laptop replacement, I can never find myself able to comfortable use the keyboard, the trackpad is awful on the type cover, and overall it just feels like an addition to a laptop, not a replacement.
  4. RedBanana macrumors member

    Feb 25, 2011
    If you are aiming at animations, rendering in real time, video encoding, etc. You are looking at the GPU to be good. If you do a little research you will find Adobe now support all recent GPU architecture, all the grunt work is now done on the GPU, and say you are doing 4K video then this really matters.

    The current MacBook Pro GPU's are old and due a refresh very soon, if I was you (oh look I am), hold off and wait for the Pro's to be updated. It looks like Apple are going with AMD for the next iMac so expect some sort of latest AMD R9 GPU.

    The Surface Pro 3 is a magnificent thing... but no GPU, has integrated graphics. Not good for video editing at a pro level say.

    Another alternative: Look at "gaming notebooks" like the "Gigabyte P25 V2" with its GTX 880M GPU:
    This is the sort of spec I'd expect a refreshed Macbook Pro 15-17" to meet.

    The pen is excellent, just google for professional artist reviews and you will see they all love it, even on the Surface Pro 1.

    That said, the Wacom CINTQ 13HD is a lovely device.

    All in all, if you want Mac Pro, wait for a refresh. If you are looking to do some 4K video editing or writing games and have $2000, wait for a Macbook Pro refresh or look at gaming laptops with 870/880/980 GPUs. If all you are doing is photoshop and 1080p video editing you can get away with a current MPB or the SP3 or any other $1100 laptop.

    I would also consider a $700 4K monitor to add to your system from what is sounds like you are doing (but make sure you have a decent GPU to support that resolution when rendering/video editing too!).
  5. Atomic Walrus macrumors 6502a

    Sep 24, 2012
    It's critical to distinguish between the Wacom digitizers found in the SP1 and SP2 and the N-trig digitizer found in the SP3. You won't find many artists praising N-trig, though I've seen some who called it "acceptable." Its main fault is linearity, which means that unless you draw quick strokes the resulting line is not particularly linear (stair step pattern).

    N-trig also has an odd pressure curve (not talking about # of pressure steps, but the actual physical range it detects). It requires more force than Wacom's implementation to make an initial force and the detected force range is so high that you'll end up flexing the screen glass if you try to apply 100% pressure.

    I'm not.. specifically saying that it's bad, it's just that you're already compromising some digitizer quality going from a dedicated Wacom tablet to a "penabled" device, and N-trig is another step below that.

    There's a thread here that has some linearity tests:

    The Penabled (Wacom) digitizers all show some wobble with slow strokes, but the SP3's digitizer takes it to a new level. The Companion was the only tablet PC that actually "passed" the linearity test completely (because it's just a 13" Cintiq with laptop internals), but I couldn't recommend that device because it is out of date (Ivy Bridge) and known to have a high failure rate on the charging port.
  6. RedBanana macrumors member

    Feb 25, 2011
  7. Atomic Walrus macrumors 6502a

    Sep 24, 2012
    If you're going to reference Mike Krahulik's review you might want to know about the very negative comments he made a few weeks later (and subsequently pulled since he's working with MS to provide feedback for future SP devices). I couldn't find the full text, but it's referenced here and there:

    Anyway, I'm not criticizing specs, I'm explaining the technical issues behind the performance of the digitizer. I've been using Wacom devices for nearly a decade, I own an SP1, and I returned my SP3 because of the poor linearity, higher activation force, and the generally odd pressure curve (the throttling isn't great either but that's a different concern and probably doesn't matter for many artists). You do gain better corner accuracy, but you trade for hover lag so menu interaction is still not ideal.

    You'll find complaints about this issue wherever the SP3 is discussed, though you might have to dig back a bit since it's been out for a while now.

    My point isn't that the SP3 is a bad device for artists, it's simply that you don't want to apply SP1/2 artist reviews to the SP3 without understanding that it uses a very different digitizer. If you're familiar with Wacom digitizers you should try the SP3 out and see if the N-trig digitizer is going to work for you. It may or may not depending on your style (for example if you do mostly line work with fast strokes the linearity won't be an issue).
  8. librarian macrumors regular

    Sep 24, 2011
    but still the sp3 is limited, compared even to a cintiq companion regardless of the superior hardware.
    Sp3 Pen lack programmable buttons (cannot do macros wich are essential forsoftware that are different than photoshop). It also lack hardware buttons wich are required for hotkey/tool switch. Unless you wanna relay on toolbars only wich are very impratical and slows you down.
    As someone else stated, cintiq companion is outdated (intel4000, max 8gb of ram, faulty charger design). While the Surface Pro 3 equipped with i7 suffers of thermal throttle/shutdown.
    I've used both devices and the number one issue is that you can't work extensively without a real hardware keyboard, the devices gets hot quite fast while performance isn't great.
    These kinds of devices aren't mature enough for their purposes, it will be a couple of years before we can see something actually workable.

    If you're an artist working bleeding edge 3D next generation stuff, the current macbook line has very little value because of outdated specs. As someone else said, competition offers better hardware for less money.
    If your job is mainly 2D stuff, the 15" rmbp is enough for you.
  9. apolloa, Oct 1, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2014

    apolloa macrumors G4

    Oct 21, 2008
    Time, because it rules EVERYTHING!
    I follow a You Tube channel where the guy plays PC games on his Surface, he bought a new core i7 surface Pro 3 and has had terrible throttling issues with it, basically the tablet is too thin for the CPU/ GPU to cope with heat when playing games. So far he has resolved it by using a fan pad thing to place it on.

    So I don't know how that would translate to the same machine doing games development and Adobe work etc but I guess under heavy CPU and GPU workload it may throttle too and performance will suffer, Microsoft released a firmware update that was supposed to have helped but apparently it hasn't.

    So based on that, and I am no games developer, but I would stick with a Mac. Just so you know the guy on the You Tube channel also has a Surface Pro 2 i5 and it performs better.

    EDIT: Ah, found the video where he runs a games benchmark and shows the throttling in action:

  10. ha1o2surfer macrumors 6502

    Sep 24, 2013
    that would be nice to have an 880m in a Macbook but too much power for Apple to handle in a laptop. giving the TDP is more than apples entire macbook combined. lol
  11. paolo- macrumors 6502a

    Aug 24, 2008
    I'm at a similar crossroad.

    I don't have much experience with the SP3, I only tried it for 15min in the store. Mainly with the pen, I was quite impressed, palm rejection worked well for me and the pressure sensitivity was also on par with my graphics tablet experience (entre-level wacom and monoprice tablets). I was also impressed by the touch cover. I expected it to be horrible but I was pleasantly surprised. The throw of the keys felt quite similar to that of the rMBP. Being a very light typist, I didn't mind it at all. Also, with the slight angle on the keys, I think it might be more comfortable for prolonged typing. I believe the pen works fine in Adobe software, Adobe is also currently developing a touch version of Photoshop for use with the Surface. Right now, you can double the size of the elements (might be a bit too big for my liking).

    I think the big difference will come down to computing power and when do you need a laptop. Obviously, the SP3 will not hold it's own when compared to the top 15" rMBP. The processor is slower, has throttling issues when being maxed for a long time and doesn't have a dedicated graphics card. I do CAD work, rendering but also video editing and music production as a hobby (ok a bit of gaming and photography too). What I'm slowly realizing is that I don't need the full power of my rMBP everywhere I go. For example, my old 2008 MacBook could handle most of my work just fine, it was just slow when getting to the hard number crunching parts of the projects like large structure analysis, high res renderings, video editing exports, doing the final mix and polish on a large track... However, all of that typically doesn't happen on the road. It happens at my desk.

    This got me thinking. For the price of a top 15" rMBP, I can get one of the entry level SP3 which will be more portable, have nice pen features and be able to do some double duty as a tablet. I can also build a pretty swell desktop which would crush the rMBP and still fall within budget...

    TL;DR SP3 looks pretty good, I'd consider looking at getting the SP3 + desktop to replace my rMBP.
  12. wallaby, Oct 1, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2014

    wallaby macrumors 6502


    Jun 5, 2007
    I recently bought a Surface Pro 3 for the exact same reasons you mentioned. I had taken some videos to put together for a review, but I haven't sat down to make the movie yet, so here's some textual context.

    The Surface Pro 3 is a great device. If only the software on it were more specialized toward making art, it might have been a viable option. For me, I decided it wasn't. Most of the reasoning behind this for me was the fact that I was never sure what mode I should be in: Metro (tiled interface + apps) or desktop. I loaded Photoshop CS5 on the thing in desktop mode and the interface was infinitesimally small. Added on top of that, the pen didn't seem to recognize strokes very well in that program. Things fared much better in Manga Studio 5 and the preinstalled One Note application, but I didn't want to use a note-taking application for drawing comics on the go, and I foresaw frustration with Manga Studio simply because there's no good way to do shortcuts. I use an Intuos Pro at work and an Intuos 4 at home, and I'm dependent upon having some controls for my brush size, canvas zoom, eraser, undo, redo, etc. If I were holding the Surface Pro like a tablet (probably in the crook of my arm), the only way to accomplish these was through the menu. Perhaps there might have been a third party toolbar application I could have installed and configured, but I still thought it would be frustrating to have to dip and roll the pen over the screen just to get the tool I wanted. I'm a keyboard addict, plain and simple.

    Then there's the fact that even though Windows 8 is a pretty good operating system, I just prefer OS X. I'm too used to the keyboard shortcut system, and I just don't have the patience to deal with Microsoft's more cursor- and menu-based operating system.

    Edit: forgot to mention, the pen and digitizer are fine. I've used Wacoms all my life and I didn't feel let down by the N-Trig at all. Palm rejection is top-notch, too. The touch keyboard is a required accessory, and much improved over the previous versions, especially the track pad. The thing felt damn speedy to me, although I wasn't using very super-intensive programs on it. The Wi Fi seemed to buckle a bit under intense load. It's nice and light, much more than you'd expect, but it's not iPad Mini-light.

    So here's what I'm gonna do. I returned the Surface Pro 3 tonight (BB). I ordered an Intuos Small (the new name for the Bamboo tablets) off Amazon last night, and am going to test that with my current Macbook. Provided I'm happy with that as a mobile studio, I'm thinking I'll probably (finally) upgrade to a new 13" rMBP. The 2007 dinosaur I'm currently doesn't even get 2 hours of battery life, and this is the third battery I've been through. If not for that, I'd probably keep using the damn thing. Expresscard SSDs and 4Gb of RAM can keep you going for a pretty long time. ;)

    My recommendation for you: get the device that's more comfortable for you. If you're a point-and-click type of guy, the SP3 might do fine for you. If you're a Mac enthusiast (and it sounds like you are), it might pay to stay in the Apple walled garden. Plus, what with buying a laptop and a separate Wacom, you can decide whether to bring one device or the other depending on your needs for the day. And they're both good at what they do.

    A third option would be to buy a Wacom Companion Hybrid, however, I've heard the battery life on those is not great, and you'd be dealing with Android drawing apps when you're on the go. Not necessarily a bad thing, but just something to keep in mind.
  13. paolo- macrumors 6502a

    Aug 24, 2008
    Wallaby did you try the experimental feature for the SP3 in Photoshop? It should double the GUI size and I think gives you some other touch features that might not be there by default. I've gotta agree though, I don't think the tablet works well to draw on with the keyboard attached and Photoshop is much faster to use with a keyboard. I guess one could use a bluetooth keyboard when doing serious work with the SP3 but that sort of defeats the purpose of a small device.
  14. RedBanana macrumors member

    Feb 25, 2011
    And now we need 970M:

    40% more energy efficient, 40% more powerful than 870M. The MBP 750M is looking very underwhelming now. With the power savings along with the current price of the MBP 15" (compared to the $2000 top MSI Ghost), surely we are due an update!
  15. ha1o2surfer macrumors 6502

    Sep 24, 2013
    A 750m is a great performer just not in a macbook. But you're right, apple need to update!

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