Like most software developers, Autodesk maintains a list of system requirements for 3ds Max that can be used to help ensure the hardware in your system will work with their software. However, this “system requirements” list only covers the very basics of what hardware is needed to run the software, not what hardware will actually give the best performance.
Processor (CPU): The majority of design tasks in 3ds Max (including creating, modifying, and animating 3D models) are only able to utilize a single CPU core. That makes a high frequency CPU, regardless of the core count, an ideal choice for these tasks. Our Design & Animation workstation focuses on this type of workload.
However, many types of rendering engines – like Arnold, which is included with newer versions of 3ds Max, as well as Mental Ray, V-Ray, Keyshot, and others) – are highly efficient at utilizing a high number of cores. In fact, most of these engines scale almost perfectly… which makes a CPU with twice the number of cores almost twice as fast.
Video Card (GPU): When creating, editing, and animating models in 3ds Max, the video card is a large part of how many frames per second (FPS) the viewport is able to display the model at. A higher FPS will result in a smoother and overall better experience when rotating, zooming, or panning around the model you are working on. In general, 30 FPS is considered a minimum acceptable framerate, while 60 FPS is ideal.
With recent versions of 3ds Max, Autodesk has included both Quadro and GeForce cards in their lists of supported GPUs. However, they differentiate between the two in that they call the Quadro cards “Certified” while the GeForce are only “Tested”. While GeForce cards can work well in 3ds Max, Autodesk’s official policy is that they “only recommend and support the professional NVIDIA Quadro and AMD FirePro graphics family cards”. Because of this, our recommended systems both default to NVIDIA Quadro models. For the times when using a GeForce card takes priority over official Autodesk support, like game development or GPU-based rendering, we do list GeForce options as well.
Memory (RAM): While the exact amount of RAM you need is going to depend on your particular projects, for 3ds Max we generally recommend a minimum of 16GB. Very complex scenes may need up to 32GB of RAM, although it is rare for 3ds Max to require more than 32GB. However, if you will be doing a large amount of complex, high resolution rendering, you may need 64GB or even more RAM.
Storage (Hard Drives): With the falling costs associated with SSDs, we almost always recommend using an SSD for the primary drive that will host your OS and the installation of 3ds Max itself. The high speed of SSDs allows your system to boot, launch applications, and load files many times faster than any traditional hard drive. If your budget allows, it is also a very good idea to have a second SSD that can be used to store your active projects to further decrease load and save times.
Since SSDs are still more expensive than traditional drives per GB, for long term storage we recommend using a traditional hard drive (or two if you need even more storage!). Using a SSD can be useful in some situations, but most of the time the high performance of an SSD is simply not required for a storage drive.