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I use Illustrator to create large, detailed pattern designs. The .AI file size of one of these designs typically exceeds 500MB. When I’m working on a large file like this, Illustrator performance is so slow, taking about 5 seconds for even the simplest operations, like zooming in and out. I’ve tried avoiding Overprint view, and switching to Outline view, and those help only a tiny bit.

Here’s a screen recording showing how moving a group of objects takes about 10 seconds:

https://youtu.be/lrAD9yBE1Pk

The file shown is an 800+ MB .AI file.

Edited just to add stats on Illustrator according to Activity Monitor during the screen recording:

  • CPU 93.3%
  • Memory 4.43 GB
  • Disk 1.6 MB

I’m wondering whether upgrading to the latest Macbook Pro will significantly speed up this process. Or if I just can’t expect to efficiently work on large files on a laptop, and should just switch to an iMac. Or if it’s just that Illustrator performance is really slow compared to Photoshop and InDesign, and it’s an Adobe issue, according to this:

Why is Illustrator throttled to 2% speed when it's in the background?

My current Macbook Pro specs:

  • Macbook Pro 15-inch 2017
  • 3.1 GHz Intel Core i7
  • 16 GB 2133 MHz LPDDR memory
  • Radeon Pro 560 4096 MB memory
  • Intel HD Graphics 630 1536 MB memory
  • 1TB SSD storage

The specs of the Macbook Pro I’m eyeing:

  • Macbook Pro 15-inch (2018 or 2019?)
  • 2.9GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz
  • 32 GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory
  • Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4GB of HBM2 memory
  • 1TB SSD storage

(I’ve also thought about moving to other vector software which have been specifically designed for Mac OS, like Affinity Designer and Sketch, but they seem to be lacking some of the Illustrator features I rely on.)

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    I updated my answer with a reference to the Mac mini, which may be a more cost-effective alternative to an iMac. – n1000 May 10 at 6:39
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Judging from the stats you provide, it seems like it may be a CPU-related issue. Try to investigate this further to understand better if the issue is RAM or CPU related.

To determine CPU use, go to Activity Monitor and press cmd+2 to get the CPU usage graph. See if one CPU is peaking during these operations or if it is multiple CPUs.

According to Geekbench, your MacBook Pro actually has pretty decent performance, however the newer model that you have in mind, would be 15% faster for single-core operations and 46% for multi-core operations, respectively. Moving to an iMac could offer a performance boost of up to 34% and more than 100% for multi-core, respectively. Since you are considering to move to a stationary iMac, you may also want to consider the Mac mini. It currently offers the most "bang for the buck" as it is cheaper than most iMacs. You can even save more money by installing additional RAM yourself (which requires some tinkering) and use external drives via USB-C.

To diagnose RAM usage, have a look at Memory Pressure, which is indicated at the bottom of the Activity Monitor app, when Memory is selected. If it is yellow or red, adding more RAM may actually help.

enter image description here

In addition to that you may want to have a look at Adobe's guidelines on Illustrator performance. Finally, there seems to be / have been (?) an issue with performance on your model and users reported that disabling the dictation feature in System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation helped.

  • Thanks! I looked at the CPU usage graph as you instructed and it does seem to be multiple CPUs peaking. The % CPU is always around 90 to 100+ when I'm working on large files in Illustrator, so I guess it's a CPU issue. I was looking at the RAM memory pressure and it doesn't seem to turn yellow or red at any point, so I guess it's not that. Unfortunately, Dictation is already turned off so it's also not that. – Feanne May 10 at 5:21
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    @Feanne As far as I can tell, Illustrator is not able to use multiple cores. The CPU usage graph may be a bit misleading. If it is multicore use, multiple cores should peak over prolonged periods of time simultaneously. So don’t invest in additional cores unless you know you can benefit from it. – n1000 May 10 at 5:53

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