I'm working with extremely large illustrator files on a MacBook Pro 2015. Now I'm looking for a setup that will make life smoother for me.

I need to know what's most important – fast CPU or GPU?

Would it get a lot faster if I for instance install an external GPU to my Macbook Pro or should I forget Mac and go for a Windows computer?

I mean since Illustator still(!) only uses one core from the CPU I guess it's all about gigahertz when it comes to CPU?

A lot of questions in one post here but the main issue is: how should I think when it comes to make Illustrator fast?

Edit: I should perhaps add my current config: Macbook Pro 2015, 2,5 GHz Intel Core i7 with NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M 2048 MB and 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3

Also I should note that when working with my documents Illustrator runs at 100% of CPU constantly. 100% as in one out of four cores.

Update oct 2017: I have now tested my document on a Windows computer with one of the fastest desktop processors out there right now, the i7 4.0 Ghz and it wasn't that much faster to be honest. Next up will be testing with a computer that has a major GPU.

  • The bad news. Do not forget RAM into the equation.
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 19:50
  • I presume you have the correct version of Illustrator and would like to use an Nvidia GPU? helpx.adobe.com/illustrator/kb/…
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 20:05
  • Acually, no. I switched back to Illustrator 2014 since 2015 was too slow compared to 2014, even with GPU function on. But I'd like to use 2015 if I figure out a way where I don't have to sit and wait all day long.
    – oskarlin
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 10:26
  • With 2015 and GPU on I have to wait 25 seconds if I turn on or of a layer.
    – oskarlin
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 10:41
  • Adding a comment as you have the answers - a little clarity on a pointsmade. MacBookPro i7 Quad late 2011 with additional 1 GB GPU is categorically not as fast as the equivalent iMac i7 Quad - I bought both at the same time and was initially disappointed with Apple's top line MBP workstation. Laptop form is dumbed down in several areas to compensate for battery, heat and physical space. Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 11:20

6 Answers 6


If you're sticking with Mac, then buying the fastest CPU and GPU that you can afford will get you part / most of the way to the speed that you want, but having lots of RAM will make just as much (if not more) difference. The speed shift from a Mac with 8GB RAM to the same machine with 32GB RAM (particularly when running Adobe stuff) can be astonishing. It's also worth considering the speed of the storage if you are working with big files and (hopefully) saving them regularly, but most new Macs have SSDs by default now. If not, choose the SSD option. Adobe Illustrator (and Photoshop, Indesign, etc) is very greedy with RAM and very inefficient with files sizes so the more headroom the better.

I would not recommend any external GPUs that I have ever seen for Mac. I've worked at a couple of places that trialled such devices and the speed increase was negligible, if noticeable at all. The software needs to know how to use the extra power and (as with the multiple cores that don't get used) Adobe software isn't the best at this and Macs do not generally play nice with third party external CPUs / GPUs. Also, every additional processor is another thing that can crash! I'm sure someone will chip in with a comment if their experience is different from mine...

Now, if you decide to go the PC / Windows route then the rule are very different. In the same way that you can build a PC that is tailored for the best gaming experience, you could build a PC specifically for optimum Illustrator / Graphic Design purposes. The advantage of this is that you could hand pick each component to be the best fit, replace individual bits as better ones become available and make use of your existing 4K screen. You'd have to do a lot of research and you'd probably end up building something that cost similar to (or more than) a comparable Mac, but you could create an extremely fast piece of kit. I'm no expect on this (because I can't bear Windows), but I've worked with people who swear by their PC workstations and insist that Macs are tediously slow in comparison.

Back in Apple world, I would always recommend an iMac over a MacBook Pro for serious work and would definitely not recommend the Mac Mini. Even if it gets updated, they just don't have the muscle. The Mac Pro is currently suffering from the same upgrade neglect - there are faster iMacs now!

One last point; If you are working with 'extremely large' files then there may be improvements that could be made to your workflow that could ease the strain on your hardware. For instance: working with low res images until the file is finalised for release, breaking projects into component parts and combining them as they are approved, working in outline view, etc Depends on your specific use case, but anything that reduces the load on your machinery could save you lots of money and time in the long run.

  • Well the files aren't extremely large, but enough to make the workflow slow. They are maps, around a square meter big but includes millions of vectors. Some with multiply effetcts and others with masks, knockouts etc. It gets pretty messy in the end...
    – oskarlin
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 10:11

Illustrator uses GPU to accelerate most operations.

My experience: a couple of months ago my Illustrator was very slow (at the time I had a GTX650)...for example I was almost unable to vector images due to low processing power of my video card. When I afforded a new GPU it was a whole new world. Illustrator now runs smooth as never before.

Definitely, every component of your PC contributes to the performance of Illustrator, but one of the most important part is a good GPU. Obviously, if you have a very bad CPU the whole program slows down. I hope I was clear! If you have any other doubts, don't hexitate in commenting my answer!

P.s: If you have to do graphic works, I would suggest you to buy an iMac instead (if you want to use a mac), otherwise you should go for an assembled PC or a Workstation, it would be the ideal thing.

  • When I looked at the stats 1,5 years ago between iMac and MacBook Pro, the difference wasn't that much to be honest. I had an idea of getting a Mac Mini (if they release new soon) and add an external GPU to it since I already have a 4K screen.
    – oskarlin
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 13:18
  • 1
    I like the answer because it has a direct and specific experience modifying the hardware.
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 20:03
  • @Oskar Karlin I think that in 1.5 years Illustrator has been updated and optimized...remember that new hardware needs new drivers and the softwares need to update to handle them properly...have you checked more recent benchmarks? Also I want to remark you that GPU processing power is becoming more and more important... Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 22:50
  • Well I heard that Illustrator never will use all cores of a CPU because it's vector graphics and not raster like in Photoshop. But I hope I'm wrong here.
    – oskarlin
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 10:04
  • @OskarKarlin To display the graphics it has to convert them to Raster, and from there it's pretty much the same.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 10:22

I am going to risk a really usless answer here, because I do not know.

But I just want to bring atention to some points and I am gessing that they are related to a specific hardware. First the obvious.

RAM Enough to open large files, with several embeded bitmaps for example (Avoiding swaping to the HD)

Fast Hard Drive to Open the aplication, open the files and saving the work. Some aditional temporal files writing too.

The tricky part I am gessing here

GPU To render the image to a big screen, the preview anti alias, blending modes, when you pan the view, or soom in or zoom out... All this happens all the time.

GPU RAM To render on bigger screens, Full HD, Retina or 4K.

CPU for some internal processes that are inside the file itself like vectorizing a bitmap, converting colors, fills, cutting, welding shapes, etc.

This implies one thing. If your workflow has a lot of zooming, and moving, etc (Oh, I just described the workflow of working in ilustrator). You will need more GPU processing...

I think for example, Photoshop uses more CPU if you play a lot with filters. A paint program uses more CPU too.

  • I have 16 gb memory and is seldom fully used. I use a SSD disk. And for some reason I haven't really noticed any big difference between using my internal Retina screen or the big external one. And yes it's more about antialias, blending modes, knockout groups, masks since I'm making maps. No vectorizing and those things. I guess it's more about GPU than CPU in my case.
    – oskarlin
    Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 10:08

Illustrator can be both GPU and CPU heavy, but as for a graphics program, Illustrator would make a great use of a GPU, much more than a CPU since it is shared with system and all other applications.


When it comes to a Windows Station consider the right GPU AND a fast CPU. I believed the NVIDIA commercials and moved from an older AMD to an GeForce GTX 970 and totally regret that. In other applications it runs fast. On Adobe Illustrator CC 2017 there is a performance inbreak after half an hour working. Even the old AMD ran faster. The System did not change, only the Graphic Card. The official Adobe Illustrator Forums are full of the same problems and NVIDIA didn't change anything for 3 or 4 years. They say they are working on it but it took them 4 years now and nothing changed. Of course I have the latest drivers and 16 GB RAM double channel. I am a pro and built my systems always an my own. Now I consider the AMD FirePro series because NIVIDIA's quattro seem to have the same problems. I suppose it's the driver and it's optimized for gaming. I proposed this one for a huge Design-Company. oder means or Windows-Workstation for Illustrator


Do you have big linked psd files in your illus file? Try tiffs. Somehow illustrator works much faster with tiffs.

Save your document without pdf-compatibility and no colorprofiles.

Hope this helps!

  • No linked files.
    – oskarlin
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 8:55

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