We profiled the performance for 3ds max image quality settings and found zero performance penalty. Find out why.

Have you ever heard of adaptive degradation? It's a technique used by software applications in an attempt to maintain interactive frame-rates in complex, large design files. Products like 3ds max and Autodesk Inventor adopted this technique nearly 2 decades ago. 

Today you will still find adaptive degradation to be your default mode of interactive display when you launch 3ds max.  The problem? It doesn't really make any difference in frame rates but it does make the design more difficult to see when the model flips from a solid, rendered image to a wireframe image. 

Another display quality issue concerns the default display modes. 3ds max starts with a basic rendered mode and no anti-aliasing even though 3ds max supports much better rendering and a higher level of anti-aliasing. 


The upper left corner of the 3ds max viewport displays the current rendering mode. A right-click on that text provides a drop-down menu from which you can then select configure. In the dialog box which appears, you have a tab called "Display Performance".  In this dialog, you are able to turn off the adaptive degradation by turning off the related fields such as "Improve Quality Progressively", "Never Degrade Geometry" and by setting "Maintain Frames per Second" to the lowest possible value.  


On the right side of the dialog, you find the settings for anti-aliasing quality. The default is the lowest level  of quality. This you can set to the highest level of quality. 


In the same dialog, select the tab "Statistics". Here you are able to turn on and off the display of statistical information for your scene. This includes the triangle and polygon count of your model and also the frames per second performance. With this information, you are able to verify the performance of your system. 


At PW, we use Windows built-in performance monitor to verify CPU-loads, memory usage, and disk activity. We use TechPowerUp's GPU-Z app to monitor a range of performance values for the graphics. 


So why is image quality in 3ds Max "free"? The reason might make you mad when you understand it. Image quality  comes with no performance penalty because the GPU is not utilized to its full potential. In the PW tests, without anti-aliasing (AA) enabled, the mid-range Quadro K1200 was never pushed beyond a 30% workload. This was with the most simple model, and the CPU was running at less than a 50% workload to feed the GPU which produced 125 FPS without breaking a sweat.  Tell the Quadro to run at it's highest quality level and this GPU delivers excellent display quality, 125 FPS, and still only hits 80% utilization. 


In all of the more complex models, the CPU is fully loaded - for a single core - and the GPU has even more excess performance capacity. In the 30 Ferrari and 50 Ferrari models, the GPU with full AA quality settings is loaded around 40%.  As far as the rest of the workstation & software is concerned, the GPU rendering takes zero time.  There is no performance penalty in order for the GPU to render the highest quality image because the rest of the system is not waiting on the GPU, ... ever. 


High performance is always a balance.  In this case, it looks like a faster CPU is needed even though this test was run on a Skylake Xeon CPU running at 3.6 GHz.


But the balance is between the graphics, the CPU, memory, storage, and the application itself. The issue here is that system performance is not slow due to the CPU, but due to an inefficient 3D pipeline in 3ds Max. It is the application which is not in balance with the rest of the workstation. We know this because there are similar interactive 3D applications with more efficient 3D pipelines. Among these applications, VRED and Showcase, are Autodesk applications.  


In the following table, the average values are provided. The performance and the workloads fluctuate around these mean values.  The CPU workload values are for a single core in our 4-core Skylake Xeon processor. The other cores were idle during these tests.

TestsFPS meanGPU meanCPU mean
3ds Max 1 Ferrari AA off 125 30 47.5
3ds Max 1 Ferrari AA max 125 80 47.5
3ds Max 30 Ferrari AA off 12 27.5 100
3ds Max 30 Ferrari AA max 12 40 100
3ds Max 50 Ferrari AA off 9 27.5 90
3ds Max 50 Ferrari AA max 9 40 90


The PW Perspective

The results above provide important information to workstation users. First, the "optimizations" for display performance in applications like Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Inventor are relics from the stone-age of Windows graphics workstations of the mid-nineties. Second, a mid-range professional GPU like the Quadro K1200 is a perfect choice for 3ds Max and Inventor and you only need a more powerful GPU if using more efficient applications. Third, interactive graphics doesn't use multiple CPU cores. This makes a fast E3 family of Intel Xeon CPUs a better choice than a many-core model of the E5 family.


While we sigh at the inefficient 3D pipelines which our application vendors foist on us, there is promise for the future as we can see that faster, more efficient software is on the market.  In the meantime, get the best image quality from your applications - it's free!



 The top image is the default display quality setting in 3ds Max with no anti-aliasing. The image on the bottom uses the highest quality settings. The display performance is identical for both. (Source: PW)



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