In a recent email, a reader asked, “What specifications should I outfit the new MacBook Pro with to allow it to easily run CPU intensive programs such as Maya and ZBrush?”

Well, this depends on your general speed preferences. If you want it to zip through complex 3D models with very little to no trouble then you’re going to find that in general, the better you specs the faster your experience. There are, however, ways to ensure that your MacBook Pro will run with general ease during typical usage.

Here are the recommended system specs for a 64-bit Maya installation on Mac OS X:

  • Apple® Mac OS® X 10.6.5
  • Macintosh® computer: Macintosh computer with Intel-based 64-bit processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 10 GB free hard drive space
  • Qualified hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card
  • Three-button mouse with mouse driver software
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • HDD: IDE, SATA, SATA 2, SAS, SCSI
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0 or higher, Apple Safari, or Mozilla Firefox web browsers

According to these recommendations, the base model MacBook Pro 13-inch has you covered as far as the OS, processor, hard drive, memory (RAM), graphics card, and DVD-ROM drive are concerned. You’ll need to purchase an after-market mouse for comfortable controls and the included hard drive (5400 RPM) is a bit on the slow side compared to the SSD options available on the MacBook Pro. You’re also just meeting the requirements with the RAM included on the MacBook Pro. An upgrade to this will help your overall system operation during your more intensive tasks. As far as Maya is concerned, the cheapest model MacBook Pro can run it just fine under normal conditions.

Here are the recommended system specs for ZBrush 4 on Mac OS X:

  • OS: Mac OSX 10.5 or newer
  • CPU: Intel Macintosh (Must have SSE2 : Streaming SIMD Extensions 2)
  • RAM: 1024MB (2048MB recommended for working with multi-million-polys)
  • Monitor: 1024×768 monitor resolution set to Millions of Colors
  • (recommended: 1280 x 1024 or higher)

As far as these specs go, you’re good to go with the cheapest MacBook base model in almost all areas. The resolution on a 13-inch MacBook Pro is only 1280×800 which falls short of their recommendations though an external monitor or a move up to a 15-inch model should resolve this shortcoming. The bit about needing SSE2 simply means you need the Intel processors as it was introduced between 2001 and 2004 when the Pentium 4 lead the Intel lineup.

Once you’ve met the basic system requirements set by the software developers, any additional boost to your MacBook’s specs will only serve to make the experience smoother and snappier as your models become more complex. A good rule of thumb when it comes to matching hardware to software is that if your processor is a couple generations newer, the RAM doubled, and the operating system current, you should be fine.