Here’s a version rundown of 3ds Max.
3ds Max 2011 is cool. In fact, left unpatched, it was actually fairly reliable and trouble-free. But if you’re running Windows 8, you’ll get strange random freezes and crashes. Completely at random. It can happen even when the program is left idle. This does not happen if you patch it to SP1 or SP2. But if you do that, you start having weird problems with CAT. The service packs actually introduce terrible bugs, such as shoulder objects disappearing if you move them.
3ds Max 2012 is by far the most crash-happy version I’ve encountered. CAT is unusable. The viewport performance isn’t very fast. Patch it to the latest SP and it actually becomes decent, but there are still a few issues with CAT. It needs to be run as administrator or you get registry error pop-ups.
3ds Max 2013 is better, but the plugin interface has changed, so old plugins made for 2012 and below won’t work. The viewport performance is a little better. As usual it’s better to wait for the service packs to do anything. The same little problems with CAT remain.
3ds Max 2014, once again, makes CAT unusable when not patched to SP1. It took until Service Pack 3 for a really stupid modeling bug to be fixed. Service Pack 4 was so bad that they pulled it off the website because it was corrupting installations. Service Pack 5 is fine except there’s a huge performance regression with high-poly models. It’s basically impossible to interact with models above 400k polygons, and very hard around that threshold, because you’ll be waiting several seconds for each of your operations.
So I regret upgrading to SP5, because 2014 SP3 was pretty much the best version so far for my uses (modeling and animating using CAT).
The most puzzling question of all is: how does this happen? Every year, bugs that were squashed with service packs resurface. Issues that were patched 3 years ago come back again. Is the 3ds Max code base so old and mangled and tentacular that it’s basically unmaintainable, or are the programmers working for Autodesk incompetent? Is it both?