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I've found at least one reference to an apparently-ongoing problem with 3ds max. Mainly, too many objects in one scene (regardless of polycount) makes the whole app bog down and has for years. I'm using 2016 but again, from what I've seen this inability to handle scenes with lots of items has been an issue for a long time.
What techniques do people use to fight this, especially with ships covered in greebles? I'm thinking of booleaning the instanced plating to a raft so it's only technically six objects, but there are still myriad gun turrets, windows, etc.