Much of the history was from the wikipedia page.
General Overview of changes since v13
A:M v16 (and up) utilizes multi-cores using OpenML for Finding Normals and a few other functions (where it makes sense). Like that today you can handle more patches in a single model than before. It highly depends on your core-amount and the power of your system and yes you will still run into the problem somewhere. Best is to avoid that by assembling together multiple models in the chor. The new Snap-To-Surface-Feature in v17 maybe helpful there too.
There are many changes from v13 on. I am not totally sure what was in v13, but these are the bigger and "newer" features in A:M (not in chronological order):
- Speed improvements (especially from v15 to v16 but also for v17) for both Windows and Mac. (windows-computers seem to perform a little better so).
- Netrenderer now included with 4 cores for free and addtional cores that can be bought seperatly for a very reasonable price).
- IBL, Ambient Occlusion (with Transparency-Support) and FastAO (> Plugin, actually called "FakeAO" which is very fast, the newest one even can use the GPU-power, but even the CPU-version takes only a few seconds to render with)
- Hair-Shaders (additional to the standard-hair-system)
- HDRI-Rendering with Buffer-Output
- STL-Export (for example used by 3d-printers)
- MDD-Animation-Data-Export (to export vertexed-based animation). > for example to get animation-data to Modo)
- RenderPresets to share render-settings in an easy way.
- Selection-Filters for easier selection.
- SubSurfaceDisplacement (I am not sure if this is really new for v13 or if it was included there already).
- Bake Surface (> bake Surface-attributes to decals so they may render faster. Includes an AutoUnwrap-Algorithm which is best to be used with 3d-Painter)
- Newton Physics (I am not sure if this is really new for v13 or if it was included there already, but they have been improved in v15 if I am not wrong).
- 2008 rig, face rig, lightrig
- Snap-to-Surface (in A:M v17)
- A:M Answers (in A:M v17)
- UV-Editor-Improvements (in A:M v17)
- Screen Space Ambiant Occlusion render setting
- Added support for OpenGL3 (and higher); Windows 32bit Direct3D realtime driver removed
- Sticky Mode option
- GPU-post effects and native support for SAO
- Polygon export with additional high subdivision level (up to 4096) for export (not only for STL but all the exporters) and in realtime displays
- Polygon mode (OpenGL3 only)
- GPU Postprocess effects (OpenGL3 only); work in netrender slaves if available
- Snapshot the active view to a file
- Animation:Master Answers
- SSE4 - For newer processors, which are compatible with SSE4, A:Ms rendering will be up to 15% faster.
- Create your own "Support"-page
- an indication-border if you have the Animate-Mode deactivated
- Hires Simulation
- Copy surface-group-values; Create material from group-settings; Copy group-pivot to material
- SSS was speeded up.
- 64-bit Version
- Netrenderer-integration with Multicore-support
- 3d connexion device support
- overall performance-boost
- Baked Materials
- Hash Animation:Master Realtime (HA:MR) integration
- Non-Linear Editing
- Ambient Occlusion (AO)
- Image-based Lighting (IBL)
- Rigid-body Dynamics
- File formats now XML based.
- Layered Rendering into OpenEXR image format
- SDK (enables 3rd party plug-ins)
- Soft-body Dynamics
- A major advance, removing the requirement in previous versions that characters be broken into parts and reassembled in the boning process
- Added numerous skeleton "constraints" which enabled the development of advanced character animation rigs.
- particle effects known as "blobbies".
- last version to use ".seg" as its primary model format.
- last version made available in a Unix port. Future versions would be available for Macintosh and Windows.
- introduced full 3D inverse kinematics (IK).
- released as Martin Hash's 3D Animation.
- The pro version was named Animation:Master.
- marketed as "Will Vinton's Playmation" in conjunction with the Will Vinton Studio.
- The Mac version was released in 1993.
- An article from Amazing Computing from January, 1989.