Building a workstation for computer graphics

Evermotion 2013-01-04 09:50 tutorial  > Article

It's very important for every CG artist to have a fast and reliable computer.

 

It's very important for every CG artist to have a fast and reliable computer. The main focus of this article is to help to choose a workstation that will handle even the most difficult tasks and will well cope with rendering 3d scenes or other CG tasks.

 

Most important component – processor (CPU)

 

How to choose the right model from the long list? We should base this decision on the performance results and price to performance ratio of various CPUs.

The most popular benchmark that is used in majority of the processors' reviews is called Cinebench. It is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software, a popular 3D program used by many studios. This will use all of the processing power to render a 3D scene with global illumination and reflections.

 

TIP: You can download Cinebench version 11.5 here.

 

This test will give You the best answer when it comes to the rendering speed.

I have gathered all the scores below from internet reviews. These may vary a little from review to review, because overall score is also affected by model of mainboard and amount of RAM memory, but only by a narrow margin.

The results include processors at their stock speeds (not overclocked in any way). I am not a big fan of overclocking, because it can often affect system stability and generally we want these to run 100 percent for 24/7. List shows only the latest models which score is above 5.0.

I have also put the latest prices in USD (source: amazon.com).

 

As we can see, the most powerful ones are the latest intel's processors. In my opinion the best two processors that you could buy at the moment are Intel Core i7 3770K and 3930K. The small increase in power with model i7-3960X is currently not worth its price. The processor with the best score to price ratio is the AMD FX-8350. You may choose it if you are interested in building a budget PC.

 

If money are not an issue and you want even faster stuff, you should consider a server-grade motherboard which supports dual CPUs. At the moment the most powerful processors that are prepared to work in dual mode are Intel Xeons E5-2600 series.

The fastest models are E5-2690 and E5-2687W and their cost is around 2000 $. Considering that you will need both of these and a motherboard for another 500-600 $, that's quite expensive buy.

With these 8-core monsters you can achieve over 25 points in Cinebench which is absolutely crazy. Additionally, server motherboards can support even more than 128 GB of RAM, which is often required when it comes to complicated particle simulation in softwares like Naiad or Fume Fx.

 

Choosing mainboard

 

When it comes to motherboard we should consider models with eight DDR3 slots that support up to 64 GB of RAM. Some of the models have fewer slots and 32 GB RAM limit. As I stated earlier, motherboard itself does not really affect rendering speed too much.

According to this test differences are barely noticeable on 6 different models by different manufacturers, so in my opinion we should focus on the things like: reliability, price, overclocking ability, customer support etc. Here is an example of motherboard suitable for 3930K processor.

 

Graphics card

 

Which graphics card should we choose? It depends. For standard work with 3ds max and Vray we may consider buying something cheap, because graphic card will not affect rendering speed, only the viewports speed. For this use I would suggest something cards like GeForce 560 Ti or 660 Ti. But for the users that want to use cards for rendering with software like Octane or Arion I would suggest buying GeForce 580 with 3GB RAM. Memory size is very important when rendering with GPU renderers, because the whole scene has to be loaded there instead of computer RAM. I do not consider Radeon cards because in most cases GPU renderers use CUDA technology which is exclusive to Nvidia's graphics cards. For the ultimate computing power you may want to purchase newest Nvidia Tesla cards with 6GB of memory.

 

 

GPU-powered rendering is becoming more and more popular, because GPU computing power exceeds CPU power. In 2013 Nvidia plans to release new Tesla cards with up to 24 GB RAM. This will allow to create very complicated scenes, which was impossible up to this point due to RAM size limitations.

 

 

Unfortunately Tesla cards are very expensive, and best option at this moment is to stick with GF 580 3GB cards. Arion tests show that at this point Tesla K20C is 50 percent faster than GF 580 and GF 580 is 10 percent faster than 680 in GPU rendering speed.

 

Choosing RAM memory is very simple: buy as much as you can afford, because there is no such thing like too much RAM in CG. RAM size is very important when working on big scenes. To little ram may cause your scene not render or even crash it. Always choose memory modules that can work at maximum speed allowed by your motherboard.

 

Summary

 

I created few setups that you may consider buying. Those not include computer parts like the case, PSU, mouse, keyboard etc. Choosing monitor would require separate article to cover all the details.

 

1. Budget PC

 

Processor: AMD FX-8350 4.0 GHz 190 $

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-990FXA-UD3 150 $

RAM: 4x4GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 90$

GPU: MSI N560GTX-Ti 448 1280MB 190 $

 

Total cost: 620 $

 

2. Medium grade PC

 

Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K 3.5 GHz 320$

Motherboard: MSI Z77A-GD65 LGA 1155 165$

RAM: 4x4GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 90$

GPU: EVGA GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB 290$

 

Total cost: 865 $

 

3. Higher grade PC

 

Processor: Intel Core i7-3930K 3.2 GHz 570$

Motherboard: ASUS Sabertooth X79 LGA 2011 340$

RAM: 4x8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 170$

GPU: EVGA GeForce 580 3GB 500$

 

Total cost: 1580 $

 

4. Server Grade Power PC

 

Processor: Dual Xeon E5-2687W 3800$

Motherboard: EVGA Classified SR-X 650 $

RAM: 12x8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 450$

GPU: EVGA GeForce 580 3GB 500$

 

Total cost: 5400 $

 

5. PC for GPU rendering

 

Processor: Intel Core i7-3930K 3.2 GHz 570$

Motherboard: ASUS Rampage IV Extreme 430$

GPU: EVGA GeForce 580 3GB x4 2000$

RAM: 4x8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 170$

 

Total cost: 3170 $

 

The most important thing is to choose computer that is corresponding to your needs. This may save you a lot of money. There is no point in buying a powerful PC which power can't be properly utilized.

Author: Evermotion
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linnarri01:45:34  |  06-01-2013
well, nice list of recommendations, especially for beginners. But you probably forgot ti mention a Quadro line of GPU's, that is really important. Also, I don't agree with your opinion about CPU overclocking, because I run my i5 2500K at 4,4Ghz 24/7 for rendering, and it is absolutely fine. So for those, who knows how to properly overclock a CPU, this is really good way to unlock a significant amount of additional computing power.
George R.13:26:08  |  07-01-2013
Thanks a lot for this article, it brings a lot of help to beginners like me. As I am preparing to buy a new system especially for GPU rendering and architecture in general this article is very helpful for me but I still have a big dilema even tho I read a lot of articles about this - which one between a MacPro or a PC is better for architecture and rendering ? I don't request for an elaborated analysis just a simple point of vue if anyone is willing to give. Thanks!
Hankash08:51:43  |  03-07-2013
Good day, Great useful info, I have an HP Z800, with dual XEON 5690, and 32 GB and a quadro 600, now i want to upgrade it. My workflow is 80%, 3ds max, I rarely use GPU rendering. and 20% adobe suit and other 3D packages. Would it be more convenient to get a Quadro 4000K, or a price equivalent GTX, or maybe two GTX. Any advice is highly appreciated. Cheers
Ocean120:44:22  |  19-01-2014
This is a great article. I appreciate the format, including the five levels of builds. I was wondering what changes you would make now that we're in January 2014, a year later. I would be looking at a medium or possibly higher grade pc. Thanks.
Pisikaka14:26:38  |  29-01-2014
Im sure you know already, that hardware and its pricing is changing fast ;) So I would love to see an updated article of 'Building a workstation' for 2014. That would be great!
ashiscg12:20:34  |  09-12-2014
Hello, this article is 2013-01-04. Right now hardware has being more updated. Please highly request. advice me. I would like to setup a workstation right now for 3d modeling, animation, rendering, and motion graphics. I have all ready Quadro 4200K Graphic card. which Mother board, Processor and Ram will be perfect match with Quadro 4200K Graphic card for best performance to work ?

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