Building a PC for 3D work

I’ve decided to retire my old and trusty i7 920 machine as a render node and build a new workstation. It’s been 5 years since I purchased it and in the world of technology my computer is already ancient :)

I will start out with a disclaimer – I’m not a professional pc builder, nor am I always following the latest hardware news. However, I have spent a few weeks researching my options. Anyway, take this with a grain of salt, as everyone has slightly different needs for a pc.

There is one issue that is always there when deciding on a new computer – Do I buy now or wait a couple of months until “the next great thing” comes out? Today that next great thing would be Ivy Bridge-E 6 core CPUs in the September or Haswell-E 8 core processors a year after that.
As always, you should analyse the benefits of waiting and if it’s worth sticking with the lower productivity until that time.
Ultimately it comes down to this – there is always going to be something faster around the corner, if I would keep on waiting, I would still be running a Pentium 2 machine.

The 4930k Ivy Bridge-E coming out in September will be more expensive and not really that much faster than the current Haswells, so it’s out.
8 core CPUs are still a year in the future, so they are out as well.

Since I decided that it is not worth waiting a couple of months for a marginal (10% speed upgrade), I can focus on the technology that is available now.

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First of all… my budget! I can not afford flashy boxx workstations or dual xeon monsters from dell or hp, so I am looking at a self-built, not overly expensive rig (~1500 eur max)

Here is the config I will buy:

CPU: Intel i7 4770k

A fast CPU is the most important thing for 3d work. Everyone wishes their render speeds were faster!

Amd is so far behind the i7s, it’s not even funny, so Intel would be my first choice.
Interestingly enough, the 2 years old 3930K 6 core CPU is slightly faster, but costs about 2.5 times more, I personally think it is not worth that extra cost.

I will be overclocking the 4770k to about 4.0 – 4.3GHz to squeeze out a bit more power. Haswell CPUs are notorious for crappy temperatures even at stock speed, so I will try delidding it and using a better thermal paste than the one that comes from factory
*** This voids the warranty, so it’s not recommended. Try at your own risk! ***

If you do not wish to overclock, you can choose 4770 (without K) to save a few bucks.

CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D14

Good cooling is a must for an overclocked pc, so i will not pinch pennies in this area. NH-D14 is universally recommended as one of the top air-coolers available.

If you do not want to overclock, you can stick with the stock cooler that comes with your CPU.

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H

Choosing a motherboard can be very confusing, since there are so many choices out there. I think it’s best to stick with a reliable brand you trust and pick a model that has all your needs covered and is within your budget.

Memory: Corsair Vengeance Low Profile 32GB (4x8GB)

Since the motherboard has only 4 slots of ram, I will be filling them all. I have experienced the problems that come from having too little memory in the past (even with 16gb), so it’s not something I want to run into again.
If you decide to get only 16gb, please make sure you use 2x8gb modules so you can add 2 more later if needed. If you you use 4x4gb, an upgrade means your old ram is worthless.

I went with the low profile ram, because there is no real difference in performance, but it is easier to fit a large cpu cooler right next to it.

HDD: 128 GB Samsung 840 Pro SDD for system and software + 4x2TB Toshiba DT01ACA200 in a Raid 10 setup

Fast and reliable SDD for the system really does make a difference, so that’s what I’m going to use. 128gb should be enough for this purpose.

For storage I will go with a raid 10 setup for speed + reliability. It might be an overkill, but I want to feel safe about my data (obviously backups to an external storage location are a must as well. Amazon Glacier seems like a reasonably priced option here)
All HDDs fail sooner or later, it’s just a matter of time.

GPU: Quadro 4000

I will re-use the card from my current PC. If I didn’t have it already, I would look into options like Nvidia Geforce 680 GTX (tested and fully compatible with Mari) or Quadro K5000 (expensive, but should have very good performance with 3d apps).

For a more budget friendly choice, consider gtx 660/ gtx 760.

PSU: be quiet! Pure Power L8 630W

A good quality power supply is a must to protect your computer. I’ve had two cheap psus burn out on me in the past and it’s not a fun feeling when you see smoke coming out of your expensive PC!
This power supply is modular, so I will only use the cables that I need (easier to avoid a rat’s nest in the case)
To see how much power you need – check out this calculator

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Now after adding in a case and shipping, the price for this computer comes out to about 1200EUR. I think it’s not a bad deal and I am well within my budget.

Keep in mind this PC is for a decent all-around work in software like:
3ds Max
VRay
Photoshop
Mari
Zbrush
Marvelous Designer

If I was going for an ultimate rendering machine, the setup would be different (perhaps 4×4770 render nodes in a network)

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments!