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New Build: Primary Use=3D StudioMax

Last response: in Systems
March 6, 2006 3:38:00 PM

I am building a computer for a friend and would like advice or input on my current part choices. His primary use will be 3D StudioMax, Lightwave, and other graphical programs. His computer spends a lot of time rendering animations and such. He would also like to be able to play current games at mid to high resolutions with as much eye candy as possible while staying within his budget.

Asus A8N5X Nvidia nForce4 $87

Opteron 165 Dual Core $328.50

Corsair TWINX2048-3200C2 2GB Kit DDR400 XMS3200 $176

Video Card
eVGA 256-P2-N516 Geforce 7800GT CO SE 256MB 256-bit GDDR3 VIVO PCI Express x16 $270

Hard Drive
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3160812A 160GB Ultra ATA/100 7200RPM Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer $86

DVD Burner
NEC $44

Sound Card
Creative Sound Blaster Live! $35

Antec Solution Series SLK3800B Super Mid Tower Case (Black) Retail w/ Antec 400W SmartPower2.0 power supply $105.50

Windows XP Home $90

Total $1222

His budget is "around" $ I am about $222 over budget. I am rather unsure of my motherboard choice as I've never used Asus and I've heard little about this model other than reviews. I've also never done any serious overclocking, but I hear the Optys yield astounding performance quite easily. Is there a better (price to performance) processor for his intended use? The only other money hog in this build is the 7800GT, which in my opinion is nearly the perfect choice for him. Any opinions on where to cut and/or what to change?
March 6, 2006 4:37:57 PM

-- well, this wont cut the cost down by much, but im sure the motherboard has integrated sound, so you could do without the creative sound card, and save $35 there, freeing up a pci slot as well...

-- was gonna suggest a different case, but not sure one would be available for much less that has a quality psu included with it,

-- memory might possibly be another option, going for 1GB instead of 2GB, and that would save close to $100, though like you said, he does spend alot of time rendering... you could try with 2x512MB dimms dual channel initially instead of 2x1GB dual channel, but if he finds its STILL not enough memory, he could invest in another 2x512MB, but that should save about $100 if you choose to do that over 2x1GB, also considering 2GB isnt even needed for most games either, with very little benefit there, other than with games such as BF2... and just in general, and for OCing in particular, you want to make sure its quality memory, otherwise your OCing limit (and stability) will suffer some

-- the hard drive seems okay, you could save alittle money cutting down the capacity some, possibly going sata over pata if it would be financially cheaper that way, depending on where you look, that could cut the cost some, but that might not even be worth doing depending on how much capacity you might lose

-- opterons are great for OCing, you could also go for an X2 3800+ for $295 on newegg instead, OCing that, though not quite as high, and saving some money there, the extra cache doesnt make a noticable improvement in most cases going from 2x512, to 2x1024, which also raises the power consumption as well

-- one last thing... i think you would need to get windows XP professional instead of home, if youre gonna get a dual core cpu... i dont think xp home can make use of a dual core, plus you might run into other problems as well, (stability and such when using a dual core under xp home)... purchasing that would end up setting the cost back some, depending on how cheap you can get it for

hope this helps some
March 6, 2006 5:59:19 PM

Thanks for the input. I think 2gb of RAM will be necessary considering the amount of graphically intensive activities in which he will be partaking; so I probably won't be able to save any there. He utilizes some very large textures, which tend to eat the RAM up incredibly fast. He also has a need for at least 120gb of storage space for his rendered library and other files that he accesses frequently. The X2 3800+ may be an option for a processor. I'll have to research their overclocking abilities, but like you said, it's likely not too close to the opty. I'm not sure how much difference the added cache would really make in real world application either. I know it makes far less difference in AMD architecture than it does in Intel architecture. Lastly, I was not aware of any incompatibilites with Windows XP Home and dual core processors. I will look into it. I just didn't think he would utilize any XP Professional features, so I opted to go with Home.
Related resources
March 6, 2006 6:11:47 PM

okay, ram and hdd capacity seems settled... OCing with an oem heatsink and no increase involtage, the x2 reaches from 2.0 to 2.4 with no heating or stability problems (which definetly isnt as high as the opteron you chose, they can usually reach 2.7 or so, sometimes higher), you might possibly need to alter memory settings depending on how high the memory can clock up to, though altering the HTT from 5x to 4x, possibly 3x will definetly be necessary as you dont want to go over 1000MHz (HTT multiplier x bus speed), cuz thatll definetly cause some problems

as far as xp home, i remember reading some forum posts about a guy not knowing what was wrong, how his familys computer kept having repeated problems, and he tried explaining everything that was going wrong, and he was running xp home, a few of the recommendations made by other posters were for him to switch to xp pro, simply because its designed for multiple cores/cpus, if even with no intention of using any of the additional functionality and OS options, and that that alone would cure the issues he was experiencing

...there is also the option of downstepping to a single core setup, saving quite abit more money, (and being completely compatible with xp home, which is more than likely gonna cost less than xp pro also) but at the same time, the multithreaded application performance, and multitasking benefits (and future proofing) are cut down quite abit as well
March 6, 2006 6:32:38 PM

The setup will do rendering fine. The only weak spot I can see is the 7800 card. He might be better off getting a Quadro since there designed for workstation use, like redenering and such, and yes you can still game with them, just not as good as a card designed for gaming.

just my two cents
March 6, 2006 6:42:36 PM

I've only heard of these Quadro cards. I'll have to check into them more thoroughly. Something like that may be a viable option. My friend wants to be able to play F.E.A.R., BF2, and Call of Duty 2 with the eye candy but wants to be able to render quickly and effectively as well.
March 6, 2006 6:43:11 PM

Thats a REALLY low budget for a rendering machine considering how expensive 3DMax is I gotta say he's not gonna be happy with a $1000.00 pc to run a $3500.00 program .

Try to get him to up his budget we run 3max 7 at my office and some of our $4-5k machines can still take a day or so to do hi-res renderings.

If he only needs small low res renderings that will work but larger files with multiple textures and lighting sources can get really complicated.
March 6, 2006 6:43:15 PM

hmm... quadros can be very expensive though, and are practically the exact same as the gaming gpus, as far as hardware is concerned, driver optimizations are the main difference though, which is why they cost so much, but you can also softmod the 7800 with rivatuner and such, into thinking it is a quadro, and being able to install the specialized drivers too im second guessing myself... im pretty sure thats true, but now im not even sure, lol
March 6, 2006 6:51:09 PM

That's probably a good point. He spent thousands on that sofware but wants to take it easy on the hardware. I think $1000 represents a top of the line build to him. When he built his first computer 5 or so years ago, he got a pretty high end PC for that. This could be his problem.
March 6, 2006 6:52:50 PM

I looked into some softmodding options and it looks like it can be done for driver support. It may be worth a try as the Quadros look quite expensive. I'm liking the 7800GT at this point.
March 6, 2006 6:56:13 PM

yeah, i remember when i softmodded my 7800 with rivatuner, just for fun, though i didnt try to render anything :p 
March 6, 2006 6:58:27 PM

Glibnik, what is the makeup of some of the machines you use at work? I'm sure my friend doesn't need anything that extravagant as he operates his own small business part time in addition to his day job, but I'm just curious.
March 6, 2006 7:07:53 PM

You mentioned substituting an X2 3800+ for the Opty, but I just don't know if I can pass up the added overclocking potential and extra cache for the $30 or so I would save. I do think dual core is the way to go for him. In reference to the HTT not exceeding 1000MHz, I have read some material stating that it is safe to go up to 1100MHz on many boards. In addition, the XP professional argument seems justified.
March 6, 2006 7:20:40 PM

yeah, optys are definetly a better option than the X2s for not too much more, particularly when OCing... i was just saying that a general rule with HTT is to keep it at or under the max specified operating frequency when you can, cuz alot of times the computer wont even boot up, but im sure its possible even still, as indicated by the articles you read
March 7, 2006 12:58:23 PM

How do you like your eVGA 7800GT CO SE? It seems like a good price for a small performance hit which could likely be counteracted with some overclocking of the GPU.
March 7, 2006 7:26:27 PM

well, for the longest time, i just had a TI4200 64MB (sempron 2600+ 2*256MB ddr333 nforce2)... and it seemed great to me, played all the games i wanted to at very acceptable frame rates most of the time, though thats mainly due to it not having to process anything thats really complex in the first place, but, then i thought it would be nice to move up to a 6600GT, after i found out how poorly Doom 3 ran and looked... and that was a MAJOR visual and performance improvement from what i was used to... and not too much later, only a few months, i upgraded everything for christmas to the setup i have now, and had to get a PCIe gpu cuz my 6600GT wasnt compatible... and that is a DRAMATIC performance improvement, over what i thought was an astonishing overall improvement to begin with, as far as performance limitations with it? you can usually run everything on the highest setting, with virtually no choppiness, aside from the resolution which maxes out at about 1152x864 - 1280x1024 (under the highest visual settings) depending on the game, while still having acceptable performance, and AA, thats usually limited to 4x while maintaining decent performance, with 8xS causing it to come to a crawl... but the visual differences between the two AA modes, under a high resolution, is very very difficult to tell, unless youre trying to focus and evaluate differences, whichcase actually playing the game is probably taking a backseat lol... all in all, im very happy with it, it also performs almost identically to a 7800GTX 256MB, in all but the very highest resolutions, for much less money (and the difference at those higher resolutions is only about ~10 fps)

this is something that came as a suprise to me as well, not quite relevant to what you were asking... but changing cpu architectures from s462 to s939, resulted in a substantial increase in hdd performance, from the way the cpu handles the data and the interface and everything (after amds drivers are installed of coarse)... using the original 2 raptor hdds i had in raid 0, the performance lagged at about 25-50 MB/s, even in raid 0, almost the exact same performance as the single 7200rpm hdds i had in the other s462 computers i have... and that was disappointing, and seemed like i had wasted my money... when i moved to s939 though, those same 2 raptors went from ~25-50MB/s average... to over 100-110MB/s (at this point the pci bus is about maxed out, so for any more hdds than that, you have to use the onboard raid, or a pcie raid card)... so i decided to get 2 more, seeing that there really was a benefit... all 4 in raid 0... and the performance about doubled again... to almost 220MB/s... all because of the design change of the cpus architecture
March 7, 2006 10:37:16 PM

Heh, I also had a Ti4200 for several years, though mine was the 128MB version (even though there was little performance difference between the two). The fan went out on it while I was at work several months ago and things went south :cry:  . I loved that card. It played Painkiller very well for me in combination with the Athlon XP 2200+ I still run. I had to swap in an old geforce 4 MX440... ouch. It'll play Starcraft though :roll:

changing cpu architectures from s462 to s939, resulted in a substantial increase in hdd performance

I had no idea that was true. I've always been afraid to use RAID....something new (to me) and more complicated. Anyway, I'll probably still try to squeeze as much life as possible out of my old socket A board. My next upgrade will be video card, but AGP options are becoming quite limited. I refuse to get a 7800GS as it seems to me that it's only a glorified 6800GT, but that's beside the point. Thanks for the input. Regarding my friend, I probably can't cut much more to make it fit the $1000 budget, so it looks like it's time to convince him to increase the budget :lol:  .
March 8, 2006 1:57:54 AM

yeah, i accidently broke my first one, trying to cool the memory modules down with a room temperature water bottle, lol, the weight of the water bottle sitting on the card is what broke it though, so yeah, that was just stupid... purchased one with a zalman fanless heatpipe on it months later, and had been running on a geforce2mx 400 for months in the time i didnt have one

raid 0 is no real need to worry though (even if there isnt any redundancy), if theres not essential data contained on it, that you absolutely cannot lose, nomatter what... and have the stuff you really do need backed up already, then raid 0 is definetly viable... yeah, for socket a, the only real benefit will be to have raid 1, since raided hdd speedups dont seem to really happen, at least in my experiences

yeah, 7800gs really is overpriced, being about the same performance difference between the 7800gt and the gtx, for about as much of a premium more than it should be, the 6800gs being a better priced option... yeah, your friend really should add close to another $200-300 or so, to give him good performing system, that he shouldnt need to upgrade for awhile... cuz otherwise you really are having to cut corners on practically everything, with no real leway for any other hardware and such, like, xp pro is gonna be close to $200 or so by itself anyhow, so yeah, thats already another hundred that he cant really afford inside of $1000... he really is gonna need to front abit more than his current budget allows
March 8, 2006 2:08:20 AM

That is the same conclusion I have reached. My last question would be what would you spend the extra $300-400 on if the funds were available? ...RAID0 another hard drive into the mix... I'm also going to try to convince him to reuse his current case and opt for a $58 450W FSP Group PSU. That'll clear up the added cash for a version of Windows XP Pro that I found for $140ish. I'm going to have to read up on RAID. If anyone has any suggested reading on the subject, I'd appreciate it.
March 8, 2006 2:33:13 AM

well, i would get at the very least a 450w, cuz my 400w that im using now from my previous setup, is under alot of stress with all the components im using, leds dimming, and raid arrays not being detected entirely, sometimes not powering up at all, and restarting when you tell it to shut down... so at least 450w... 500w - 600w if possible, cuz also usually when you get down below $60 for a psu, youll more than likely have problems with it being a faulty psu, not enough amps per rail, unless its a really good one that just happens to be on sale... for raided hdds, you want to make sure theyre the same capacity and performance, basically the same drive, to get optimum performance from them... a raid 0 array will use the capacity of the smallest drive * how many drives are in the array, and that will be the maximum size the array will allow... also, stripe size makes a difference in performane too... smaller stripes when dealing with lots of smaller files... and large stripes when dealing with lots of larger file... 64k stripe size seems about best balanced though, but you can experiment with different stripe sizes... sata or pata wont really matter for performance, but sata is definetly easier to install, and deal with... oh, you also want to make sure that when installing xp pro, that you have the raid controller drivers on a floppy beforehand (with the raid controller enabled in the bios), and hit F6 when the blue setup screen first starts up, otherwise when the setup finishes going through, and asks how you want to install xp pro, itll say it cant find any hdds installed on the computer
March 8, 2006 2:46:28 AM

Since I'm familiar with 3DSMax: absolutely get the fastest dual you can and even more than 2 Gigs memory if possible since the app is optimized to use all you have and more. You won't be sorry, even with the fastest machine you can build this one will still slow it down if you push it.

Since you're looking at better video cards the Matrox series is optimized for this app. but not much good for games, so I defer to the expert gamers. More than one VGA output is good for more than one monitor, and you will wish you had two eventually.

Also a really good .20 dpi monitor (CRT) for those skinny gridlines.
March 8, 2006 2:55:43 AM

Yeah, he's got a 20 inch CRT that cost him nearly $1000 several years ago. He's pretty proud of it. I just see old technology :? . I think I'll start him with two gigs of RAM though. 4 gigs in a 2x2gb configuration is quite pricey right now. I can't see him needing much more than 2 gb, but then again, I don't use 3DSMax.
March 8, 2006 3:01:32 AM

Good notion, he can always get more memory if TaskManager/Performance shows him taking a hit, which will happen on some complicated renderings :) 
March 8, 2006 3:23:01 AM

PS: I had intended to send this link, which answers the question as to why so many users have Pentiums :lol:  Note this test used only 1Gig on the test rig and it took over ten minutes w/xp4800 to render this. And 20 with the Pentium.
3DSMax benchmark
March 8, 2006 5:47:54 AM

Ok, as an experienced system builder and 3D animator the system you have is a pretty descent setup. For 3DSMAX the Opty is definitely the better proc, the proggie will use the additional cache. As for OC'ing, i don't recommend it. The reason being is that the performance advantage he will get vs the possibility of his system crashing if it all of a sudden becomes unstable and him losing hours or even months worth of work in a single moment. Not worth it. It happened to me once, almost made me get out of animation all together. Also taught me to backup my stuff. As for mem, 2 gigs is good for now, but when he gets some extra cash tell him the upgrade will help if he is using large textures like you say. I never used really large textures i mostly did little stuff so the 1 gig of ram my sys currently has was enough. I personally would recommend going with a Maxtor Diamondmax 10 drive. They are sata and have 16 MB caches. Compusa usually has some kind of rebate on them, or check out some of the online sites. I have seen 250 gig hdd's going for about 119. So the additional money is not only going to a faster drive, but more space helping to futureproof. As for the case idea, i think your idea of him using the old case and just buying a new PS is a great idea. Helps save money and can put a little more toward a quality PS. As for Raid 0 I ABSOLUTELY SAY NO. Not if your using the system for work like he plans to from the sound of it. The possibility of it crashing is twice the normal, cause if either drive goes its completely gone. The only was i would do this is if he plans on taking the HDD out of the comp he has now and adding it in as well and using it to store his work on and the main HDDs in raid for the actual program itself and the OS. Then it is a feasible option that is fairly low risk. Although I would still recommend nightly backups of files worked on that day/night to another media whether it be a usb key, DVD-R, external HDD. Actually that adds another possibility. Instead of installing the additional HDD in the sys make it external. For about $20 you can get ext-USB enclosures from tiger direct. I only say do this because the main reason of my first really bad crash was because of a low quality PSU that took out my HDD bad. Actually fried a chip on it. That was back in my early days of system building, now I only use Antec PSU's and have not had one problem from any of them for all the systems i have built and sold. On the graphics front, the workstation cards simply render things more accurately. It sounds like your friend does his stuff as side work and not as his main job so a workstation card is not really necessary. I would only recommend those for people that do it really professionally (if that came out right). But also from the fact you said he would be working in multiple proggies, ie: lightwave, 3DS, Maya (probably, and my personal fave). I would say his is not TRULY serious about it. Most high end professionals only use one prog for their modeling. Usually 3DS or Maya for mainstream items. Lightwave is generally a little more user friendly setup that is used more for internet graphix.

So to pretty much wrap up this whole thing. The sys you have listed is a good one, although i would drop the sound blaster live. Unless your gonna go Audigy or higher the Nforce boards have better onboard sound. But other then that, more power to ya.
March 8, 2006 1:50:49 PM

That was a lot of great input. I'll look into the Maxtor Diamondmax 10. After reading about some RAID options, I think the added risk of crashing is too great for the work he plans to do. Many times, he has spent weeks and even months on a project and I would feel terrible if a crash could have been avoided by skipping RAID. He needs a very stable system. In reference to the overclocking, however, everyone I have consulted has found these Optys to be stable from 2.6 to 2.8gHz. A co-worker hasn't had a crash since he's had it and runs it for months without restarts. Overclocking was one of my main motives for getting this chip. 1.8gHz seems too weak for his intensity of use. Also, he was planning on backing up files on his current hard drive that I'll be reusing (you made a good point though). I do feel the need to somewhat defend my friend's graphical abilities. He primarily uses 3DS but is competent in other venues. Many times, customers bring in files that were started in other programs and want them finished in that program, as they will continue to alter the animation from their office, which uses a specific program. In regards to the SoundBlaster Live, I was just trying to lift the sound processing load off of the CPU and place that strain on a dedicated card. No good?
March 8, 2006 1:56:50 PM

Hey, that's a great benchmark. That confirms a lot of what I was thinking about going dual core. Kudos.
March 9, 2006 3:11:46 PM

I personally would skip the live series and snag a audigy card. They can be had for a couple bux more and i mean like $5 and the improvement is much worth it. I wouldn't go so far to say go with an X-fi, unless he is a true audiophile and wants to pony up the extra cash.

In regards to the programs, i didn't think about the fact of some people using other proggies and him finishing their work. Anything I ever did or my friends and co-workers have done was a start to finish job. So, sorry about that did not mean to offend him or anything. Just outta curiosity does he have an online portfolio or something that shows some of the stuff he has done? I always love to look at others work.
March 9, 2006 3:24:11 PM

I'll check into the Audigy cards, but when I checked, they were like $20-30 more and this guy isn't an intense audiophile. He just listens to mp3s while he works and then plays games. I don't know if he has anything posted online as far as portfolios go. I'll have to ask him. I doubt it, as he is one of those people who is really concerned with originality of work and hates it when ideas are stolen or copied. Also, I know many of the businesses he does work for make him sign documents stating that he won't release that particular piece of work to anyone but them. I will ask him if he has any personal stuff online though.
March 9, 2006 3:27:31 PM

make sure he knows i am not asking for his modeling files. I just wanna see what kind of stuff he does, like characters, background imaging, things like that all jpegs. Nothing more. I just like looking at 3D images. I think they are cool. It's what got me into it.