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Render Farm or Power Workstation

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January 27, 2010 10:52:42 AM

Good day people,

This is my 1st post although I have been reading up tomshardware guide and forum for many years.

I am lost, that is why I have decided to post in this forum to seek your opinion in this.

I have recently join this animation industry and our company is looking to upgrade their rendering machines - we are using Maya, Autocad, 3D Studio Max. My boss decided to set up 5 workstations to link up a Render Farm running with the following specifications:

(5 machines of the same specs each)
AMD 64-bit 3.0GHz CPU
4GB DDR3 Memory 667MHz
160GB SATA (7,200 RPM)
WinXP 64-bit

However our technical person suggested to use 2 power horse instead of the above 5 workstations, specs as follow:

(2 power horse of the same specs each)
Quad Core Intel Xeon (8M Cache, 2.66 GHz, 4.80 GT/s IntelĀ® QPI)
12GB (6x2GB) DDR3 1066MHz, ECC
768MB PCIe x16 nVidia Quadro FX1800 (1 card in each machine only)
300GB SATA (10,000 RPM)
WinXP 64-bit

So we can go either path A (5 workstations) or path B (2 power horse).
If it is path A, then we will upgrade our 5 workstations to have 768MB PCIe x16 graphic card. If it is going to be path B, then we will have to purchase those 2 machines.

In terms, of cost vs performance, which of these path will you recommend? If both are not good, please bring up your suggestions. Every logical suggestions are good - please help guys.
January 27, 2010 11:15:26 AM

This article should be a good starting point...
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/render-farm-node,23...

And as the article states, if it is more of a GPU based, then only go with a powerful video card...
And IMO from the info that I have seen on the net, going with render farms is more cost efficient than going with 1/ 2 high end workstations...especailly for animation...

And will you be buying even those AMD PCs from scratch ? And a rough budget would help in suggesting the config...
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January 27, 2010 12:47:20 PM

Just to emphasize the above post, it's important to know what the software you are using is optimized for.

Is it multi-threaded and can it take advantage of multi-core processors. That's important, especially with new hex and oct core cpus coming out soon. Is it not multi-threaded so you need to throw lots of clock at it?

If the software is designed to take advantage of various GPU technologies you need to know which one so you pick the right brand of video card that has that technology. Direct X (DXVA?) NVIDIA CUDA? VDPAU?

I don't know the particular software you are using. Just offering my $0.02 as a software developer.
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January 28, 2010 4:41:12 PM

Hey gkay09,

Yes I read up something similar too - it seems like a Render Farm is better.

However, I am concern over the points Dougie Fresh brought up too. Maya is a software to create 3D animation - it is commonly used in movies. 3D Studio Max is a 3D rendering software that people likes to use for Game Rendering, however this company has been taken over by Maya. Finally, AutoCad is a 3D program used mainly for Architecture & Buildings 3D Rendering.

Beside the link that gkay09 brought up, i welcome all other comments that you have/have come across so that we can make informed decision.
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January 31, 2010 1:54:56 AM

My experience is with Cinema 4D, which uses only CPU for High Quality rendering. It can use GPU only rendering but the output is not very good - its mainly for quicker previews. I don't know for certain what Maya uses but all the rendering speed tests I have seen that use Maya are always CPU based. With that said, I don't see any reason to use FX1800s in any rendering machines. A few months ago, I looked into a small render farm for Cinema 4D. Each render node was equivalent to your proposed new workstations.

$90 - Supermicro Chassis & PSU http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

$170 - Supermicro motherboard http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

$240 - Intel X3440 Xeon 2.53GHz http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

$126 - Kingston DDR3-1333 4GB (2x2GB) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

$55 - Samsung F3 500GB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Some tips concerning your 'new' workstations:
1) no need for a 10,000 rpm drive (which cost $220), a $60 500GB drive is enough.
2) no more than 6GB of ram is needed which saves another $130+.

No matter what, the new workstations will be far faster than using the old PCs.
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January 31, 2010 4:28:20 AM

Hi specialk90

I see what you meant. It definitely helps in the budgeting.
I was looking around newegg.com and spotted something...

Q1) Will a Core I7 Quad Core be up to par with Xeon Quad Core for such setup?
Q2) Should I go for Intel 64-bit setup or AMD 64-bit setup or Nvidia setup? (I am referring to the Hardware)

2 years ago, I was upgrading my system for an online gaming. As I was reading up tomshardware.com, I came across a comment about using AMD HyperTransport + ATI graphic which will render faster than to have Intel HyperThread + Nvidia graphic. As the AMD HT works better with the Memory than Intel HT.
(in short, having AMD seems to be better for rendering)
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January 31, 2010 7:06:59 PM

1) Xeon is Intel's Server/Workstation brand and the X34xx series is their i7 CPUs designed for Servers. The main difference between the i7 920 and the Xeon X3440 is speed (2.66GHz vs 2.53GHz) and ECC ram support (i7 920=No, X3440=Yes). For long renders, ECC ram helps to prevent errors, which is why I designed the render farm around Xeons.

Also, the Xeon motherboards tend to be higher quality because they are designed for heavy use.

2) The Intel setup will be far faster.

The render machines I designed are meant only for rendering, and would need to be changed slightly if you wanted to use them as regular workstations. To use them only for rendering, I think you can use Linux rather than Windows, which is either cheaper or free. Check Autodesk's website to see what operating systems can be used for Maya's render nodes.

If you want to use these new workstations for regular tasks, let me know and I can redesign them.

EDIT: Do you know how Maya Render Licenses work? A quick search said something about Maya Unlimited having 8 satellite licenses and Maya Complete having only 2. The info is a few years old so it might be incorrect.
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