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What to build? Are salvaged parts any good?

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March 23, 2011 3:11:10 PM

My laptop died a few weeks ago and I have decided to swith back to a desktop PC. This is due to the fact that I will be doing more and more 3D modelling in the future and will need a capable system. From what I understand I have several options here in terms of what I build and I have really no idea which path to take.

Aims: Animation, 3D modeling, Rendering, Architectural Models, Video encoding, Small home network.
Software: 3ds Max, Maya, Mentalray, Splutterfish Brazil, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, Possibly Mudbox & ZBrush too..
O/S: Don't care that much, prefer 64bit, if only to stay somewhere close to the Jones'...
Budget: Depends what I buy. My budget right now is £1,000. Hopefully in a year or so I'll upgrade to the 2011 socket or perhaps the 1055 - So should I got all out and buty a Sandy Bridge now in the hope that future upgrades will be compatable, or look to the old models and hope the price drops giving me bang for buck, or do I just get a juicy old tart from yesteryear to cuddle up to for the moment, then ditch it in 6-12 months when I can afford something worth ringing home about? I could at a pinch go all out and overspend on an Opteron setup if it was best suited to me but I'm a bit worried about spending money know before I am back in the know, only to find I should have saved up for some i7's at the end of the year and be stuck with the mistake I made...

Having not used much 3D software in the past (and having a PIII at the time) I'm tempted to get sucked in by the hype and blow my load on some benchmark breaking bad boy system. The hype tends to swing towards the gaming side more though, with pedigree 3D workstations focusing more on the volume of processors available rather than flat out (over)clockspeed. If I were to jump on the bandwagon I'd be looking at an Xeon or Opteron based system with some sort of network storage and a render farm.

1. What has me stumped is the cores vs threads vs multiple processors. Do they all amount to the same thing? Assuming (for the sake of simplicity) you have processor that has the ability to work as a single or dual processor, and you can plug n play cores into the chip - For what I want to do would I be best suited to say an octa core with 8 threads, an octa core with 16 threads or dual processor quad cores and either 4 or 8 threads each?

2. From what I understand Crossfire & SLi are for gaming and useless on 3D applications but I will still want to spend as much as possible on graphics cards. The emphises will be on CPU rather than GPU as the software has not caught up with the hardware yet so GPU rendering hasn't really arrived yet...

3. I've been told that for all the benchmarking, GPU's, Offline renderers, Golftowns, Sandy Bridges and Overclockers, anything above a dual core will run 3ds Max ok, I should be able to spend under £1000 on a workstation and just drag in some old P4 or dual core to dedicate ro rendering.

4. Is that then sound advice or am I leaving myself in the dust? From what I understand the 1366 socket is at the end of it's days, so we may see prices lower and even some better motherboards but no vast improvements on the range. 1155 socket is looking good after a poor start but will low core count and won't see any real improvement until it passes the baton on to the next in line, the 2011 - In effect it won't take off until it's outdated...

As you can see I'm not a computer Guru - I don't play games and I have been out of the loop for about 8yrs so I really need some help on this one. As mentioned there seem to be a number of different set-ups I could go for. Which one I should choose depends on the software I run. Sure, but there seems to be some debate about how the software uses the computer, so I'm hoping someone can fill me in. For all current versions of the software above, without worring about any GPU rendering, what am I looking for here?

They are outdated now I know but I do have a couple of bits I can salvage from my laptop if it would be useful at all:
- LCD screen - Don't know how difficult it is to adapt to desktop but I have all the chips laying about if they help...
- ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 Graphics Card
- Small wireless card, dunno what model yet..
- 2x 2GB DDR2 Ram
- Intel T9300 Processor (Socket P)

None of it is hugely valuable but still, waste not/want not...
Anything else can be taken out, card reader dvd, ect I just dont know if I can use it..
It's a Toshiba Satellite A300/600 (Model: PSAG4A-02600M)

Many thanks for your time guys, I've got a lot of information from these forums already...
March 23, 2011 3:21:30 PM

I apologise for the poor Grammar...
March 23, 2011 6:11:52 PM

There really is not much you can salvage from your laptop, I am afraid. I suppose you could rig something on the screen, but it would be an awkward kludge. The wireless is probably not compatible, the Graphics needs to be upgraded. DVD and card readers have improved, and only cost a few pounds anyway.

So you're animating, rendering, modeling and encoding - professionally? Almost sounds like you are ready for a workstation, and the graphics on that run typically about 5 times or more than their mainstream equivilants: Workstation Shootout: Nvidia Quadro 5000 Vs. ATI FirePro V8800. In other words, you could spend your entire budget on a GPU. You don't have to go with all that power, however, and I am certain that you can get away with something in the 100 to 200 pound range.

Sandybridge should fit inside your 1000 pound budget. A four core, eight thread 17-2600k sandybridge CPU keeps pace with a six core/12 thread Extreme Edition last generation chip at a fraction of the price: The Intel Core i7-990X Extreme Edition Processor Review. The AMD high end 6 core scores last in the shootout, and is not a serious contender at that price range.

Your juicy old tart is an AMD 4 core, and although not even on the charts, it could be that throwaway one off for about half the price for the items that would not carry forward in to the new build. At least the case, power supply, hard drive, and DVD shold be usable in an upgrade 6 to 12 months from now. Less likely, but possible are the graphics card, memory and heat sink.

Do you have a preferred website for your parts?
Related resources
March 23, 2011 7:05:58 PM

Thanks for the link, I've been trying to find some new 3ds Max tests...

A work station is tempting but I'd rather be a bit stingy with the money now, that way I know I'm not spending money just for the sake of it. At least If I can get something that will do me for a year then when the time comes to upgrade I should have a fair Idea of what I'm looking for...

As it stands, here is what I am looking to get:

- Drobo storage unit
- Radeon 6990
- Dedicated render machine (seeing as I have the RAM and the T9300 sitting around I imagine I could build something on the cheap for around £400 or less)

That much I'm fairly confident about, but still open to criticism...

For the main machine I am looking at 3 main options, once I pick one then I can begin to move onto the sub options..

X58 System - Some lovely looking Mobos about at the moment, performance looks top notch but you certainly pay for it. Pro's - High (over)clockspeed, High core count. Con's - High price tag, end of production line.

P67 (B3 Rev) - Again great looking Mobos, mid range processors seem to hold their own against high end Core processors, mid range prices. Pro's - High (over) clockspeeds, multithreading, reasonable price. Con's - Upgrades may not be compatable, less actual cores.

Dual Processor Board, ie Z8NA-D6 or similar - I don't have any experience with the Xeon processors but they seem to dominate the Workstation market in performance and price. If I go this road then Im looking at the low end of the spectrum. Pro's - Inceased RAM, more processor power, improved multitasking, and I get to think I'm a bit of a pro.. Con's - High price tag, lower clockspeed, more heat...

From what I understand the more clockspeed and cores I can funnel into this thing the faster everything will be. Add to that a bootfull of RAM and I'm rendering with a smile on my face. If this is wrong please tell me...

I'm not a pro at this stage but that is the aim. My idea is to get something to last me a year or so and then shell out for a proper workstation when the Ivy Bridge 2011 Dual Processors come out. I think to by a GOOD Xeon system now would be a waste of money A) because I'm not quite up to that level yet in my work and B) Because the prices are only so high still because the next generation are waiting to come out.

No idea about websites, though I here Scan is the standard..

From what I understand about rendering in 3ds Max I want my stsem to be all AMD or all Intel based. If that's correct then an AMD would mean no using my T9300 in the renderer... I am open to AMD but I havent looked closely as I am confused enough with the intel options, let alone with the whole AMD cores /Intel cores and differences in stated clockspeeds. As always, I'd love to understand more though. I am perhaps old fashioned in that I always saw AMD as a cheap solution for high spec gaming (only)... Please don't slap me ;) 
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