~$2000 Archaeology Lab PC for ArcGIS/3D Modeling

Hi everyone!

I'm looking to build a PC for archeological research. I will mainly be using ArcGIS (ArcMap and ArcScene). I need to be able to handle huge amount of data (LiDAR: point cloud data. Each file can be ~3Gb) without having to constantly rerender. Eventually, I would also like to be able to handle 3D modeling (basically just 3D maps of huge landscapes to small-scale sites and artifacts themselves).

If I have it right, this build should handle it, but I just want to make sure since I couldn't find much on PC builds explicitly for this purpose. Below is the template followed by each part. Any help will be much appreciated!

Thanks much!

Approximate Purchase Date: (this week-the sooner the better)

Budget Range: ~$2000

System Usage from Most to Least Important: ArcGIS, 3D modeling (most likely ArcScene, possibly other programs), Mathematica.

Parts Not Required: Main peripherals (keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS - I just need help with the main components)

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: Newegg

Country: U.S.

Parts Preferences: Cooler Master Full Tower, Intel Processor, Asus motherboard (see below for more details

Overclocking: Maybe

SLI or Crossfire: Yes

Monitor Resolution: 1920x1200, multiple monitors (probably 2)

Here's what I have so far:
Xeon E3-1235 Sandy Bridge 3.2GHz 4 x 256KB L2 Cache 8MB L3 Cache LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core

Kingston 16GB 2 x 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM ECC Registered DDR3 1066

Video Card:
XFX HD-695X-ZNFC Radeon HD 6950 1GB 256-bit GDDR5--x2 in CrossFireX

ASUS P8B WS LGA 1155 Intel C206 ATX Intel Xeon E3

COOLER MASTER HAF X RC-942-KKN1 Black Steel/ Plastic ATX Full Tower

Power Supply:
CORSAIR Professional Series HX850 (CMPSU-850HX) 850W

Solid State Drive:
Intel 510 Series (Elm Crest) SSDSC2MH120A2K5 2.5" 120GB SATA III

Total: ~1900(sans rebates)
22 answers Last reply Best Answer
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  1. Ah, no. Crossfire 6950s is not going to help you. You really just want a professional workstation card.

    You also will not need all that cooling so can use a different tower if you like, and the PSU will be way too much.

    I don't much like the motherboard either. It's not bad, but USB 3.0 would be a nice and even important feature for you to have.

    I'll post a build.
  2. Thanks for the quick reply and I apologize for my lack of hardware expertise and possibly foolish questions.

    Will the smaller memory size in the GPU matter much in processing huge amount of data (3Gb+), like LiDAR? I assumed a larger memory size would help a lot in rendering huge amounts of data. Also, if our we are able to put acquire more funds (we may be able to get somewhere around $500-$1000), what would be the best to upgrade? I believe you can use two Quadros in SLI, that would be my first guess.

    Would we allow for future hardware additions/upgrades if we stuck with a full tower?

    What is the main difference between the Xeon and i7, besides the operating frequency? I see that the i7 has an integrated GPU, but I don't know much of an effect that has.

    Thanks a million!

  3. I doubt your software is coded to make use of that much VRAM at once. I'm pretty sure it's a 32-bit program, to start with, so the entire program can't exceed 4GB.

    I think the type of data you are dealing with is not so complex. You are not trying to produce complex textures I think. Most of the work is geometrical in nature, and a strong CPU is likely what is really needed.

    When I looked into it, I saw very little demand for a fancy card for just ArcGIS. The bulk of the computing is done by the CPU and memory, not the GPU. The workstation card gives you a much higher level of support, and will help should you get into MAYA and such where it is actually used.

    Seems to me LiDAR is not really producing high levels of detail? I realize you may think it does, but it wouldn't resolve say, a hieroglyphic inscription at any 50 yards? Even if it did, it just doesn't sound to me like the ArcGIS software is coded to provide that.

    That's my best, educated guess on the software you are using. You could get specifics directly from them of course.

    Whenever you use cards in SLI/Crossfire you are NOT doubling the VRAM. You are increasing the graphics processing, but that is only useful if your software is designed to do those computations with a GPU.

    Also, I don't think throwing more CPU power at this problem will yield much more performance. It's just not coded to use it. You have programs that have not progressed as fast as hardware, because of the limited, special uses they serve.

    You might do well to get an i7-2600K and overclock it actually. Intel now provides special insurance for these processors so it would not be so large a risk. Boosting those first two cores might actually be the best way to get the performance you need. Buying more cores, as in an 8-core CPU or two 4 core CPUs will not help because, again, the program will not support it.

    A larger case is not going to do too much for you I think, unless you envision needing a large number of HDDs. If you need portability and don't care about aesthetics perhaps the Antec Lanboy

    The two CPUs are very similar. The main difference for you is the support of ECC memory. Error handling can be important in mission-critical situations I suppose, but really in properly configured and functioning systems you don't have the need. I think. In a server that has to be up 24/7 yes.
  4. Proximon said:

    Thanks for the quick response. How would the quadro fx1800 work for running 3d simulations of prehistoric landscape reconstructions. We haven't looked into any other 3d modeling programs, but due to administrative we really want to make sure this system will be able to handle 3d processing beyond LiDAR (just landscape, other 3d scanning tools for more detail--sites, artifacts, etc.).

  5. It all depends on the specific program. Ever see those ancient battlefield simulations on the History Channel? That's some heavy 3D work to render. A landscape simulation with no textures added, that does not move in any way but is entirely static, is not so demanding.

    I'm just guessing and please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think your LiDAR is not providing more than one point every few inches. This is then assembled into a 3D image, and at that point your programs plays "connect the dots" to smooth things out, make them look solid. Things only get demanding here when you take that basic 3D image and start adding water, and trees, grass, people, pottery, dogs, and such.

    Set all that in motion and you start to need more power. Add detail like individual facial features and pottery designs and it gets harder. Add shadows and fire and you begin to need a very strong GPU.

    When you are talking about this stuff, two approaches seem to be used. One is the brute force method, and usually involves one high-end gaming card. At this time that would be a GTX 580. Because it is a gaming card it's a favorite of people who use a computer for both 3D and gaming.

    The other approach uses a professional card. Because the drivers for these cards are specifically designed for programs like Maya, they do not need to be as powerful. They also tend to work better, with fewer problems.

    All serious 3D graphics professionals use professional workstation cards.

    Your LiDAR and ArcGIS probably don't need more than a $100 Radeon to do the job well. As soon as you start moving into those professional 3D rendering programs, you start to need a good card though.

    I'm sorry I'm so wordy, but I just want to give you all my thoughts so that you have some help making a decision.
  6. Don't worry about being wordy. You've been tremendously helpful.

    I honestly can't see us doing any professional-grade landscape construction (with anything moving), so it will be limited to large-scale reconstructions of prehistoric landscapes. It would be great to create 3D maps as smooth as Google Earth with no moving objects or layers but high quality images as layers (possibly 3D buildings, grass, like you mentioned).

    We just got word from our dean-we will (most likely) have $3000 to work with. This has to cover all peripherals, including two monitors. With that in mind, I figured we would go with the i7-2700k instead of i7-2600k but beyond that I don't know what else I could do within that range. Would that setup be able to do a google earth type program with lots of static 3d buildings?

  7. Best answer
    3D buildings like you see in Google Earth are a great example. They are not really detailed and simple from a software perspective.... being just boxes with some low res images pasted on the sides. Let me take another swing at the build:

    Antec Lanboy air Yellow Black / Yellow Steel / Plastic ATX Mid Tower Computer Modular Case
    It has handles and an industrial look. It's rugged. I can see it traveling to a site easily. It will handle everything you need. It's expensive and something for far less might be enough for you.
    Western Digital RE4 WD1003FBYX 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Enterprise Hard Drive -Bare Drive
    Due to the floods in Taiwan HDDs are expensive, and this is a high-end one. It's the most reliable drive you can get. If you were to wait for a few months for Taiwan to get back on their feet, this would cost a lot less.
    2x Acer V243HAJbd Black 24" 2ms(GTG) Widescreen LCD Monitor
    Two simple monitors that will do the job. You do not need highly accurate color or very wide viewing angles, so no need to spend a bunch there.
    Seasonic SS-560KM Active PFC F3, 560W ATX12V V2.3/EPS 12V V2.91, 80Plus Gold Certified, Modular Power Supply
    One of the best PSUs available. Rugged, quiet, and very efficient.
    CORSAIR XMS3 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model CMX16GX3M2A1600C11
    Lower profile RAM that should run well for you.
    ASUS P8Z68-V/GEN3 LGA 1155 Intel Z68 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard with UEFI BIOS
    This should have the features you need, and none you do not. You could get a far more expensive board that would sound impressive, but you would be buying features you do not need.
    PNY VCQFX1800-PCIE-PB Quadro FX 1800 768MB 192-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 Workstation Video Card
    As discussed. Not a big help to you in ArcGIS but going forward the best bet.
    COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R2 Continuous Direct Contact 120mm Sleeve CPU Cooler Compatible with latest Intel ...
    A cooler that will let you easily hit a conservative and safe overclock on the CPU.
    Intel 510 Series (Elm Crest) SSDSC2MH120A2K5 2.5" 120GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
    Fast and the most reliable brand of SSD. There are faster and cheaper SSDs, but none are Intel ;) This is a big deal as far as performance goes, and will speed up your program a good bit I think.
    Intel Core i7-2700K Sandy Bridge 3.5GHz (3.9GHz Turbo) LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 3000 BX80623i72700K
    You are paying a premium for a small boost in performance over the 2600K, but if you pay Intel for the OC insurance and put a CONSERVATIVE overclock on it (Like 4.2Ghz turbo) I think it will be a good choice.
    SAMSUNG Black Blu-ray Combo SATA Model SH-B123L/RSBP LightScribe Support
    Reads Blu-rays, burns DVDs.
    TOTAL: $2,427.88

    That leaves some room for a printer or keyboard or whatever ;)
  8. Fantastic! That's exactly what I'm looking for in a PC! One last question, due to bureaucratic issues with the university, we may need to buy a preassembled build. Would cyberpowerpc or any other site that you are familiar with be able to build this for us (the IT folks will really want a 3 year warranty as well)? I am not thrilled with this prospect, but I'd like to be ready with a counter offer from a pc customizing website right away.

  9. You'll need to go with a small local shop and that parts list. The big custom shops will want to use their parts and won't match the PSU or HDD, and probably not the GPU. Take the list to a reputable local builder, the kind that handles IT accounts and such. Tell them you want that exact list sans monitors, and get a quote.

    The monitors carry a 3 year warranty

    The parts I listed all have hefty warranties so that should help too.
  10. one option for prebuilt is, which will build the components you pick for you for $50, and I think you can purchase a warranty as well. they are based in Canada, but work in the USA as well.
  11. There's another good idea.
  12. Correct me if i'm wrong (as i do not know much about workstation cards) but will 756mb of Vram be able to handle 2 1080p monitors in an intensive application? or is ARCGis really that CPU dependant?
  13. The amount of pixels does not play a big role. This is not a video game where geometry and lighting and shadows are being created on the fly.

    Video memory is just like computer memory, and a CPU and GPU have the same relationship to them. Video memory is a workbench for the GPU, a place to set down parts of the process it's working on. In this case it's not doing that much work.
  14. Okay, great. We will find out this week which method we will have to use. I'll update when I know something.

    I can't thank you enough for your assistance. I was searching for weeks and couldn't find the specific information I needed (worded in a way that I understood). I've learned a lot about the hardware requirements of the type of work we want to do.
  15. I really have little experience with professional cards myself, but I know how to ask the right questions with a google search :)

    We have helped so many people with various workstation builds over the years, and it's often interesting to learn about some new field and software. A workstation build for CAD is far different than a workstation for a day trader :p

    A great thank you would be an eventual link to some project that I could read about :)
  16. I will definitely do that. You will be able to read about my thesis soon!
  17. Best answer selected by brownish.
  18. Update:

    We are ready to order! Our final budget is $2909 but we are unable to get what we want with the 3 year warranty from a local computer store. So I put together this build on cyberpower. How does it look? I switched from Z68 to X79 mainboard and i7-3930K. From what I read on Passmark and various reviews on here it should be a beast.

    Here is the link to the build.

    Case: * Coolermaster HAF-X Gaming Full Tower Case w/ 1x230mm Fan, 1x200mm Fans, 2xFront USB 3.0 Port
    CPU: Intel® Core™ i7-3930K Six-Core 3.20 GHz 12MB Intel Smart Cache LGA2011 (All Venom OC Certified)
    Cooling Fan: CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Evo Gaming Cooling Fan [+4]
    Motherboard: * (3-Way SLI Support) Gigabyte X79-UD5 Intel X79 Chipset Quad Channel DDR3 ATX Mainboard w/ UEFI DualBIOS, Dolby Home Theater 7.1 Audio, GbLAN, USB3.0, SATA-III RAID, 3 Gen3 PCIe X16, 2 PCIe X1 & 1 PCI [+44]
    Memory: 16GB (2GBx8) DDR3/1600MHz Quad Channel Memory [-4] (Corsair Vengeance)
    Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 1.2GB 16X PCIe Video Card (* EVGA Superclocked)
    Power Supply Upgrade: 800 Watts - Standard Power Supply - SLI/CrossFireX Ready
    Hard Drive: 180 GB Intel 520 Series SATA-III 6.0Gb/s - 550 MB/s Read & 520 MB/s Write [+156] (Single Drive)
    Data Hard Drive: 1TB SATA-III 6.0Gb/s 32MB Cache 7200RPM HDD [-175] (Single Drive)
    Optical Drive: 24X Double Layer Dual Format DVD+-R/+-RW + CD-R/RW Drive [-40] (BLACK COLOR)
    LCD Monitor: 24" Widescreen 1920x1080 Asus VS247H-P LCD [+157]
    2nd Monitor: 24" Widescreen 1920x1080 Asus VS247H-P LCD [+157]
    Speakers: Eagle Arion ET-AR506-BK 2.1 Soundstage Speakers [+56]
    Network: Onboard Gigabit LAN Network
    Keyboard: Razer Blackwidow Ultimate Mechanical Gaming Keyboard [+117]
    Mouse: Thermaltake eSports Azurues Optical Gaming Mouse FPS Battle Ready, 1600 DPI, Full Speed USB & Weight -in Design [+27]
    Mouse Pad: Thermaltake eSports Dasher Gaming Pad [+15]
    Flash Media Reader/Writer: INTERNAL 12in1 Flash Media Reader/Writer (BLACK COLOR)
    Internal USB Port: Built-in USB 2.0 Ports
    Ultra Care Option: Professional Wiring for All WIRING Inside The System Chassis - Minimize Cable Exposure, Maximize Airflow in Your System [+19]
    Rush Service: NO; READY TO SHIP IN 10~15 BUSINESS DAYS
  19. looks very nice.

    that mechanical keyboard will last you a generation!
  20. Looks just fine, except you need a proper PSU as a priority. Never buy a generic power supply, and always make sure the one you get is properly reviewed or known to be good.
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