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Rendering server advice

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December 4, 2012 9:04:44 AM

Hi all,


I'm relatively new concerning server configurations and I want to ask a few things to make sure I'm doing this right.


First of all, I intend to build a server for rendering purposes, heavy-duty 3ds max. So I chose these parts for starters, but am not sure about the rest:

CPU - Intel® Xeon® X5660 2.80GHz, LGA1366 - 6C-12Logical cores should be more than enough for starters and only one CPU for now since I don't have enough money at the moment, but will buy the second one as soon as possible.
MB - Intel SHADY COVE S5520SCR - Has a lot of room for RAM and is fairly upgradable from what i can tell
RAM - 2x HP 8GB PC3-10600R-9 DDR3 1333MHz - for now... I'm good at optimising memory usage and I know how to do what I have to do with very little RAM available.

The rest is pure craps shoot, I really don't know what to choose... PSU (keep in mind there will be 2 CPU's eventually), Case... (HDD and video card I already have from previous system and they're more than suitable for what's ahead - Seagate SV35 1TB for long runtimes, Gainward GTX460 GS 2GB)

The thing is I intend to start small and build up as soon as I can since it's an amazing scalable platform. NO OVERCLOCKING under any circumstances so i guess stock coolers would suffice.

I'm sure something's being overlooked so please don't be shy on suggestions. Money is an issue of course but I'm not willing to be cheap, neither top-notch, that CPU means pushing it already...


Thanks in advance :) 
December 5, 2012 1:05:12 AM

You're overlooking your hdd sub-system I think. Ideally you want a small OS drive. Another for the OS backup. And for the rendering you want seperate source, destination, and scratch drives. Otherwise you'll be reading and writting ot the same drive at the same time all while fighting for I/o with the OS.
December 5, 2012 2:33:39 AM

That cpu is 2 years old but depending on what price you can get them, they may be better price/performance. You are also missing how much your budget is. Knowing what renderer you are using may also help. And are you in the US?
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December 5, 2012 6:26:23 AM

@popatim This is exactly why I ask for opinion, I totally overlooked that aspect and I'll look into it, maybe an SSD would be a nice addon for OS drive? I mainly use 3dsmax and Vray, which is extremely HDD-hungry and depepdant for light calculation and some types of displacement. An SSD should boost up the process a bit.

@k1114 I use Max & Vray, am NOT from US, therefore the CPU is crazy-expensive. Plus I strongly believe the stores here are total rip-offs with 30-50% added price. The one mentioned costs around 2000USD here, if you could point me to a reliable store in the US I might have the option of asking some favours from relatives there :p  The budget is around 3500$ for now but this is a buy that I'm planning for 1Q next year so it might be a bit higher at the time, so please give me some pointers concerning future releases that I might look into.
December 5, 2012 12:51:28 PM

There is always a big consideration to make between high clock speed processors and greater number of cores. For desktop usage I will normally say that a higher clock speed will have more efficient daily usage than more cores. However, for a rendering server (which honestly I admit I do not know much about) there is a greater benefit with number of cores compared to the clock speed. The amount of RAM and your primary storage subsystem (the hard drives) are going to be more crucial here for your budget.

The motherboard that you picked out there seems pretty expensive compared to some of the other options out there with similar features. I'd recommend looking into a Supermicro, save a little money to invest into your storage system.

You might look at going with a less expensive processor and put the money saved back into a really good hardware RAID controller which can give you better throughput and control of your storage subsystem. As was mentioned above, improve your overall system performance through multiple dedicated hard drives/SSDs for the best performance as that is ultimately where every computer's biggest bottleneck is at. I don't know how big of data files you are needing to render and work with at a time to know if you would need to just get a few 120GB SSDs for your source, destination, and OS drives and then a bunch of high capacity hard drives in RAID 1 for storage, or if you might need to look at higher capacity SSDs or SAS hard drives.

Power supplies are also going to be very important to consider in your system. While you may only start with one processor, you have to consider future addition and requirements if you upgrade the system, as you don't want to have to keep upgrading your power supply as well. Don't skimp and get something cheap either just because it may offer a high power output rating. Many of those are not as good in quality and will not last. I tend to stick with Antec or Corsair power supplies - they are expensive but they are worth it and have a name and reputation above most any others!

One thing you might consider is looking at a pre-built system instead of trying to custom build your own. Some of the Supermicro barebones are great value, and even going with an HP workstation or server can get you started with a very high quality system that is also quite customizable to fit your needs.
December 5, 2012 4:22:23 PM

Are e5-2600 series or opteron 6300 series available and how does their price compare? Nothing new will come out til probably the end of next year when IBE is released. The 6300s were just released last month.

You will have to take into account clock speed/architecture/cores/everything to gauge performance or you can ignore it all and just look at rendering performance benchmarks. You will probably not be able to go with antec or corsair because you would need a server psu with 2 cpu connections.
December 5, 2012 7:54:02 PM

@chucove Thanks for the detailed tips, much appreciated :)  The thing is I really don't need that much storage space, the most important aspect is having a drive that can handle big files easily, the rest are up for storage rather than actual use. Anyway, it's not something to be lightly taken but knowing how VRay handles files, I can stick to an SSD + standard storage for now and upgrade as soon as I can.

@k1114 Yes, E5-2600 series is available, I've just searched for it... come to think of it it's damn cheap compared to others i've looked into. E5-2620 is around 550-600USD, E5-2640 around 1000-ish USD. Not so bad actually... And they're more than suitable for what I'll be doing with them to be honest, at least for now. 6Cores 12Threads @ 2.0 respectively 2.5Ghz is... not bad at all for the price. The 15MB cache weighs in also!

Another option in this series worth buying is E5-2650 which is octacore with 20MB Cache @ 2Ghz @ around 1500USD... More cores is better than less with higher speeds, it means it can take process more of the scene at once. Doing a simple math tells you that: 1core at 100% vs 2 cores @ 60% means 1 render bucket per 60sec vs 2 for 80sec or 1 per 40sec which is still a full 30% faster... you have any idea how much is 30% off a 24h render? It's 8 hours faster! :) )

If I can cram in 32 threads with two of these babies I'm set for a good 3-4 years at least! :)  Can you please tell me the pricing in US? I don't trust myself to find the best websites for this :p 

So let's say I get a 2650 for now, what MB/PSU/Case would you recommend? All I could find was an Intel series case that came equipped with a PSU for around 700USD but right now I tread on unknown grounds :p  Motherboard doesn't need to have some high-tech server stuff for me, just to be able to guzzle lots of memory. Then again, this is your home :) ) If you say I need it, I need it...

Oh and btw, I take everything into account, I've been working in 3d modelling and viz for around 6years, I don't trust benchmarks, I know what I need to look for.

Sorry for long posts but I can't reply while at work. And thanks for the E5 series heads-up :) 
December 6, 2012 7:50:32 AM

Thanks for the suggestions, the case seems a bit crammed and prone to overheating i think, especially when running 16 cores maxed out... I think I'd rather get a better cooled one with money saved from buying stuff from the US which is by a mile cheaper... 40% cheaper to be exact :| This kind of calculation gives me a headache... Instead of buying the CPU from here (Romania by the way) and pay 1800$ for it I can actually get it from the US, if my relatives there still love me, AND get the mb and STILL not reach 1800 :) )

Then again, thinking about coolers, I read that Noctua confirms compatibility with E5-2600 series and is a very effective and somewhat cheap solution from my experience. Oh and quiet too. But a case with good airflow is still needed I think... I don't really expect normal temperatures after 10-12h of maxed out cpus... I can only think of 16 cores as close to molten lava as it gets :) )

Any other good Case suggestions? Not necessarily cheap, mid-ranged price, but good ones. Afterall it'll be the permanent home of two tiny fire hazards :p 
December 6, 2012 1:51:24 PM

One thing to keep in mind with that particular motherboard is it is a server system motherboard. It only has two onboard USB ports, so be ready to buy add-in PCI-Express cards to give you USB connections, PCI-Express cards for audio if necessary, etc. The other option is looking into workstation type board which incorporates all those features so you don't have to take up your PCI-Express slots with add-in cards if you need them for things like RAID controllers or video cards.

Somewhat similar to the recommendation by k1114, although a bit more expensive, is a Supermicro barebones with the motherboard, chassis, and power supply so all you need to do is add your processors, RAM, and hard drives.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

It is more expensive, but this is a full fledged workstation-class performance system with a lot of fans for the best cooling and lots of upgradability. You may have to remove some of those fans even (they are hot swap) due to it being a little loud.
December 6, 2012 4:29:20 PM

I have not taken a look at the barebone kits yet. Here's just some more cases, looking at consumer towers. Everything be crammed with that size of a board even the server cases as you have seen.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

These would provide better cooling than those server cases and they are not loud as they have some nice quiet fans. My case has 3 120mm and one 140mm and is quiet (my psu fan is actually the loudest except in summer when the gpu fans go to 75%). It also may be better to just buy the parts separately as the price comes out about the same but you'd possibly get some better parts like this: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... I'm not sure if it would be worth it for a 1200w platinum (or need it) but being modular would help with cable management. And you can upgrade to dual maybe tri sli 680 if you want. Looking at psus, a lot of the 850w+ actually have 2 cpu cables. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... You'd need to say what your gpu plans are so I know how much power you would need.

There are many coolers compatible, that is not an issue. If you want to go with one of the top end, the noctua d14 is up there. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... I don't think you would really need to though as they are lower power/heat vs the consumer top end cpu. And people will use those for workstations and render 24/7 oced. I'd just suggest this. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Or something in between these. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
December 7, 2012 6:01:05 AM

Ok I'm starting to feel really odd here, you both found and gave me excellent suggestions and choucove, that barebone is actually not bad for what I need. I'm not yet at a level at which I can aspire for greatness in terms of cpu performance.

Concerning GPU, I have a GTX460 2GB for now and it's working flawlessly, except Autodesk has become a major primadonna and keeps releasing crappier versions that work even crappier on non-workstation video cards like Quadro and Firepro.

Is it possible to fit a server motherboard inside a tower case like Chieftec has? Because I just realised that back home there's an old AMD x64 system lying around in a HUGE chieftec tower case and it has multiple coolers on it, very good airflow :)  I figure I can save some money on the case itself and get a better PSU or more memory or even a better cpu for starters.

Another thing is I can't buy cases from outside my country except those within driving distance, else I would place a curse on my wallet :)  And barebones aren't as available and variated here as there are in the US (no surprise there)
December 7, 2012 4:12:55 PM

Well it's tall, but same depth as regular mid towers; not what you want. It's atx which is 12" x 9.6" while the dual socket boards will be e-atx 12" x 13". More depth not height.
December 15, 2012 3:40:36 PM

Hey, sorry I wasn't able to answer, had a really messed up week :( 

Thank you all for the great advice, I'll opt for an E5-2650 cpu with the ASUS mobo you've shown me and probably a Corsair obsidian case, I've had only good expeciences with corsair so I'll trust it to do the job. Looks pretty well aired also...

Just one more question before I'm done, is regular RAM like Kingston/Corsair/Ballistix/Mushkin good or should I go with something in another league? :p 
December 15, 2012 8:27:08 PM

Memory for an Intel Xeon E5 processor requires ECC Registered RAM for the optimal stability and functionality. This is server class RAM, so you're not going to be able to just put normal Crucial Ballistix DDR3 1600 RAM in there and get the system to work.

I've had great luck with Kingston brand for server ECC registered RAM, and it's not near as bad for price as it used to be a few years ago.
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