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Advice for first build ($5,000 workstation)

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August 19, 2012 8:11:11 PM

Hi everyone,

I’m a 3D generalist in the US looking to build a quality workstation for under $5,000 in the next few weeks. I’ll be using this mostly for creating high-detail character animations (from modeling thru to rendering and compositing), as well as some music recording and video editing. What I’m shooting for is a rig that is not only great for modeling/texturing/animating, but can also handle complex simulations and hi-res sequence renders without too much trouble. My main software packages include Maya, Mental Ray, ZBrush, Mari, Nuke, Vue xStream, Adobe CS6, and Cakewalk Sonar.

This will be my first ever build, so I need all the support and encouragement I can get. Though I’ve done lots of research, I know I’d be foolish to go ahead and start buying without consulting with experts such yourselves. Therefore, if you could look over my component choices and questions below, and let me know your thoughts and recommendations, I’d be most grateful. Thanks so much!


Build:

CPU – (2x) Intel Xeon E5645 Westmere-EP 2.4GHz 6 x 256KB L2 Cache 12MB L3 Cache LGA 1366 80W Six-Core Server Processor BX80614E5645
http://www.superbiiz.com/detail.php?name=XEON5645BX

Mobo – EVGA Classified SR-2 270-WS-W555-A2 LGA 1366 Intel 5520 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 HPTX Intel Motherboard
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813188070&Tpk=evga%20sr-2

GPU – PNY VCQ4000-PB Quadro 4000 2GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready Workstation Video Card
http://www.superbiiz.com/detail.php?name=PNY-4000PB

RAM – (2x) G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 24GB (6 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9T2-24GBRL
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231359

SSD (boot drive) – Crucial M4 CT256M4SSD2 2.5" 256GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
http://www.superbiiz.com/detail.php?name=CT256M4SSD

HDD (storage drive) – Western Digital Caviar Black WD2002FAEX 2TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136792

PSU – SeaSonic Platinum-1000 1000W ATX12V / EPS12V 80 PLUS PLATINUM Certified Full Modular Power Supply
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151105&Tpk=seasonic%201000

Case – Xigmatek Elysium Black CCC-HSA0DS-U01 All Black Aluminum / Steel ATX Super Tower Computer Case
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811815011

CPU Cooler – (2x) CORSAIR H100 (CWCH100) Extreme Performance Liquid CPU Cooler
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835181017&Tpk=CORSAIR%20H100%20%28CWCH100%29%20Extreme%20Performance%20Liquid

Optical Drive – LITE-ON 24X DVD Writer 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 12X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM Black SATA Model iHAS424-98 LightScribe Support
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827106335&Tpk=lite%20on%20ihas424%2098

Display – Dell UltraSharp U2711 IPS-Panel Black 27" 6ms HDMI Swivel & Height Adjustable Widescreen LCD Monitor with PremierColor 350 cd/m2 80000:1 (1000:1)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16824260038

FireWire – SIIG FireWire 2-Port PCIe (NN-E20012-S2)
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000G6U8VY/

OS – Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16832116716

UPS – CyberPower CP1500PFCLCD UPS 1500VA / 900W PFC compatible Pure sine wave
http://www.amazon.com/CyberPower-CP1500PFCLCD-Compatible-1500VA-Tower/dp/B00429N19W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345326635&sr=8-1&keywords=CyberPower+CP1500PFCLCD

OR

APC BR1500G 1500 VA 865 Watt 10 Outlets Power Saving Back-UPS RS 1500
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16842101419&Tpk=br1500g



Questions/Concerns:

1. For the mobo, I chose the EVGA SR-2 because as far as I can tell it’s the only dual socket mobo that currently supports OC’ing. Is this correct, or are there other options I should be aware of?

2. For the SSD and/or HDD would you recommend getting a second one for a RAID configuration, specifically RAID 0? It seems like overkill on the SSD, and one 2TB HDD seems like enough space for me for right now, but is the speed increase worth it?

3. For cooling, I’m leaning towards the Corsair H100 since water cooling seems to be preferred over air when OC’ing. Since I have two CPUs, obviously I’ll need two of them. From what I can tell the Xigmatek Elysium case has ample room and then some to support the two 240mm radiators, but can someone confirm whether or not this a good and viable setup?

4. Would you recommend I get a fan controller? The Corsair Link Cooling Kit looks like a good companion for the H100, but at $100 it seems more of a luxury item than a necessity.

5. What do you think about the Dell UltraSharp U2711 as compared to similarly priced 27” 2560 x 1440 res monitors such as the HP ZR2740w, Samsung S27A850D, and Apple Cinema Display?

6. Although I’ll probably buy most items from Newegg and a few from Amazon, a few big ticket items (such as the CPUs and GPU) are quite a bit cheaper from SuperBiiz. Is SuperBiiz a good store or should I just stick to Newegg and Amazon?



Again, thanks in advance for all your help. I couldn’t do it without you!

Best solution

August 19, 2012 8:17:52 PM

Are you sure that that software is able to use that many cores?

Also, I've heard that the Quadros suck in Maya compared to the Radeon 7970 and the new professional AMD cards. I don't know about the rest of that software, Tom's jsut did an article covering the new AMD pro cards and you might be interested in it. It probably has benchmarks of that software and it has a Quadro 4000 in it for you to compare it to other cards.

The Samsung 830 is a faster SSD than the Crucial M4, but is similarly reliable. I recommend a Samsung 830 to you. A 256GB or a 512GB model, to be more accurate.

Closed loop coiolers such as the H100 are not really better than air cooling. Now real water cooling loop is a self-built cooler and it does beat air cooling, but that's not a mere H100. You'd have to go to the water cooling forum for more info there because I'm not an expert with water cooling.

I've never shopped at SuperBliz, so I'm not sure of how reliable they are.

Don't bother with RAID on the SSD is what I'd recommend. The hard drive might benefit from it more, but that's up to you. I suggest that you get more parity and/or redundancy rather than worry about performance too much. A RAID 5 array of three 1TB hard drives should be more reliable than a single 2TB drive with the same effective capacity and better sequential performance (although I've heard that RAID 5 diminishes random throughput, I'm not an expert on RAID either and can't confirm nor confirm if that would even be important to you).
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August 19, 2012 8:22:33 PM

do you seriously need 2 cpus? overclocking doesnt improve multi-threaded performance
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August 19, 2012 8:25:13 PM

TheBigTroll said:
do you seriously need 2 cpus? overclocking doesnt improve multi-threaded performance


Overclocking improved both single threaded and multi-threaded performance. It doesn't improve multi-threaded efficiency of the software, but it does improve the multi-threaded performance because each core is faster and the software can still use the same amount of cores as it could without overclocking, so it runs faster even if it can use multiple threads.
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August 19, 2012 8:28:03 PM

yeah i meant efficiency.
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August 19, 2012 8:51:56 PM

Might want to go with a custom waterloop, also with all that ram making a ramdisk probably would be a good idea.
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August 19, 2012 9:34:33 PM

Thanks so much for the replies!

Quote:
Are you sure that that software is able to use that many cores?


Rendering and simulation, as I understand it, can use as many cores as you throw at it.

Quote:
Also, I've heard that the Quadros suck in Maya compared to the Radeon 7970 and the new professional AMD cards. I don't know about the rest of that software, Tom's jsut did an article covering the new AMD pro cards and you might be interested in it. It probably has benchmarks of that software and it has a Quadro 4000 in it for you to compare it to other cards.


Unfortunately, Mari only fully supports a select few Nvidia cards, as you can see here: http://www.thefoundry.co.uk/products/mari/system-requir...

Quote:
The Samsung 830 is a faster SSD than the Crucial M4, but is similarly reliable. I recommend a Samsung 830 to you. A 256GB or a 512GB model, to be more accurate.


As it happens, I had the 830 bookmarked as a possible option for SSD. I'll definitely give it another look. Thanks!

Quote:
Get Windows 7 Pro. Home Premium is limited to 16gb ram.


Wow, great catch!! This is exactly why I need you guys. Thanks!!

Quote:
Might want to go with a custom waterloop, also with all that ram making a ramdisk probably would be a good idea.


I'd really prefer something simple and easy for cooling (remember, I've never even built a computer before).

Sorry if this is a newb question but what's a ramdisk? The only reason I thought to go with 48GB, rather than 24GB for example, is because it's pretty cheap and you can never have too much RAM.
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August 19, 2012 9:43:38 PM

A RAM disk (or what I think is more accurate, a RAM drive) is a virtual drive made of your system RAM that is allocated to be used as extremely high-speed storage. It's faster than an SSD, but lower capacity and can't be booted from except for the rare and expensive PCI/PCIe/SATA RAM drives.
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August 19, 2012 9:44:46 PM

a ram disk is like a separate cache for things such as applications. its about 10x faster than a SSD but its volatile so you cant store data on it.

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August 19, 2012 9:46:09 PM

DarkEdge11 said:
Thanks so much for the replies!

Quote:
Are you sure that that software is able to use that many cores?


Rendering and simulation, as I understand it, can use as many cores as you throw at it.

Quote:
Also, I've heard that the Quadros suck in Maya compared to the Radeon 7970 and the new professional AMD cards. I don't know about the rest of that software, Tom's jsut did an article covering the new AMD pro cards and you might be interested in it. It probably has benchmarks of that software and it has a Quadro 4000 in it for you to compare it to other cards.


Unfortunately, Mari only fully supports a select few Nvidia cards, as you can see here: http://www.thefoundry.co.uk/products/mari/system-requir...

Quote:
The Samsung 830 is a faster SSD than the Crucial M4, but is similarly reliable. I recommend a Samsung 830 to you. A 256GB or a 512GB model, to be more accurate.


As it happens, I had the 830 bookmarked as a possible option for SSD. I'll definitely give it another look. Thanks!

Quote:
Get Windows 7 Pro. Home Premium is limited to 16gb ram.


Wow, great catch!! This is exactly why I need you guys. Thanks!!

Quote:
Might want to go with a custom waterloop, also with all that ram making a ramdisk probably would be a good idea.


I'd really prefer something simple and easy for cooling (remember, I've never even built a computer before).

Sorry if this is a newb question but what's a ramdisk? The only reason I thought to go with 48GB, rather than 24GB for example, is because it's pretty cheap and you can never have too much RAM.


Maybe there are alternatives to Mari. If not, then that's kinda disappointing, but oh well. A custom water cooling loop is arguably not the simplest cooling configuration to set up, but I doubt that it's difficult. If not for a custom watter loop, then I might simply recommend air cooling. Closed loop water coolers tend to kinda suck a little by not being much better than any good air coolers (if any better at all) desptie being more expensive. They are good for being sure that the memory is not going to be blocked by very large and obstructive air coolers, but I don't think that they have much in the way of other major advantages.
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August 19, 2012 9:49:10 PM

TheBigTroll said:
a ram disk is like a separate cache for things such as applications. its about 10x faster than a SSD but its volatile so you cant store data on it.


How much faster a modern RAM drive is than an SSD varies wildly to an extreme. Saying about ten times faster is not accurate.
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August 19, 2012 10:34:38 PM

I didn't say that there aren't any that can hit more than ten times faster than an SSD. However, it's simply not accurate to say ten times faster. Most SSDs perform worse with random throughput and with writes than sequential reads and even then, it can vary by queue depth, so jsut saying ten times faster, even if one aspect is ten times faster, can be very over-simplified.
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August 20, 2012 2:56:35 PM

Quote:
actually yes. some ramdisks can hit over 9000MB/s but its kinda cheating here since they were using trident x 2800mhz. more or less, its a TON faster

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAdRsQJBEBE


Wow, that's so cool! I'm sure I'll be giving this a try at some point. Thanks guys for bringing this to my attention, really good to know!

Quote:
Maybe there are alternatives to Mari. If not, then that's kinda disappointing, but oh well. A custom water cooling loop is arguably not the simplest cooling configuration to set up, but I doubt that it's difficult. If not for a custom watter loop, then I might simply recommend air cooling. Closed loop water coolers tend to kinda suck a little by not being much better than any good air coolers (if any better at all) desptie being more expensive. They are good for being sure that the memory is not going to be blocked by very large and obstructive air coolers, but I don't think that they have much in the way of other major advantages.


As far as cooling goes, my only real concern is keeping temps at a safe level so I don't fry my hardware, particularly the OC'd CPUs. I'd be in favor of the simplest and cheapest solution that can accomplish this, so if one or two Noctua NH-D14's, for example, would be just as good or better than the H100s, than I'm all for that.

Quote:
Don't bother with RAID on the SSD is what I'd recommend. The hard drive might benefit from it more, but that's up to you. I suggest that you get more parity and/or redundancy rather than worry about performance too much. A RAID 5 array of three 1TB hard drives should be more reliable than a single 2TB drive with the same effective capacity and better sequential performance (although I've heard that RAID 5 diminishes random throughput, I'm not an expert on RAID either and can't confirm nor confirm if that would even be important to you).


I definitely considered RAID 5. I know Adobe recommends RAID 0 for HD video editing, which is why I considered it. Since video editing is not a major priority for me, I'll probably just do without RAID for now and see how things go. I suppose in a pinch I could always use a ramdisk for small video projects as well.
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August 20, 2012 3:03:31 PM

they recommend RAID 0 for better performance but you can accomplish that by using a SSD.

the cheapest solution is 2 hyper 212 evos. you arent going to overclock anyways so they work fine. just that you need 2011 mounting hardware. noctua nh-d14s take up too much space and 2 h100s needs 2 240mm radiator mountings. standard 2x120mm areas might not do it as they most likely do not have the spacing for the fan and radiator sandwich
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August 20, 2012 3:34:47 PM

Quote:
the cheapest solution is 2 hyper 212 evos. you arent going to overclock anyways so they work fine. just that you need 2011 mounting hardware. noctua nh-d14s take up too much space and 2 h100s needs 2 240mm radiator mountings. standard 2x120mm areas might not do it as they most likely do not have the spacing for the fan and radiator sandwich


Actually I do plan to OC the CPUs, which is why I definitely don't want to skimp too much on cooling. The Xigmatek Elysium case I'm thinking about getting should accommodate two 240mm radiators from what I've read. Not sure about the Noctuas (I know they're huge), but it's a pretty big case, surely I can fit at least one of those suckers in there? I'll definitely look into this further.
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August 20, 2012 5:30:47 PM

noctua has some coolers designed for dual socket boards but not the sr-2. i dont really see the point of going with 1366 when there are 2011 chips that do so much better
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August 20, 2012 5:44:23 PM

2011 Xeons don't support much in the way of overclocking.
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August 20, 2012 6:22:37 PM

Quote:
noctua has some coolers designed for dual socket boards but not the sr-2. i dont really see the point of going with 1366 when there are 2011 chips that do so much better


The reason I chose the SR-2 (which only supports 1366 chips) is because as far as I can tell it's the only dual socket board that allows OC'ing. My thinking was to get the processing power of two CPUs (for faster renders, sims, etc) as well as get the added benefit of faster clock speeds from OC'ing.

One possibility I considered was to build around the i7 3930K (which can be OC'd heavily to around 4.5ghz) which obviously would be great for single threaded tasks, and would ultimately be a cheaper build. However, one of my main goals with this build was to improve render times, therefore two CPUs seemed like the best course.

Another possibility I considered was to go with a different, newer dual socket board and use 2011 chips, but in this case I'd be without the added benefit of OC'ing (this build would probably cost more as well).

Which of these do you think is a better options for me?
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August 20, 2012 8:33:06 PM

you do know that SBE is miles ahead of the 1366 chips right? you can get a asus dual socket board and 2 e5 2011 server chips that can be run in dual socket formations, and you would be good to go. no overclocking but its still much faster than the 1366 xeons.
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August 20, 2012 9:18:21 PM

Dont worry about overclocking, just run a couple of modern chips and you should still come out ahead of of the 1366s'
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August 21, 2012 2:47:17 PM

PANZER4 said:
Dont worry about overclocking, just run a couple of modern chips and you should still come out ahead of of the 1366s'


My thinking was that the SR-2 with OC'd CPUs would be nearly as fast as two E5s, not to mention cheaper, giving better bang for the buck. I'm really a newb when it comes to this stuff, so if that sounds totally ignorant please help me understand why.

Let's say we compare two E5645s (LGA 1366, 12 cores, 2.4ghz, ~3.8ghz OC'd, 5.86 GT/s) with two E5-2630s (LGA 2011, 12 cores, 2.3ghz, 2.8ghz Turbo Boost, 7.2 GT/s). In terms of clock speed, that's ~45.6ghz with OC'd E5645s compared with 33.6ghz with Turbo Boosted E5s. Aside from higher QPI (which as I understand it is beneficial for rendering 3D graphics), how do the E5's make up for this deficiency to warrant their higher price?

Again, sorry if this sounds stupid.


Edit: Spelling
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August 21, 2012 7:00:22 PM

Nehalem/Westmere to Sandy Bridge is not a 36% increase in performance per clock. It would need to be in order to simply match the older CPUs when they are overclocked to 3.8GHz in most workloads. Nehalem/Westmere to Sandy Bridge is only like a 15-25% increase and in this case, the older CPUs win overall. Your link actually helps this point rather than yours. Unless Sandy Bridge is more efficient in multi-CPU scaling, it would lose. It would be more expensive for less performance, granted ess electricity would be used with Sandy Bridge. Even if Sandy Bridge is more efficient at multi-CPU scaling, it would probably still not win by much, if at all.

However, we're all just estimating at this point. Are there any reviews with comparisons between OC Nehalem/Westmere Xeons and SB-E Xeons?
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August 21, 2012 10:32:31 PM

not that i can find any. anandtech bench doesnt have xeons
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August 24, 2012 2:29:43 PM

Best answer selected by DarkEdge11.
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August 24, 2012 2:30:24 PM

Thanks everyone for your feedback, it was most helpful. I think the cooling is the only area where I need to do more research. I'm starting to think that I should look more seriously into custom water loops, since having two H100s just does not seem very efficient (I especially don't like the idea of having two pumps when one would suffice). I suppose it's off to the water cooling forums for me.

Again, thanks so much!
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