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Custom build CAD/3d graphics workstation queries

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October 15, 2012 7:53:03 PM

Hi, I'd appreciate some advice and feedback on a graphics/CAD workstation that I'm planning to build.

I've built a couple of PCs - the first about 15 years ago, the second about 8 years ago - obviously tech has changed considerably since then, so I'm trying to do my homework first.

The system is primarily for running AutoCAD and 3dsmax (rendering mainly with Mental Ray - but with the option of going down the Vray route at some point - so graphics card is possibly the biggest Query).

Budget is around £1500 (PC only - no peripheries needed) - Imay be able to increase the £ if there is a tangible benefit.

Thus far I have distilled it down to:

CPU: Intel i7 3930k 3.20GHz CPU (did look at Xenon Quad core - but seems that 3dsmax may not be able to use all cores ?)
Mobo: ASUS P9X79 PRO LGA 2011
Memory: 16 GB (4x4GB) Corsair DDR3 (possibly Quad Channel - trying to work out whether 3ds max can use this).
Memory: option - to go with 32GB at build stage - or go with 16GB as 2x8GB to leave expansion.
Graphics Card: GTX 680 2GB (really to get the # CUDA cores to leave option for using vRay at some point).

An nVidia Quadro 4000 card is an option - but the cost is particularly high - and although it may give stability advantages, I'm not sure I can justify the £/benefit at present.

I would appreciate feedback on the above - and also any recommendation for PSU capacity and cooling solution (particularly important as it is likely to be left crunching for renders over a period of hours).

One final Question - anyone know a good site for checklists on likely components to make sure I don't miss anything in pricing this.

Many thanks.
October 16, 2012 4:33:52 AM

Get quad channel ram if using LGA2011 - twice the memory bandwidth of dual channel. If you need CUDA get a Fermi GPU as Kepler is useless at GPGPU. HD7xxx is the best option though if using OpenCL.

I wouldn't suggest closed loop liquid cooling as it generally gets outperformed by decent (much cheaper) air coolers.

I usually use PCPartPicker, which seems to have a UK site. Back soon

EDIT: My advice:
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K 3.2GHz 6-Core Processor (£431.18 @ CCL Computers)
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D14 SE2011 CPU Cooler (£59.99 @ Overclockers.co.uk)
Motherboard: MSI X79A-GD45 (8D) ATX LGA2011 Motherboard (£146.15 @ Scan.co.uk)
Memory: Corsair XMS3 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory (£58.99 @ Scan.co.uk)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive (£69.99 @ Ebuyer)
Storage: Samsung 830 Series 256GB 2.5" Solid State Disk (£134.98 @ Ebuyer)
Video Card: Gigabyte Radeon HD 7970 3GB Video Card (£316.55 @ Scan.co.uk)
Case: NZXT Phantom (Black) ATX Full Tower Case (£94.94 @ Scan.co.uk)
Power Supply: Corsair Professional 650W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply (£74.99 @ Overclockers.co.uk)
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-222BB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer (£11.96 @ Scan.co.uk)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional SP1 (64-bit) (£105.94 @ CCL Computers)
Total: £1505.66
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
If you want to use CUDA swap the 7970 for a 580 or something, but the 7970 is much more powerful. The case is a bit of a placeholder; replace it with whatever style you like.
October 16, 2012 5:58:58 AM

I would agree with that build, but maybe go with 32gb ram. (Also the case but that is just a personal look thing.) Max will use all cpus and cores available. And quad channel is not of software concern.
Related resources
October 16, 2012 6:15:33 AM

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K 3.2GHz 6-Core Processor (£431.18 @ CCL Computers)
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D14 SE2011 CPU Cooler (£59.99 @ Overclockers.co.uk)
Motherboard: MSI X79A-GD45 (8D) ATX LGA2011 Motherboard (£146.15 @ Scan.co.uk)
Memory: Corsair Vengeance LP 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory (£127.61 @ CCL Computers)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive (£69.99 @ Ebuyer)
Storage: Samsung 830 Series 256GB 2.5" Solid State Disk (£134.98 @ Ebuyer)
Video Card: XFX Radeon HD 7950 3GB Video Card (£214.19 @ CCL Computers)
Case: NZXT Phantom (Black) ATX Full Tower Case (£94.94 @ Scan.co.uk)
Power Supply: Corsair Professional 650W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply (£74.99 @ Overclockers.co.uk)
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-222BB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer (£11.96 @ Scan.co.uk)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional SP1 (64-bit) (£105.94 @ CCL Computers)
Total: £1471.92
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)

Dropped to 7950, 32GB RAM.
October 16, 2012 10:01:54 AM

Thanks for the feedback, some really good info there on system components.

One question still remains - and that is the GPU option. I hadn't really considered Radeon cards, and it's left me scratching my head a bit.

This will not really be used for any gaming at all - possibly a bit of testing of models for mods (Although I haven't done that for some time). The reason I'm looking at spending a bit more on the GPU is to assist 3ds max.

My understanding is that 3dsMax will not use the GPU at all for Mental Ray rendering (hence going for the best CPU that I can afford) - but will be using it for realtime viewport refresh.

However - to use iRay I will need the CUDA cores in the card. For using iRay professionally it seems the workstation really needs a Quadro+Tesla card - but that is silly money, so this system will be aimed at me accessing the iRay technology so that I can learn it, but not necessarily be productive (that will be a purely Mental Ray workflow)

This system will probably be using AutoCAD Revit / 3ds Max 2010 (current license) 2012/3 once upgraded, for most of the time, with Photoshop - and After Effects CS6 being the bulk of the Post Processing pipeline.

Games will not really feature - possibly occassionally.

Really going round and round in circles with the card spec now.

Thanks again.

October 16, 2012 8:08:17 PM

You had only mentioned vray which does support amd cards. But yes iray is only nvidia.

You are correct mental ray is cpu only and the gpu does handle the viewport. Iray doesn't differentiate between tesla, quadro, or geforce; only to whatever has more performance. The downside to geforce is they usually have less vram which will be an issue for larger scenes.

I haven't seen anything concrete for fermi vs kepler but I've seen multiple places claim they are on par in vray.
October 17, 2012 9:21:28 AM

Thanks again for the feedback.

@k1114 - yes - sorry for that, iRay/VRay is kinda new to me, so I have been wrongly interchanging their name thinking they were the same thing.

Once thing I'm having difficulty identifying - is the relative performance difference between Mental Ray rendering via CPU and iRay on GPU - to work out whether the bang-for-the-buck equation is different.

Based completely on intuition (and probably wholly incorrect) - it would seem that I would get better performance for my £ spending it on CPU/RAM and using Mental Ray rather than investing in the GPU and using iRay (as you say - it would tend to go towards Quadro to get the VRAM up beyond 3GB).

I still want to play with iRay - and will therefore go with the CUDA cores offered by the GTX cards (in the understanding that I will have a memory bottle-neck - and possible issues of overheating if rendering large scenes). Since iRay will not be used productively for the time being, that doesn't bother me as much - so long as I have a system that can chug away at Mental Ray.

Thanks again
October 17, 2012 6:08:56 PM

I've used iray and quicksilver in max 2012 and rendering was about 5x faster on my 560ti, i5 2500k. Iray, vray and quicksilver still use your cpu. Iray comes with max. Vray is a separate renderer you have to buy.

There are 4gb versions of the 680 and 670. It wouldn't be a bottleneck, that would imply just a slow down. It would be unable to render if the scene does not fit into vram. Kepler is a lot cooler than fermi, but even with fermi, as long as the case and card have good cooling, overheating is not an issue. Rendering will make the card hotter than even the most stressful of games. But my card has yet to hit 70c. (I have the twin frozr 2 and antec 300 illusion.) The cards I used at work were 580 evga reference cards in an elite 430 with only 1 front fan and those would be running in the 90c all day. (Using unreal, I don't use renderers at this job.) It's not overheating but it's not good for the cards to be so hot. They won't last long but they upgrade every year.

I also saw your thread in the autodesk forum. If you are running with 3gb ram now, 16gb ram would probably be fine. You would still have 4 extra slots to add more on that mobo.
October 17, 2012 6:58:15 PM

Someone Somewhere said:
If you need CUDA get a Fermi GPU as Kepler is useless at GPGPU. HD7xxx is the best option though if using OpenCL.



Not entirely true. Kepler is slower at dual-precision floating point. It is much faster at single-precision floating point. GPU rendering is single-precision floating point, usually.
October 17, 2012 11:52:01 PM

Ah. I wasn't quite sure about what exactly was useless in them. In that case find a 4GB 670.
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