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iceguy
10-28-2009, 06:39 AM
Allright, I've been browsing these forums for over two hours now, and I've seen lots of "should I get a new gfx card/ram/processor, I use it for... and my current PC is..." type of threads. These types of threads are helpful to specifically one person, but isn't helpful to the majority of readers, which is probably why a new one of these threads pop up every few days.

Rather than getting into specific suggestions, I'd like to know how each of the types of hardware actually affect different things in software? I've built my own PCs before, so I can make decisions about what I will buy based on my budget and needs. However, the question is, which parts satisfy which needs?


The main pieces of hardware that get brought up are the processor (speed, type), RAM (amount), graphics card (type)

The effects that are usually brought up are render speed, ability of the program to run smoothly (how many polygons can it handle?), and specific applications/uses (Maya, Zbrush, particle effects)


From what I've gathered from other posts, the processor and memory are the most important overall. However, even older computers with 2GB of RAM and 2GHz processors will be able to handle Maya if you're new to the program. Graphics cards won't make much of a difference in terms of their cost vs. performance, and SLI is useless. When building new computers, the i7-920 seems to be the processor of choice, while the Geforce GTX 260 seems to be the graphics card of choice (GTX 285 for those with a larger budget). I'm still unsure of a good amount of RAM, it seems to vary between 4GB being the minimum recomendation and 16GB being the max.

So to sum this up:
What is affected when you increase 4GB of RAM to 8GB? 8GB to 16GB?
What is affected when you choose the i7-950 or the i7-975 (faster processors) over the i7-920?
What is affected by the number of cores a processor has? or the effects of a faster dual-core vs a slower quad-core?
Where should you spend extra money if you: primarily use Maya? Zbrush? CS4? Focus on high-poly modeling? focus on high-res textures? render single-images? render 10-minute animations?
When is it justifiable to "splurge" on one of more of these upgrades (ie: if you're a student or learning the programs, then you probably don't need 16GB of RAM. If you're doing professional contract work and you'll be rendering high-res textures, then yes)

I realize that some of these questions are up to an individual's interpretation. If you can only answer one of two of the questions, it would still be appreciated. You'd be helping me out, and anyone else who's looking to build their own PC and comes across this.

Srek
10-28-2009, 07:27 AM
Hi,
i did something like this focused on CINEMA 4D
http://www.bonkers.de/cinema/cinema.html
Since CINEMA 4D and other 3D applications share a lot of common properties regarding hardware the list is trasnferable to a good degree.
Cheers
Björn

Jettatore
10-28-2009, 07:32 AM
First some basic stuff, then some more specific stuff to try and answer your large and many questions.

For starters, a description of how the computer works in laymen terms. Basically, files and programs are stored on the HDD. The processor calls these files off the disk and puts them into the RAM. The processor moves things around and does it's calculations in RAM, where it can manipulate, re-arrange, process the data faster than it could purely on the HDD. The video card displays the result on the screen, however it also has it's own processor and it's own RAM that does much the same thing as above. This is an entirely over-simplified description but should give you an idea why these 4 components, HDD, RAM, CPU and GPU need to be operating smoothly, fast and have room to work without bottlenecks.

For ram, you must understand a few things. #1 only 64bit supports 4GB and up. ZBrush is not currently fully 64bit AFAIK and doesn't can't use more than 4GB even though RAM is one of the most important things to have right when working in that software. Now that 4GB is pretty standard on workstations, the speed of said RAM becomes the important factor. However I'm many ZBrush users have done various tasks where they wait for that orange bar on the top of the screen to fill up, or the little orange circle for baking out maps... To make those specific tasks go faster, your looking at processing power.

Inside a base CG app, like Softimage, Max or Maya if you have a lot of polygons in the scene at any one time, smooth operation here is heavily dependent on your 3D video cards ability to keep up. The same goes for displaying textures or lighting in realtime.

Once you go into render regions or previews or finals your working largely with the CPU. Obviously RAM is important here, as well a fast HDD would never hurt. But the video card at this stage doesn't come into the picture too much at the current time, although I hear this is may start changing as rendering engines look to leverage the additional processing power of the GPU.

The most under-looked component would be HDD speed, unless of coarse your a video guy in which case you already know the importance of fast storage. Any time you read or write something to disk, the faster your hard drive can preform, the better.

"What is affected when you increase 4GB of RAM to 8GB? 8GB to 16GB?"
Speed and size of RAM are two different things. Your asking about size. This basically means the processor has more room to work with and can have more/larger files in memory without having to incorporate the HDD. The speed of the RAM is a separate issue. For example, if your only ever working with 4GB or less worth of data in memory, 8GB will be of no use to you, and you would be better off having a very fast 4GB than having more, average speed RAM.

"What is affected when you choose the i7-950 or the i7-975 (faster processors) over the i7-920?"

Faster processors handle calculations faster because they complete more operations in the same amount of time. Any task that is processor intensive will finish faster on a faster processor. Multiple processors however, need an environment built to support them in order to be utilized. Many environments, do not fully support multiple processors or multiple core processors or even 64bit code to their full extents. But this is drastically and rapidly becoming a non-issue.

"What is affected by the number of cores a processor has? or the effects of a faster dual-core vs a slower quad-core?"

As stated above, if the software and or operating system doesn't leverage the extra CPU's or Cores there is no gain. Hence examples where a higher clocked Dual-Core can outperform a slightly lower clocked Quad-Core. Again, if the applications are designed for 64bit/multi-CPU/multi-Core computing the lower clocked Quad would win.

"Where should you spend extra money if you: primarily use Maya? Zbrush? CS4? Focus on high-poly modeling? focus on high-res textures? render single-images? render 10-minute animations?"

Well, with those tasks, you really shouldn't be spending a lot of money to be honest. More power would come into play for the rendering, but if you can render to separate passes and composite the final image later, even then your not in need of an expensive computer. For modeling/texturing and ZBrush sculpting it really doesn't take too much to be honest. In all, I don't think for what your looking at you need to spend a lot, or focus on any one component. $1,500 should build you a beast that can tackle anything you mention above without trouble. The only thing you might crave later is if you get heavy into dynamics and particle simulations which would likely want a lot more processing power with all the other components ready to keep up to calculate the physics.

"ie: if you're a student or learning the programs, then you probably don't need 16GB of RAM. If you're doing professional contract work and you'll be rendering high-res textures, then yes"

I'm sure some do, but 16GB of RAM isn't really even going to help a pro-texture artist at this point. It could come mildly in handy I suppose, but for the most part your working file sizes for painting do not need to be that large.

Anyways, again, $1,500 should be more than enough for most workstation needs if your custom building. That will net you a computer that usually sells for $3,000+ if you buy it from a major vendor like Dell or Apple. But lately there are some notable exceptions coming from vendors like HP. There are cases and needs that would require more, like someone doing heavy CPU calculations or someone doing hardcore HD video work needing a fast RAID setup, raising the price notably. However in most other instances that initial estimate is pretty much going to give you the nuts, maybe you can go a bit higher if you want to throw in extra's like a Blu-Ray burner etc. But CPU, RAM, standard HDD, GPU, solid PSU/Case is usually best if you stick to the bang for your buck shopping, which generally adds up to the above figure, give or take.

Another thing to consider is Bang for your Buck. If your getting a sweet spot at $1,500 and it's going to effectively preform all of your tasks, then spending $3,000 for a computer that will not effectively give you twice as much power and double the lifespan of the computer is normally a waste of money. This principal applies to the overall build as it does to individual components. If a $400 video card isn't nearly twice or better as powerful than a $200 video card, it's not worth buying if your looking for your best dollar value, when you could replace the original $200 card 2 years down the line with a new $200 card that probably outperforms the original $400 GPU.

tuna
10-28-2009, 07:38 AM
As far as CPU choices go, look into what core features of an application you mainly use for your job are. If they're multithreaded, then by all means get a dual Xeon and see fantastic gains in speed, otherwise get an i7 with higher clock speeds and see better speed that way. Also pay attention to graphics driver compatibility. For instance, using ATi cards in Softimage is simply a bad idea.

aglick
10-28-2009, 03:23 PM
I spend every work day focusing on this very concept. It's my only job.

The previous posts seem to be pretty accurate, generally.

These were all touched on above, but here are some basic concepts that seem to be constant as of today in pretty much every instance:



1. Any time your computer runs out of available memory (RAM), everything will get slow.

Work in a 64bit OS and use 64bit apps when possible. Put a bit more RAM in your system than you think you need.


2. The majority of tasks in your primary software applications are single-threaded. CPU clock speed has more bearing on the "seat of the pants" feeling of interactivity than does the number of cores in your system.

Unless you are doing a ton of rendering or heavy multitasking on your system, your money may be better spent on fewer CPUs with a faster clock speed.


3. Most modern rendering engines are multithreaded. Using multicore CPUs will maximize rendering performance

The more - the better, but remember - the "scaling" of performance is not linear. Doubling the number of cores DOES NOT double the rendering performance. The laws of diminishing return are in full effect here. The curve resembles something logarithmic. Rendering on 8 cores may be only 60% as efficient as on a single core. For "satellite" rendering in mental ray for instance, there is no additional rendering performance gain after about 40 physical cores. In other words, the performance scaling flattens out when you chart this on a graph.


4. When working interactively with 3D geometry, a faster GPU (video card) will enable better interactivity for larger, more complex scenes.

Faster = more triangles/vertexes per second, not neccesarilly more RAM. The amount of RAM on the GPU typically does nothing to affect realtime 3D viewport performance.


5. When working with uncompressed image sequences, hard disc performance is a key to maintaining interactivity in your toolset.

Be sure your computer has sufficient storage bandwidth performance for the given tasks. For instance, reading uncompressed HD or 2K image sequences from a single hard drive is not sufficient to maintin good interactivity in your editing or compositing application. You will probably want to look at using a disc array. Having plenty of RAM is also crucial.


Adam
BOXXlabs

Srek
10-28-2009, 04:04 PM
3. Most modern rendering engines are multithreaded. Using multicore CPUs will maximize rendering performance

The more - the better, but remember - the "scaling" of performance is not linear. Doubling the number of cores DOES NOT double the rendering performance. The laws of diminishing return are in full effect here. The curve resembles something logarithmic. Rendering on 8 cores may be only 60% as efficient as on a single core. For "satellite" rendering in mental ray for instance, there is no additional rendering performance gain after about 40 physical cores. In other words, the performance scaling flattens out when you chart this on a graph.

I agree in general, but anyone planning for this should get exact numbers for the Renderer he is planning to use.
For examples with the step from CINEMA 4D R11 to 11.5 the efficency went up quite a bit, from a factor of 1.8 per doubeling of the number of cores to well over 1.9.
Cheers
Björn

aglick
10-28-2009, 04:48 PM
Yeah, C4D offers one of the most efficiently multithreaded rendering engines available.

olson
10-28-2009, 05:07 PM
3. Most modern rendering engines are multithreaded. Using multicore CPUs will maximize rendering performance

The more - the better, but remember - the "scaling" of performance is not linear. Doubling the number of cores DOES NOT double the rendering performance. The laws of diminishing return are in full effect here. The curve resembles something logarithmic. Rendering on 8 cores may be only 60% as efficient as on a single core. For "satellite" rendering in mental ray for instance, there is no additional rendering performance gain after about 40 physical cores. In other words, the performance scaling flattens out when you chart this on a graph.


That's a good point. For anyone curious, this is why.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amdahl%27s_law

imashination
10-28-2009, 07:15 PM
Wow, actually I just tested it with a couple of scenes, I came up with 94.6% efficiency at 8 physical cores. Does anyone have one of those nice 16/24 physical core machines laying around to have a go with? :) I know maxon US had one a few months ago, but I think intel took it back ;-)

iceguy
10-28-2009, 07:20 PM
Thanks for the replies, this has been very helpful. $1,500 was a bit pricey for me, but I managed to get the cost down to $1,115, plus $70 worth of rebates that I have to send in. Plus, they've thrown in a free Wireless Laptop Adapter... which I don't need or want, and cannot remove from my cart... I plan on just bringing that thing over to Walmart and seeing if I can get strore credit for it :p Assuming I can get the $60 list price for that wireless card, my total cost for the PC comes out to less than $1,000.

I took the advice, choosing a faster HDD, and I'll be using the 64bit version of Windows 7. I'm going to start out with 6GB of RAM (3x2GB), but I have 6 memory slots, giving me the posibility of upgrading to 12GB if I need it. I could easily drop another $500 upgrading to the next processor, GPU, or 10,000rpm drive, but they all have larger diminishing returns in relation to their price at this point.

The setup:
i7-920 and an Asus Mobo which will be overclocked
3x2GB DDR3 1333 RAM (which supposedly can be overclocked to 2000)
WD Caviar Black 7200 rpm 32mb cache HDD
850w PSU (I know it's overkill, but because of a combo deal and rebate it comes out cheaper than 700w)
GTX 260 (2106 MHz, 896MB)

Again, thanks for your help, and hopefully this will help others with their own hardware needs.

Jettatore
10-28-2009, 07:30 PM
That's a great machine you picked out. No corners cut, bang for your buck in just about every category, and nothing lacking. That setup will do just fine for the next 3-4 years likely without upgrades for your intended purpose. Best of luck, and take it easy with the overclocking if you can't afford to replace components, as while it's not necessarily dangerous it does void the warranty, as well it's not at all needed on those specs, at least for right now.

aglick
10-28-2009, 07:49 PM
We just got the first intel 6-core Xeon "Gulftown/5600" chips (early engineering samples) in today. (I have no idea what it will be called when intel ships this - but it's the Xeon version of the yet-unseen Core i9)

Havn't started benchmark testing yet - but it's gonna be 24 hyperthreaded cores of smokin' fast rendering goodness.

YEAH BABY, YEAH!

phaedarus
11-01-2009, 07:46 PM
Thanks for the replies, this has been very helpful. $1,500 was a bit pricey for me, but I managed to get the cost down to $1,115, plus $70 worth of rebates that I have to send in. Plus, they've thrown in a free Wireless Laptop Adapter... which I don't need or want, and cannot remove from my cart... I plan on just bringing that thing over to Walmart and seeing if I can get strore credit for it :p Assuming I can get the $60 list price for that wireless card, my total cost for the PC comes out to less than $1,000.

I took the advice, choosing a faster HDD, and I'll be using the 64bit version of Windows 7. I'm going to start out with 6GB of RAM (3x2GB), but I have 6 memory slots, giving me the posibility of upgrading to 12GB if I need it. I could easily drop another $500 upgrading to the next processor, GPU, or 10,000rpm drive, but they all have larger diminishing returns in relation to their price at this point.

The setup:
i7-920 and an Asus Mobo which will be overclocked
3x2GB DDR3 1333 RAM (which supposedly can be overclocked to 2000)
WD Caviar Black 7200 rpm 32mb cache HDD
850w PSU (I know it's overkill, but because of a combo deal and rebate it comes out cheaper than 700w)
GTX 260 (2106 MHz, 896MB)

Again, thanks for your help, and hopefully this will help others with their own hardware needs.

Which ASUS motherboard are you opting for, exactly?

I'm thinking about building my own as well based on your configuration as a template.

I was considering the GTX260 with 1792MB of memory though in case I want to do some heavy gaming with dual monitors. Will Photoshop benefit from the additional VRAM as well?

Thanks.

iceguy
11-03-2009, 03:38 PM
The motherboard I'm getting is this one:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131359

I have a hard time picking out a mobo because I really dont know what to check for, other than that everything is compatible and it'll fit in the case I have.

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