Help building or buying a new computer

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  03 March 2013
Question Help building or buying a new computer

Well, I'm no expert at 3D modeling. I'd probably classify myself as still a novice at the moment right now. I have the basic principles down but things like texture mapping and creating normal maps, as well as some rigging issues are still rather troublesome for me, but I'm slowly gaining the grasp of things. But my real question here is if I could get some help with the purchase of a new computer to do 3D modeling with. My focus is on character design, animation, as well as environmental design. I'm not talking about making full length feature films but just small clips for the time being. I've used 3DS Max, Daz 3D, but my particular favorites are Maya and ZBrush, and I'm currently using Maya 2012 and ZBrush 4R2.

My budget right now is between $1200 to $1500 but the real thing is that I would like to stay mobile with say a laptop of some kind but I'm not against buying a desktop computer either. I honestly plan on using my 55 Samsung 3D LED TV as my monitor if I get a desktop machine, but again, I would really like to go with a laptop of some kind as I'm constantly moving from place to place. I've used these programs on Windows Vista Pro, Windows 7 Ultimate, and Mac OSX running Moutain Lion, and so far I've had the most success with the Mac where as PCs tend to crash on me more than anything, but the Mac still dies on me too, particularly if I'm trying to render anything in Mental Ray. I've been using a Macbook Pro Core i5, which I know isn't the best, but as I said, its brought me the most luck thus far.

I live in the USA and really hope I can get some help on this. Right now, this is the laptop I've been looking at, but I'm not a big fan of Lenovo.

Lenovo Core i7

It looks like it has some decent computing power, but I'm not really sure on the Graphics Card being a NVidia GeForce GT 650M. I'm also not too keen on getting Windows 8 either. I don't have any real ideas on desktop machine though. While I really do like Macs, I realize as well that I'm limiting myself there now and should really expand to something stronger, ergo...a Windows Machine.

Thanks for the recommendations everyone.
  03 March 2013
I found this Asus laptop as well that looks pretty decent.
  03 March 2013
I'm not a Mac person, but I've read several member posts here about how well they work and are just as powerful... so, even though my bias is towards a Windows PC, I would not count the Mac out, especially if you have experience with them. Your learning curve would be much lower, and being a student... the last thing you want to deal with is a problematic PC.

I just want to add that I've had a more positive experience with Lenovo laptops than any other brand... they're generally much easier to work on then Dells or Vaio (personal experience). Even though I own an ASUS laptop (got a X54C open-box super cheap for 199$ at bestbuy), I believe the construction quality of Lenovo is superior.

With that out of the way, I think that either of those laptops would be sufficient for your needs for a couple years... I just wouldn't expect miracles when rendering nor in viewport performance. But that should be ok with where you are at... I would definitely keep my budget at that lower end for now.

I would also consider looking at which may have a docking port accessory... while at home, you could have your TV attached, with a regular keyboard, mouse and/or drawing tablet attached and have a nice optional display to work on. (just a thought).

I do like the fact that the Lenovo has 16GB of RAM. 8GB is kinda a bare minimum... so, if you go with the ASUS, you probably will want to bump that up.

The nice thing about the ASUS is it has 3GB of dedicated video memory... this will be great if you happen to do any work in Mudbox... or to drive the 2ndary monitor.

In either system, I would definitely look to replace the hard drive... even though they have 1TB HDD, i would certainly look at putting some of my budget into an SSD. Perhaps a 250GB Samsung 840 series (they're on newegg for around 190$). Laptop hard drives are notorious for going bad and the SSD are perfect (no moving parts).

I know these are not direct answers, but hopefully a little insight helps.
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  03 March 2013
oh, I wanted to add.. if you do replace the HDD (totally recommend).. get yourself an external USB 2.5" enclosure (I think that would be the correct size, might want to wait to get that until after you've dealt with the SSD and have it in hand). You could put the 1TB HD into it, and use that as a backup resource for your laptop.
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  03 March 2013

Thanks TS, I really appreciate the input. I do like the Lenovo as its nearly half as heavy as the Asus, but that's a moot point as that should not be my determining factor. From what I see though, the Asus has an expandable RAM of 32GB but I don't see how much the Lenovo can go up to, and that's something that really intrigues me. The video cards aren't far off so that's not too much of a bother to me either, but the Asus seems to have a more update version. So I'm still a little torn.

I love my Mac but its really at the bare minimum at best as I do have the max RAM of 16GB, but its an i5 with only 2 core processors, so I know that's holding me back as well. And I love the 17 inch display on my Mac too, which is another reason why the Asus is more alluring to me. Though I'm using a WACOM Cintiq tablet so the loss of 2 inches on the display isn't a horrible thought either. I think my biggest concern is moving to Windows 8, which I haven't been too much of a fan of.

Moving to the idea of possible desktop machine though, a Mac Pro is completely out as those are over $2k and plus looking over the specs they come in, I feel I could do a lot more with a Windows machine. The biggest thing that strikes my interest about a desktop machine is possibly getting a Nvidia Quadro video card. After seeing the demos at SIGGRAPH, it amazed me and I would love to get in the driver's seat of one of those. But then again I think it would be better to start smaller and then upgrade as my skills improve. While I'm focused more on getting a laptop, a desktop machine recommendation would be cool as well.

Thanks again TS for suggestions as they did definitely give me something to consider with these choices.
  03 March 2013
If you're still a beginner you might want to go for a build with an I5 3570k and graphics like the Radeon HD 7850. This gives you a build that's not particularly power hungry whilst still being pretty fast.
Then if you got more money to spend take an i7 3770k which gives you more speed through hyperthreading, expect some 20% more with that.
Then if you still have some money left I'd fully recommend an i7 3930k, you'll be very happy with that :-) higher memory bandwidth, 6 cores and a rough 30 - 40% speed increase over the i7 3770k. But watch your electricity bill for that one :-) The price though is significantly higher (different pricier board, and so on...)
  03 March 2013
laptop vs desktop

unless a laptop is absolutely necessary, imperative, and the only option you have. I would highlly highly highly suggest a desktop. Building one is cheap and you could get away with 3/4 of your budget for a much more powerful machine. You could then buy a more affordable laptop and although it wont be nearly as powerful, you could use your desktop to render and do intensive processes. I would visit forums such as tomsharware along with taking recommendations from the great people here to figure out what you want.
  03 March 2013
Wow, jojojo, you just opened Pandora's box for me looking at those i7 3770k. Makes me want to buy the laptop and the desktop just to be able to be on the go and have a nasty rig at home. This one is striking my fancy at the moment NE751 i7 3770k

I think I may stick with the laptop just because I have to consider space but I may just get the desktop if can make the room for it.

There were some others that interested me, but they had Radeon graphic cards. I've had some bad luck with ATi cards, but I'm rather leery at buying one with such. Any preferences out there?
  03 March 2013
Hey man,

If your just focusing on modelling, you really don't need a super fancy graphics card. I can work on multi million polygon objects with my little $40 5770 just fine. You really don't need 150fps to model. The nice GPUs come in handy when your doing animation work, and you need smooth play back.

  03 March 2013
Playback of animation is almost never GPU necked actually.
99% of the time a rig, the source of your fps, is crippled by latency in evaluating the DAG.
Single core clock speed, L1 cache, and caching pipes and instruction supersets are the #1 rig booster, the GPU does little.

Modelling/texturing, if you use mudbox and/or mari, is actually strongly GPU dependent, as both make extensive use of the video ram and GPU.

In Maya/Softimage it will, again, mostly come down to single core clock speed and caching as you pay for the history stack and the non deferred SDS approximation.

ZBrush is all CPU, and still 32bit with a memory addressing hack, so it will fetch just shy of 4GB of ram on a 64bit system, and the rest is all CPU (again, largely single core).

Depending on what modelling you do in what, a decent CPU and related architecture can make a world of difference, only in the two, still sort of singular cases of mudbox and mari the GPU makes exception.
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  03 March 2013
AJ, you are of course right. I'm getting the itch to buy something big because I know in just a bit of time I'm going to have some nice money to burn on this. Stopping in a local Best Buy, I spotted 2 laptops that caught my interest. A Dell Inspiron Intel i7-3630QM and a Sony Intel i7-3632QM, both for less than a grand. The 3630 was at $747.99 with an AMD Radeon 7700 series graphics card on it and the Sony had an Nvidia 670M graphics card on it. Both with expandable memory up to 32GB supposedly, but both with just a 1TB HD and coming with 8GB of RAM. I'm not a big fan of Dells honestly, but I would take it over an HP any day of the week. The Sony looks decent too. It had a more compact keyboard and weighed less with a 15 inch display versus the 17 inch display of the Dell. I'm still leaning towards the Lenovo if I'm going to get a laptop though. I'm kind of thinking about this for the long haul as well, so I'd like to get something that will last me some time. There was a Samsung there too, beautiful, touchscreen, Windows 8, light, AMD 8770 graphics gard, but only 750GB HD but came with a 16GBSSD. While I like going to brick and mortar store, I feel its more of the retail price I'd be paying there and will probably go with NewEgg or something.

JacO, that is also very true. If there's something I've learned is never underestimate the CPU, FSB, and the L1 Cache. There are so many things to consider, but seeing how my focus will stay towards, Maya, ZBrush, other AutoDesk products such as Mudbox, I probably don't need to go all out and blow an enormous amount of money. I really appreciate the input everyone. I'm glad I signed up here.

Last edited by FXHMantis : 03 March 2013 at 09:18 PM.
  03 March 2013
Thanks for the response, Raffaele.

So it should help to turn HT off for an Intel chip for non raytracing task? I can see on my CPU monitor that things hover around the equivalent percentage point of one thread when I'm running things like Ncloth, saving, or playing back some animation. However, it seems to jump from thread to thread randomly, so its hard to tell if its single threaded, or just poorly multi threaded.

Thanks again for continuing to share your knowledge on these things.

  03 March 2013
You should rarely ever want to turn HT off. Only some pretty poor written software in the early days suffered because of HT, the app would treat the fake HT core as if it were a real CPU, and thus end up slowing down because not as much processing power was available as the app thought there was.

I havent come across any software that slows down with HT for a number of years.
Matthew O'Neill
  03 March 2013
So as much as I was hoping to stick to a laptop, I think I'm going to go with this desktop.

i7 3770k

I think I can use my current MacBook to continue for on the go modeling, but there are some I've seen that are fairly minimal that I just have my eye on. Plus I think I want to get a touchscreen ultrabook but that's just other things.

I really appreciate all the input everyone's given. Thanks.
  03 March 2013
My big question now resides with the idea on moving to Windows 8 Pro or should I stay with Windows 7. I haven't really tried any of these applications on Windows 8 so I would really like some input on using applications such as Maya or ZBrush on a Window 8 machine. With the computer I am looking at, it comes with Windows 8 but I have a Windows 7 license I could use if necessary.
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