Mac|Maya|Renderfarm|Video cards


We’re thinking about setting up a Mac renderfarm with dual g5 systems running Maya 6.

I was wondering if anybody out there had any words of wisdom to share with the us and the CGTalk community to help steer us clear of problems.

An experiences with dual G5s? What about the various video cards that ship with the g5s?


Are you going to operate them headless? Or do these need to be workstations?

If you want them to be headless, then the G5 cluster nodes should work fine for what you want. Plus an Xserve RAID setup would give you a ton of data storage for a relatively cheap price.

If I ever needed a render-farm that is what I would do. Especially if you plan to use Shake and the Qmaster render que.

Shake & Maya Network Rendering

Harness networked Macs for both Shake and Maya rendering.


nah you can buy three rackmount linux boxes for the cost of a decent G5. For workstations macs are great, but for cost per frame o with dedicated linux boxes.


I think there might be a reason why their looking at Macs instead. Sometimes costs can appear to be different. Especially when it comes to software, which OS X server is free to install on any machine, but Linux is licensed per node, or CPU. So the costs may be the same in the end. I’m not sure if Alias/Maya still requires only certain Linux builds, so they may not be able to use free distributions of Linux.

On the Mac side though, there are so many pluses, like remote desktop, OS X Server, Qmaster if you have Shake, Quicktime, etc, etc… To me Macs are priced just right. Their just not priced for the average hobbiest. But for studio work, I’m sure the prices are not even an issue, considering what it use to cost 5-10 years ago for something half as cpu powerful.


Umm… isn’t it the other way around? When you buy an XServe the license cost of OSX Server is included, and no it’s not “legal” to install it on any machine. Linux on the other hand, you can install it anywhere you want as many times as you want, you just bring the hardware.

Originally Alias and SoftImage did require RedHat Linux for use with their products but Linux users have found ways of getting it to work on just about any Linux distro. Fedora Core is still a “Red Hat” distro and I have heard of people running Maya with it. FC is a free download.

Remote desktop is free in Linux FYI. But if you’re comfortable with OSX and Qmaster than I can’t argue that. If price isn’t an issue for a studio, then they’d have hired a Linux admin and stock pile on Linux nodes. Hardware becomes obsolete very fast. Your render farm today may only be good for 1 - 3 years (that’s being generous) and then it won’t be so powerful anymore. Virginia Tech built a super computer out of Dual G5 towers. Then the G5 XServes came out and we see thousands of G5 towers on eBay.

My point is, software is a more valuable asset. Hardware is a commodity and you should be flexible with it. But to contradict my own opinion: it’s fact that Mac hardware holds a better resell value. So even if you have to someday sell of your Mac render farm for an upgrade, you’d get a good portion of your investment back. Supposedly. Maybe.


Yeah, you’re right. I didn’t mean to start a debate about all of this. I was wrong about being able to install OS X server on any Mac. I should have said it has unlimited client access, except for the cluster node. OS X server has a remote “access” availability too. But Apple’s Remote Desktop is a bit different. You can actually view different desktops right on your own monitor, which is something I don’t think Linux has. But that’s getting tit for tat. My main point being that aside from the price factor, the information I gave him in my first post should suffice for what he wants. I took it as he wanted a Mac renderfarm, and I gave him the information he requested. I am well aware of the savings on the PC hardware side, so I don’t want you to think I was trying to argue about that.


As far as remote desktops, in Linux it works both ways. You can have multiple users connect to one main machine and see the desktop as if they were sitting right there. This is sort of like the idea of “thin clients.” Or, an admin can connect to a client machine and perform routine maintanence.

Sorry for taking this so far off topic, I’m just sharing info wherever I go, not meant to convert anyone. I also didn’t want anyone thinking Linux couldn’t do this or that. Technically speaking, a Linux solution vs. a Mac solution (in terms of software) is very similar and comparable. The differences is, obviously price, and also the tech support needed to run that configuration.


I appreciate the feedback on the different platform possibilites for a renderfarm guys, but I’m afraid my boss has declared that we’re a Mac house only and that all work is to be done on Macs. Kinda silly if you ask me, why restrict youself to one kind of tool, but hey, he signs my checks. :slight_smile:

Headless? I suppose you mean no monitors right? We’ll be doing all our work on one or two regular g5s and then we’d like to ship the scene off to the farm to render. I’m afraid I know zip about renderfarms other than the basic theory…and I know even less about a Mac renderfarm. Is there a good source of information I can read learn about them?

Since I don’t know much about setting up a farm, and for sh!ts and giggles, I’d like your opinion from your own experiences on what the best platform would be to set ua a farm. I know my boss is insisting on setting up a Mac farm, but if a linux/Maya farm will give us more bang for the buck, it’d be silly to go with the Macs. And maybe I can convince him to bend on this, if it’ll make a big enough cost difference. Dunno, I can try right? :slight_smile:

Personally, I don’t care what platform it is. All I’m looking for is:

  1. What platform will give us the most power for the least investment i.e. best value.
  2. Which platform is better at handling the farm, easier to use, most stable, etc.
  3. Which platform will give us the most flexibility in the future.


Linux on PC hardware


Linux on PC hardware.

Personally I think you’d be best off sticking with Macs. Yes there are benefits of cheap x86 hardware running Linux but it’s not for everyone. You boss has decided to be an all Mac shop so it just makes sense to use XServes.

In practice, a Mac render farm is the same as any other render farm. Maya has it’s own built in network rendering management software so that’s the only interface you need to concern yourself with. Even if you were working in a hybrid environment, the software interface should remain the same so no worries there. Better still, take chadtheartist’s advice about Qmaster.

Bottom line: if you do everything “by the book” a Mac render farm is just as good as any other platform. Probably easier to maintain being that it’s a Mac.


linux if just maya,

macs work out cheaper if your were to use shake a lot.

but you can still get shake on linux.

if you use a mac for a node will it still launch the desktop?
or can you shut it off to save power


I don’t think there is a way to “turn off” OS X, but it’s shouldn’t really be all that much of an issue anyway. OS X doesn’t use the CPU for the desktop anyway, so there is very little hit from the actual OS if it’s just sitting there. Maybe Darwin will work instead of OS X, since it’s essentially the same, minus Aqua. But I doubt Qmaster will let you use Darwin.


Many people don’t understand TCO.

The nice thing about osx is if your using shake all the render nodes are free (2k per machine on linux and you have to multithread otherwise you have to use 2 lics if you want to render per proc). Also you can get away without hiring a sysadmin which would cost you 50-100k a year(depending where you live). Managing a shop using linux without a sysadmin can be a pain in the ass especially if you have very little unix experience. Linux is not easy, especially with many machines and with inexperienced people. You are going to spend a lot of time learning and configuring linux where osx is ready out of the box. Also electric costs are much cheaper on a G5. G5 draws about 40 watts where an AMD/P4 is anywhere from 90-120. The G5 produces less heat so you will have less costs for AC.

I’m not talking out of my ass. This is comming from someone who used to be an SGI/windows/linux sysadmin 8 years ago and I know linux, tru64, solaris, windows, osx, etc… There are many situtations where I would suggest a G5 farm over a linux one. People don’t think about the cost of a sysadmin, electricity, AC, etc…

The cost difference between a cluster node G5 Xserve and a rackmount machine from Boxx is between $400-800. That cost is made up really fast when you consider all the additional hidden costs. Also buy your ram from a 3rd party. Apple way overcharges for ram and it is the same exact stuff as what goes in a pc(PC3200). Good PC3200 from mushkin is like 1/3 the cost of the stuff from Apple.

From the sound of your situtation I would definatly go with a G5 Xserve farm.


Inspite of Quartz Extreme using the GPU to compsite the GUI, it still does use the CPU. The desktop GUI rendering pipeline involves both CPU and GPU, QE just offloads more work to the GPU. Just open up the CPU monitor applet and grab any window and drag it around the screen really fast. Or better yet when you’re replying to a post (see all those animated smilies on the right?) watch your CPU usage :slight_smile:

And it is possible to “turn off” the OSX Aqua desktop. It’s been a long time since I’ve used it, but if you login in as a certain account (System Admin or Console or something like that) it’ll close down Aqua and put you in a command line only mode. If your net render software is set up as a service or daemon, it’ll still be running. Frees up some RAM, that’s what’s cool about going into console mode.


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