This configuration is aimed to act as a dedicated CPU rendering node. The components are chosen so that the hardware – excluding OS – will be around the $500 mark. Each component has a small description with the logic behind choosing it.
- CPU: AMD FX-8350 . This is a great processor for rendering tasks. 8C/8T with 4GHz lets it pull ahead from the closely priced intel i5-3570K (4C/4T – 3.4GHz) in most multithreaded tasks, and come close or surpass the i7 2600K/3770K (4C/8T) processors. In Cinebench scores are not impressive, but in real rendering scenarios using Mental Ray, VRay etc, the 8350 actually matches or tops quad-core i7 CPUs.
For multiple nodes, the savings from switching to this AMD processor are noticeable, and its value hard to beat.
Aggregate speed* = 32GHz
Single theaded performance is not as impressive as that of intel, so comparing “GHz aggregates” is not a linear process unless we are talking same architectures.
- CPU Cooler: Assuming stock speeds, there is no need for an extra cooler for a rendering node. The factory cooler included with the CPU will work fine.
- Motherboard: Asus M5A78L-M LX PLUS AM3+. This motherboard offers FX 8-core compatibility, 2 dimm slots for up to 16GB RAM, Gbit LAN and onboard graphics in a mATX format. Perfect for a compact rendering node or even cheap workstation – by adding a more powerful GPU.
- RAM: G.SKILL Ares Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin SDRAM DDR3 1866 Planing ahead is wise. Most motherboards for intel i5/i7 and AMD FX CPUs have up to 4 slots for RAM. CPUs can support up to 32GBs. Even if you don’t see the need for 32GB of RAM, opt for 8GB sticks unless you want to go for a special speed where those are unavailable etc. This will allow room for growth without parting out your initial investment (often the case with 4GB sticks). Prefer low profile heat-spreaders. Those offer little to no gains in reliability and stability, but might cause installation issues obstructing the use of large CPU heasinks, and even airflow to the CPU in tight situations. G.Skill Ares and Corsair Vengeance LP are good examples. With AMD CPUs RAM speed is more important than with current intel CPUs, so 1600 and even 1866 DDR3 are highly recommended.
- Graphics: Onboard / Integrated. Render nodes rarely if ever require output to a screen after initial configuration, but still some motherboards require a GPU present in order to boot.
- SSD: Fast boot, low consumption. 64GB are not a lot, but more than suffice for OS and rendering clients. The Samsung 840 EVO and Crucial M500 are great little drives, with the best reliability records. Both are based on TLC NAND, which will probably last less time than the MLC offered in most commercial SSDs, but for the average CG workstation, the available writes before any deterioration starts inhibiting performance or available disk space, will take probably decades. Remember: even when SSDs “wear-out”, only writes are suspended from the “weak” areas, and reads are allowed to 100% of the drive.
- HDD: Western Digital Caviar Blue – 500GB / 7200rpm. This is a basic 7.2K Sata drive that will easily handle a rendering node’s tasks. Great if you need to save some money opting out from the SSD. You don’t need both.
- Case: Of course the mATX form factor leaves us with more options for a case. A slim desktop will allow you to stuck more machines in a limited space, but you could always opt for a rack and 2U cases. The cases below are purely indicative. Note that 2U rack mounted cases and slim mATX cases probably won’t fit full hight GPUs etc should you wish to expand, but will fit low-profile graphic cards – like the Quadro 600, Geforce 620, AMD Radeon 5450 etc.
- PSU: You should not need anything more than 200-250W for operating a rendering node with the above specifications. Should you choose a case without a bundled PSU, keep in mind that almost all full ATX PSUs will work fine, just like most of the 250W+ mATX, SFF etc form factor PSUs should you pick one for a smaller case.
A quality 80+ certified or better unit is certainly a good choice for a system that will be seeing a lot of up-time, both under load or idling. 80+ Silver or Gold units are perhaps out of the scope of an ultra-cheap node, but patience and rebates work wonders sometimes. Keep looking for a good deal.
- Optical Drive: Optical Drives (ODs) are rarely utilized the last few years. Broadband connections, cloud storage and affordable flash drives are replacing them. For most ODs are limited to installing new software and OS.
- Operating System: Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit (OEM)
Windows OS is guaranteeing compatibility with most rendering packages, including 3DS Max. If your distributed rendering will be focused in Maya, you could actually get away with Linux as client packages for VRay are available.
Windows 7 Home editions are limited to 16GB of RAM. Professional and Ultimate versions allow up to 128GB, and offer some additional networking/remote access features that are desirable.
*Aggregate speed = GHz * Number of Cores