The -almost- $500 Rendering Node : FX-8350 edition

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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.

Crucial M500 – 120GB
Samsung 840 EVO – 120GB

  • 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.

Rosewill Slim MicroATX Case with ATX12V Flex 300W PSU

  • 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

 

24 thoughts on “The -almost- $500 Rendering Node : FX-8350 edition

  1. Hi! This information really helped me a lot. I think of buying render nodes and a pro render workstation based on these setups. I have a question about the FX-8350. It is perfect for render nodes which only do multicore processes. But, do you recommend overclocking to 5 Ghz? For example, Cinebench shows a performance increase of 24%. Is it worth the money (premium cooler + maybe a different OC Motherboard)? Greetings, Dave Source: http://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=962&Itemid=63&limit=1&limitstart=5

    • Overclocking is very effective, relatively safe for those that do some homework and pick proper components and settings and ofc rewarding for diy (and performance) enthusiasts.

      In most cases, whether o/c really worth’s it really an multifold economy of scale question:

      *how much more performance
      *how much more money to achieve it initially
      *how much more running costs to maintain over the operating life of the machine.
      when you have few – say a workstation and a couple of nodes – you pay less % of the budget than the % in performance gains you get from o/cing the last generations of cpus.

      As you add nodes, the increased cost adds up and after a critical point the cost for say uprading 4-5 machines to be overclockable to 25% extra real life gains, equals the cost for adding an extra node for almost the same total performance, probably less overall energy consumption and better redundancy.

      • Yes, you’re right. In my case, the costs for upgrading 4 nodes is the same as buying an extra fifth node which would increase overall CPU performance with the same amount. Thanks for your insights.

  2. Thank You, nice article ! One question about MoBo – is this tested (on real non stop renders) configuration, or just thoughts ? Because this Asus M5A78L-M supports CPU up to 95 W (official Asus site data), and FX8350 requires 125W (amd.com data)… And I can’t find much other MoBo’s with integrated video 🙁 Also thinking about boot from LAN system for render nodes to save some money on SSD/HDD drives. I want to built just plain render slaves for heavy VRay+3dsmax renderings.

    • Thanks for taking time to look into depth for those specs. The motherboard is not the “vanilla” M5A78L-M, but the “M5A78L-M LX PLUS” which does support 125W CPUs like the FX 8350 and most 6 and 8 cores from AMD. Yes, I have hands-on experience with the board on a rendering node, albeit it wasn’t mine.

      Finding FX capable mATX boards is a real pain, it is true, as newest chipsets for AM3+ don’t have built in GPUs…worst case scenario is getting a cheap $15 or so PCIe card and calling it a day.

  3. Hey Dimitris, I was thinking about getting this board “GIGABYTE GA-78LMT-USB3” http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4305#ov Because I can’t find the “M5A78L-M LX PLUS” in my country But it’s only RAM speed up to 1333. Will this be a problem? Thanks for your effort!

    • Sorry for spamming, but I found this board which will I think fulfill the specs I desire: “Asus AMD AM3+ M5A78L-M/USB3” http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/M5A78LMUSB3/ RAM up to 1866 Supports CPU up to 140 W And for only €58 Think I’m here in Goldilocks zone? Regards,

  4. Looks pretty good. The suggested configuration is just a framework for you to work on. Thus the rants (explanations) about what does what etc. I prefer you making educated decisions, instead of blindly copying not only my suggestions, but anything you read online 😉

  5. Hi Dimitri, thinking of building 1 or 2 rendering nodes in the next months, altough being above the $500 budget, if i decide on going with a Haswell i7 4770 (no OC), instead of this AMD, which good, reliable, simple and budget Mobo will you recommend? Also, i noticed you did not mentioned the Fractal Design Core 1000 Case for this built, will you recommend it for this? I am not very convinced about the Cases with PSU included, but i might be wrong. I am only saying these because of some comments and reviews i have read, not from a hands on experience. Do you think these included PSU perform well?

  6. Any H87 (since you won’t be overclocking there is no need to go Z87) board from the “usual suspects” should do decent: ASRock H87M Pro4, GIGABYTE GA-H87M-D3H, ASUS H87M-E – at no particular order. Visually I like the Gigabyte :p

    The 4770K appears to be a very solid performer, I would expect exactly the same from the non “K”s.

    The included PSUs in the cases described above should perform OK…this configuration was more aimed as a primer for people to get ideas.

    Definitely it won’t be better than a 80+ ATX from a respected brand, but don’t forget it is a SFF unit, as the whole idea was to choose something small and stack-able. SFF/SFX PSUs with good stats from Seasonic and Silverstone are pretty pricey, so should better be good!
    Core 1000s are nice for the price, tho I have to admit my mATX case of choice for the sub $50 range now is the Cooler Master N200.

  7. Thanks Dimitri, i tried the configuration for a Haswell i7 4770 on Amazon and it came out at $630 without OS and Optical Drive. Your AMD configuration, also without OS and Optical Drives comes out at $485. I used the same spec you suggested for RAM, CASE/PSU (Elite 361), HDD… So the only 2 different components where the CPU (i74770) and the MoBO (GIGABYTE GA-H87M-D3H). Your specs for this nodes are a great “base” or framework in order to build our own. Any additional component or upgrade will be clearer to understand. I am going to do the same exercise on mini ITX and see what comes out. Regards, and thanks again.

    • As you can see, the i7 configuration despite being better, is considerably more expensive. The “primer” was to show what can be done with even a moderate budget, at which the AMD offering shines. Be creative with your configuration, nothing binds you really other than the budget, and perhaps space limitations.

  8. Hi Dimitri, I’m looking into adding some relatively cheap render nodes to our work server and I like the look of what you’ve put together here. However, our workstations are all i7s (of varying generations), if we start rendering across different architectures (eg. some animation frames on AMD, some on i7) will we get inconsistencies in how our renders look (leading to flicker in animations)? I’ve read this can be an issue, but don’t have any real world experience. Trying to convince my boss that £5k+ on a Boxx render node is a good investment is difficult, so hoping suggesting cheaper multiple nodes will be an easier sell 🙂 Many thanks.

    • Well, to be honest I don’t know of any incompatibilities really…this was the case far back, when AMD 64bit x86 architecture was new and handled double precision calcs differently (i.e. better) than intel x86. Now both companies use the AMD 64 x86 instruction set. In theory you would be golden.
      I have done only stills with distributed rendering and AMD/Intel chips mixed and appear to be consistent.

      You could always approach the same problem replacing the AM3+ board with a cheap s1150 or s1155 board and a i7 CPU. Cost would be higher, performance wouldn’t be that much better (the FX8350 matches or beats the 3770K in VRay & Metal Ray), but at least you would get better power consumption from the intel parts. You can definitely get more mileage for your money going DIY nodes vs. a blade solution from BOXX or other companies, but that means you are willing to support your farm completely in-house.

  9. Hello Dmitris, I work with 3dsmax 2014 and i just aquired a nvidia Titan, is it a good option for the display on the nitrous mode in 3dsmax or a Quadro k600 ,k2000 k4000 would be a smoother option regarding working with heavy polys + textures on the max display ? Is it a good option to buy a second card such as the Quadro k2000 just for the nitrous display on the 3ds max and leave the Titan only for Cuda calculations as a maximus configuration ? Will the display be faster on the quadro card ? Do you have any comparision for this case: 3dsmax 2014 x quadro x titan ? Thanks,

  10. i would like to know that is there any worksation graphics card less 100 usd which i can add in this pc . i am using 3ds max and autocadd. thanks in advance

    • “Workstation” GPUs – as in Quadro or Firepro – that retail below $100 are not available.
      You might get low end Quadro/Firepro models used for this kind of money.

      With “gaming” cards that are priced around or below $100 you could go for a Radeon 7750, R7 250X or 7770 if you prefer AMD and perhaps a GTX 650 or 750 from the nVidia side. Pricing is subject to rebates/sales/shop of course.

  11. Hi Dimitris, I am planning to build 4 nodes specifically for vray distributed rendering. I would like to mount them to a cart and allow artists to “share” the cart depending on who needs the extra cpu power. Very similar to Boxx’s RenderPro product. My questions are: Have you created something like this or know of anyone who has? Since this article was written last year, do you recommend any newer hardware? Is it even worth it? Should I just push for the Boxx due to convenience?

    • I would suggest you take a look at my “Less than $600 Render node” post that is a tad more up to date:

      http://pcfoo.com/2014/03/2014-the-less-than-600-render-node-early-2014/

      The intel CPU will give you more options for a small form factor motherboard, and the ability to fit it in a IKEA helmer or something equivalent.

      Check this great Helmer Render Farm example – Formula5 – built by a friend in CGarchitect forums and showcased in his blog: http://www.finalmethod.com/blog/formula-5-is-alive/

  12. Hi Dimitris I’m planning to buy 2 render node on following configuration Processor: AMD FX 8350 4.0GHZ Ram : 4X4GB kINGSTON Motherboard : ASUS – AMD 760G M5A78L-M/USB3 Is this good config? Right now iam not having an idea of Overclocking but it is possible in the future in this mobo?

    • Hello, the config still stands, and with AMD dropping prices here and there it might be even more affordable, but I would not try to overclock a 8core FX on that board. Just not enough VRM cooling / VRM phases to do it reliably i am afraid. I would also try to do 2x8GB RAM instead of 4x4GB to make it easier to go 32GB if I needed to in the future. The price difference shouldn’t be significant (if any).

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