Stepping up the game from both a n intel i5 and a AMD FX-8350 alike, the 4770K/3770K i7 “duo” is thet all-around processor for the demanding user. This build is aimed to fulfill the role of a mid-range 3D CAD workstation, capable of satisfying most casual users, amateur or professionals, with the ability to tweak and upgrade its performance overtime – either by adding GPUs, or overclocking the existing hardware.
To expand the capabilities of your hardware, quality components are key. Just like with everything in life though, and especially with electronics, past a certain performance point, you need to start investing much more for absolute performance as the value actually decreases.
This rig won’t be noticeably faster for casual modeling, photo editing, drafting etc tasks that a 3D Artist and/or designer will probably be engaged in comparison with the configurations featuring cheaper sub-components, like a i5 processor. The Hyper Threading (HT) capabilities of the i7 will be proven useful in workflows that favor heavily threaded tasks, like prolonged rendering sessions, video transcoding and developing large sets of RAW photos.
In this scenario the motherboard is a more sturdy choice that can allow for much more stable overclocks, while the 3x PCIe 16x slots are well layed out to accommodate up to 3x double slot GPUs for serious GPU acceleration in supported apps.
Note that despite the clear victory of Intel’s CPUs in single threaded applications, the FX-8350 remains competitive and even surpasses the Quad core i7s in pure VRay and Mental Ray performance.
- CPU – LGA 1150: Intel Core i7-4770K. The newest addition to the Core i7 family, the 4770K is based on the Haswell architecture. Still 22nm like the 1 year old Ivy bridge, it doesn’t offer significant performance increase to justify upgrading for most people, but remains the fastest i7 quad core today. Clocked @ 3.5GHz stock speed, with a boost clock up to 3.7GHz, the 4770K is known to run hotter than both the older Sandy Bridge CPUs (2xxx codes) and Ivy Bridge (3xxx), but that is not an issue outside those hopping for extreme overclocking. The K indicates an “unlocked” processor, where we are free to adjust the multiplier to whatever value we want easily through the BIOS or the Windows overclocking utilities of most decent motherboards with a couple of very easy and almost fool-proof steps.
- CPU – LGA 1155: Intel Core i7-3770K. Not much to add here. The current LGA 1155 flagship from intel, offers 4C/8T with 3.4GHz base speed and up to 3.9GHz Turboboost. The 3rd Gen of intel core CPUs is based on the 22nm Ivy Bridge architecture, with excellent power efficiency and decent overclocking capabilities.
- CPU Cooler: Depending on how you will treat your system, there are quite a few cooler options to go for:
- Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus. If you feel the stock cooler is not enough, it is hard to beat the value of the 212…it is cheap, and very effective while nearly silent. Will keep your CPU happy even when mildly overclocked.
- Noctua ND-14. The mother of modern twin tower air-coolers, this huge chunk of metal with dual 140mm fans is here to keep your CPU cool even at high overclocks. Practically you cannot get better noise/performance unless you opt for a custom Water cooling kit. It does have it issues, being heavy and relatively challenging to install, but it does worth it. Costs around 2 times that of a 212, and it is clearly overkill for CPUs that won’t be overclocked.
- Corsair Hydro H100i. The current benchmark for AIO WC coolers, the H100i is not the best water cooling solution out there, but for the price it is hard to beat. The support from Corsair is also top notch, just like the warranty covering not just the unit, but also damaged components in case of a leak. It won’t impress versus a ND-14, but it is far prettier to look at, and much easier to install / remove. and won’t cause any interference with RAM dimms having large heatsinks. Costs around 3 times that of a 212, and it is clearly overkill for CPUs that won’t be overclocked. If you don’t plan to do so, but you still want to give it a go with a closed loop water cooler, a Hydro H60 will most likely suffice.
- Motherboard – LGA 1150: Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD3H. GIgabyte came up with the line having the least RMA requests in 2012, despite almost matching the leader in sales, Asus. The new, updated BIOS in the Z87 line, allows them to match the easy overclocking experience Asus users were spoiled to, making the Z87X-UD3H a pretty safe bet, just like the ASUS Z87-PLUS. Personally I prefer the black-blue color scheme the Gigabyte board offers much more than the gold/yellowish new scheme Asus came up with, but that’s subjective. Should you opt for overclocking your CPU, both should be able to do 4.5~4.7GHz as easily as tweaking your Vcore around 1.2V and setting the CPU multiplier for the desired speed ( 4x * 100MHz). The slot layout and connectivity options are nearly identical between the 2 models.
- Motherboard – LGA 1155: ASUS P8Z77-V Pro . This offering from Asus pretty much sums up the qualities a high end motherboard should have without breaking the bank. While not offering any real performance updates over the VE/LK offerings from the same company, or any Z77 board from any manufacturer, its advantages come to the surface when you try to overclock. The board offers enough VRM phases for increased stability at higher Vcore settings, a great BIOS with a plethora of tweaking options, and a decent slot layout for up to 3x double slot GPUs. The Fan controls built into the motherboard are probably the best available, and the WiFi card is a welcome addition for anyone who doesn’t want or cannot use the built in intel Gbit NIC. USB 3.0 and Sata 6GB/s is natively supported just like with all Z77 boards.
- RAM: G.SKILL Ares Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin SDRAM DDR3 1866.
You can get 1x or 2x of these kits for 16GB and 32GB respectively.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 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.
- Graphics: This is a tough one. Depending on the direction you will move, this is the second most important component after the CPU, and in many ways the most important. I will list 3 options, trying to keep everyone happy:
- The AIO budget CUDA Renderer: EVGA GeForce GTX 770 SC 4GB. For CUDA optimized applications, and GPU accelerated renderers like iRay, VRay RT GPU* and Octane (among others), you have to opt for nVidia*. 2GB of Vram is enough buffer for most viewport** in anything but extreme applications and scenes, but GPU renderers can ask for more. These cards can be combined for 4-way SLI, but compute tasks don’t care about SLI. As long as more than one compatible card with sufficient memory is detected, it will be utilized regardless of them being identical or physically bridged. 3D Viewports also couldn’t care less about SLI or Crossfire, as those are currently utilized only by gaming engines. The 770 is a rebadged 680 with faster VRam, and the performance increase over the older 680s and 670s is not substantial. Given you can find them for a cheaper price, any 670/680 with 4GB Ram is a direct replacement with marginal loss in performance. A great example lately that would be the ZOTAC GTX 670 4GB, but supplies for 6xx cards in good pricing might not last for long.
- The budget conscious CADaddict: If all you do is 3D CAD and you don’t care about games or GPU accelerated rendering, then I would recommend considering and opting for a nvidia Quadro K2000. Offers the performance of the older Quadro 4000, in a cheaper, smaller and cooler package. Low to mid range Quadros will do the occasional GPU accelerated task, but limited clocks and buffer sizes will be less impressive. Quadro’s don’t look the part next to the massive GTX cards, but trust me, especially in OpenGL viewports, a Quadro K2000 will be embarrassingly faster than the gaming cards. No surprises, even the Quadro 600 is faster! The K2000 is a valid replacement card even for the K4000 in suggestion #4.
- The All-out CUDA Renderer: EVGA GeForce GTX 770 SC 4GB, but rinse and repeat two or three times. Adding more cards, of course will speed up GPU computed views a lot. Viewports don’t care about SLI or multiple cards, so only the primary card having the monitor connected to it will carry the burden of accelerating your viewports. Unless you will be gaming “on the side” on your PC, make sure that VRay RT GPU, iRay etc renderers can accommodate your needs before you commit to buying more than one card. Also keep in mind that only the version of iRay that comes with 3DS Max 2013 supports the Kepler architecture and 6xx cards.
The GTX 780 is faster, but since you can buy 3x 770 SC 4GBs for the price of 2x GTX 780 3GB boards , and since 2x GTX 770s (or even 2x 670s) are already outperforming a single GTX Titan, the 670 stops being the GPU of choice after your budget is comfortable thinking in the range of multiple Titan boards or a combination of 2-3 Titan boards and a Quadro/FireGL.
- The Hybrid Pro: nVidia Quadro K4000 + 2-3x GeForce GTX 770 SC 4GB. The best of 2 worlds…Some report issues with drivers, but from my experience with 6xx, 7xx and Titan GTX cards, I had no issues adding them as head-less accelerators to systems running with K2000, 2000 and 4000 Quadros as primary cards. Not a single glitch. Don’t expect the gaming power of the GTX cards on demand though. Switching monitor(s) to the GTX and re-installing drivers is a must if you want to game in a PC with both Quadro (or FirePro) and GTX cards co-existing. On the other hand, GPGPU programs and progressive renderers recognize all available compatible cards without issues.
- SSD: Samsung 840 Pro 256GB. Probably the fastest consumer SATA drive at the moment, from the company with the best reliability record for the last couple of years. A 128GB drive is enough for most users wishing to add OS and basic apps, but 256GB will allow you for more flexibility + the ability to store most of your current projects without worrying too much about space. Make sure that you are opting for the 840 Pro series that is based on MLC NAND, instead of the “vanilla” 840 and 840 EVO that are based on TLC NAND and will supposingly have a shorter lifespan. The price difference is not important enough to risk a drive failing prematurely (all SSDs of current technology eventually will). Note: SSDs are offering considerable boost in loading times for all apps and the overal responsiveness of the system. Still the performance benefits for most CG applications as far as rendering speed and viewport performance are negligible or non-existant, with the slight exception of video editing with multiple streams of HD video. A smaller, or no SSD is the obvious choice for the budget conscious builder that doesn’t want to sacrifice real performance.
- HDD: Western Digital Caviar Black 2 TB. Most >1TB 7200rpm drives are fast, but the WD Black line is at the moment the only one offering 5 years warranty, while competitors (and WD Green/Blues) give 2-3years. I would get the extra coverage over 5% performance any day. Combining two of the above drives in RAID 1 (mirroring) mode, will allow for the much safer storage of critical data in your system.
- Case: Antec P280 Black Midi Case. There is a huge selection of cases available out there, offering a variety of features and aesthetics. The P280 is a simple and elegant design that works, offers some sound-dampening lining, has decent cable management options, can fit most large air coolers and closed loop AIO water coolers up th 240mm like the Corsair H100 without any modifications.
More importantly, it was chosen for the 9 expansion slots, that allow for more flexibility when planning to use 3x double slot GPUs, as the different arrangments in the PCIe 16x slots in many motherboards make it hard with most 7 or 8 slot cases – usually for the cards being in the far bottom slot. The P280 is one of the few 9-slot Midi ATX cases available, and it is pretty good value. Feel free to substitute with any unit that suits your aesthetics, given it will accommodate your equipment properly.
- PSU: Corsair AX860i 80+ Platinum or Cooler Master V850 80+ Gold
The sole reason for suggesting such a high-power unit, is for the manufacturer’s provision for 6x PCIe (6+2) auxilary power connectors, capable of feeding 3x high power GPU cards for computation. If you don’t plan on going this way, do not bother over-spending. It is important to mention that most systems with one CPU/one GPU, even with overclocked components want be drawing more than 350-400W of power from the wall. People get over-zealous with their PSUs, opting for high capacity units that most likely will be greatly underutilized. It is not wise to get a PSU that you know will be stressed to more than 75% of its capacity for prolonged time, so I would never advocate on getting a 450W PSU even for a single GPU workstation, though a 550W would more likely be more than enough and a 600-650W would probably be sufficient for adding a second GPUcard. Most likely the next generation of GPUs will be more power efficient, so you will end up using even less power should you upgrade in a couple of years. The 80+ Gold and above certifications, usually are limited to high quality units, so opting for one nearly ensures longevity ontop of measurable energy savings over time. If you already own a 80+ PSU that is relatively new, depends on the country, electricity rates and usage patterns whether you will ever break even upgrading to a better 80+ rating, but reducing waste is always good even if you end up $5 in the whole over the lifetime of a product.
- 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. A Lite-On IHAS124-04 or Asus DRW-24B3ST would do the trick.
- 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.
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