Intel Xeon E3 Edition – Q1 2014
This built is an attempt to produce a well-rounded performer that will serve most CG artists, video and image editors looking for a machine that will set them back around $1,000.
Last year, we’ve tried to built the equivalent system around an unlocked i5 processor, keeping open the potential for overclocking in order to tap into a higher level of performance. This time around, we are exploring the idea of letting components of higher pedigree to lead their way, providing excellent performance out of the box. By shaving off the cost for components that allow overclocking, like an enthusiast oriented motherboard with features that most users won’t utilize and aftermarket cooling, we are able to “squeeze” in a faster CPU, while allowing for the addition of a SSD drive to significantly boost our OS’s and main applications’ responsiveness.
Adding the shiny-new Maxwell based 750Ti GPU alongside the peppy 4C/8T CPU, we are expecting a surprisingly cool and quiet, yet powerful desktop machine that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
- CPU: intel Xeon E3-1230V3 3.3GHz. It is rare to think of a Xeon CPU when it comes to a value 1P workstation, but here is E3-1230 V3 to prove us wrong…this is the cheapest Haswell Quad with HT support, resulting to 8 threads. It is 200MHz slower than a i7-4770K and 4771, but I believe the performance difference will be very hard to spot in real life, unlike the cost savings which are not insignificant. The extra cost of around $25 over a “plain” i5 Haswell, will buy you a decent % of performance gains when rendering.
- CPU Cooler: No additional cooler is required, as the Xeon is sold in retail package accompanied by a factory cooler that works fine at stock speeds.
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H87M-D3H.
Since we won’t be pursuing overclocking, there is little merit in paying for a Z87 motherboard. The H87 provides all the important features and performance, in a more attractive price-point. This Gigabyte board is a solid performer, from the manufacturer that appears to have the best reliability record on both 7 and 8 series Intel chipsets. GBit lan, 6x SATA 3 ports with RAID support, USB 3.0 and a decent sound card solution are all on-board.
- RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3 1600 .
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. We won’t be using those in this built, but I believe it is proper to choose versatile components that can be used interchangeably in many builds. The H87 doesn’t support faster than DDR3-1600 RAM, but worry not: this won’t be a real bottleneck.
- 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:
- EVGA GeForce GTX 750Ti 2GB: This is the latest chip from nVidia. Runs cool and is sipping power (doesn’t even require auxiliary power, the 75W from the PCIe slot are enough), yet it scores impressively all-around, having all enthousiasts and reviewers wondering what a 200-250W part based on the same Maxwell architecture will bring to the table. Compute performance is also pretty decent, and both CUDA and OpenCL accelerated applications will see benefit. Should you want to kick back a bit, this card should be able to play most AA titles pretty decently @ 1080p.
- Sapphire Radeon R9 270 2GB. Radeon drivers appear to naturally work better with OpenGL viewports. The R9 270 is a very potent card. Although more expensive than the 750Ti, it can be squeezed in the budget and will work great in most OpenCL accelerated applications. In 3D CAD under OpenGL like Rhino 3D or even SkechUp, the R9 270 will probably be better than even more expensive GTX cards. And it is not a shabby gamer either.
- SSD: Samsung 840 EVO 250GB. Who would imagine that we could get 250GB of 500+ MB/sec capable storage for less than $0.6 per GB? This is an excellent value drive. Fast and reliable, will minimize loading times and turbo-boost your swap and scratch files. I would worry about it being TLC NAND based, independent testing has proven that those drives can sustain so many TBs of writes, that it would take more than a decade for even the most active users to see any degradation. And remember, that when this happens, the controller will just suspend writes on the defective blocks, while reads (thus access to your files) is technically possible “forever”. 250GB are enough to fit OS, your design and 3D suites and even keep some working files in. To ensure maximum performance, remember that you should not fill your SSDs more than 75-80% to their maximum capacity.
- HDD: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1 TB 7200rpm – WD10EZEX.
This is an excellent and very popular 7200rpm drive. This should be your storage drive for libraries and archiving files that don’t need to be on the SSD. It is still a decent performing spin disk to allow for HD video editing and whatnot.
- Case: . Cooler Master N200 mATX. This is a great value case, offering many high end amenities, like front panel USB 3.0, cable management slots, ample room for large GPUs and good airflow / fan options. You can even add a dual 120mm closed loop water-cooling system like the Corsair H100i or Cooler Master Seidon 240M should you wish to add one, but for our usage that would probably not be necessary. I really like the minimal aesthetics of the case, which would fit in a professional environment, and for $50 it is hard to beat.
- PSU: Rosewill Capston 450W 80+ Gold. This is a quality unit with consistently good reviews. 450W should be more than enough, as this system will probably be using less than 100W for normal operation, and would rarely break 200W of wall-plug load. 80+ Gold rating ensures that the unit is running cool and energy is not wasted.
- 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.
The OS would be hard to squeeze in a $1000 budget with the above components. Still the natural suggestion:
- 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.
Disclaimer: For the total price, we assumed that you would go for the most basic configuration listed. No guarantees of pricing and availability in your region, just suggestions =)
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