The “less than $600 ” Render Node

xeon_render_node_bannerIntel Xeon E3 Edition – Q1 2014

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 $600 mark. Each component has a small description with the logic behind choosing it.

  • CPU:  intel Xeon E3-1245V3 – 3.4GHz. An obvious economical choice for a cheap intel based solution would be an i5 processor, but the lack of hyperthreading doesn’t let these otherwise brilliant CPUs to compete with the 8-core FX lineup from AMD in anything but a slight power usage advantage. There is a plethora of s1150 CPUs in the market right now, but this particular Xeon wasn’t picked randomly, nor is easily interchangeable with other, cheaper E3 Xeons or any i7 CPU: it is the cheapest 4C with both HyperThreading and IGP offered by intel. It is equal in performance with the 4770, and like the i7/i5 counterparts won’t require an external GPU to boot. This is a great choice for either a render node, or a workstation for whoever has no intention overclocking.
  • 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: Gigabyte GA-B85M-DS3H. This motherboard offers compatibility with any s1150 CPU, 4 dimm slots for up to 32GB RAM, Gbit LAN and IGP outputs (with CPUs containing a IGP) in a mATX format and thus is a very compelling choice at its current price. Perfect for a compact rendering node or even cheap workstation – by adding a more powerful GPU. If you won’t be using more than 16GB of RAM, you could opt for slightly cheaper motherboards limited to 2 dimm slots. Note that B85 motherboards are limited to DDR3-1333 and 1600 RAM clocks, and some of the special features that Xeon CPUs offer are also limited by this board, but this won’t be important for a CG rendering node.
  • RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3 1600. 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, much like those Crucial Ballistix Sport that was chosen for the lower price point. With AMD CPUs RAM speed is more important than with current intel CPUs, so 1600 and even 1866 DDR3 are highly recommended. Real life rendering performance will vary very little past DDR3-1600 speeds, but the B85 chipset in the above motherboards won’t support anything faster than 1600 anyways.
  • Graphics: intel IGP/Onboard. 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. If you would go with another
  • 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 the node into a more flexible, low cost workstation, but will fit low-profile graphic cards – like the Quadro 600Geforce 620AMD 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


Disclaimer: For the total price, we assumed that you would go for the most basic configuration listed, i.e. the E3-1245V3, GA-85M-DS3H, 16GB of RAM, just the 500GB HDD and the basic Rosewill case+psu solution. No guarantees of pricing and availability in your region, just suggestions =)

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19 thoughts on “The “less than $600 ” Render Node

  1. Hi Dimitris, First of all you’re really helping me out with your posts! Going to build a render farm and a workstation. Would you suggest using ecc ram in the render nodes if the mobo supports it? And what kind of ecc ram would you suggest? Keep up the good work! really helping us out. Cheers!

    • You are welcome. Unfortuntely there is no ECC support in motherboards with “consumer” grade intel chipsets. Unless I’m mistaken, you will have to go for a C222 chipset “server” board to get ECC compatibility with E3-1xxx V3 CPUs, and most of those are uATX for rack mounted cases with a hanfull of ATX.

      I think ECC is not that critical anymore for a rendering node. I haven’t seen a system crash due to RAM unless it was for a faulty dimm or running them way out of specs. A decent unregistered non-ECC set of sticks (UDIMM = the regular stuff) should serve you just fine. Otherwise, get ready for a server barebone from Supermicro, like a SYS-5038D-I Midi Tower (mATX board) or SYS-5018D-MF if you think you can go 1U.
      Haven’t looked into ECC RAM, but I think Kingston would be the safer bet.

  2. Hi Dimitris, Firstly, thank you for this great resource. I’m planning my first foray into PC building, which will be to build a render node, following your specs. I would also like it to be capable of serving as an emergency backup, should something go wrong with my main machine, and would like to add a graphics card that would be capable of running 3Ds Max with Vray well enough that I can open a scene and set it to render. So my question is, what would be your recommendation for the cheapest possible card that is capable of doing so? Thanks in advance! Sincerely, Kent

    • I have no idea on how complex your scenes are. I would take my chances with no dedicated GPU trying out the Intel HD graphics. Should that fail, I would look into getting a cheap radeon 7750 1GB or GTX 650 etc.

  3. Hey Dimitris !! How are you & it is really good to see you working hard on such imp topic. yea i checked your previous fx-8350 build too. I am also on the same way as others wanna to build cheap & reliable render farm for Max/Maya V ray uses. Currently i am using E5-1650 @4.2ghz (Oc) in my workstation self build setup & can say this is the performance what i am looking for my next farm setup. I am writing this post just curious to know about, what if i go with E3-1241 v3 (Non Embedded Graphic) just coz if we are going to use mobo on board graphic than why we still need extra source of gpu ?? And 2nd question is thrr any asus board came with on board graphic respective to E3-1241 v3 processor? (i am just asus fanboy or can say asus is luckky brand for me.)

    • Gaurav,
      s1155 and 1150 Intel motherboards have no onboard GPUs. The GPU is always inside the CPU (IGP) and the motherboard just facilitates the connectivity of the IGP with video outputs.
      If you don’t get a Xeon with built-in intel HD graphics, you will have to get a dedicated PCIe GPU.

      • okey, thanks for info. Now looking for a suggestion, what do u think about Asus H97M-E Board with pair of E3-1245 v3. Does board support Intel HT Technology ? (

  4. I’m about to pull the trigger on building a similar setup as your recommendations. I noticed the Xeon E3-1246 V3 looks like its exactly the same chipset as the Xeon E3-1245 V3 except it comes overclocked. CPU benchmark rates the 1246 higher and 10$ cheaper. Is there any reason why I should stick with the 1245? Thanks!

    • There is no difference between the 2 cpus outside the 1246 V3 being a tad more expensive and having a 100MHz base clock advantage. At the point of writing this article, the 1245 was placing the configuration below the $600 “target” price. If you can find a E3 1246 V3 at the same or better price, by all means go for it.

  5. Need your help regarding rendering for high res stills from 3ds max….kindly suggest xeon processors for best money and speed performance…I am getting confused by so many E5 V2 processors…….right now I am thinking of E5 2650 2.6 Ghz 8 core with dual configuration. Kindly provide your valuable review for render node……and another question is that – should we go for higher clock speed or higher core numbers, because there is so much price variation.

  6. Hi Dimitris, I followed your cook sheet for a pro workstation 6 months ago to great effect and so am now back for some render node magic. I am contemplating building two of your Xeon render nodes but wondered if it would be more cost efficient to build one node with two processors. What are your thoughts, and if it’s an option worth considering have you any motherboard recommendations? Ps. For those of us outside the U.S. we sadly can’t use your links so maybe you should add a PayPal link so we can donate to your beer fund? The advice is much appreciated.

  7. Hi again, Still trying to get a cheap rendering node. I came across a system in Craigslist selling for the equivalent to US$580. MB: MSI P67A GD65 Ram: 8 GB Crucial ballistix sport CPU: Intel Core i5 3570k 3.8 GHz CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus Graphics Card: HIS Radeon HD 6970 2 GB Seagate: 1 TB hard-drive Crusial BX100 120 GB SSD I don’t really need the external GPU but it’s there anyway. The system is less than 2 years old and in perfect shape. I figure I could overclock it safely to 4.3 or so. Do you think that it’s a good value as rendering node to assist my 4770K main system running now at 4.5 Ghz with decent temperatures while rendering (85 deg C). Thanks for your help. Juan

  8. Hi Dimitris I did your $600 render node build about 6 months ago and it has been working great! My question to you is pretty basic. Given the configuration of the $600 render node, would the motherboard and case support me adding a video card and turning the render node into a workstation? Say I want to drop in a Quadro K 620m or K1200. Would it work fine in the current configuration? I know you have a workstation build and if you think that would be a better thing to go off of let me know. I work in Maya and do a lot of photoshop. Thanks, Josh

    • Thank you Joshua. Yes, depending on the case and PSU you’ve bought, you can use this configuration as a pretty capable workstation, no problems. If you’ve bought the slim case linked above, you will be limited to low profile GPUs, but note that a GPU is not critical, the Intel HD graphics IGP in the CPU might serve you fine for small changes / light modeling in Maya, and of course the extra grunt from an external GPU is not required at all for Photoshop or other Adobe apps. If you have a full width case, I would recommend a 750Ti as a good value all-around $100-120 or so GPU.

      • Thank you for the response Dimitris. Yes the maya modeling will be light. Will mostly use this one for photoshop when I am working at home. I will look into the 750Ti as well as a bit of a beefier case. I did go with the slim one which is a great space saver, but as you stated will be limited on which card I can use should I put one in. Thanks for all your time educating us on how to build computers!

  9. Hello Dimitris, I am also on the way to build a cheap & reliable render farm. I need to use it on the local network. I’ll use Rhinoceros Vray. Can I use a HP server Proliant BL460c 8th Generation with: 2 CPUs Intel(R) Xeon(R) CPU E5-2650 0 @ 2.00GHz (8 Cores), RAM 128GB. Does it work on a Network with Windows Server 2008 R2 64 bits or Windows Server 2012 64 bits?

  10. Thanks for the great info. I was wondering if you might have an updated version of the $600 render node in the works. As someone pretty new to building my own system, an updated equipment list would be helpful. Thanks again, Dave

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