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.
- 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 the node into a more flexible, low cost workstation, 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
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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