Based on Intel i7-4790K – Q3 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 $1,500 or $1,350 without OS. This workstation is based on the 4790K, an amazing CPU that out of the box can offer performance that around 6 months ago was available only through overclocking.
Contrary to public perception, most 3D Modeling and CAD applications are single threaded or heavily dependent on single thread performance. In layman’s terms, that means that real life performance is determined by the speed of one CPU core that acts either as the Front-man on a rock band or solo gig, or the conductor of a bigger band of Cores / Threads.
Thus, against what price tag and naming suggests, an enthusiast socket 2011-3 5930K Hex or even the 5860X i7-Extreme Octa cores are not the best choice of a CPU for all tasks in a workstation. Since most CAD drawing and modeling tasks are single threaded, the very high base and even higher turboboost frequencies on the i7-4790K will allow it to perform faster than either of the aforementioned s2011-3 CPUs. Many would come back arguing a memory bandwidth advantage, as the s2011-3 and the s2011 CPUs before that offered Quad-Channer DDR3 or DDR4 support, while the s1150 i7s are limited to Dual Channel DDR3, but again, real life performance indicates clearly that current generation of applications is nowhere near to bottleneck the memory bandwidth of Dual-Channel DDR3-1866 sticks. You will get better metrics in certain benchmarks, but that is pretty much it – pretty much any program that favors the s2011-3 or older s2011 platforms, is actually benefited by the extra cores on those CPUs, and not the onboard Cache or Quad-Channel memory – at least nowhere to the point that will make memory bandwith a driver to your decision.
$1500 CG Workstation – Q3 2014
|Processor|| Intel i7-4790K Quad Core 4.0GHz
4 Cores, 8 Threads @ 4.4Hz Turboboost
|Cooling||Stock – Optional Corsair H105 CLC|
|GPU||Asus STRIX GTX970 4GB|
|Memory||Kingston HyperX Fury 1866 2×8 – 16GB|
|System Drive||Samsung 840 EVO-Series 250GB|
|Storage Drive||WD Black 1 TB 7200rpm SATA|
|Case||Fractal Design Define R4|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master V550 80+ Gold|
|Operating System||Windows 7 or 8.1 Pro 64-bit|
And some background rational that drives each choice.
- CPU: intel i7-4790K – 4GHz (4.4GHz TurboBoost). The successor to the 4770K, doesn’t bring a lot on the table as far as increased IPC goes, but does boost the clocks decisively, with a 500MHz increase in both base & turboboost frequencies. The 4790K has a higher base clock than the 4770K had turboboost clock, leading to a comfortable increase in performance under any situation – effectively acting as a mildly overclocked 4770K out of the box. Note that unlike the previous code releases, the non-K version of the CPU doesn’t get the same clocks, so even if you don’t plan on overclocking, it is not wise to get the 4790 non-K, which clocks just 100MHz above the older 4770K & is locked equivalent 4771. The latter was an ok replacement for the K, saving you some money over the unlocked version, but for the 4790 series, stick with the K. As a side benefit, the impoved thermal interface between the heatspreader and the actual CPU die, allows you to overclock the 4790K much higher than the average 4770K would go without de-lidding.
- CPU Cooler: No additional cooler is required, as the i7-4790K is sold in retail packaging accompanied by a factory cooler that works fine at stock speeds. If you want something “better” you could go for a large twin tower cooler like the Noctua or Thermalright SilverArrow. If you want to go the CLC way with an all-in-one water cooler, I believe the best choice would be something in the class of the Corsair H105. It is thicker than most 240mm CLC solutions in the market, but still fits most serious Midi & mATX Towers that rarely offer bigger than 240mm rad support. That said, a better cooler won’t be required unless you wish to overclock, or perhaps want something more effective in cooling down the CPU during prolonged rendering sessions. Using the stock cooler for the latter, is no issue. Will do its job.
- Motherboard: Asus Z97-A. This is as great value Z97 board. Fancier versions bump up the available SATA/USB3.0 and M2 ports, add onboard WiFi and other features that the vast majority of users won’t really touch. The A already has an 8-phase power delivery system, good overclocking capabilities, Intel GBit NIC and can squeeze nearly every bit of performance out of your s1150 CPU with ease. A Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H could also be a safe bet for an excellent board.
- RAM: Kingston HyperX Fury 1866 2×8 – 16GB kit (8GBx2) .
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.
- 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:
- Asus STRIX GTX970 4GB. The latest sub $400 gem from NVidia, the GTX 970 4GB is a truly great performer. Great compute capabilities for those interested in GPGPU accelerated tasks, good all around performance with a very low heat and noise signature. The Asus STRIX design improves upon the reference board offering better cooling. The best GTX 970 out there is probably the Gigabyte G1 Gaming edition, offering better port configuration – perhaps tied with the PNY GTX 970 – and the best cooling & power delivery configuration should you wish to overclock. The PNY board is not as impressive for overclocking, but with using mini-DP ports, it is convertible to a single slot GPU when paired with a full-cover waterblock. This can allow for great density GPGPU configurations for more advanced builders. The downside on the Gigabyte G1 is the massive size and the increased cost over the ASUS. At stock speeds there won’t be any noise or heat concerns using any 970 out there, and performance will be virtually indistinguishable, so you could opt for any one of them without any real sacrifices.
- PNY Quadro K2200 4GB. In order for “workstation” cards to earn their pricetag’s worth,you will have to be using your workstation for engineering CAD applications like Solidworks, CATIA etc, that actually get a notable performance boost using workstation GPU drivers. The older Quadro K2000 is a mediocre performer, notably slower than the W5000, and certainly nowhere near a K2200. 4GB of VRam is a nice addition, but not a real requirement, i.e. don’t full yourself believing that the speed bump is because of it.
- AMD FirePro W5000 2GB. If you don’t want to use nVidia, and will be using your workstation for the OpenGL CAD applications described above, this card won’t disappoint. 2GB of VRam is hardly a bottleneck unless you are doing GPGPU intensive stuff. Most applications will be happy for pure viewport acceleration, but it is not a bad compute card for its wattage either. The W5000 casually trades blows with the Quadro K4000 3GB in real life performance.
- SSD: Samsung 840 EVO-Series 250GB. Even towards the end of 2014, I think the 840 Evo as 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. Make sure you have your drive updated to the latest firmware.
- HDD: WD Black 1 TB 7200rpm SATA – 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: Fractal Design Define R4. Stylish and minimal design, great layout along with good noise dampening make this a great workstation case. Other good choices would be the Corsair or – in case you want to cut down costs without sacrificing much – Cooler master N400.
- PSU: Cooler Master V550 80+ Gold. This is a quality unit with consistently good reviews. 550W 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, but unless you are required to provide optical media to your clients/school projects or you like burning backups, ODs are trully optional these days.
- Operating System: Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit (OEM) Windows OS is guaranteeing compatibility with most rendering packages. Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit has no real issues, but some users complain with the UI and are willing to trade the better memory management it offers for the “good enough” and more familiar 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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