Based on Intel i7-5960X – Q1 2015
With the coming of the Haswell-E last summer, Intel introduced the first “consumer” grade Octa-core, replacing six-core flagship “Extremes” that were leading the i7 pack since 2010 & socket 1366. This new CPU has a very high potential, but can it really make up for the 2-3 time higher cost vs. its 6-core s2011-3 siblings?
Well, wish the answer was that simple, but probably for most people, it won’t.
The reasoning is simple, most applications don’t care for all those cores. If your focus is not to render locally, rather producing models on any 3D modeling package for CG or CAM, photo editing with PS, illustrating with AI or focusing on producing architectural models with software packages like Revit & ArchiCAD without worrying too much about producing elaborate 3D visualizations yourself, going the s2011-3 route instead of the s1150 with our cheaper $1000 & 1500 workstation options you are not getting the best bang for your investment. All of the above packages care little about having lots of threads, and focus on the absolute performance of one core.
This is what I wrote for the 5820K built, but in this case, the lack of performance vs. a stock 4790K will be even more pronounced, as the stock clocks for the 5960X are even slower than its 6-core brethren.
Forget the extra PCI-e lanes, the larger cache or the DDR4 support – these are all great features on paper, but unfortunately insignificant in real life performance. The Haswell architecture is not memory starved, DDR3 does its job great with room to spare. PCIe 3.0 protocol is VERY fast already, and even Tri-SLI configurations work fine with the 5820K or PLX boards and s1150 – if gaming is of essence, as otherwise SLI/CF is pointless in the vast majority of industry standard 3D/CG apps. For people claiming otherwise, let them provide proof instead of theorizing. Outside of synthetic benchmarks, the differences are in-existent, non-applicable or even the opposite of what the pricetag would imply.
What matters the most is clocks, and pretty much the only way to get your money’s worth back from the 5960X is either use it exclusively for heavily multithreaded applications (i.e. render node) or overclock it, something it does pretty good given proper cooling.
You see, intel is trying to keep all their CPUs below a certain TDP that they feel is applicable to dissipate with mainstream coolers. Higher clocks require higher core voltages to be stable, and having more volts means more amps, which means more watts. Add to this the fact that higher clocks mean those amps pulsing back and forth the die more times per second, it leads to the real consumption sky-rocketing over the factory “limit” very aggressively as you pump speeds up. A highly clocked 5960X (or any other high-end “unlocked” CPU) can easily double the amount of watts its pulling through the motherboard over its stock settings. Fortunately, even a mildy priced Asus X99-A is up to the task of feeding those watts to it stably. It is hard to get a “bad” X99 board, but the Asus line does provide some of the best.
That said and out of the way, lets move to our suggested configuration in summary:
$3500 (or around there) CG Workstation – Q1 2015
|Processor|| Intel i7-5960X Octa Core 3.0GHz
8 Cores, 16 Threads @ 3.5Hz Turboboost
|Cooling||Corsair H110 CLC or Noctua NH-D15|
|GPU||Asus STRIX GTX970 4GB or K4200|
|Memory||32GB CruciaDDR4 (4x8GB)|
|System Drive||Samsung 850 Pro 512GB|
|Storage Drive||Samsung 850 EVO 1TB (Optional)|
|Case||Fractal Design Define R5|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master V750 80+ Gold|
|Operating System||Windows 7 or 8.1 Pro 64-bit|
And some background rational that drives each choice.
- CPU: Intel i7-5960X Octa Core 3.0GHz (3.5GHz TurboBoost). The successor to the 4960X is the first octa-core i7. The core count alone is not enough to really make this CPU stand out in my opinion, and In order for the 5960X to flex its muscle at least a mild overclock is highly recommended. A good cooler is the first priority to achieve this, followed by a good quality motherboard (even a X99-A can do it, you don’t need Deluxe or ROG boards) and of course a decent PSU, as this beast will be sucking lots of power at full tick.
- CPU Cooler: No cooler is included with Haswell-E s2011-3 CPUs, so an aftermarket part is mandatory. For stock clocks most s2011 air coolers will work fine with the s2011-3 CPUs, and a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus would satisfy most users and workloads. If you would wish to overclock the CPU though, this class of coolers would not suffice. I would consider a large twin tower air-cooler like the Noctua ND-14 or Thermalright Silver Arrow IB-E as the bare minimum. If you were to choose a CLC water cooler, I would suggest something in the class of the Corsair Hydro H105 or H110. If you were to insist on air cooling, you are sacrificing little performance going for a Noctua NH-D15, but you get a far more quiet, and for many more reliable setup. The 5960X will probably ask for a custom water cooling loop to achieve its top overclocking potential, but you could steal clock it high enough to beat any hex in multithreading potential using top-shelf CLCs and air coolers.
- Motherboard: Asus X99-Deluxe – This is not “really” needed if you are not after the extra Gbit NIC for port aggregation. The “vanilla” Asus Z97-A. should be able to extract identical performance and support similar overclocks with any s2011-3 CPU. A Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H could also be a safe bet for an excellent board.
- RAM: Crucial Ballistic Sport 32GB DDR4-2300 kit (8GBx4) .
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. Yes, the 980 is a faster card, but not considerably enough to justify the price difference – at least in my opinion. The “3.5~4GB” issue with 970s is really not a concern for viewport performance, and definately not for GPGPU.
- 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.
- System Drive: Samsung 850 Pro 512GB. The latest and greatest SATA drive from the most reliable SSD manufacturer. 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, but if you can afford a bigger drive, by all means go for it. 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.
- Storage Drive: Samsung 850 EVO 1TB (Optional). As your budget goes up, and unless you have to have huge local storage, why not go all-out SSD? I really like Samsung EVOs – in fact I use them as boot drives too. The performance difference vs. the Pro is not that important for me.
- Case: Fractal Design Define R5. 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. Of course there are a lot of other options and this could be the most subjective choice out of the whole kit. Get something you will be happy looking at, but don’t overspend for blink…it is just a metal can folks, and it has to be really badly designed to hinder the actual performance – given coolers fit and can be mounted properly, cards fit length wise etc.
- PSU: Cooler Master V750 80+ Gold. This is a quality unit with consistently good reviews (latest Seasonic Design). 550W should be more than enough, as this system will probably be using less than 150W for normal operation, and would rarely break 250W of wall-plug load, but should you wish to overclock it 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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