The $500 Render Node – Q3 2016

Intel i7 & 16GB RAM – Q3 2016

This configuration is aimed to act as a dedicated CPU rendering node. The components are chosen so that the hardware – excluding OS – will be right around the $500 mark. Each component has a small description with the logic behind choosing it. As always, you are encouraged to be creative on-top of these suggestions.

$500 Render Node – Q3 2016

Processor Intel i7-6700 “Boxed”
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H110M-A
Cooling Intel OEM
Memory Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR4 2133
Storage/SSD Kingston Digital 120GB UV400
Case Rosewill Slim mATX Case with ATX Flex 300W PSU
Operating System Windows 7 Pro / Windows 10 Pro

For those not satisfied with the list above for the TL;DR crowd:

  • CPU:  Intel i7-6700 “Boxed”. The choice was based on the fact that the i7-6700 is based on the latest architecture, decent clock speed, Hyperthreading, supports up to 64GB RAM, packs a decent IGP and the boxed version comes with a OEM cooler. This is a great choice for either a render node, or a workstation for whoever has no intention overclocking. Depending on region, you might find the similar in performance Xeon E3-1245 V5 that is pretty much the same chip, priced a tad better.
  • 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. If you believe you will be working this node hard, you could upgrade for your ease of mind. Make sure your choice will fit in the case you will be using.
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H110M-A. This is one of the most basic motherboards available for the s1151, but does offer what will be of essence: support for a i7 with 8 threads, 2 Dimm slots for up to 32GB RAM, Gbit LAN (Realtek) and a single HDMI for our IGP. The mATX format keeps it compact and versatile with case choices. If you think there is a remote posibility for the need to improve upon the H110 capabilities, predominanetly adding more RAM, consider opting for a slightly more expensive GA-H170M-DS3H or a similar H170 or Z170 board.
  • RAM: Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR4 2133. 16GB is a good starting point, and render nodes for casual use might never need more. Latest intel i5/i7 Skylake CPUs can support up to 64GBs, but with H110 boards featuring only 2 slots, you need waive dual channel RAM in order to use a single 16GB stick. An option would be to buy a single 16GB stick if you are in a pinch, but leave the posibility of doubling your RAM in the future. Dual Channel RAM does add more to the real performance of your node than RAM speed, but you are definately not sacrificing a lot opting for a single stick, especially if going for 32GB in the future is a realistic possibility. Heat spreaders / heatsinks are not needed on  RAM, but if you have to have it, prefer low profile heat-spreaders. This will insure there will be no installation issues, as large RAM heatsinks might be obstructing the use of large CPU heasinks, and even airflow to the CPU in tight situations. G.Skill Ares and Corsair Vengeance LPX are good examples of low profile heatspreaders. Rendering is heavily CPU bound and RAM speed contributes very little if not nothing tangible. $5 over here and there is not important, so if you want a specific brand / style /  color / speed or w/e, just have it your way.
  • 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. Current intel Iris graphics are actually very potent.
  • SSD: Kingston Digital 120GB UV400Fast boot, low consumption. No noise. SSDs are a must have, and 120GB class drives have dropped in cost significantly. You should be able to fit OS, rendering clients, even load a few applications “just in case” you need an backup workstation and still have some room to spare. Kingston has a good track record with their SSDs, but you could opt for Samsung or Crucial based on availability & pricing at the time you are reading this. Most affordable drives 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 – as proven by endurance tests over and over. For a render node / secondary machine, a TLC SSD is a nobrainer. Remember: even when SSDs “wear-out”, only writes are suspended from the “weak” areas, and reads are allowed to 100% of the drive. At any rate, HDDs have a far worse failure rate, and you should not bother with them even i a value machine – unless of course you have to have lots of storage.
  • Case: Rosewill Slim MicroATX Case with ATX12V Flex 300W PSU. The mATX form factor leaves us with more options for a case vs. ITX, which I do love as a form factor, but are tough to work with on a tight budget. My case selection below is purely indicative and used as an example to prove what is doable within the budget. The included SFF PSU is perfectly adequate. This is a “2U” tall desktop case and won’t fit full height PCIe cards, but  will fit low-profile graphic cards – like the Quadro K620, or a super basic AMD Radeon 5450 etc. In most scenarios the built in IGP will do just as good though. If you want a traditional mATX case that can fit full height cards, ATX PSU etc, there are very good budget options, like the ones below:

Fractal Design Core 1000

  • PSU: You should not need anything more than 200-250W for operating a rendering node with the above specifications. Real consumption will be below 100W. 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. I strongly recommend dedicating a cheap 4GB or bigger USB 2.0 Flash drive to installing your OS. It is massively faster and more convenient.
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit (OEM) / Windows 10 Pro
    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. Use Pro versions to avoid RAM limitations (Win 7 Home) and allow for remote desktop usage to manage your farm.

*Aggregate speed = GHz * Number of Cores

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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