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. As always, you are encouraged to be creative ontop of these suggestions.
$600 Render Node – Q3 2016
|Processor||Intel i7-6700 “Boxed”|
|Memory||Crucial 32GB Kit (16GBx2) 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|
- 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-H170M-DS3H. This motherboard offers compatibility with any s1151 CPU, 4 Dimm slots for up to 64GB RAM, Gbit LAN (Realtek), M.2 slot for a SSD and a full set of IGP outputs (HDMI / DVI-D / VGA) 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 32GB of RAM, have a need for M.2 slots etc, you could opt for cheaper motherboards based on the H110 that are usually limited to 2 Dimm slots & 32GB of RAM, like the Gigabyte GA-H110M-A which is mentioned in the $500 version of this node, which is a steal at ~$46. Note that this board only outputs in HDMI directly, unlike the plethora of options the GA-H170M-DS3H allows for.
- RAM: Crucial 32GB Kit (16GBx2) DDR4 2133. 32GB should be enough for most users, yet planing ahead is wise. Latest intel i5/i7 Skylake CPUs can support up to 64GBs, but since motherboards are usually limited to 4x DIMM slots, you need to opt for 16GB sticks, which are readily available for DDR4 without extravagant price differences and/or need for RDIMMs as it was with DDR3. Even if you don’t see the need for 64GB of RAM, opt for 16GB 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 smaller sticks). 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 UV400. Fast 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 no-brainer. 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:
- 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 =)
Some of the links contained within this post and resource pages have my referral ID, leading to a small commission for each actual sale that originates directly from my material. This doesn’t mean I won’t strive to provide you with objective information and honest opinions that will potentially help you on educated decisions. If you like the information in this site, please support it by using the links below when you decide to buy.