Building a Workstation-Grade Computer

Discussion in 'PC Hardware' started by Damaeus, Aug 18, 2004.

  1. Damaeus

    Damaeus Guest

    I've built my own home computer before -- computers good for gaming and
    other things. But now I'm developing a keen interest in 3D graphics and
    animation production. I've already discovered that my current gaming
    system is just going to be totally inadequate once I really develop some
    adequate skills with the software I'm using (Alias' Maya 5 PLE).

    Athlon 1333, Abit NF7, 768MB SDRAM (DDR400, but running at 266 due to the
    limitations of the Athlon 1333 -- NF7 will take an Athlon XP 3200), GeForce
    FX 5600XT.

    Well, so far the actual modeling part has gone well. Rendering times leave
    much to be desired. I can wait on one frame to render. That's not
    unbearable. But after I molded a cartoonish "egghead" face and set it into
    an "egg holder", I'd estimate the final rendering time to be about six to
    eight seconds for just one frame.

    Okay, let's call it eight seconds just to be melodramatic about it. If I'd
    wanted to animate that simple scene with no backgrounds of any kind -- just
    a simple egghead in an eggholder, ten seconds of animation would take 40
    minutes to render with my current system. Plus, I don't know how this
    thing would perform once I really start adding a lot of objects to my
    scenes. I can't imagine what the render time would be if I added a window
    with stuff outside, the wall, textures on the wall, a desk with a spider
    crawling across it, pencils in a transparent pencil holder, a chair,
    paintings on the wall, etc.... This might take the rendering time up to
    two minutes for each frame, meaning it would take ten hours to render ten
    seconds of animation.

    Okay. Simple solution. Build a more powerful computer.

    I've heard of workstations that cost about $20,000. While I fantasize
    about owning a computer that costs $20,000, it's not realistic right now,
    at least not all in one fell swoop. And I'm not in a huge rush right now.
    I'm still learning about 3D modeling. I've found it to be much easier than
    I thought it would be and I can see now that I will be wanting something

    1. What kind of rendering times should I expect on workstation?

    2. Is something like an Athlon 64 processor enough, or should I get dual

    3. I like to play games as well. I've heard that an nVidia Quadro 4400
    graphics card, while it may cost $2,000+, may not offer better game
    performance because its purpose is different. That doesn't make sense.
    But it is true? Seems like a workstation, being far more powerful than a
    home gaming computer, albeit a good one, would still run circles around it.

    4. Does a workstation have more longevity than a gamer's computer? Will I
    find myself wanting (or needing) to upgrade every six to twelve months?

    Any tips, pointers, hints, links, etc... will be appreciated.

    Damaeus, Aug 18, 2004
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  2. Damaeus

    socks Guest

    my gut feel is that it takes some number of years for a $20K workstation
    to depreciate to $1K, and that the time that takes has been reduced over
    the years. same thing with the time it takes for a $1K machine to become
    a $500 machine. it's getting shorter.

    i mean, think what "64-bit workstations" used to cost, and how fast the
    arrival of the Athlon 64 beat that down to a $600-700 base price. sure,
    some bits of a pc architecture are slower/weaker than the workstations ...
    but at a raw level, a bargain HP 64-bit PC has a faster processor, more
    main memory, and a lot more disk, than the $5K DEC AlphaStation i was
    using ~5 years ago.

    for that reason i don't try to build out my machines to last a super long
    time. i'd say get something that will run the software you want, and buy
    a little bit up (but not too far up) the price curve.

    i wouldn't aim for more than a 2-year life, because 2 years brings too
    many changes. of course, YMMV, and "immediate requirements" must be met.
    socks, Aug 18, 2004
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  3. Damaeus

    JK Guest

    That was in the past. Going forward Opteron based machines should become
    increasingly popular.
    JK, Aug 18, 2004
  4. Damaeus

    Damaeus Guest

    Well, I could go the cheaper route. Just build a totally separate machine
    ith an Athlon 64 on it, two gigs of DDR400. Or perhaps I should go the
    dual Xeon route and find some solution using some of the less expensive
    Xeons that will still outperform the single Athlon 64. And then there's
    the video card. I can spend $2,800 on a Realizm graphics card with 700
    GFLOPS or just use a GeForce FX. I'm still not 100% clear on the
    difference between something like a GeForce FX and a Quadro except that one
    is for home users and one is for professionals. I hear the Quadro and
    other professional cards really shine in CAD and 3D production. Does that
    mean the GeForce FX is going to be unusable when I get into more complex
    scenes described in the original post?

    I'm not a wealthy person, but I'm not dirt poor, either. I don't have
    enough money to waste on hardware I don't need, but I also don't have
    enough money to buy hardware that's inadequate only to later find I have to
    spend just as much to get something a little better when I could have had
    the best if I'd bought it to begin with and spending the same amount of
    money I would have already wasted by throwing it away on trial and error
    purchases. Did that make sense? :-\

    Maybe I should point out that I'm not an artist, first of all. I can't
    draw to save my life. However, I've found that modeling in Maya has given
    me tools so powerful that I do seem to have some way to express myself
    meaningfully. This is why I think this will stick with me like no other
    attempt at art ever has. I can actually see something taking shape before
    my eyes in a 3D perspective that I can spin and tumble. A drawing has to
    be thought about in three dimensions while only working with
    two-dimensional tools.

    Well, I'm going to definitely be interested in creating human-looking
    characters, which means there will be very dense wireframes to work with.
    I think that's probably going to be the endeavor that brings my current
    system to its knees. Even in the small project I completed last night
    modeling a not-so-dense wiremesh of an "egghead" cartoon character, I
    noticed the updates to the sphere I was molding were not taking place very
    rapidly. It was okay, but if it gets much worse than that, I'll be wishing
    for something faster.
    I don't go back quite that far in PC's. I do remember when a TRS-80 Color
    Computer (16k RAM) was $299 and a Tandy PC Clone was $5499. I wonder hwo
    much memory those had -- probably 512k.
    Damaeus, Aug 18, 2004
  5. Damaeus

    John R Weiss Guest

    You can build a very nice workstation for $4000-5000. Go to
    and check their "configurator" for examples. Then if you're interested,
    give them a call or e-mail and ask for a quote for a machine to your specs.
    Not all their hardware is in the configurator, and they will discount a
    system from the sum of parts cost.

    All depends on the workstation... Look up some reviews of machines
    comaprable to what you think you want to build, and see what the benchmarks

    The short answer is that if the new machine is more capable than the current
    one, rendering times will be shorter than current.

    Especially if you have apps that are SMP aware, a dual Opteron machine will
    be faster than a similarly-equipped FX machine. Even if the apps are not
    SMP aware, you will be able to play a game in the foreground while the
    rendering is going on behind the scenes. Make sure you have enough RAM (2-4

    If the card costs $2000 because of Open GL hardware, and the game and
    rendering app don't use Open GL, the $$ is wasted.

    There's no difference. You can go for the cutting edge now, and have a
    viable computer 5 years down the line, or go a bit cheaper and
    upgrade/replace in 1 or 3 years. It doesn't matter if it's a "game machine"
    or "workstation" -- the definitions are too muddy, and often overlap.

    You can buy dual Opteron 250s now, or spend half the $$ on the CPUs for 244s
    or 246s. A good compromise today would be to find the
    low-voltage/high-efficiency 246s.

    Figure out what you NEED in a motherboard, and research those that satisfy
    those needs.
    John R Weiss, Aug 18, 2004
  6. Damaeus

    John R Weiss Guest

    The Xeon vs Opteron debate can go on forever. Choose whichever you like;
    they will both perform well. The Athlon FX series has the same core as the
    Opteron; other Athlons will not perform as well.

    Xeons have a reputation for rendering video a bit quicker; Opterons have a
    reputation for doing almost everything else a bit quicker. The memory
    bandwidth you get with dual Opterons and Hypertransport is a significant
    factor in that performance. Also, with Opterons you'll have the option to
    go to a 64-bit OS when the time comes...
    John R Weiss, Aug 18, 2004
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