As a provider of Computer Generated Images (CGI), we’re relying on good hardware to generate our images. A good workstation is important for an efficient workflow and also helps to reach a good quality, which requires fine-tuning by using a good amount of “test-renderings”. In addition to our workstations, we have a dedicated in-house render farm to generate our intermediate renderings and final products.
Over the years, we have experimented with different setups and strategies – from super-powerful workstations (dual Xeon) to simpler workstations, that still have a high single-core CPU’s, but not many cores and even overclocked those. Our current strategy is something in between. We have settled on a strong workstation, not the most powerful possible, but something fast and with a good price/speed ratio.
What that means might differ a lot depending on the working style, the software, or even which type of projects that a computer is mostly being used for.
Our current setup (October 2020):
CPU: Intel Core i9 10940X, 3.3 – 4.6 GHz, 14 Cores
Mainboard: Asus PRIME X299-A II, X299 Chipset
RAM: 128 GB DDR4-RAM, 3000 MHz, 4 x 32 GB (can be expanded to 256GB)
Graphics Card: PNY GTX 1660 Ti, 6 GB GDDR6
Disk: 500 GB Samsung 970 EVO PLUS M.2 SSD
Case: Fractal Design Meshify C Midi Tower
The CPU is obviously the core of every setup. For a workstation, high single-core speed is required over a high amount of cores, because a lot of tasks still only run on one core. But for generating test-rendings locally, it’s good to have a decent amount of cores available as well. For us, the Intel Core i9 10940X works very well in that regard.
This choice is a bit contradictory, as AMD has a much better price/speed ratio. However, in the past, using AMD, we have experienced difficulties in terms of multi-tasking, as it was almost impossible to render and work on an AMD computer simultaneously and that was the case for several AMD computers we ordered. Maybe the latest AMD chips are better in that regard but we’re currently not testing them again. However, this is the reason why we have chosen Intel over AMD.
We are not overclocking our machines anymore. We used to do that for a while, but that resulted in less stability and more crashes. The amount of speed gain from overclocking is not worth losing work time due to crashes – together with higher electricity usage and higher maintenance.
For memory, it is pretty simple: The more the merrier. 128 GB of RAM works well for us. It would be nice to have 256, but the price tag for that is still quite high, so we’ve elected 128 with the possibility to upgrade those later to 256. The speed of the RAM (MHz) is not that important to us.
We’ve realized that faster graphics cards weren’t necessarily faster for displaying our scenes in the 3D software. And since we are not rendering on our GPUs, we’ve chosen a rather cheap one, the PNY GTX 1660 Ti, 6 GB GDDR6.
For hard drives, we just use one fast solid-state disk. 500 GB is enough for our software and temporary files. We do not store any data directly on our workstations but on our server, so we do not need additional hard drives.
Currently, we are using our workstations for roughly five years in production. After that, they are either used for administrative work or as home office setups.
In addition to our workstations, we have a render farm with 8 dedicated render nodes. These nodes have dual Xeon-CPUs, 64GB of RAM, and a small SSD disk (128 GB). The dual Xeons have a very high amount of CPU cores and are able to render out the images in a short amount of time. When it’s urgent, we can even distribute the renderings to use some of the nodes simultaneously.
The render farm lives in a cooled server rack, together with the rest of our infrastructure (switches, firewall, server, archive server).
Custom Computer Manufacturer
We order all of our workstations and render nodes from a local PC provider called Brentford. They deliver custom made workstations fitted to our needs. Their workstations are optimized for fast speed and high stability and just contain the necessary hardware. They come pre-installed with Windows 10 and no unnecessary additional software that would only slow the system down.
Additionally, we appreciate their support in the evaluation process for a new workstation, since they have a good understanding of our software and workflow and are a great help in picking the ideal configuration for our needs.
Needless to say that Brentford also delivers fast support, in case anything does not work as it should.