Computer help!

Hi! I’m new to the forum and I joined in order to ask you all a specific question - namely I’ve been out of school for a few years and my old laptop needs replacing. I want to get a desktop with the kind of horsepower that can handle 3D modeling, downloading a ton of media, and simultaneously running Adobe PSD/ILL/etc with itunes/internet/torrenting etc. As an industrial designer that sometimes uses my machine to do freelance work on, I really need a system that will last a long time and get the job done. Any suggestions? I really want a mac, but my sister can get me a sweet discount on a dell!

Without going into a lot of detail, check out the XPS line with the new Core i7 2600 processors. They’re Intel’s latest CPU and it’s a phenomenal architecture - worth it over any of the other i7 processors (800/900 series). Currently it looks like it’s only available in the XPS 8300 so it may be worth waiting a month or so because it will trickle into the rest of their lineup.

That plus a dedicated (preferably Nvidia) graphics card (Nvidia plays nicest with 3D Cad software) will do just fine. Add a big monitor and at least 4-8 gigs of ram and you should be golden for a while at a fairly reasonable price point.

If you’re on a budget - buy a machine with as much RAM as you can afford, but check if it can also be upgraded with more at a later date - that way your machine will be good for 3-5 years instead of 1 or 2 (this is what we do - I hate buying new hardware for the sake of it).

Also most of the big manufacturers have ‘outlet’ sections on their sites, where you can often find a bargain.

FWIW you will always pay more to get ram from the manufacturer than to buy it after the fact. Ex: Dell charges you ~$90 to “upgrade” from 1 gig to 4 gigs, but 4 gigs of ram can be found for as little as $40 online.

Cyberdemon, is there any reason not to go with the Precision line?

Going full blown workstation is a subjective matter. You are paying a whole lot more for “certified” components but in reality what you get doesn’t always match up. I’ve used certified workstations that have had driver and software issues and I’ve built consumer hardware into PC’s that run bulletproof.

It really depends on your budget - you have to ask the question of which is more important, and in my opinion anything outside of the corporate world price is important. You can build a very robust machine and put in a Quadro card (which is where 99% of the workstation benefits come from) and have a great solution for half the price. In general though I always suggest buying a “Base level” machine and then adding components. It’s always much cheaper to install a hard drive or some additional memory after the fact then it is to do it straight from the manufacturer.

You do get some other benefits out of workstation class hardware. ECC memory, some machines have dual CPU sockets, and power profiles that are tuned for a machine that is going to run 24/7. But those are usually less tangible.

I’m not really on a set budget - I want to get something that I’ll use for awhile. I’m actually now leaning more towards a mac after giving it some thought… so let me ask you this - could a really nice refurb imac do the job or would I need to get a macpro for the power?

What 3D tools do you use? That is going to be the biggest issue. Either you’re going to be running in OSX and have to run the couple of apps that run natively in OSX, or you’ll be booting into Windows.

If you were just doing basic Adobe stuff then an Imac would probably be OK, but not great. A Mac Pro would be better, but the 3D support on Mac’s ranges from unacceptable to average at best. If 3D isn’t a big part of what you’re doing then it wouldn’t be a huge deal, but if you need to pump a lot of CAD it’s something worth consider.

If you want something that would last I would suggest nothing less than a quad core CPU, 4-8 gigs of ram and a dedicated video card with at least 256-512 megs of ram. Keep in mind an Imac is very locked down in terms of upgradability in the future, and the current generation uses ATI video which I really can’t recommend for 3D.

You’d have to seriously ask what your purpose for the machine is. Personally if you just want the Mac experience for your general use I would almost just get a cheap used Imac or Macbook and then switch to a PC for the data crunching.

3d rendering is more CPU intensive then RAM intensive. Buy the most cores you can (I highly recommend a 4 core at minimum). AMD has a 6-core CPU for $180 now, I don’t know of any models PCs that uses that yet but is common for the home-built PC world. As a rule of thumb there should be about 2gb of RAM per CPU core, so a quad(4)-core PC should have 8gb RAM. I think 4-8gb should be fine for most rendering jobs though, unless you’re doing large scenes (renderings with dozens of trees, etc). It is MUCH cheaper to upgrade your RAM later then it is to upgrade your CPU, so get the highest core, fastest CPU you want as a priority over RAM. I7 Intel quad core with hyper-processing (4 physical + 4 virtual cores) has been scoring higher on benchmark test compared to the 6-core AMDs though. But from my experience, the dual quad-core (8 physical cores) MAC I use at work (running Windows) is on par with my 6-core AMD at home, and some scenes in my AMD is a tad faster.

Note that the more cores you have the faster renderings will process. This is especially more vital when doing animated scenes. If you can save 15 seconds of render time per frame, that can be a difference of 2 hours saved for every 5 seconds of animation… it adds up. Also the more core you have the more multi-tasking you can do between multiple programs. Though on scene-heavy renders I usually turn off my torrents and all unneeded programs; can save a an hour off a 12 hour scene. But also if my scene isn’t heavy and its not taking all my PC’s resources, I usually run the program twice at the same time and rendering them the same time; so overall render time is almost twice as fast.

Note you have to be running a 64bit operating system to take advantage of RAM over 4gb. Graphic card will help on heavy scenes but not too much (though some new improvements on latest versions of some programs have new GPU options). Get a decent card but doesn’t have to be the greatest neither. CAD uses mostly CPU power not GPU (graphic card’s processor), so it’s not as vital as most believe it to be (more important for video games). If you’re a hard-core renderer, they have CAD-specific cards that can definitely improve 3d rendering but costs 2x-3x as much as good video-game cards. I’d go for a mid-range, not a $20 office graphic card but not a $300 video game card. ATI vs Nvidia is personal opinions. Both have similar levels of cards as the other. Both have CAD-specific pro cards as well with CAD specific drivers for that specific rendering program.

IMO, get a PC. It’s (generally) cheaper for the same amount of power, and no commonly used high-end 3d CAD program runs on MACs. Even Pixar, a company co-founded my Steve Jobs, uses PCs…

Well the issue is most of my freelance has been 2D but I want the capability to use Vectorworks, Solidworks which I’m trained in - I don’t want to limit myself with a machine that just couldn’t handle 3D BUT I wouldn’t say 3D is going to be a daily function. OR so my skills are more marketable, in the next year I’d love to learn 3D Studio Max (fyi I’m an exhibit designer before we start talking about the ins and outs of software).

So daily I’ll be using Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator/Indesign etc. & downloading a bunch of media.
Every now and again I might want to use a drafting program, and at some point I do want to learn some programs that I don’t have in my lineup (3D Studio/Rhino etc)

I like the interface of a mac, I do like the ‘mac experience’, and I’ve enjoyed how they’ve held up BUT I wouldn’t be opposed to switching. Just wondering, my boyfriend is an animator and he swears by his Alienware. He’s by no means a hardcore gamer, but I would think that although Alienware is geared towards gamers the RAM & video card that the gamers all dig would translate well for a designer that needs a workhorse for 3D? note I said in my original post that my sis can get me a nice Dell discount - Alienware is under Dell so I’d be able to go that route if I wanted.

Just something to keep in mind then if you’re going to Mac - if you do want to run Solidworks or 3D Studio you’ll need Windows. So you would need to purchase a copy of Windows to run bootcamp on the Mac (3D Software does not run correctly under Parallels).

Alienware is now just the top of the line of Dell. Dell used to have the XPS line as their high end machines, but now XPS is more of their mid/high end and Alienware’s are their uber nerdy, dual video card, water cooled, neon lit machines (I use an Alienware M11x as my gaming laptop but I’m sure it could handle some Alias if need be) .

For what you’ve described I don’t think you need to go that route. You’ll pay a lot of premium for the neon lights and some of their software bundles. Like I mentioned in the original post - my suggestion right now would be to hold out another month if you can. That Intel Core i7 2600 CPU is going to trickle into more of their lineup very shortly I am sure. Right now only the XPS 8300 offers it which is a decent machine and in it’s base config it has 8gigs of ram and a 1TB hard drive. You could try the video card it comes with, though in my experience the 3D support of ATI cards and drivers is rather poor - you may wind up with a lot of artifacts, things not showing up right etc. You can either wait till they offer an Nvidia card in a machine with the 2600 CPU or buy a config like that as is, and if you do run into issues a $100 video card down the road can be swapped in easily and solve any issues.

So if you have around $1k to spend on a tower, that would probably be my suggestion right now. But I think if you wait another month it will trickle into the rest of the systems and you’ll have more choices which means better pricing.

In car terms, don’t buy a 2010 that’s been left on the lot when the 2012’s are just coming out now.

check out this site. It’s for build your own computers in the 3d world. They update it every month with new builds at various price points and give you the reasoning behind the selection of parts

Good site. Basically supports the same thing - the new Intel “Sandy Bridge” 2500/2600K chips are faster then everything and cheap. The 2600K sells for about $330 on Newegg and in many tests is as fast or faster than the 6 Core $1000 980X chip - which is huge. And if you get uber nerdy it overclocks like flipping a light switch.

But building a machine isn’t for everyone. Maybe I should start selling “ID” workstations in my spare time. :stuck_out_tongue:


Hello. I was interested in buying Parallels because my university offers it for half price and I was fascinated by the ability to not have to shut down and reboot to use Windows on my bootcamp. It is a huge hassle for me and its painfully slow when rebooting into Windows, for some reason. So have you tried Parallels and is that why you don’t suggest using it? They claim to be a lot faster than their previous versions especially for design programs.


I can’t say that I’ve run parallels on a current gen Sandy-bridge Mac but the general reasons is when running in any kind of emulation mode, you now have the overhead of two operating systems. Memory is cheap enough now where you could throw in 8+ gigs, and a quad core cpu can probably better distribute the load, but this is still a performance bottleneck.

The other issue is that on Macbook Pro’s a lot of people have been seeing performance throttling under OSX that does not exist under Windows. Which means benchmarks run 1:1 are faster under Windows.

I have not tried recent Parallels performance and I know they now support OpenGL and Direct X, but I can’t say I’ve heard of anyone using it for proper productivity work. If you can get it for cheap, it can’t hurt to try.


Update: I installed the free 14 day version of Parallel onto my Macbook and it didn’t work quite as well as I thought it would (or as they claim on their website, which they make it seem intuitive and easy to install and figure out); and my PC applications (mainly Rhino), stalled a bit, not to mention, getting Parallels installed and figuring out how to get it to work was a bit difficult for me, so I gave up on it and uninstalled it. Uninstalling is not easy either. Parallels website does give instructions on how to uninstall via the Terminal by typing in about 20 separate commands! It worked but I regret now spending so much time on Parallels when it really wasn’t necessary after carefully thinking over my workflow needs as well as why I would need it.

I initially thought it would be a cool idea, mainly convenience, to have both windows and mac working at the same time (and have a mac application open while in Windows), but it’s not like I will be using Photoshop for Mac at the same time as PC Rhino, so then I realized it was dumb to even consider Parallels. But thanks anyway, for the input.

Yeah, unfortunately 3D software is still very demanding even for simple use. Just the processing that has to happen to hardware shade an object and spin it around in a way that is fluid means that any small amount of latency that is acceptable for other programs (like typing a letter in Word) isn’t acceptable.

Agreed! Thanks Cyberdemon.

I’ve been using Parallels for a bit, too. The only thing I see it good for (from a creative user standpoint) is jumping in quick to move some files around, or check a dimension on something. Anything beyond quick simple changes or viewing files really struggles. I’ve also noticed some missing mouse functions (not magic mouse related).

For the record, this is on a quad-core i5 27" iMac.