Workstation Help!

The thing I hate about my Macbook Pro is that it really sucks for running Windows.

The retina display is great but it is not optimized (in OSX or Windows) for most applications. As a result you usually end up with tiny windows, less than stellar GPU performance, or you go with the next best compromise which is running it in 1080P which is kind of a sin.

The other thing I’ve found on my MBP is Windows does not have the correct fan support under boot camp. I had to purchase a laptop cooler, and download a fan control app to set the fans to full blast while I’m gaming. Even then, the machine gets scalding hot after a few hours of gaming. I’ve already had several full system lockups due to heat, so I can’t say it makes me want to recommend it as a machine for rendering on. Nothing like waking up the next morning to find your CPU hung overnight and nothing got done. My machine was hitting 105° C - which if you’ve ever looked at how processors work, they start shutting down at 100C to protect themselves from damage (yes C, not F). That’s absolutely insane, and the heat travels VERY quickly through to the top of the keyboard.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the machine in many other regards - but for the purposes of pumping cad it’s kind of like buying a BMW X6 because it’s a good “off roader” sometimes it’s worth it to get the Jeep and not care what people think.

Personally I like HP’s current lineup of Elitebook workstations (I also run a 8560W) - they have some of the Macbook flare (keyboard, metal chassis) with the PC things that make me happy (dedicated VGA port, ethernet jack, docking station).

The macbook isn’t a bad choice, but it’s not as perfect of a choice as I once thought it would be after owning one for a few months.

I’ve always been a fan of HP’s EliteBook line of workstations, you can buy a very capable system for under $1,500.

If you are looking to do it all on one machine and move it from place to place then a strong laptop is the solution.

As mentioned before, cooling is the Achilles heel of working on heavy renderings, I know that feeling of waking up in the morning to find a shut down machine due to overheating instead of a in depth rendering.

I now have a big, angular, matte black, heavy, Asus Gaming laptop. The laptop has never overheated even during multiple day rendering sessions with all threads maxed, it has two big fairly unattractive fans at the rear that carry all the heat away, which on the very occasional time it sits on my thighs means that there is very little heat felt.

I am not looking for any nods of approval when I flip up the top of my laptop in public. Actually the looks are of shock, :laughing:

Sager ( also makes very solid machines AND they have some seriously high end desktop replacements:

This guy can get equipped with a GTX 770M (Consider what apps you run and if you need the Quadro card for full support) - as well as the 6 core extreme edition CPU and a SSD + 32 gigs of ram for under $3500 and that’s a beast if you’re just looking for computing power.

With that said, it’s 12 freaking pounds without the power brick (which is probably 3-4lbs for a machine that big). Expect to get either really strong shoulders or a hernia if you want something that is actually transportable for long distances. You certainly wouldn’t want to make an hour long commute with that thing.

I would recommend getting way more than 8 gigs of ram. At the cost, you might as well go with 32. You will be thankful for it as soon as you toss some displacement in the scene. Seeing “unloading geometry” will always ruin your day.

If you are really serious about going the 3D route, I would really stay away from the laptop. We have the top end dell and it will throttle itself after a bit due to the heat issues. Also, dont expect more than 2 hours of light duty CAD work on a machine with top end specs. I think that the desktop example given is a great one, and leaves you with 1k to get yourself a decent laptop to stay mobile. You can model/prep your scene on almost any decent laptop. Almost all the top rendering programs will allow you to distribute the rendering to the desktop to take advantage of the power it can supply. Also, you can upgrade the CPU on that machine if you ever want to later. And trust me, you will.

I wish I had more ram/processors in mine most days:

Holy crap! What are you doing? Rendering the new Star Wars movie?

Hey guys! Thanks so much for all the advice and guidance throughout this thread.

After careful consideration I have decided to stay away from a Laptop and am now in the process of detailing a desktop to suit my needs. While it would be great to have a laptop to work where ever I please, I do not feel that it is absolutely necessary and will probably be happier with a more reliable and upgradable machine. Hatts, in an earlier post directed to me to where I could piece together my machine, so I think that is where I shall start.

If anyone has any other suggestions for powerful workstations, by all means, lead me to them.

I am planning on using the i7-4770k processor with either a quadro 4000 or geforce 780 card and 32 Gb’s of ram. I am lacking a motherboard, cpu cooler and an appropriate power supply, so I need to do some research on appropriate parts for my machine.

Many thanks, once again!

CyberDemon - that’s crazy hot. I have also had several-hour gaming sessions with my home MBP and the fans are fine (full blast). Never seen temps, but pretty sure they are not that high.

Also, Windows 8.1 has HD resolution support.

@NURB - the Cobbler’s kid has $3500 for shoes. He can afford some nice ones. =)

Unless someone is a professional renderer and not a designer, I don’t know why they wouldn’t want a laptop these days. To each his own!

A few comments:

For $3500 you could actually build 2 decent desktops (one for work one for school) and still have money left over for a cheap laptop.

@J2: Keep in mind that when you’ve got a 12 core machine like that, you’ll want more ram per core for rendering tasks. We have 64 gigs in our 16 core render farm because it balances out 2 gigs per thread. On a quad core laptop the benefit really isn’t there.

The OP is a student. Do you remember what kind of work you did as a student? Also a lot of stuff being mentioned is really specific to high end Viz. I don’t think the OP will be worrying about displacement issues running out of memory unless he’s at a point where he actually knows what that is and why he’d use it.

The biggest reason not to spec the machine with that much RAM is that it’s easy enough to upgrade and anytime you spec the machine with it from the start you’re paying for 3X the margins. Case in point - Upgrading the Thinkpad W he’s looking at from 16G to 32G is $360 - to buy it on Newegg is $120. That’s $240 that could have been spent on beer.

8-16G is plenty. I just decided to open Keyshot with a 800 meg rendering file, a couple full production product Pro E assemblies, a few hundred megs worth of Illustrator and Photoshop files, a 200 meg Alias file, + all my Firefox windows etc and I didn’t hit the physical memory cap and the machine was still running acceptably.

Don’t overkill what you can upgrade later for cheap.

My pre unibody mbp has been above 100C comsistently aswell, until i disassembled it and removed the large chunk of cooling paste and applied new. (And deepcleaned fans and heatsinks)

Still scorching, but not on fire.

If you aren’t overclocking, the OEM CPU cooler is fine. If you want burly or quiet, you can go with a canned watercooler like a Corsair H60 or a Coolermaster Hyper 212 which is plenty of bang for the buck even when overclocking.

I’d go with the GTX760 unless you do a lot of GPU heavy work. If you find it’s too slow you can upgrade it, but the 780 will be overkill for most CAD applications. The Quadro will give you some higher end features in certain tools, but you may not need it. Most people CAD on gaming cards these days.

For a power supply I’d go with something like a 600+ watt modular PSU just so you have room to scale. Modular just makes it easier to use only the cables you need.

Make sure to get a good SSD and nice monitor and you’ll be all set. If you post your build I can provide more specifics but you should be able to build a nice 4770k system for under $1500 and still have $2k left over for monitors and a Macbook air.

From reading the previous posts - it looks like the decision has been made… but thought I’d chime in with some related experience.

A few years ago I was in a similar situation and decided I wanted a laptop capable of allowing me to do CAD and renderings “on the road”.
I thought that I was going to do a lot of work away from my office/home so I bought a top end Dell 17" laptop. Can’t remember how much it was - but it certainly wasn’t cheap.

I now rarely use it as it is so heavy, doesn’t fit in any standard laptop bags, the power-supply is huge and the battery power drains quickly when used at full tilt. I could also cook an egg on it after a few minutes :slight_smile: I despise having to lug it around when I do actually need to.

In short - to be really productive with CAD you need a great (large) monitor and a mouse - 2 things a laptop can’t offer (at least while plugged in at a coffee shop)

As mentioned by others - get yourself a great (and expandable/updatable) desktop and a nice portable laptop to use with presentations. You’ll be set.


This is what I have configured so far, from reading /r/buildapcforme on reddit and PCpartpickers forums, this looks like my best option. Anyone know anything about wireless network adapters? I went with one of the highest rated cards, which will probably be okay.

What do you guys think?

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K 3.2GHz 6-Core Processor ($499.99 @ Microcenter)
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler ($29.98 @ Outlet PC)
Thermal Compound: Arctic Cooling MX-2 4g Thermal Paste ($4.98 @ Outlet PC)
Motherboard: ASRock X79 Extreme6 ATX LGA2011 Motherboard ($223.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws Z Series 32GB (8 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory ($299.99 @ Newegg)
Storage: Samsung 840 Series 500GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($327.99 @ NCIX US)
Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($64.98 @ Outlet PC)
Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 760 2GB Video Card ($263.98 @ SuperBiiz)
Sound Card: Asus Xonar DG 24-bit 96 KHz Sound Card ($27.99 @ NCIX US)
Wired Network Adapter: Intel EXPI9301CTBLK 10/100/1000 Mbps PCI-Express x1 Network Adapter ($28.63 @ NCIX US)
Wireless Network Adapter: Linksys AE3000 802.11a/b/g/n USB 2.0 Wi-Fi Adapter ($48.91 @ Amazon)
Case: Fractal Design Define R4 w/Window (Black Pearl) ATX Mid Tower Case ($74.99 @ NCIX US)
Power Supply: Corsair Professional 750W 80 PLUS Gold Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($129.99 @ Newegg)
Optical Drive: Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD/CD Writer ($17.98 @ Outlet PC)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8 (OEM) (64-bit) ($88.98 @ Outlet PC)
Monitor: Asus VG248QE 144Hz 24.0" Monitor ($249.99 @ Newegg)
Total: $2383.34
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-06-28 14:35 EDT-0400)

Looks Solid.

Get rid of the sound card and the wired network adapter - both of those are built onto the motherboard. You can also get an internal Wifi card if you want, it’ll be cheaper and better integrated than the dongle, plus usually the antennas have better performance.

IMO Windows 8 sucks, consider sticking with Windows 7 Professional 64.

If you want to get some more bang for your buck and are willing to put in some time to do the research, the 3930k can overclock pretty easily to 4.5ghz+ - if you go with a heavy duty water cooler like the H100 you can get almost all of the performance of the $1000 chip just by adding a $100 cooler.

Some benchmarks:

It’s all pretty safe these days as well, the motherboards and chip are designed to prevent themselves from doing anything bad, so you can very easily push the chip using some predetermined settings and get a big performance bump for not a lot of work. You can also torture test it and make sure it’ll be rock solid and stable for your work.

Also that monitor isn’t really a good monitor for a design professional. You really want an IPS panel that will get you the right color reproduction. Right now the best deal out there is probably these:

Monoprice (and several other vendors) are buying the grade A- (not perfect) monitors that Dell and Apple use in their $1000+ cinema displays and reselling them for fractions of the price. They’re still EXCELLENT displays and the super high DPI is fantastic…I currently use the Dell 2711U which the monoprice version has the same panel. I’d highly recommend it for something you’ll be staring at for long periods of time. The defects are also usually very limited…there might be 2 or 3 dead pixels or a small backlight uniformity issue but they’re usually only the kind of things you’d spot if they were pointed out to you or you were staring at a solid color screen. Best bang for the buck right now.

Also look into your student bookstore and see if they have software discounts. At UC we had Windows 7 there being offered for 7 bucks. Yours school may offer a similar discount.

You’re probably right, and i’m not sure if there are any compatibility issues between older programs and Windows 8. I haven’t used it yet and was going to order it just for the hell of it, so I guess I’ll stick with 7.

I’ll see what I can find for IPS panels, Thanks!

Good thinking Sain, I didn’t even think about that.

Found this IPS monitor from AOS.

From the reviews I have read, it seems like a great monitor for a great price. Fast refresh rate, good color depth (darkest darks and lightest lights are slightly off) but I think I can get over that for a $300 monitor. What would be the difference between this IPS monitor and one of the monoprice’s you suggested?

That AOC is a 1080P panel (1920x1080 resolution) the Monoprice 27" is 2560x1440 so it’s substantially more pixels and much higher DPI. Just think of it as the difference between the Pre-retina and post retina iPhone.

Technically the Monoprice is also a 10 bit (Vs 8 bit) panel for the AOC, (it has a higher ability to reproduce color) but it can’t really be taken advantage of.

Ahh I failed to even pay attention to resolution. I could have saved myself the embarrassment.

It seems like all other 2560x1440 are in the 650-1200 price range. Now I just need to search for a good deal on an appropriate monitor.

The Monoprice is probably the most reputable reseller at the moment. They also have the same monitors coming from Microcenter, and Ebay under the names Catleap, Crossover, Achevia etc. Some vendors will let you pay more for the a monitor with no flawed pixels (AKA they open the box, check to see if theres any pixel issues then seal it back up) - but the monitor is so high res it’s very difficult to spot a bad pixel in normal use.

The other main differences are whether or not they have anti glare coating or glossy finish (personal preference, I prefer matte but many people think glossy “looks” better as long as you don’t have any awkward lighting in your environment) also some have more inputs than others, the cheaper ones just have a barebones DVI connection and that’s it. More expensive ones will have HDMI, displayport, etc.