Three-dimensional modeling – a promising industry that every year is gaining momentum. Illustration, interior design, animation, advertising, postproduction and gamdev – demand for 3D-designers is stable, and the cost of their services is very high. At the same time to get into the industry is quite realistic: the educational platforms offer a variety of courses designed for students with any level of training. Therefore, if you have time and budget to master the skills of three-dimensional modeling is not a problem.
In order to fully work and successfully monetize their knowledge, three-dimensional designer needs a computer. Very good and expensive, because the usual home / office desktop and a laptop is absolutely not suitable for this. Why not? Yes, because the three-dimensional is very demanding to the iron: no one office process, no computer game do not need such computing power, which are needed programs 3D-modeling and render-engines.
For example, post-production of the legendary “Avatar” studio Weta Digital required a complete renovation of the data center: to perform the order of James Cameron’s existing facilities of one of the most famous manufacturers of 3D special effects simply were not enough. The creation and rendering of the first 11 frames took a year, and only after the data center appeared 34 racks with the latest HP Proliant servers, the production process was accelerated to 200 frames per day. The combined capacity of the computing array was 40,000 processor cores, which had to process a total of a petabyte (a million gigabytes) of information.
Of course, in the usual work of a 3D-designer can easily do without the heavy-duty servers, but a high-performance computer in any case is needed. And most likely you will have to build it yourself. If this process does not appeal to you, it makes sense to buy a ready computer with powerful iron.
Before putting all the pieces of this puzzle together, let’s pay attention to three important points.
1. Field of activity.
Three-dimensional design is boundless and multifaceted, and the requirements for technology in different areas of 3D are very different, so before you start assembling a computer, you need a clear idea of what tasks it will perform. For example, designing for 3D printing can practically do without rendering – the most resource-intensive process in 3D – so it will not require powerful and expensive iron. For the design of interiors will have to build a more productive machine, and those who want to engage in animation and 3D special effects, you must be prepared to buy the top (and most expensive) components.
2. Programs for work
Another fairly significant reference point in matters of assembling a computer for work – the system requirements of the programs. They can be found on the official sites of the developers (and make sure that these figures can vary significantly). As a rule, manufacturers indicate minimum and recommended parameters: needless to say, you should not rely on the former.
3. Actual components
Time is something that works against you. Computers are rapidly becoming obsolete, and technology, on the contrary, is developing faster and requires more and more computing power. What today is considered a productive machine, tomorrow it will be just a good one, and the day after tomorrow it will be in dire need of an upgrade. Therefore, it is necessary to build a workstation with enough power to last. As a rule, good machines work about 3-6 years, then you may need to replace the iron for a more current or just a new (as in the case of solid-state drives, which have a very short life).
And now back to the components. What to choose?
Processor – the central element of the workstation, which is responsible for all computational processes (including calculations during rendering). When choosing, you should pay attention to two main characteristics: the number of cores (this indicator determines the ability to perform several tasks simultaneously) and the clock frequency (responsible for the system performance). Another important parameter of the CPU is multithreading. Multi-threading cores can increase system performance by simultaneously processing two threads with one core.
The number of processor cores directly affects the rendering speed, while in modeling, on the contrary, the clock frequency is more important. The minimum required for 3D is 4 cores and 3 GHz: you can work, but very slowly. But the performance of 8-core and 8-16 threaded processors at 3.2 GHz is much higher: at the moment this is the optimal configuration suitable for most 3D tasks. There are more powerful CPUs with more cores for the most complex 3D-processes (e.g. animation), but their cost is much higher.
As for Intel processors, the budget solution will be the eight-core Core i7 family, the best – from the Core i9, and those users who are not limited in money or planning to rub the nose of “Avatar”, can pay attention to the line of Intel ® Xeon ®. However, AMD Threadripper™ multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs are also great for 3D (and less expensive too).
A good GPU or graphics card is a real investment in the future. Classic engines such as V-Ray or Mental Ray that use only the CPU for rendering are slowly giving way to a new generation of renderers that use the processing power of the graphics card. The main advantage of GPU-engines – speed: they cope with rendering the scene in a few seconds, for which the renderer on the CPU will spend 10-15 minutes. This approach allows you to render a three-dimensional model in real time, which greatly accelerates the work of the designer and improves its quality.
The leader and driving force behind the GPU is, of course, NVIDIA®. The latest generation of graphics cards based on NVIDIA® Turing™ architecture, with its RTX™ ray tracing technology and tensor cores, has empowered not just gamers, but graphic designers as well. For creative professionals, NVIDIA® offers a dedicated line of Quadro® RTX™ GPUs that take advantage of ray tracing, artificial intelligence and advanced hardware-accelerated shading. Octane, Redshift, Cycles, Furry Ball, V-Ray RT – all popular GPU engines paired with Quadro® accelerate rendering tenfold, improving productivity, easing workflow, enabling incredibly complex and compelling content creation, and, as a result, increasing specialist value in the 3D graphics market.
The only downside to the Quadro® product line is the price. However, NVIDIA® GPU range is wide enough to pick up a more budget-friendly graphics card for the assembly – many gaming models are good at rendering as well. The RTX™ and GTX™ lines will do, and you should pay attention to the four-digit model index not to be confused by the range. The first two digits (or one in older cards) indicate the generation, the second two – the performance characteristics. For 3D, models of the tenth and twentieth generations with a performance index of 60, 70 or 80 are suitable. From more expensive video cards you can choose, for example, NVIDIA ® GeForce ® RTX ™ 3060, and if the budget is limited, it is worth stopping at the NVIDIA ® GeForce ® GTX ™ 1650 or 1660. RTX™ performance will of course be higher than GTX™, but all of these models will allow you to use GPU engines and appreciate the benefits of rendering on the power of the graphics card.
In terms of technical specifications, the most important parameter for a graphics card is the amount of graphics memory. 8 GB is the minimum required for 3D graphics, but for serious work it is better to choose 12 GB models.
When choosing RAM, the rule is simple: the more the better. If the budget is limited, you can start with 8 GB, but be sure to provide the possibility to expand the memory in the future (choose a motherboard with a sufficient number of slots). 16-32 GB is an optimal figure, and the most complex processes may require more RAM.
HDD and SSD
For three-dimensional graphics is extremely important speed system, so without a solid-state drive can not do: it is installed on the operating system and programs. But SSD-storage is not durable: the number of rewrite cycles on them is limited, so it is better to store all working projects on good old hard disks – slower, but more reliable. For SSDs, 240 GB is the minimum, while HDDs are limited only by budget. The graphic projects require a lot of space: a couple terabytes or three terabytes will be jammed with work files rather quickly, so saving money on storages is hardly possible.
If intensive work with great HDD load is planned, it makes sense to buy two identical hard disks and to set up a mirrored RAID-array. In this case one of the disks will be available for writing and the second disk will become an exact copy of the first one. Such system allows in case of failure of one of the drives firstly not to lose data, and secondly to keep the system operability and not to interrupt the work on the current project while waiting for new accessories.
The motherboard is the foundation of your future workstation, which will unite the disparate parts into a single system. The main rule when choosing it – buy with plenty of spare parts! The board should be scalable: support the installation of additional memory cards, hard drives, new graphics cards, etc.
So we have made up our minds with the main components. All you have to do is to place them on the motherboard, add the power supply and cooling system, put everything in a nice case, install the operating system and programs to work… Complicated? Fortunately, you can do without that by simply buying a ready-made computer. Until recently, however, powerful assemblies suitable for 3D graphics were extremely rare to find in electronics stores. But everything has changed with the appearance of Acer’s Concept D line of professional computers for content creators.