Best Computer for 3D Modeling and Rendering

Posted on September 7th, 2018

The most interesting thing about looking for a Computer / Workstation for 3D Modeling and Rendering is the fact that 3D Modeling and (CPU) Rendering are two very different use cases that use the Hardware of a Computer in very different ways.

Before we get into it knees deep, here are some quick links if you want to skip some of the Theory behind all of it and go directly to the best Computers for 3D Modeling and Rendering:

CPU Rendering

CPU Rendering in itself uses all cores of a CPU 100% of the time while rendering.

This means when you go looking for a Workstation just for 3D Rendering Images and Videos, you would be looking for a Computer with a CPU that has as many cores as possible, even if these cores are somewhat clocked low.

3D Modeling

3D Modeling then again, is an active working process. You sit in front of your computer and interact with your Computer and 3D Software, be it Cinema 4D, 3DS Max, Blender, Maya or any of the other ones out there.

Actively using a Software makes the Software utilize the Hardware it is running on in entirely different ways. If I were to Model a Car for example, this Car would consist of Polygons that might have modifiers and deformers applied to it, such as Mirroring, Cloning, Bending Objects and so on.

These kind of calculations though are done by only a SINGLE CPU Core. What does this mean?

It means quite frankly that having loads of Cores does nothing for speeding up your modeling, and does not usually make your viewport faster.

Long explanation short: For Modeling in itself you would need to get a CPU that has the highest Clock possible, no matter if it only has a few Cores, as most of these Cores won’t be used for modeling.

The more Cores and the higher the clock the better, right?

Now the next logical train of thought would be to just get the fastest clocking CPU with lots of Cores and we are good to go, right?

Unfortunately because of power consumption and heat limits, there usually is a proportional tradeoff between cpu-cores and core-clock.

Meaning the more Cores the CPU has the lower it will clock and vice versa, the faster the Cores are clocked, the less cores there usually are on the CPU.

Many Cores need lots of Power and lots of Power produces lots of heat. CPUs have thermal regulations that need to be adhered to. The same applies to higher clocked cores that will be hotter than lower clocked cores.

This is quite a bummer, but the major CPU Manufacturers wouldn’t be that major, if they hadn’t thought of improving this impracticability.

AMD and Intel, have thought of a nice way of compensating for some of these tradeoffs. Enter Turbo-Boost.

Turbo-Boost

Turbo-Boost is a feature that can overclock Cores, the less Cores are currently used. So, say we are currently modeling and are only really using 1-2 Cores, the rest of the Cores are lying dormant.

What Turbo boost does now is overclock these 1-2 Cores as far as possible (as specified) and as long as the Power Consumption and Temperature stays withing the  predefined limit. As soon as these limits are reached, the Turbo-Boost clocks these two cores back down.

This way, to a certain degree, we can get CPUs with more Cores (and a low base-clock), that clock higher on limited cores, when needed and not all cores are being used.

CPU vs GPU Rendering

There are currently two popular methods of Rendering Images and Animations in 3D Software. CPU Rendering and GPU Rendering.

As you probably guessed, CPU Rendering utilizes the Processor for calculating the Image in the various Render Engines, and GPU Rendering utilizes the Graphics Card.

The are some differences in GPU and CPU rendering that one might want to be aware about before choosing a new Computer or Workstation for 3D Rendering and Modeling:

Almost every major 3D Software comes with an inbuilt CPU Render Engine nowadays and only recently have GPU Render Engines such as Octane, Redshift or VRAY RT become mature enough to slowly but surely overtake CPU Render Engines in popularity.

Popularity, because GPU Render Engines are much faster and allow for extremely interactive preview Renderers, that can improve and accelerate a 3D-Artists Wokflow tenfold.

Usually, beginners are told to start with 3D Rendering on the CPU and only switch to (often) costly 3rd Party GPU Render Engines after they have learned enough to properly utilize them.

I think this is about to change, especially with Blenders Cycles Render Engine and Cinema 4Ds new Prorender Engine, that are built into the Software packages itself and don’t rely on third party plugin installation.

But enough talk, lets take a look at what hardware you will need for the Best Computer or workstation for 3D Modeling and Rendering:

Best Computer Hardware for 3D Modeling and Rendering

Best Processor (CPU) for 3D Modeling and Rendering

For Active Work: Intel i7 8700K / 8086K

As mentioned above, you will have to make some decisions here depending on what you want to use the Computer for most.

If you use it mainly to Model, Sculpt, Texture, Light, Animate and you spend much more time actively on it than rendering on it, you will want to get a CPU that is clocked as high as possible. Good choices here are:

  • Intel i7 8700K, 6-Cores, Clocked at 3,7 Ghz Base, 4,7 Ghz TurboBoost
  • Intel i7 8086K, 6-Cores, Clocked at 4 Ghz Base, 5 Ghz TurboBoost
  • AMD Ryzen 2700X, 8-Cores, Clocked at 3,7 Ghz Base, 4,3 Ghz TurboBoost

A great benchmark for finding CPUs that are the snappiest is the Cinebench Single Core Test. Take a look at this page with Cinebench Benchmarks and sort the Table by Cinebench Single to find the snappiest CPU that will let you actively work as fast as possible.

For Render Work: Threadrippers!

If you use this Workstation less to actively work on and more to Render out your Projects and spend more time on Rendering than on actually sitting in front of it, you should consider going into a high core-count direction which are the best CPUs for Rendering (Or if you want a second Computer just for Rendering on):

  • AMD Threadripper 1900X, 1920X, 1950X, 2950W, 2990W – 8-32 Cores
  • Intel i9 7900X, 7920X, 7960X, 7980X – 10-18 Cores

Best Graphics Card (GPU) for 3D Modeling and Rendering

Best GPU for GPU Rendering: GPU Rendering is getting more and more popular as we speak and will surely overtake CPU Rendering in the near Future.

Investing into a good GPU thats lets you Render on, or if you are already planning on extensively using GPU Rendering, is definitely a wise thing to do.

The most popular modern GPU Render Engines are Octane, Redshift, VRAY-RT and Cycles. The first two only support NVIDIA GPUs the latter additionally also support AMD (OpenCL) GPUs.

As I want to recommend GPUs that will work with any of the above Render Engines I will name some NVIDIA GPUs that will give you excellent Rendering Performance:

  • NVIDIA GTX 1080Ti
  • NVIDIA GTX 1080
  • NVIDIA GTX 1070Ti
  • NVIDIA GTX 1070
  • NVIDIA GTX 1060

The list could go on, but you get the gist. The higher the number the faster and the more expensive they get. Here are some GPU Render Benchmarks so you can compare the cost/performance benefit of those GPUs more in-depth.

Best GPU for Viewport snappiness: As the CPU is usually the bottleneck in having a snappy Viewport, GPUs don’t usually make that much of difference, if you buy good enough.

All of the above listed GPUs will usually perform roughly the same in viewport snappiness, as there are seldom features that the GPU is slower in computing than the CPU takes to update Meshes, Deformers and the like.

In other words, the GPU usually has to wait for the CPU to finish its tasks to continue working.

Of course if you rely heavily on In-Viewport SSAO, GI, AO, Anti-Aliasing and the like (People that do will know the abbreviations) you might want to lean towards the top of the above GPU list if you value a snappy viewport. For others, a high clocked-CPU will make a much larger difference.

How much and what Type of RAM (Memory) do you ned for 3D Modeling and Rendering

As so often, this depends a bit on your use case. If you work on models with extremely high polygon counts, you will want more RAM than if you usually only do lightweight 3D work with simpler scenes.

I recommend 32GB of RAM for most people. If you sculpt or work on high-poly meshes, use lots of large textures or have complex scenes with thousands of objects in them, you might want to go with 64GB of RAM.

16 GB of RAM can be enough for many starting out with 3D, but usually you outgrow 16GB quite fast.

RAM speeds & timing can normally be ignored, as these don’t make much of a difference performancewise. Getting DDR4-4166 RAM won’t be noticeably faster than DDR4-2133 RAM.

If you do like to optimize your hardware as much as possible the rule is usually the lower the CL and higher the Clock Speed the better. So a DDR4-3000 CL15 would be slightly better than a DDR4-2800 CL16 for example.

Best Mainboard for 3D Modeling and Rendering

The motherboard or mainboard basically really only is the Hub that connects all of your hardware components together. It won’t impact performance all that much, but you should make sure it has the features and sockets you want. Some important things here to note are:

  • The CPU Socket type. Different CPUs use different Sockets. Make sure the Mainboard fits your CPU Socket
  • Some Mainboards/Chipsets have support for different amounts of RAM and RAM Slots
  • Some Mainboards support more GPUs than others and offer more PCIE-Slots and Lanes to be used by GPUs
  • If you wan’t to get an M.2 PCIE Drive make sure the Mainboard you get supports this type of Drive
  • There are different Form Factors of Mainboards. This is especially important if you get a custom PC Case, that might be smaller than usual

This all sounds very complicated and way too much to handle for a first time builder. But fear not, I have some pre-selected components in different Tier builds down below, that will work greatly together without you having to figure out every last detail on your own.

Best Storage for 3D Modeling and Rendering

Now the speed of the storage is responsible for a few things:

  • Saving and loading your scene Files
  • Storing and loading your textures, Assets, References
  • Swapping to disk if RAM is Full
  • Launching your Software

Loading your scenes fast, will require a fast disk. If you have autosave on, which saves your scene every few minutes (so you don’t lose any progress in case of a crash, highly recommended) you will also want as short of an interruption as possible.

Then again having a plazingly fast Disk doesn’t do much for you once your scene is already loaded into RAM.

I recommend to have at least a SATA SSD such as the Samsung 860 EVO for your OS and your Scene Files. Consider a PCIE M.2 SSD such as the Samsung 970 EVO/Pro if you want even more Speed and can spare the extra cash. Fortunately, flash based SSDs have become quite cheap recently.

It usually is a good Idea to get a larger HDD to be able to periodically backup your Data in case your main Discs brake down out of unforseeable reasons.

Best Monitor for 3D Modeling and Rendering

It is usually good to go with a Monitor that has an IPS Panel and not a TN Panel, as they have better Color and Contrast display.

If you work on this Workstation a lot you will want to get a Non-Glare (a Matte) Monitor that doesn’t reflect everything in your environment and can be very distracting.

You will want to get at least a FullHD 1920×1080 Pixel Monitor, so it fits all of your Software Pallettes and viewport.

You might want to consider even Higher-Resolution Monitors with 2560×1440 or even 4K (3840x2160Pixels) Resolution to be able to fit more of your footage, references, and Software Windows on the display, or if you are working on 4K Advertising and Films or Images.

I have had great experience using Asus IPS Monitors, but you might prefer a different brand.

Best Power Supply (PSU) for 3D Modeling and Rendering

An expensive Power Supply will of course do nothing for your performance, but it is wise to get a bit more than enough wattage.

You will usually want around 400 Watts for a regular Build and add +250Watts for any additional GPU you are planning to get.

Good brands here are Corsair, Seasonic and BeQuiet. There is a PSU calculator here where you can pick your parts and it tells you how strong of a power supply you will need for your build.

Build your own Computer!

The Best Computer for 3D Modeling and Rendering is a Workstation that is snappy, makes you spend less time on it, doesn’t frustrate you and preferably costs less than an arm and a leg.

Building your own workstation for 3D Modeling, Rendering and many other use cases is something I enjoy tremendously and I am sure you either do it already or will learn to love it.

Building your own Computer teaches you about the inner workings of the different hardware components, lets you gradually upgrade parts if needed and helps you find potential problems lateron.

And the best of it all? It is  a lot cheaper than buying preconfigured Workstations / Computers and only takes an hour or two to assemble!

Ok so here we go. The Pre-Selected Builds in different Price Tiers:

Best Computer for 3D Modeling and Rendering, AMD 700$

PCPartPicker part list

Some Build notes: If you are experienced enough to do a BIOS upgrade you should consider the AMD Ryzen 2600 that will work on this board with a BIOS upgrade. If you can spare some more cash get a Nvidia GTX 1060.

Best Computer for 3D Modeling and Rendering, AMD 1500$

PCPartPicker part list

Some Build notes: This is a basic build that you can build upon. You will need an Operating System like Windows 10 for this build. The Case is professional looking, very minimalistic and quiet. There is no room for Optical drives, you will need a different Case if you want to have DVD/CD Drives.

Best Computer for 3D Modeling and Rendering, Intel 1500$

PCPartPicker part list

Some Build notes: This is a basic build that you can build upon. You will need an Operating System like Windows 10 for this build. The Case is professional looking, very minimalistic and quiet. There is no room for Optical drives, you will need a different Case if you want to have DVD/CD Drives.

Best Computer for CPU Rendering, AMD 2300$

This is an excellent Build that leans towards CPU Rendering Performance and less towards 3D Modeling.

PCPartPicker part list

Some notes on this build: As this build is focused on CPU Rendering, the other parts such as storage and GPU are proportionally low-end compared to the 16-Core CPU. If you have some more cash to spare, you can even swap the CPU with a AMD Threadripper 2990W 32 Core Monster to double your CPU Rendering Performance.

64GB of Memory is lots of RAM and will be more than enough for almost all scenes but you can save some cash and downgrade to 32GB if needed.

Best Computer for GPU Rendering, AMD 4700$

This is an excellent Build that will bring you the maximum GPU Rendering Performance (on a single Consumer Mainboard) combined with an excellent CPU for good Workstation performance.

PCPartPicker part list

Some notes on this Build: The PCPartPicker list only supports 2 GPUs but I am going with 4 GPUs for this build.

Having 4 GPUs makes you need a Motherboard with 4 PCIE Slots that are spaced far enough from each other to allow for 4 dual-Slot GPUs as is possible with this MSI X399 Gaming Pro Carbon AC Motherboard.

The Case is a big one that has room for 8 single-slot (or 4 dual slot) Cards. The Power Supply should provide at least 1250W and I added some headroom here with the excellent 1600W Corsair Titanium Power Supply.

Threadripper CPUs are excellent for multi-GPU setups, as these CPUs have 64 PCIE-Lanes to drive all of those GPUs in 16x and 8x Mode.

 

All of these Build will of course need a Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor and Operating System!

 

Looking for a Build or have a question? Fire away in the comments!

 

Alex - post author

Hi, I am Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist / Motion Designer and Compositor.

I have built a multitude of Workstations and Renderfarms for all kinds of 3D related use cases and love to optimize them as much as possible.

After working in the 3D/VFX Industry on-staff for several years, I have recently gone freelance and am having a blast!

Feel free to comment and ask for suggestions on your PC-Build or 3D-related Problem, I'll do my best to help out!

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Alex
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Alex

Hi,

Which one of these two builds (1500$) would you recommend, AMD or Intel? Modeling/rendering ratio is approximately 70/30%.

Does it make sense to replace recommended Asus GPU with Gigabyte GTX1060 G1 Gaming 6Gb?

Thanks

Andrew
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Andrew

Hi Alex,
Thank you for this Article it is very informative. I want to buy a computer for 2d and 3d Animation and not as much 3d modeling or rendering. Are the mentioned builds good for Animation too?

Thanks!