FUMEFX Workstation + Render Node Hardware Shopping List


So below, is an actual purchase order for my main PC workstation that I work on. There definitely ARE faster machines out there. However, I wanted to get a machine within a certain budget range that essentially would be the fastest of every item, within the most optimal price range. Ie. I didn’t just fork over my credit card and say “go buy the most expensive of every peripheral”. I spent the time working with one of my IT friends over at Blur Studio, who handles speccing, purchasing AND assembling PC’s for use day to day at Blur. So, he seemed like an ideal candidate to team up with on this expedition – to pick the best hardware, but still fall into a realistic budget that myself, or anybody could afford.

Also, these system specs, are the EXACT machines that I worked on for God of War, Star Trek 2, Witches of East End, Metallica, Flight etc.

Most of the time, New = More expensive. And when it comes to hardware, you’re usually paying an additional 40% on let’s say “The Latest CPU” over one slightly less recent, with maybe 10% less decrease of power of the newer item. But somehow nearly half the price. Obviously, as soon as the next CPU/Whatever come’s out – the price of this will do that drastic shift in price too. You’re always paying for a premium when it comes to the latest and greatest.

So, with all of this hardware, I wanted to pay for the absolute best of everything (at the time, obviously hardware specs change very fast!) but I wanted to pinpoint the best of each of my parts available that was at their peak before they went into the ‘ridiculously priced zone’.

Obviously hardware changes rapidly, so I can guarantee there is better specs out there now. But this is probably a good baseline to look at and begin to look for similar but better priced.

Honestly, 20 years ago – you would pay ‘crazy’ amounts of money for your systems. But the desktop era came in and wiped SGI out. They tried to compete with their Octane SGI’s running Windows NT but with Maya available for the PC, Digital Fusion, Max, Lightwave and other tools all readily available – you could successfully compete as a studio on this hardware for a 10th the price.

Nowadays (wow.. I’m surprised spell check let me use that word!) you’re probably better of looking at what the latest video game hardware is that’s available. Taking into consideration thing’s like SLI (dual video cards) isn’t going to help you at all, but everything else will definitely be the latest and greatest for pushing around everything we want to use. There has been tech that has come in like Phys-x cards and some other cool tech I’ve been seeing at SIGGRAPH, but none that I can singularly point out as being something that for FX is going to change your life “right now”.

The more RAM the better, but I rarely go over 48gb during my simulations, but I’ve broken systems that have 64gb on a few recent projects that were very different to the standard “insert ‘splosion here” type shots I usually get. So.. If you think you’re going to be taking on some much more ambitious jobs, get more RAM! BUT if you don’t think you’ll need it, maybe put that money aside and slowly start a piggy bank for buying an additional computer.

I have listed the specs for two machines I bought recently for my render farm. These came in around $2,500 each. So if you later decide to skimp out on a few Friday night’s at ‘tha club’ then you can probably put that money towards getting an additional PC. Which, believe me – when you can suddenly fire off sims in the background and keep working RATHER than have to wait til night time to do something, and the next morning with crust still in your eye getting to see what you actually rendered – it’s worth it!

Few notes:

– Solid State Drive definitely helps

– Video card isn’t going to speed your simulations up “yet”

– Run diagnostics on your network – make sure you’re getting good speeds. Hit it hard and make sure of this! It doesn’t matter how fast your machines are; if they are taking 5 minutes to write a 3gb .FXD file to your network.

  • Fume takes full advantage of Hyper-Threading, so use it!


Allan’s Primary Workstation Specs

1 x Cooler Master Blade Master 120 – Sleeve Bearing 120mm PWM Cooling Fan for Computer Cases, CPU Coolers, and Radiators $10.99

1 x SUPERMICRO CSE-732D4-865B Black Pedestal Server Chassis $219.99

2 x SUPERMICRO SNK-P0050AP4 Heatsink for Supermicro X9DR3-F Motherboard $39.99

1 x EVGA 04G-P4-3687-KR GeForce GTX 680 FTW+ w/Backplate 4GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card $549.99

1 x SUPERMICRO MBD-X9DAi-O Extended ATX Server Motherboard Dual LGA 2011 DDR3 1600/1333/1066/800 $489.99

2 x Intel Xeon E5-2620 Sandy Bridge-EP 2.0GHz (2.5GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 2011 95W Six-Core Server Processor BX80621E52620 $419.99

1 x  LG CD/DVD Burner Black SATA Model GH24NS72 – OEM $17.99

1 x Western Digital WD Black WD1002FAEX 1TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive Bare Drive $109.99

1 x Kingston SSDNow V+200 KR-S3120-3H 2.5″ 120GB SATA III Internal 7mm Solid State Drive (SSD) (Upgrade Bundle Kit) $104.99


Total $2,563.88


Render Node Specs

2 x Intel Xeon E5645 Westmere-EP 2.4GHz LGA 1366 80W Six-Core Server Processor BX80614E5645 $549.99

1 x EVGA 01G-P4-2650-KR GeForce GTX 650 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready Video Card $99.99

2 x SUPERMICRO SNK-P0040AP4 CPU Heatsink & Cooling Fan for Xeon Processor 5500/5600 Series $29.99

1 x Mushkin Enhanced MKNSSDBRKT2535 2.5″ to 3.5″ drive adapter bracket $6.99

1 x OCZ Vertex Plus R2 VTXPLR2-25SAT2-240GB 2.5″ 240GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) $161.99

4 x Kingston 16GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 ECC Registered Server Memory DR x4 1.35V w/TS Server Hynix M Model KVR13LR9D4/16HM $156.99

1 x LITE-ON DVD Burner – Bulk Black SATA Model iHAS124-04 – OEM $33.98

1 x SUPERMICRO MBD-X8DAL-i-O Dual LGA 1366 Intel 5500 ATX Dual Intel Xeon 5500 and 5600 Series Server Motherboard $259.99

1 x SUPERMICRO CSE-732i-500B Black Mid-tower Server Chassis $139.99


Total $2,473.86


So both came in reasonably the same price wise. I ended up initially buying my workstation, and two render nodes, and then not too long after I bought an additional two, and then another additional two. It seemed right to tack a few extra nodes on as more projects came in that I thought I might need them. But at the same time, I didn’t want to go overboard and decide to buy an unrealistically big render farm. I would gauge how long my renders were taking, and if I was really going to be waiting nervously for frames to come off the farm – then it’s a sign I might need more.

BUT in terms of simulations, really, it’s a matter of “How many simulations am I going to be doing at any given time”. Buying more PC’s and then realizing that really I’m just doing one big massive individual simulation, over and over and over – isn’t going to justify buying more hardware. Sure, rendering wise it will speed it up. But simulating won’t. I _CAN_ simulate multiple variations and take full advantage of these nodes, but then you’re just creating more work to justify having the hardware. DON’T BE GREEDY! Buy what you need, and save your money. Having a killer farm, doesn’t make you a bad ass!

I say this, because I’ve recently observed a colleague of mine spend a lot of money buying a farm with his savings – for really no reason that I can realistically think of. And we all have those friends, who go and buy a new RED camera and loads of film equipment for their new “film company” without having clients or anything yet actually booked. Take your time, and tack on those extra PC’s when you actually need them. And then, for the exact same price, you will be able to afford much much faster hardware rather than it being old and outdated when you finally are ready to put them to use. Hardware changes fast fellas, so buy it when you need it!

That’s all for now, bon appetite!

 You can download this list as a PDF here

– Allan



AMCKAY@AllanMcKay.com     http://www.AllanMcKay.com FACEBOOK | TWITTER

  • Pierre-Luc

    This is normal your Workstation doesnt have any Ram. Maybe the same then the Render Node Specs ?

  • Oleg

    I think 2.5 Ghz is a bit slow. You can get 1 fast processor with much cheaper Motherboard.

  • Nice share Allan, how are those Xeon cpus on single threaded stuff inside of max? not sure how much is still single threaded but like half of pflow is, it still flows? 🙂
    Super expensive to get Xeons with high GHz.

    Im soo tempted to get my self a dual Xeon setup as my workstation vs the i7 3930 6 core i have now, but my guess is it’s better to go for an extra computer for the none existing renderfarm i have right now haha.

  • frank votruba

    I would like to understand Max Script …but all the tutorials I’ve come across dont help very much
    Is there a book that is good for this that you know of?

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  • Charles Mulder

    Hey Allen

  • Charles Mulder

    Lets try this again. Hey Allen! Thanks for the specs for your build. Its cool that you have shared this with us. I was wondering if you could update this article for 2017. I know that computer architecture has changed wildly since you published it. I would love to know what you are running today. Many thanks.

    • amckay

      Working on a LOT on this subject! Stay tuned (and make sure you’re on the insiders list http://www.allanmckay.com/inside/) I plan this coming Friday and next Friday to send out two BIG articles on hardware, and we’ll be following up with a live Q&A soon and for the podcast. So we’re going hardware crazy right now! 🙂

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