Almost every year, computer components get faster, more advanced, and more complex. This can result in big jumps in price. In addition, the last two years have shown how vulnerable the world's supply chains are and how they can impact the average consumer. This has made it a nightmare to search and acquire the right components, especially for industries that rely on high-end workstations. This includes everyone from VFX professionals to 3D artists and designers who use high-performance workstations to render and 3D model.

Do you have time to research and build a workstation? If no, then ask one of our experts to lend a hand and get you equipped for the job.

Time to become an expert consumer! Overcome these challenges by learning key points to consider when building your own workstation or selecting the right configuration from a system integrator for your 3D modeling workflow.

3D Modeling and Rendering the Finished Project

It requires a lot to actively work on your project in the viewport and render the final result. While you are making modifications to the mesh, geometry, and textures (no matter the software package you use) you are primarily reliant on one or two cores of your CPU to do the “heavy lifting.” So, a CPU capable of boosting those few loaded cores will perform the tasks significantly quicker than a CPU with a large number of slower cores. The GPU, in this particular instance, is not heavily loaded and is quite often waiting on the CPU to do its tasks before it can proceed.

Ek Fluid Works Studio Series S5000 with 4 GPUs and AMD CPU, all water-cooled.

As most 3D artists and designers know, it takes serious computational ‘horsepower’ to render the final project and turn designs into something the client can actually use, especially in a timely manner. For these heavily threaded tasks, a CPU with a high core count and GPUs (depending on the render engine) will be the best tools for the job. The faster CPU cores and GPUs you have in your workstation, the faster the render will be completed. If you can leverage the full power of the GPU, it will be completed even faster, but you might have to structure your workflow around it and make some compromises.

Check out our full breakdown on how to keep your system cool and running smoothly at all times:
Why Liquid Cooling

So, depending on your style and your project needs, you have a few distinct choices:

  • Striking a good balance between viewport active work and rendering performance but won’t win the race in either of those categories

  • Maxing out the budget and going for a powerhouse that can do it all

  • Going for the best active work performance and offloading the rendering to a dedicated render farm

  • Making your own render farm, if it’s within your means

Capable CPU and Motherboard Are Crucial for Smooth 3D Modeling

First, select the platform on which your workstation will be based. Nowadays, both Intel and AMD have excellent offerings that will provide both good single-core performance with advanced boost algorithms that automatically overclock the CPU, and a solid number of cores per CPU that will significantly shorten the render times. An excellent balance is the AMD Ryzen 5950X, with 16/32 cores/threads, a great turbo boost frequency of 4.9GHz (temperature and power limit allowing), and support for the latest technologies and PCIe 4.0 standard.

AMD Threadripper Processor

The AMD Threadripper CPU, found in our S5000 workstations, is a rendering powerhouse. Its 64 cores will make short work of most rendering tasks, but it comes at a cost of lower maximum clock speeds. Take that into consideration when picking the right CPU for your 3D modelling workflow.

Intel, with their new Alder Lake CPUs, have taken the lead in single-core performance. However, they are slightly lacking in the multicore department due to the shift in the design philosophy of having a mix of high-performance and energy-efficient cores on the same die of the CPU. Chief among them is the Intel i9 12900K, commanding an impressive 5.2GHz max single-core turbo boost frequency and 8 performance and 8 energy-efficient cores. Unlike AMD’s current best offering, it also supports the new DDR5 RAM, which promises significantly higher speeds and capacities compared to DDR4, but at a hefty “early adopter” price point.

ASUS X570 Creator motherboard with the X570 chipset and AM4 socket for the latest AMD Ryzen CPUs.

The next step is picking a motherboard. It must have all the connectivity you need for storage, hooking up your various USB devices, and enough PCIe X16 slots for the number of GPUs you want to run in the workstation. Both Intel Z690 and AMD X570 chipset motherboards should cover you for up to two GPUs, but for more than that, you will have to look into HEDT (High End Desktop) platforms like Intel C422 or AMD TRX40.

It is worth considering that while the motherboard might have full support for two or more GPUs, your chosen PSU might not be able to handle the extra power requirements or have the necessary connectors needed. Learn how to select the right one in this article.

GPU Options for 3D Modeling and Rendering

Here the story is a bit more one-sided in favor of Nvidia due to its extensive support in GPU renderers that utilize its proprietary CUDA cores, and lately, RT cores. AMD has a bit of catching up to do, but if your particular software package heavily utilizes OpenCL, then they are a better option. For general viewport work, the GPU is not too heavily taxed and you can get away with some of the lower-end models like RTX 2060, RTX 3060, and similar. But for the final rendering (depending on the type of GPU renderer used), it is beneficial to utilize the heavy parallelization capabilities of GPUs to get the job done faster.

Nvidia Founders Edition RTX 3090 GPU

EK-Pro Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU water block with 45-degree terminal blocks.

Read how it all ties together in our breakdown of the different system configurations and price points.

Some parts of the rendering will have to be performed by the CPU, so having a capable, high core count CPU is always part of the equation. The GPU will also need a sizable amount of VRAM to handle all required assets, so a good candidate to avoid many pitfalls is a Nvidia RTX 3080, RTX 3080Ti, or even an RTX 3090. It is also worth considering the professional-grade GPUs from both Nvidia Quadro and AMD Pro series as they often have better support for professional software packages and extensive driver support for a very smooth experience.

Informed consumers are the ones who get the most bang for their buck. Be sure to read future articles, such as part two, to learn everything you need to find the best solution for your professional work!