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KitGuru Complete Guide to PC Workstations – Part 2

Closing Thoughts

Our initial article provides just a taste of things to come in this series. Whilst lots of cores clearly dominate when doing a multi-threaded task like 3D rendering – so the more you have, the better the performance – they’re not so relevant for modelling, at least when using Maxon Cinema 4D, which is an increasingly popular 3D animation tool in film, TV and advertising. With this application, it’s possible to get much more out of the top-end NVIDIA Quadro graphics cards from Intel CPUs with higher single-core clocks speeds. However, the clock speed doesn’t make much of a difference with lower-end Quadros such as the K2200 and K620.

Our initial conclusion, therefore, is not that a Core i7 is better than a Xeon for modelling, so much as that you don’t lose anything, and maybe gain quite a bit, from an overclocked Core i7, which will be considerably cheaper than a Xeon with more cores. If, on the other hand, you use the same workstations for rendering as for modelling, a Xeon will still be a better choice. You lose a bit in modelling performance due to the lower maximum clock speed, but rendering will be significantly quicker. It’s worth noting that the price differential between a Core i7-3820K and a Xeon E5-2660v3 is about £800, and a Xeon E5-2697v3 is about £1,000 more than that. So the savings from using a Core i7 can be considerable.

Turning to our four graphics cards, the NVIDIA Quadro K620 offers professionally accredited drivers, so you can at least run professional applications, but doesn’t have the performance for heavy-duty modelling tasks. So it’s a decent choice for a workstation that is more frequently used for rendering, and costs less than £200. For around £200 more, however, the K2200 provides much more viable performance, making it the best option for those on a tight budget. Around twice the price gets you the K4200, which is about the best balance of power and price in the Quadro range, explaining its popularity. For around £1,000 more, the K5200 isn’t such good value, as the performance improvement isn’t so enormous as the price delta. It’s only worth choosing if modelling fluidity is really key to your workflow.

In future articles we will be putting these workstations and graphics cards through their paces with a range of industry-standard workstation testing software, including SPECviewperf 12, the Cadalyst benchmark for Autodesk AutoCAD, and SPECapc for 3ds Max. With these tests, different CPU and graphics card combinations could prove optimal compared to our results for Maxon Cinema 4D. So don’t forget to check back to see the more detailed picture in our future articles.

Intel Core i7-5820K System Pros:

  • Good price for a professional workstation
  • Best performance with higher-end graphics

Cons:

  • Fewer cores mean slower rendering than top Xeons

Intel Xeon E5-2660v3 System Pros:

  • Midrange price for a professional workstation
  • Better rendering than a Core i7

Cons:

  • Reduced performance with high-end graphics compared to Core i7
  • Significantly more expensive than Core i7

Intel Xeon E5-2697v3 System Pros:

  • Best 3D rendering performance

Cons:

  • Reduced performance with high-end graphics compared to Core i7
  • Very expensive

Kitguru says: In our initial tests, the multi-core Xeons win out for multi-threaded tasks like rendering, but an overclocked Core i7 rules the roost in most modelling tasks – given the right graphics card.

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