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Best Workstation PC for Redshift 3D (Winter 2020)

Written on December 7, 2020 by William George


Here at Puget Systems, specifically in the Labs department, most of the content that we write falls into one of two categories: either long, fairly in-depth articles looking at the performance of various PC components in a given application or recommended system pages, with multiple configuration options aimed at different budgets and lots of supporting data drawn from the aforementioned articles. For some readers all of that is information overload, though, and they just want a quick question answered: what is the best computer for my needs? We’re going to try answering that question more directly in a new series of short articles, like this one.

Today we are looking at Redshift, a GPU-based ray tracing engine from Maxon. As applications go, it is fairly straightforward in its needs: NVIDIA graphics cards, and lots of them. The more cards you can pack into a system, and the more powerful each individual card is, the faster your rendering will be!

Good PC Configuration for Redshift

We'll start off with a good, solid workstation design for Redshift - hopefully without breaking the bank. Most GPU rendering engines, including Redshift, scale well with both higher-end GPUs as well as multiple video cards. To get a well-balanced system, then, we recommend starting with a pair of NVIDIA's new GeForce RTX 3080 10GB cards. They are both faster and less expensive than the older RTX 2080 Ti, with a similar amount of onboard memory. Two of them together will also outperform the more expensive RTX 3090 for roughly the same price, though admittedly with a lot less VRAM. As for the CPU, it just needs to be fast - with the number of cores not being a big factor for GPU rendering. For that reason we've got an Intel Core i7 in here, but if you do a lot of CPU intensive work in other applications then you might consider a Ryzen 5000 Series processor instead.

CPU Intel Core i7 10700K 8-core
Video Cards 2 x NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080
Drives 1TB NVMe & 2TB SATA SSDs

Better PC Configuration for Redshift

Our most popular workstations for Redshift in the past bumped the number of video cards up from two to four. However, the latest generation of NVIDIA GeForce cards are too power hungry to run four cards in a single system - unless you tinker with the power limits on the cards or have an extraordinarily high wattage power supply and dedicated high-amp circuit to plug into. Because of that limitation, our "Better" recommendation this time around is a triple video card system; an upgrade from the "Good" configuration both in terms of the number and model of GPUs that are included. Three GeForce RTX 3090 cards will more than double the amount of VRAM available for scene data while also increasing render speeds by ~70% compared to two RTX 3080s. That is the most rendering performance we can cram into a single tower workstation without switching over to NVIDIA's more expensive Quadro series cards, which would massively increase the overall price. Still, having so much packing into a system will require a larger chassis, motherboard, and power supply - and will generate a lot more noise, especially under full load. With so many expensive components in the system, bumping the hardware warranty up to three years better protects your investment as well.

CPU Intel Xeon W-2235 6-core
Video Cards 3 x NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090
Drives 1TB NVMe & 2TB SATA SSDs

Best PC Configuration for Redshift

As of the date of this publication, NVIDIA has announced a new top-end professional graphics card: the A6000. It has not yet been released, however, and with shortages accompanying every other video card launch this year it may be quite a while before this upcoming GPU is really a viable option. In the interim, the best way to get 48GB of memory on a video card for working with truly massive scenes and the most complex geometry is the older Quadro RTX 8000. On its own, this card is not as fast as the GeForce RTX 3090 we included in the "Better" design above, and it is far more expensive, but if you need the extra VRAM then this is the only option at the moment. We can, at least, still utilize four of these in a single workstation - so overall performance is close to three 3090s, but with double the onboard memory per card. If you are working with such enormous projects that these video cards are worthwhile, though, we should probably add in more system memory to be safe... but the CPU doesn't need to change. For storing the larger scenes and texture data that would require this kind of hardware there needs to be an increase the size of the SSDs in the system too.

CPU Intel Xeon W-2235 6-core
Video Cards 4 x NVIDIA Quadro RTX 8000
Drives 1TB NVMe & 4TB SATA SSDs

Before opting for a system like that, though, please remember that the performance will not be better than the version with triple RTX 3090s unless you need truly the additional VRAM. Moreover, if you are not in a rush, waiting for the NVIDIA A6000 to be available in the coming months should provide a big performance boost with the same amount of memory and at a similar price.

Further, while these are the most powerful traditional tower workstations that can be built for Redshift right now, there are other ways to move beyond even this powerful of a PC. For example, if this were going to be a server-style system that was accessed remotely, you could go with a rackmount chassis that would offer more PCI-Express slots for video cards; we have options along those lines with support for up to eight GPUs (the maximum that Redshift supports per session). Or you could use PCI-Express expander cards to external enclosures in order to connect more video cards into the computer, though doing so reduces the bandwidth to each card (which will reduce performance). Redshift even supports network rendering, so you could split processing across several systems in an office.

Additional Resources

If you want to know more about Redshift performance, we have published several articles over the years looking at how individual CPUs compare as well as how well this software scales across multiple cards. Or if you want to configure a computer more tailored to your specific needs, including the option of a rackmount-style server mentioned above, we have a few recommended systems tailored to running Redshift that might interest you. And if you aren’t sure what you need, or if your workflow includes multiple applications, please feel free to call or email our consultants to get a more personalized configuration.

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Tags: Render, Rendering, Workstation, PC Workstation, PC, GPU Acceleration, Redshift