When it comes to CPUs there are two main specifications that define the capability of a CPU:
- The frequency directly affects how many operations a single CPU core can complete in a second (how fast it is).
- The number of cores is how many physical cores there are within a CPU (how many operations it can run simultaneously).
Rendering with a CPU-based engine is among the most efficient tasks a workstation can perform which means that in most situations, the more CPU cores you have, the faster your renders will be able to finish. In fact, rendering is one of the rare workstation tasks that is nearly perfectly parallel - so having twice the number of CPU cores should result in almost exactly half the render times (assuming the frequency does not change).
To give you an idea of how much better performance you can expect from either of our two recommended systems, the chart below shows how much faster each of the CPUs we offer should be compared to an Intel Core i7 6700K (the highest end "standard" quad-core CPU from Intel).
Video Card (GPU)
For most CPU-based rendering engines, the video card should make no impact on the time it takes to complete a render. Often, only a basic video card is necessary although you may need a more powerful card in order to make any final adjustments to a model or scene before starting the render.
GPU acceleration (utilizing the video card to complete calculations instead of the CPU) is starting to be utilized by some CPU-based rendering engines, however, so in some situations having a more powerful card may be beneficial. For example, Mental Ray has recently had GPU acceleration support added for global illumination which allows it to leverage the power of the GPU for raytracing.
In general, we recommend NVIDIA Quadro video cards for a rendering workstation. Compared to the mainstream GeForce cards, they tend to be more reliable and have better driver support. In addition, many software developers (including AutoDesk and SOLIDWORKS) either recommend or require Quadro cards for their software. There are some situations where a GeForce card makes sense, however, so our configuration page does allow for the selection of GeForce GPUs.
While the exact amount of RAM you need is going to depend on your particular model/scene and render settings, we generally recommend a minimum of 32GB. RAM usage can quickly shoot up, however, so both of our recommended systems are capable of much larger amounts of RAM. Our smaller, single CPU system can utilize up to 256GB of RAM while the larger, dual CPU system is capable of up to 512GB.
Storage (Hard Drives)
With the falling costs associated with SSDs, we almost always recommend using an SSD for the primary drive that will host your OS and the installation of software. The high speed of SSDs allows your system to boot and launch applications many times faster than any traditional hard drive.
Since SSDs are still more expensive than traditional drives per GB, for long term storage we recommend using a traditional hard drive (or two if you need even more storage!). Using a SSD can be useful in some situations, but most of the time the high performance of an SSD is simply not required for a storage drive.