Low cost workstation build advice

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Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:21 pm

Hello, I'm in the market for some new workstations. Now seems a good time to find some good deals, unfortunately I've not really kept up to date with the going-ons in the industry since sandy bridge was released, so I'm hoping you guys can give me a little advice. My budget is $1500 to build some systems that will be used for light to moderate CAD/CAM work. I expect to do some light to moderate FEA and CFD work using these computers on Pro/E 4.0 for CAD and FEA, and solidworks for CFD. Matlab also sees a good bit of use, as well as some light work in photoshop and illustrator. I'm trying to build two computers using this budget, which I know will be very tight since it amounts to $650 retail for each after 13% HST is applied, and a monitor must be included in that price. Knowing this, I'm not exactly looking for or expecting mind-blowing performance, running solvers overnight in complex cases is not a big deal. That said, I want to see if it is feasible. If not, the option to build just one computer is still open, if the sacrifices to speed do not justify the increased productivity from having two computers.

Here's what I've (roughly) spec'd out. I've tried to cut out as many unnecessary features as possible without sacrificing performance.

$215 Intel Core i5-3570 Ivy Bridge
$34 G.SKILL Value Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600)
$90 GIGABYTE GA-H77M-D3H
$70 Western Digital WD Blue 500GB 7200 RPM
$150 ASUS VS Series VS228H-P Black 21.5"
$45 ENERMAX NAXN ENP450AST 450W ATX12V Power Supply
$60 Antec three hundred two case

Prices are from Newegg Canada, in canadian dollars. Sum of all those prices, multiplied by 2 since its for 2 PCs, then multiplied by 1.13 for sales tax comes out to about $1500

It's a pretty no-frills system; considering the purpose, it does what it needs to and very little else. I've opted to forgo a dedicated graphics card in favor of a better CPU. I'm not sure how heavily the applications I've mentioned are able to make use of GPUs for computation. I believe intel onboard units nowadays are adequate to display CAD programs if they aren't super complicated. I'm also willing to live without a CD drive. Mouse/keyboard/speakers can be foraged and put together from various sources, so I've excluded them. I've opted for the non-k version of the CPU as I don't think I can get much of an overclock from the stock cooler and I'm not sure that it would be a good thing to do when performing scientific computing that values accuracy.

On newegg, the system I've spec'd out here come out to $1500.49 for two systems, including tax but not shipping. I'm only using newegg to rough out the prices right now, I can buy them someplace with local pick-up like Canada computers or NCIX. For now, I'd like some advice, specifically, am I missing any components? Will this be able to run the software I've mentioned at a reasonable pace, or would I be better off with a single computer? and can I squeeze some better performance out of this budget?

Thanks, and happy holidays everyone.
Last edited by DF bobo on Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:28 pm

Maybe I'm not seeing it but how are you getting up to $1500. got your price list typed out? Even TRs own sweet spot system with a graphics card is only 1K. In my opinion you can get a decent video card for 100 bucks and if you're already spending 1.5k you might as well throw in a passable videocard.

Edit: reading comprehension. herp derp. you are building 2x of them w/ monitors. Yeah that looks totally passable for that price. I'm not an expert but most of those packages primarily rely on the processor.
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:50 pm

I updated my first post to include prices for everything.

Just had a thought, considering the anticipated workloads, would it be preferable to use a xeon processor at the same price point? I can certainly see a potential advantage if a processor with more threads could be obtained this way.
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:50 pm

1) Anandtech just released their workstation buyer's guide which is worth a read.
2) Why two identical systems instead of one?
3) Are these for your personal use or ?
4) Have you read TR's article on the Antec 302 vs Corsair Carbide 200R? I've seen the 200R for as low as $30 shipped from newegg here in the states.
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:24 am

1. I've had a look through it, thanks for the link
2. The guy who's tasked me with this job prefers to have two in the office so that more people can work at the same time. Personally, I would rather get 1, since I anticipate our need for computing power increasing soon, but I'm exploring my options with 2 computers under this budget for now.
3. No, they are not for my personal use. They're going in a Formula SAE team's office.
4. I'll keep an eye out for the carbide 200r, but I've yet to see it at a lower price than the antec. Case is not a big deal, since I have some old early 2000's era cases lying around that could be used.
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Thu Dec 13, 2012 2:54 am

Looking over what you've got it sounds totally reasonable. I would suggest double checking with whatever packages you use to see if anyof them benefit from a graphics card (I doubt it). The only thing i think you could optimize to get a cheaper case and spend the money on more ram. I always wanted to get involved with formula sae while in college but never had the time for it. GL!!

for example http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6811233073
Or if you can resuse some cases
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Thu Dec 13, 2012 9:07 am

We use Solidworks, Rhino, all the Autodesk 3D suites and Microstation quite extensively, and the GCN radeons (7750 and above) work pretty damn well for workstations. The viewport acceleration is better than the pro (Fire/Quadro) options at sensible prices, and the CCC drivers seem to do a decent job with no major compatibility issues. I think a 2GB 7850 is probably the sweet spot, mainly for the extra RAM since I'm not aware of any 2GB 7700 cards.

We also moved away from Xeons. The extra cost is very hard to justify and in our case we were budget constrained; For the same money, an i5 or i7 is almost order-of-magnitude faster - partly the CPU price/performance itself, and partly the ECC RAM and motherboard. Not having ECC really isn't an issue for the software you mentioned. If anything I'd suggest you try a squeeze a small SSD in there as all the Autodesk stuff is woefully inefficient and disk thrashes even on machines with 32GB installed.
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Sun Dec 16, 2012 1:41 pm

We don't use Autodesk software, so that's not a big concern for me. Running Pro/E with the files that we work with, load times are fine with everything off a hard disk.

An alternative would be to drop down to an intel i3-3220 and drop in a Powercolor 7750 1gb, that would keep me at about the same price point. For the software we use, do you think this will offer better overall performance? If I exclude the case, I don't think I cut enough money to step up to the 7850.

I've also spec'd out the alternative, which is a single computer for $1500 (which amounts to about $1325 CAD retail before tax)

$299 Intel Core i5-3770 Ivy Bridge
$68 Corsair XMS3 16GB (4 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600
$90 GIGABYTE GA-H77M-D3H
$140 2x Western Digital WD Blue 500GB 7200 RPM
$200 LG Flatron 24" LED LCD Motitor 16:9 - 5ms
$75 ENERMAX NAXN ENP550AWT 550W ATX12V Power Supply
$60 Antec three hundred two case
$390 PowerColor 7970 3GB

Subtotal: 1322 CAD before tax

No ECC ram, I don't think our purposes really need it. Also no custom cooler or K version of the 3770, as I suspect it will not be a good idea to overclock it. I've opted for 2 x 500gb hard disks so I can operate them in RAID1. 500 gb is plenty of space for our purposes and its really important to me not to lose any data. Already on my to-do list is reconstructing a simulink model that somebody lost a while ago because they didn't back up their personal computer. I've also opted for a bigger screen. The exact model is not yet finalized, so I'm open to suggestions in the price and size range I've chosen here. LED is preferred.

My questions is, Is this a good choice of GPU? To me the other obvious options are Nvidia cards, which may be better for compute, or a pro level card, ie. the firepro or quadro line. From what I've found, solidworks can use the GPU for computations, and Pro/E WF 4.0 may or may not be able to.
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Sun Dec 16, 2012 3:03 pm

Since you're not going for bleeding edge performance AMD FX series (Vishera core) may also be worth a look, especially if most of the CPU-intensive stuff you run can make good use of 6-8 cores. This might save you a few bucks you can then spend on other parts of the system...
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Re: Low cost workstation build advice

Postposted on Sun Dec 16, 2012 3:58 pm

I think your best line of questioning should be directed towards the hardware acelleration support of your primary software.

AMD are winning the compute battle this year, but Nvidia's Kepler holds up pretty well in things with acellerated Direct3D viewports.
Check the software sites. If you see OpenCL support, go AMD 7750 over anything else. Take VRayRT for example - on a 7970 under OpenCL it's about 3.5x the speed of a 2600K, so theoretically, a low-budget 7750 could outperform a high-end CPU in the right applications.

If you can't find the answers for the software you need, ask around, try a couple of cards you already have on hand;
Sometimes it pays to ignore the GPU and boost CPU/RAM. Sometimes the product is genuinely improved on a Quadro (though this is actually pretty rare in my experience).
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