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Old 08-05-2010, 09:49 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Location: Cambridge, MA
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Question Buy or Make for Architecture Student

Hi All - I am new to this forum, so if I commit any faux-pas let me know kindly!

I'm heading back to grad school in a couple of weeks and still haven't done anything about a new computer. Here's what I'm looking for, and would really appreciate any comments:

Desktop PC $2000-2500 (including cost of 2 monitors)
Mainly for graphics-oriented and 3D work.

Software I use include Rhinoceros (with Grasshopper/Flamingo), Microstation/Autocad, ArcGIS, Adobe CS3/4/5.

My 3D models are generally pretty intense/intricate, and I tend to work in Illustrator much more than Photoshop.

My school has a pretty good deal on a Dell Precision T3500 Workstation - $1650 for a model that includes:
Windows 7 Professional 32-bit with Media
Intel Six Core Xeon W3680 (3.33GHz 12M cache)
256MB NVIDIA Quadro NVS 295 (1 DP & 1 DP to DVI)
(2) 320GB 7200rpm 3.5" Hard Drives
16X DVD+/-RW with Roxio & Cyberlink PowerDVD
3-yr warranty + keyboard/mouse

about $700 of upgrades will get me (2) 19" monitors, 512MB NVIDIA Quadro NVS 420, 6GB memory...

Is that a good deal? Does anyone recommend building instead? It would be my first build, but I'm a pretty competent person!

Thanks all.

ela00 is offline  
Old 08-05-2010, 10:04 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Buy or Make for Architecture Student

Looks likea decent system. Couple things I'm not a fan of...

1. The processor - It's like $70 more expensive than the I7-980X 6core extreme and it doesn't come with a Heatsink and Fan. They both are basically the same processor according to some of the bench marks I've seen.

2. The OS - You need Windows 7 64 Bit.

3. Graphics Card - I would definately suggest getting a better Graphics card like the radeon 5700 series or 4800 series.

4. Ram - It's alright but you may wanna go for 1600Mhz and possibly the 6gb triple channel stuff by either Corsair or G.skill.

5. Harddrive - It would be nice if you went SSD but not nessecary. I would seriously check out the WD 1tb 6GB/s harddrive or the 2TB seagate 6gb/s harddrive. Both great quality.

If you were to change the following you're looking at a $2000-$2200 system without monitors. Plus you will want to upgrade your PCU as they aren't usually the greatest in prebuilt systems.

Just my suggestions. Building your own computer definately takes a lot of browsing and comparing also checking reviews and stuff. Hopefully my insight helped a bit.

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Old 08-05-2010, 10:18 PM   #3 (permalink)
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: Illinois, USA
Posts: 2,363
Default Re: Buy or Make for Architecture Student

You could probably do a bit better on the graphics cards, while Quadro may be better for professional apps, 256/512MB is a thing of the past and won't work well for large amounts of textures and/or model geometry. You might be better off with a regular gaming card that has more RAM (1 or 2GB GeForce GTX470/480 or ATi Radeon HD5870). The 6 core CPU is nice and generally worth around $1000 alone (for the Core i7 branded one) plus a $200 motherboard, $150 RAM, graphics, case/psu/etc but for the 6 core series (LGA1366) you want triple channel RAM. 4GB of RAM isn't ideal for triple-channel memory controllers as it is a dual-channel set (2 sticks). Go with either 6GB or 12GB as these are sets of 3 (3x2GB or 6x2GB). You will also want Windows 7 64 bit as the 32 bit version can't address more than 4GB of RAM (including memory mapped I/O, graphics RAM, etc) so it is more like 3GB that you can use.

I would strongly recommend building your own (as pretty much anyone here would agree) because you can customize every little thing and get more performance by overclocking.

I would go with a 6-core i7 (or the 4 core, my 930 handles everything I throw at it just fine, don't know if 6 core CPU is really necessary). If you're doing large modeling or editing you may want the extra RAM so consider 12GB, 6GB is plenty for a gaming build and it really depends on exactly how intricate your models are.

I would go with a high end graphics card with at least 1GB RAM. My Radeon HD5870 is good for gaming but a GTX480 might be better for your needs. There are software mods to convert GeForce cards into their Quadro equivalents as they use the same chip with different BIOS/driver features. To be honest a card that powerful shouldn't even need to be a professional workstation card to function adequately.

If you go with the ATI Radeon HD 5 series cards you can use up to 3 monitors on Eyefinity. This feature allows you to use 3 monitors either as individual displays or one extended display and can render full-screen 3D to the extended display across 3 monitors for a widescreen gaming experience (may be useful for other things too). If you do go this route you can get 3 cheaper monitors instead of 2 for even more screen real estate.

My build cost $1600 after everything (including Corsair H50 water cooler) and runs anything I throw at it. I then spent $450 on 3 Dell st2210 monitors for a total of $2050 for an incredible gaming setup. I've used some 3D design applications (mainly game editing stuff like Valve Hammer and Blender) but it renders just fine.

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Old 08-05-2010, 10:31 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Buy or Make for Architecture Student

This is fantastically helpful, thank you both!

I did realize that I can upgrade to Windows 7 64-bit for no cost.

I am starting to think that building would be easier in terms of getting exactly what [i think] i want.

I am curious also if anyone thinks I can do well with something that tops out at $1600? Sucks to be a poor student again. CalcProgrammer, seems like your gaming setup is good. I never do professional-quality realistic renders. I have a friend who's a video game designer with an architecture degree who insists that spending $800 tops will get me everything I need...

Thanks all!
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