3D Arts Hardware: AMD Is Back!

Ryzen putting AMD back in Workstations

51gbGEc4sXL._SL1000_Well, when I heard that AMD’s new Ryzen CPUs (newegg and Amazon) were good, I thought great, I’ll take a look at that later. Just today, almost two months since launch, I finally got around to checking out lots of benchmarks (PC World, Tom’s Guide, ExtremeTec, ars Technica), and it turns out that AMD’s new processors are a lot more exciting than I expected. AMD CPUs have gone from a horrible mess that weren’t in any way competitive with Intel’s higher tier processors, to a game-changing-market-disrupting phenomenon.

AMD have finally caught up to Intel, something we haven’t seen in a decade. The Ryzen 7 1800x has been shown to outperform Intel’s beastly i7-6900k, albeit marginally, in Cinebench. Cinebench rouses shrugs from gamers, but to anyone that does lots of 3D rendering, or other heavy multi-threaded tasks, Cinebench is the main show of many processor reviews.

Let’s let that sink in. AMD’s R 7 1800x outperforms Intel’s 8-core $1000 + i7-6900K. At less than half the price of the Intel processor, this has the potential to completely change the market. Suddenly AMD processors are back in workstations, at a fraction of the cost of the equivalent Intel processor. Finally, there’s some real competition back in the processor market. Though if money is something you frequently burn, roll in, sleep on, or utilise to wipe away certain bodily wastes, then there is still Intel’s unrivaled i7-6950X.


Mid and entry level Ryzen perform well


On the lower end of the market the 6 core Ryzen 5 1600x compares favourably against the i5-7600k, thumping it in multi-core tasks, and while not quite as good in terms of gaming, and single-threaded tasks, holds its own well enough. Check out PC Worlds benchmarks. Even the 4 core R 5 1500X competes well against Intel’s i5s, and pushes up to the higher ground of i7s (PC Word, and Guru3D).

Unlike the previous line of FX chips, AMD isn’t attempting to cram more performance in by stuffing more cores on a chip. Their new Zen architecture is genuinely more efficient, and from the entry level, all the way to high-end gaming, and heavy multi-core tasks, AMD is back. Once again we have choice when it comes to purchasing processors. I never once suggested anyone any of AMD’s FX processor, but now I have no problem suggesting Ryzen CPUs.


Considering a new PC build for DAZ Studio?


For many artists using DAZ at the moment the focus is on getting high-end NVIDA GTX cards into their systems, so for those going in that direction, the entry level AMD Ryzen 5 processors might be a really good way to save a not inconsiderable chunk of money better spent on a better graphics card.

For those using 3Delight, CPU LuxRender, Corona, or getting setup for the upcoming CPU based PBR render in the next release of Lightwave, then AMD’s 1800x and 1700x are definitely worth considering as alternatives to the i7-7700K and their line of 2011-3 processors. Hopefully we’ll start to see some serious price drops from Intel as AMD starts winning back some of that market share that has eroded over the years spent in the wilderness.

If gaming performance is important then, i5s, and the quad core i7s offer the best gaming performance, while AMDs new processors are doing a respectable job at keeping pace, again see the benchmarks provide throughout.

Once You Know, You Newegg

Stuffing a Desktop Into a Tablet

CG on the bus, CG in the park, CG in the mall CG everywhere!

This is just a quick post about two competing beauties I want. I don’t know what it is like for normal people, but as a dude interested in cg I’ve often found myself in places and thought, “I really want to model this place”. Some times I’ll snap a few reference shots, but ever since the launch of the first generation the Cintiq Companion the idea of being able to sit there (where ever that may be) and model an intriguing item or the environment that surrounds me, has been pretty high up there on the “Things I Think About List”.

Of course, most of the people who want these cool things for the intention they were made for can’t afford them. i know I can’t, but it hasn’t stopped me fantasising about one materialsing at the most inspired moment.

So, what exactly am I getting so excited about? There have been pretty nifty tablet computers for a long time now. Yes, true, but having an i7, gigs of RAM, a dedicated graphics card, a precision stylus – all on a Windows based system is SO much more than a nifty tablet you can doodle and play Angry Birds 2 on. You can Z-Brush on these things! You can put together massive PSDs on these things without crashing out on insufficient RAM. You can do hardcore rendering on these things (though doing that a lot probably isn’t advisable).

Wacom Cintiq Companion 2

The number 1 such tablet is the Cintiq Companion 2 (i7) variants. I want one, like serious-burning-NEED type of want. Wacom are the bee’s knees when it comes to graphics tablets, and their extraordinarily accurate stylus is the number one reason the Cintiq Companion 2 is king of the pro grade tablets.

Cintiqu Companion 2 @ Amazon (feel free to buy me one while you’re there)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Number 2 is Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 (i7 variants). When talking processing power the Companion and the Surface are fairly equal. The one shortcoming of the SP3 is it’s stylus, but at around half the price of Wacom’s tablet computers this is a pretty minor issue. The Surface Pro 3’s stylus might not be as accurate as the Cintiq Companion’s but it is still far superior to just about any tablet out there, so yes, you still get a relatively frustration free sculpt or drawing/painting experience. Another big difference between the two tablets is that the Cintiq boasts a 13.3 inch screen vs the Surface’s 12 inch.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 @ Amazon

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 @ Newegg

Iray and Octane Render for DAZ Studio: Which Graphics Card is Best?

With Iray coming to DAZ Studio it is becoming harder to ignore CUDA/Nvidia powered rendering. Of course, Octane has offered support for DAZ Studio a number of years, but for some with AMD cards (no CUDAs) then the price of a higher end Nvidia gamer card and an Octane licence may be a little on the hefty side. And now we have Iray – It’s there, it’s free to use, and it is already well integrated into DS. This is a very nice marketing move by Nvidia. It also works out great for DAZ as they have wanted to incorporate simpler GPU rendering solutions for a long time.

Unbiased physically accurate/plausible GPU rendering is great. Lights always behave realistically, you get that nice bounce of light and blending of colour. In short, unbiased takes so much of the pain out of lighting a scene, especially when quicker, more realistic renders are the order of the day. CPU driven physically plausible/accurate rendering has been around a long time, but it has only been recently that the hardware made it financially viable to go this direction for large-scale production. There was an interesting article in a recent 3D Artist magazine that discussed how incredibly complex and painstaking lighting arrangements had become for Pixar movies prior to adopting global illumination (GI).

Anyone else go along to see Monsters University and realise Pixar had just changed the way they worked? Well, that’s GI, and it’s glorious! But just as this was happening with titanic farms of CPUs it seems that the GPU is poised to take over, doing it faster and cheaper.

BMW Iray render - Maya courtesy of Nvidia

BMW Iray render – Maya courtesy of Nvidia

Sure, most people who come to this little blog aren’t working at Pixar on hundreds of millions of dollars movies, but that’s not to say we don’t see the benefit and joy of working with lights that behave as physics intended (or close there enough to). Being able to work with these tools with the huge speed increases on mid – high end gaming cards means we can experiment and get much faster feedback, and for me that’s the greatest thing of it all.

So, in the interest of getting the best bang from a limited budget I set about finding the best card for me. Before we get to that there are a couple of points that need to be demystified.

1. There is no SLI.
I’ve seen many people make this mistake and run off to buy as many shiny cards as they can stuff on their motherboards. There may be some engines out there that do take advantage of SLI (Nvidia’s Scalable Link Interface), but neither Octane nor Iray support it.

2. Multiple video cards
If you are one of those that stuffed your motherboard with graphics cards that money is not necessarily wasted. You may go faster, just not bigger. Octane and Iray, (and as far as I know) all CUDA engines require a scene to be loaded fully onto all cards. The card with the least amount of RAM is the limiting factor here. If your scene won’t fit on a card then the render engine will ignore that card.

3. AMD = no CUDA. Sad, but true. There are some render engines out there that support OpenCL (which both AMD and Nvidia support) and CUDA (Nvidia), like Indigo Render, but CUDA is still the most common framework for GPU render engines and will only work with newer CUDA enabled Nvidia cards.

CUDA Enabled Card Selection Criteria

GeForce_GTX_TITANX_KeyVisualTo business! When deciding which cards to consider benchmarks were my go-to. These give a solid indication of which cards perform the fastest. Benchmarks for both Octane and Iray tell a pretty consistent story; for your buck, gaming cards are where it’s at. They also point out that newer is not necessarily better. I’ll point out right now that I’m not looking at particular brands of cards, just the Nvidia reference specs. I don’t endorse one brand over others, but I do endorse CUDA to CUDA.

Along with benchmark result, the other factors I take into consideration are:
1 Number of CUDA cores (which has a tight correlation with said results)
2 Amount of RAM (which has little to do with benchmark results)

The cards

GTX Titan X

3072 CUDA cores
12GB Ram
In the ideal world where price was not an issue every 3D artist would have one of these in their rig. Unlike its predecessor the Titan X really is the king of the hill. It’s fast and packs more RAM than many cheaper off the shelf gaming PC’s come with. The 12GB of DDR5 RAM is the primary factor of the card’s price.

Titan X @ Newegg.com

GTX 980 Ti

2816 CUDA cores
In terms of performance this is my runner-up. With only marginally fewer CUDA cores than the Titan, it’s damn fast and still packs plenty of RAM.

GTX 980 Ti @ Newegg.com

GTX 980

2048 CUDA cores
4GB Ram

GTX 970

1664 CUDA cores

Both these cards can’t be dismissed, but they are rather underwhelming. Though the 980 does have more CUDA cores (and benchmarks justifiably higher) than the 970, the 970’s cheaper price makes it attractive when considering they both have the 4GB of RAM.
GTX 980 @ Newegg.com
GTX 970 @ Newegg.com

GTX 960

1024 CUDA cores
2 – 4 GB RAM

A decent entry level card of the current generation.
GTX 960 @ Newegg.com

GTX 780 TI

2880 CUDA cores
3 – 6GB RAM

This card is a true gem (though not literally). You can still buy these cards new from Amazon and Newegg, but here in Australia they are hard to find outside second-hand eBay auctions or classifieds. Though the newer Maxwell CUDA cores are purportedly around 25% more efficient than those in the 700 series of GTX cards, the 780 Ti benches better than most of the newer generation of cards.

The common variants out there may only have 3 GBs of RAM but this card wins my benchmark to cost ratio. It is an utter travesty that we haven’t seen more 6GB variants of this card.
GTX 780 Ti @ Newegg.com

Which Card Did I Pick For Iray?

If you have the dosh the Titan X and 980 Ti look great. If you want something cheaper the 780 Ti is still a very competitive card, though most have just 3GB of RAM. Finding one with 6 will likely come in at a price comparable to a 980 Ti. On a pure cost to performance basis it is hard to recommend a 980. For its price the 970 is a solid card. The 960 still has as much RAM as the current crop of 980 and 970s, which is still more than most of the older cards, making it a worthy Iray/Octane entry level card.

So, I went and did it. I picked up a GTX 780 Ti off eBay for a modest price. This “little” card takes the DigiSprawl Budget CUDA Choice Award.

The GTX Titan X takes the Starving Artist Wishlist Award.

Hardware Mayhem In The DigiSprawl Office

Well I say it’s an office but it’s really just my little corner of the family home. And then I’m not so much faced with hardware issues, but user error issues (ie me). Due to old failing hardware I’ve upgraded my video card, replacing a dated HD 5770, with the just released Sapphire R9 270x. Even from the best Australian suppliers the new AMD cards are about $80 more expensive here than from most US retailers, but then they are still at comparable or better prices than the previous HD 7XXX cards.
LuxMark Saphire R9 270x results1558
Al ‘s well with this part, no issues here. The little beastie flogs the retired 5770 when it comes to a LuxMark comparison. Straight out of the box with a background flooded with applications the new R9 270x scored 1558, which is just shy of the 1580 odd I saw scored in a recent benchmark comparison at Tom’s Hardware, which placed the card very competitively with other lower-mid AMD graphic cards. This single LuxMark comparison is basically the reason for my purchase – good GPU LuxRender on a budget.

So, what’s wrong? Well I also bought me a nice new Seagate hybrid SSD/HHD, and no, nothing wrong there. The new card seemed like a good excuse for a fresh start, so instead of cloning my old drive and migrating I opted for a clean install of Windows, something my system hasn’t seen since it was new. Still all good. So I spent a couple of hours pulling all the stuff I wanted off my old drive and dumping it on the new. It’s amazing how fast the process is at 100 mb/s. All done – no worries! Format the old drive to get a nice clean slave – done, and done :) It’s getting late but why not install a few things on my new drive to get it feeling like home. Let’s start with email (been a while since I checked those)… Oh! Oh fracking no! I didn’t transfer my emails!

diskinternals email recovery

Email recover pulls up the junk and the gold alike.

So I panicked a bit. Eventually I found some software that sifts through the fresh ashes of formatted hard drives looking for fried Mozilla Thunderbirds. And this is where I am now. I’ve got over ten-thousand emails recovered all the way back from 2009, most of which have been deleted since early 2012! I’ve got these emails all ready to go, but now I’m faced with the final dilemma. To actually save these emails I now have to decide if they are worth the $99 to pay for the program. See the demo of most of these programs let you have a good look at what you can get back, but to actually get any of your files costs money.

The decision is all the more hard because once I calmed down during the epic recover process I realised that most of the information I actually need such as PayPal receipts, product serial numbers and keys are all actually safe and sound on their respective websites. I don’t need my emails, but I’d like them. New CPU fan or emails? I’ll keep looking to see if there isn’t something cheaper about that does the job, but then the concern is what damage multiple recovery attempts might do.

The moral of the story is don’t make hasty decisions at 2am in the morning. Like I didn’t already know that! Anyway, for those that ever end up in this situation I can vouch for DiskInternals’ Mail Recovery. Even though I haven’t decided to fully go through with the recovery (fork out the cash) they guarantee that if the program can find it you can have it, so quite impressive.