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New "What machine should I buy" site

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UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2011: I am no longer maintaining the 3DATSTech site. Instead, I'll be maintaining the recommended configurations as lists on Amazon.com. Amazon.com has the advantages of easier to maintain lists, better prices and selection (they've really upped their game on computer parts lately) and a better affiliates system than Newegg.


Click here for the recommended configurations.


As many of you know, I've gone back to school, so if you do buy these configurations and want to use Amazon, please use that link and help me out with books :) Or just bookmark this link and use it whenever you go to Amazon.




This got announced today in the News section of the site, but I wanted to post it here as well.


I'm working with the Brians at 3DATS to put out a web site for those looking to buy workstations for architecture and visualization, and to keep abreast of the latest developments in hardware. This month's articles are on:


-An explanation of the parts that go into a workstation

-Methodology for specifying the workstations I'm recommending

-Four configurations targeted at different price points:

1. "The Intern": an inexpensive configuration for architecture interns doing basic work

2. "The Budget": a minimalist machine for basic 3D work

3. "The Midrange": a more powerful machine suitable for most architecture and 3D work

4. "The High End": a powerful workstation for improved rendering and animation performance


We'll be doing monthly updates to go into more depth explaining the technology, and keeping the configurations updated with the latest hardware.


If you have any feedback to improve the site, please let us know here.


The URL is: http://www.3datstech.com


Edit: Scroll down to post #10 for a free book offer from Brian Smith!

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This is very helpful....thanks for adding this!


I, too, am curious about the Apple solution. It is mentioned briefly under the "pre-built solutions", but no details.


I have too many issues with windows and am getting fed up (ever with windows 7 64). I am willing to try another solution. Any input on a Mac would be helpful.

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BTW, anyone that purchases a system that Andrew recommends can receive a 3DATS book of their choice. Just post an image of your receipt in this thread (less personal info of course) and tell me what book you want. It doesn't have to be exact, but needs to be close.


Don't know how long we can do this, but wanted to see the kind of help this site can provide and this is probably the best way to find out. As long as we don't give away all our books, we'll keep doing it.

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I don't have a new Mac to try Bootcamp on, but I have a Core Duo Macbook Pro from a few years ago running Windows 7 32-bit and it performs exactly like a regular Windows box with the same specs. Running in VMWare also works, but the performance is not as good as with Bootcamp.




What sorts of issues are you having with Windows? Are you using Bootcamp or virtualization? The only difficulty I've had is with the keyboard being a bit different (if it's a desktop box, invest in an inexpensive USB keyboard meant for Windows) and the one-button trackpad on the laptop (there are workarounds like two-finger tap but I prefer to use a multi-buttoned mouse. One of the other mods, I think it's Strat, uses Windows on a Mac and one of his reasons for buying it was that the Mac Pro was the least expensive dual-Xeon workstation from a major vendor, and it works fine for him. Also, Autodesk recently made Windows on Bootcamp an officially supported platform.

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Andrew, I am not running Windows on a Mac. I simply have a Windows 7 PC, but am thinking of switching to a Mac. Perhaps you run into exactly the same problems with a Max since you are still running Max thru windows. If that's the case, I think I will build the High End unit as listed.

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I think it's Strat, uses Windows on a Mac and one of his reasons for buying it was that the Mac Pro was the least expensive dual-Xeon workstation from a major vendor, and it works fine for him.


I do at home. And for two main reasons.

1) It was the least expensive vendor route at the time.

2) I can run Final Cut Pro for video.


After running this system I can say a few things. Its FAST and quiet. Switching between Windows and Mac OS or any other installed OS is as easy as rebooting and holding "option". OSX is generally snappier, more stable and runs graphic apps like PhotoShop better than Windows. What ever issue you have with a regular Windows box, you will still have on a Mac running Windows....there's nothing really different between them. The Apple keyboard is a pain while in Windows, hot keys are in different places and some keys don't exist. A simple solution is to use a Windows KB, but ejecting CDs will be hard.


Overall I think the Mac Pro is a huge value. I paid, I think, $3700 for a dual quad 2.29 with 12GB and Apple Care last June. It boots Windows Vista64 and OSX and also have Windows XP, Ubuntu, Fedora and SUSE virtualized. If in the market for a workstation, I'd do it again.

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I run Windows 7 on my MacBook Pro laptop at home, where I often do production work. The Intel chips used on this product line that are early 2008 or later will run 64 bit, mine is late 2007 and will not. Debating on selling my laptop to get the latest greatest MBP which allows you to roll with 8GB ram, not mention the much improved battery performance and life span.


Just upgraded (clean install) this laptop to Snow Leopard and my W7 RC expired so I am also running a full retail of W7 now. The latest bootcamp is version 3.1, so you should be running that. There is a tick in the Boot camp control panel that allows you to have the F function keys operate as they would in windows. I find the keyboard to be fine for me in the situation. Then I just plug in a 2-button mouse, good to go. Both OSs installed very easily, quite impressed.


Autodesk Studio max is NOT supported on W7 yet as per this link...


please correct me if I am wrong. Further down the page...

"Autodesk® 3ds Max® 2008 software is compatible with Microsoft Windows Vista 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and the Microsoft DirectX® 10 platform. Whether you choose to deploy 3ds Max 2008 on Windows XP or Windows Vista, you will experience the same great performance and workflows."


There is a glitch in Autodesk apps with the SATA drive that will ask you to re-authorize somewhat regularly. I understand there is a fix that affects the Registry keys but I haven't addressed yet, I will soon try.


I know this is a bit off topic, but thought I would share my experiences here.


Edit: Both Bootcamp, W7 & Max work well on the MBP - fast too.




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Wow, that's a lot of OSes. Good point about Final Cut Pro - that's excellent software. I could also talk about how it's nice to be able to take a computer to an Apple Store and get tech support in person, but I don't want this to turn into an Apple praisefest :)

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Apple Store and get tech support


I wont do that to the thread, but my batt was warped, it affected the upper case. All replaced for free, warranty had expired too. No questions asked.


Love the "genius bar" uniform - muffin top beer gut, big long hairy sideburns, big black eye goggles - and the occasional team member with matching blue hair.

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That's because Autodesk doesn't generally move quickly on things like this. Since they introduced subscriptions they operate on the assumption that everybody has it and will always upgrade to the new version, so things get introduced in new versions.

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Great Info Andrew, I specially like the way you summarize tons of tech details into a couple of key variables for the non-techie crowd.


You might have already thought about this, and its certainly no easy task, but it would be great if you could get to benchmark your builds (HW loan maybe) with some of the most used sw. Tom's, Anand and a few others publish workstation hw reviews from time to time but there is no single site out there that specializes in this (specially unbiased ones).

You could even create a few "Performance Indexes" to normalize the performance of the builds and make it much easier for people to grasp the performance gains vs price.


Keep up the good work

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You don't mention UPS's - I can vouch for APC.

Ive owned many UPS's in the past and the APC range (650 minimum) are a tier above the rest. Don't go cheap on the UPS, it will save your a$$ many times. :)

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That's a great point.


One other thing I haven't touched on yet is laptops, but I saw one yesterday when I went in to Micro Center to run Cinebench on a bunch of computers (CGArchitect: we get kicked out of stores so you don't have to!) that made me say something like "What the heck, they can do that now?!" 17" 1080p LED screen, Core i7, 8GB, Radeon 5870 and a Blu Ray drive for $1500! Downside: it's enormous. 2.25" thick, 7.5 pound nominal.

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