The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Computer for Blender

Ever since I started Blender Guru I’ve had countless emails from people asking me for advice on what PC they should buy. We’ve all bought PC lemons in the past, so I can see why this would be a common question.

Now before we move on, let me start by saying that your PC is only as good as your skill. If you’re bad at Blender then buying a $4000 computer isn’t likely to help you much. But if you constantly find blender crashing due to the size of your scene, or the poor rendertimes are stunting your potential, then an upgrade may be in order.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about getting a PC specifically built for Blender…

Operating System

Photo by fosk

Everyone has their own preferences in terms of usablity and stability, but for me the winner is Linux. In the past I’ve used blender on both Windows and Linux, and I found that Linux crashes less, handles memory better and generally runs more smoothly than a windows operating system.

However… what most users don’t tell you is that Ubuntu can be a royal pain in the arse to use.

If you come from a windows background (like me) then expect to be punching holes in the wall when you find out that you need to learn complex commands in the terminal just to connect to a wired LAN. It really is like entering another world. Everything is done differently and tasks that would usually take 2 seconds in Windows to setup could take hours to learn in Linux. A technical savvy person may say that Linux is a piece of cake, but to me it was an absolute nightmare.

So for that reason I actually recommend Windows 7. It’s fast, easy to use and comes with 99% less headaches than Linux.

EDIT January 2013: I’m hoping to try Linux again in the next few months. If my position on this matter changes I’ll update this post… if I don’t then you’ll know where I stand.

Graphics Card

Updated: 13th January 2013 for Cycles

Before the Cycles rendering engine came about, owning a high end GPU card didn’t have many benefits outside of being able to sculpt really, really high poly meshes. But now that Cycles has swooped into the scene, the GPU is now the most important factor when buying a computer for Blender.

Cycles thrives on the GPU. Yes, it can render on the CPU as well, but the GPU is immensely faster.

This Lamborghini is to your car, what your GPU is to your CPU; much faster.

This Lamborghini is to your car, what your GPU is to your CPU; much faster.

The brand I recommend is Nvidia, because that’s actually the only brand that currently works with Cycles. AMD/ATI cards are dead in the water as far as Cycles is concerned. According to the developers, development can’t continue due to current AMD driver limitations. So save yourself a whole lotta heartache and buy Nvidia.

Secondly, choose a card that has lots of memory. This is important because the biggest downside to GPU rendering is that crashes frequently in complex scenes due to lack of memory. Which means you’ll have to switch to your CPU in order to continue, which is obviously a lot slower. So in a nutshell, the more memory you have, the more textures, geometry and overall complexity you can have in your scene while still rendering on the GPU.

Also, if you’ve got the cash then dual cards will reportedly increase rendertimes by 1.6x. It’s twice the money (obviously), but Cycles does support it and it does pay off in rendertimes. However you’ll still be limited to a single cards memory as dual cards don’t increase the available memory.

I also highly recommend reading this Blender Cycles GPU FAQ which answers a lot of questions that may be buzzing around your head right now.

CPU

Photo by Friedemann Wulff-Woesten

When you aren’t rendering on your GPU, you’ll be falling back on your CPU. So having a strong CPU can save you in rendertimes for complex scenes.

You’ll want a CPU with the most multiple cores as this will allow blender to render more tiles simultaneously. My current CPU has 8 cores, which means blender will render 8 tiles simultaneously. This really pays off in render times.

Cores = Like having multiple CPUs and only paying for one.

Other than that there’s really no secret to choosing a CPU. Buy the fastest that you can afford.

RAM

Photo by Heather Greene

Another very important part to consider is the RAM. Whilst it won’t effect your render times, RAM will set the limit on how “epic” your scene can be. Now when I say “epic”, I’m really talking about memory usage limits. Everytime you use a large image texture or bake a high resolution simulation you use up RAM. And when you run out or RAM, blender crashes.

Thanks for reminding me to purchase more RAM!

This is especially true for simulations (fluid, smoke, cloth etc.) as this directly impacts how “detailed” your simulation can be. If you had only 2GB of RAM and created a fluid simulation, you may only be able to use a domain resolution level of 100 before blender crashed. But if you upgraded to 16GB you may be able to reach 200.

And who knows, in the future you may even reach over 9000!

You can only go as far as your RAM. So if you’re a sim junkie or you plan to use lots of textures and render on the CPU instead of GPU, then load up on the RAM.

Case

Photo by Adamcha

You may laugh at why this is on the list, but if you’re going to take rendering seriously, then you need to find a PC with adequate cooling.

When rendering my New York Earthquake animation my PC suffered permanent damage, because I used a standard PC case, stuffed into a tiny corner of the room in the middle of summer.  As a result, it overheated and refused to turn on.

But hey, at least it didn’t catch fire this.

Standard cases are suited more for air conditioned office environments, not prolonged rendering sessions in your stuffy bedroom. Take note :)

I’d recommend choosing a gaming case as these generally have better cooling than standard cases.

Hard Drive

Photo by Stuart Bryant

In terms of speed within blender, you aren’t going to see any noticeable difference by purchasing a faster hard drive. So let’s focus on stability instead…

The last thing you want is for your hard drive to fail, right? Well unfortunately hard drive failure is a sad fact of life so the best thing you can do is be prepared and create a backup.

And what’s the easiest way to do that you ask? Set up a RAID array.

A RAID array. It’s a system configuration that uses two physical hard drives to mirror each other, so that if one fails you always have a backup. All you need to do is purchase two identical hard drives and set it up in the BIOS settings. I highly recommend that you do this before the inevitable happens! ;)

My personal PC

Since so many people have asked what my specific PC specs are, here it is:

  • OS: Windows 7 64 Bit
  • CPU: Intel i7 950 3.06Ghz
  • RAM: 12GB Kingston 2000Mhz DDR3
  • GFX Card: Gigabyte Nvidia GTX 470 1280MB
  • HDD: 2 x 1TB Western Digital Sata 3 (RAID 1 array)
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A
  • Case: Antec ‘Nine Hundred’ 750W
  • Monitor: 21″ Benq Widescreen
  • Keyboard: Logitech G15
  • Mouse: Microsoft basic optical mouse

Still not sure what to buy?

If you’re still unsure which PC components to purchase, then check out the Cycles Benchmark thread. It’s currently 42 pages long and is dedicated to benchmarking PCs with Cycles.

Thanks for reading! :) If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy 4 Easy Ways to Speed Up Cycles.

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About Andrew Price

User of Blender for 9+ years. I've written tutorials for 3d World Magazine and spoken at three Blender conferences. My goal is to help artists get employed in the industry by making training accessible and easy to understand. I'm an Aussie and I live in South Korea ;)
  • AYTAC

    I am planning to purchse a computer with the following specifications to design a short animation movie. Would you please comment on this specifications? Are the adequate or unnecessarily too much :

    CPU : 2 x Intel Core i7 – 4700EC 8 Mb Cache up to 2.70 Ghz
    RAM : Min 32 Gb Kingston HyperX DDR4 or I am not sure but if it is exist, it will be 64 Gb Kingston HyperX DDR4
    GPU : Nvidia Geforce GTX 790 6.0 Gb GDDR5
    HDD : 6 Gb Seagate SATA, Cache : 128 Mb
    Monitor : Series 9, 27″ Samsung 2560 x 1440
    Motherboard : Adequate Gigabyte
    Mouse : Logitech Wireless Performance Mouse MX
    Keyboard : Logitech K350 2.4 Ghz Wireless Keyboard

    Budget : $9500 USD

    I will be happy to have comments and suggestions for better computer.

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  • http://www.famardon.com/ Jeroen Berkvens

    I’m guessing that “My personal PC” is a bit outdated.
    I would like to know what graphics card you’re using (or are you actually using a GTX 470?

  • Trae Barlow

    I think the reason you had so much trouble with Linux is due to using an ATI/AMD card. They don’t have very strong Linux support.

    That said I just switched back to Windows, mostly because of non-blender related things and a-lot of Windows-Only software that won’t run on Wine. However I would definatly consider a Linux/Nvidia setup for a “render node”.

  • reynerd

    hi there was wondering if my pc will beable to render DX9 games inblender
    current pc specs:
    Case: Thermaltake Level 10 GTS
    Motherboard: ASUS M5A99X EVO R2.0
    CPU: AMD FX-8350 eight core CPU @ 4.3Ghz
    GPU: ASUS GeForce GTX 760 w/2GB GDDR5 and DirectCU ii
    RAM: G.Skill Sniper 8GB 1866Mhz
    HDD: Seagate 5400rpm 500GB
    Liquid Cooling: Corsair H100i
    OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-Bit
    Motherboard: ASUS M5A99X EVO R2,0
    Heatsink: CORSAIR H100i liquid cooling unit
    SSD: 120GB kinston
    Sound card: creative sound fatal1ty recon 3d professional

    • Darkfire9825

      That build is absolutely and totally adequate for almost anything you would do with blender.

  • Raini

    Hi all. Does someone have a tip for a good notebook for cycles rendering and other video stuff up to 1900$? better dual gpu over sli or better one gpu?

    • Darkfire9825

      A notebook with an Nvidia 750 or above is fine. The better the GPU, the less your rendertimes (which can get quite big).

  • daenku32

    Other than “spend lots of money”, I would like a more budget oriented approach (It’s a $0 software, after all). A used nVidia FX or AMD Fire graphics card, for example. Slow for modern games, but REALLY fast for 3D modeling. I guess I’ll check elsewhere.

  • Brett

    Your current CPU does not have 8 cores, only 8 threads. It have 4 hyper-threaded cores. http://ark.intel.com/products/37150/Intel-Core-i7-950-Processor-8M-Cache-3_06-GHz-4_80-GTs-Intel-QPI
    The first Intel desktop CPU with 8 cores will be the Haswell-E

    • Brett

      has*

  • Haplo

    can someone tell me if the Nvidia Geforce GT 750 M graphics card, equiped in the latest build per order 21′ iMac , will be suitable for openGL rendering in Blender.

    • slitharg

      Andrew should probably mention that the requirement for using Cycles is that the card supports CUDA, which I think all GEforce cards do, but I would check to make sure. Good luck with your purchase.
      By the way, it will show wether the card has CUDA support if you google the specific card and look at the specs.

  • v support

    Is this a good laptop for blender? It has a dual graphics card but it is a GT755M SLI with 2GB memory

    there are several other laptops with a single GTX-770M 3gb memory.

    IdeaPad Y510p Laptop – Dual Graphics – 59405667

    4th Generation Intel Core i7-4700MQ Processor (2.40GHz 1600MHz 6MB)
    NVIDIA GeForce GT755M (SLI) GDDR5 2GB
    16.0GB
    15.6″ FHD LED Glare Wedge 1920×1080
    Hard Drive: 1TB 5400 RPM + 24GB SSD
    SLI Graphics – NVIDIA GeForce GT755M (SLI) GDDR5 2GB

    • Brendon

      I couldnt find a Y510p with SLI, but usually with SLI the 2GB is between the two gpu (1 GB each), The laptops with 770 3GB would handle larger scenes but the SLI would be faster.
      The rest of the specs are stellar, better than the computer i just build soley for Blender

  • Owen Patterson

    I find it humorous that in for your first image you have a Mac computer, you are talking about using Linux, and you use Windows.

  • Mark

    What about the new mac pro coming soon…. alll amd graphics :(

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  • joey301

    PC shopping has proven to be a nightmare for me. My first issue is Mac vs PC. I finally decided PC, but then I had to find the one I want. Online PC boutiques freak me. Reading their forums about people’s bad experiences with damage and wait times is a real put off. I can’t just go into a local store and buy anything other than a mediocre PC, certainly not one to match the specs of the online gaming boutiques. It is a lot of money to spend on a potential nightmare. I wish that I could be sure that the Mac would work for what I want but when I asked if my software would work, Apple said ‘Google it’ . However, Apple is an attractive package with easy access to support

  • Baberidge

    ” …you need to learn complex commands in the terminal just to connect to a wired LAN…”

    Dude, you must have some really esoteric NIC. I’ve had a bit of trouble with WI-Fi cards from one particular chipset vendor but as of the current LTS release (12.04) most stuff is plug-and-play and I’ve never had a problem with a wired LAN connection.

    I might be a fairly advanced user, but setting up a machine with Ubuntu 12.04 is pretty straightforward. If you want the most up-to-date graphics drivers then expect a bit of fiddling in the terminal, but Blender works fine with the ones that are offered by default. Don’t Fear Teh Penguin!

    • Brett

      Ubuntu is nothing compared to DSL

  • K

    Not sure my last post actually had text!
    I too live in south Korea and am trying to find a good place to buy computer parts… Can you recommend a place?

  • K

    Andrew, I also live in South Korea and am trying to find a good place to buy computer parts… Can you recommend any places?

  • Suraj Sharma

    Hey Andrew,

    Can i run blender on my current pc specs, my specs are as follows

    Intel Dual Core 1.6 Ghz
    1 GB DDR2 RAM
    Windows 7 Ultimate
    No graphics card still using integrated graphics with 64 mb of available memory after installing windows 7

    • nastys

      With an integrated GPU it may not run at all on Windows… If it doesn’t, try it on the latest version of Ubuntu, which uses OpenGL software acceleration, though it will run slow. Also Blender requires 2 GB of RAM, so if it crashes, switch to Lubuntu (see http://www.howtogeek.com/107368/ ).

  • Leor

    Linux is the easiest thing that I ever got to use and with huge SWAP I hardly run out of memory. The only downside is my i3 of 4 cores that take 4 minutes or more per each frame with 1000 samples and the GPU don’t help much, kinda slow too and only render one tile at the time.

    • nastys

      4 minutes with 1000 samples are not bad on an i3… My GTX 650 is slightly slower than my i7-3770 using their optimal tile sizes.

      • Leor

        It could be better. I tested other render engines that do the job in seconds and the end result is similar.