Welcome to our ‘Student Budget Build 2020’ guide for 3D modelling/rendering! Are you a student who’s looking to build a PC for 3D modelling/rendering? Well, you have come to the right place! Let’s take a look at building a great 3D modelling PC on a student budget.
If Only You Could Render Real Money…
It would make your student life a whole lot easier, right?!
To be honest, 3D Modelling and rendering has always been a tough ask for budget systems. The thing with a lot of these applications, as is proven in the massive Hollywood render farms, is you can just keep throwing power at these things and your results will just keep getting better (faster renders, more complex operations, etc).
However, what we’re looking for is a balance of performance and cost. So, let’s get into some key specifications to look out for when looking to build a system for the likes of Autodesk 3DS Max, Maxon Cinema 4D, ZBrush, and Blender.
CPU: Going back a number of years, CPU performance used to be far more critical for 3D design than it is now. The good news here is, outside of having a CPU able to just basically run your OS and software, it’s no longer really used for rendering. This changes, however, as you go up drastically in core count, or if you’re doing heavy simulation. What do I mean by that? Well, during the CG composition work on Terminator: Dark Fate, Blur Studios utilised Ryzen Threadripper CPUs for the computation work. However, as we don’t have thousands to spend on a CPU, we’re going with a different approach.
GPU: This is where the vast proportion of your budget is going to go. We’re going to be taking advantage of CUDA based workflows to handle our complex work as much as possible. This has become much more of a standard and, crucially, with CUDA you don’t need things like NVLink to add in more power. You can just dump in another GPU to add the CUDA cores to the work.
RAM: Like the CPU, we’re not going to be dumping too much into the RAM. The GPU will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, so the only ideal here is to have fast RAM so we can move things from long-term storage into the RAM and then the GPU (and back) quickly. What you’ll tend to find is, if you’re working on a single scene, your RAM requirements will start to increase as you add in more elements, then it’s dumped once the GPU starts to render out.
STORAGE: Lots, and fast. When you’re rendering out a scene, each frame is massive. It’s only when you compile the frames in something like Premiere Pro that the end result starts to get smaller; but throwing all these files around quickly results in needing big, fast drives to keep up.
IMPORTANT: What you need to keep in mind is whether you are doing CPU/software or GPU/hardware rendering. For budget reasons, we are strongly recommending GPU rendering. Yet, as you go up in budget, you’ll find a lot of systems can utilise extremely high core counts to do some impressive CPU rendering.
So, with that super-brief explanation of what we’re looking for, let’s take a look at the builds!
BUILD 1: Very Low Budget Build
We’re going with 2 builds here only because the “ideal” low budget for a rendering build is still around $1000 (see build 2 below). Yet we’re very much aware that this isn’t ideal in any way, shape, or form on a tight student budget. Therefore, if you want to make some additional savings and still have a worthwhile beginner rendering PC, this first build is the way to go.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2600
A completely unlocked 6-core/12-thread CPU with an included cooler. You can’t really go wrong here.
We’re going with some decently fast RAM, which isn’t super expensive.
Just about the best option for the number of CUDA cores relative to its price. Card is capable of gaming too, if you want to do something outside of studying…
Storage 1: ADATA SU635 240GB
A decent SSD without breaking the bank. Use this as a boot drive for the OS, as well as the drive to install your software on.
Storage 2: Western Digital 750GB HDD
A very inexpensive HDD to act as storage for your files.
Motherboard: ASRock B450M PRO4
A nice smaller-format motherboard with plenty of connectivity for the price, and options for upgrading further down the line.
Power Supply: Thermaltake Smart 430W
One of the advantages of the smaller GPU and system overall is we don’t need as big a PSU to supply power to the whole setup. This no-frills 430W PSU from Thermaltake does the job nicely.
Case: DEEPCOOL MATREXX 30
Although visually it’s nothing to write home about (outside of the glass side panel), it does the job of being something we can pop the build inside. The internal layout is simple enough to work with, and the airflow is decent too.
Total 2020 ‘Very Low Budget’ Student Rendering Build Cost: $698
This is the result of trying to squeeze every penny out of the build that isn’t needed. The first things to upgrade here would be the storage and GPU, both of which you’ll see in the build below. The CPU and motherboard are actually pretty decent, and can’t really be sniffed at for the price. But if this is something you’re looking at as a career after university, don’t be surprised if you find yourself upgrading/switching those parts too.
That being said, it’s a $700 PC. It has more power where we need it when compared to the standard builds on our main page, and there’s still plenty of room to grow with this build over time.
BUILD 2: “Ideal” Low Budget Build
This second build is what you can do if you stretch your budget a bit further to get some very welcome upgrades on the setup. The main focus here is improved single-core performance, a jump in GPU horsepower in the form of more CUDA cores, and more (and faster) storage.
Let’s take a look at the build.
CPU: Intel i5-9600K
Yep, it’s a previous-generation Intel CPU. So, the main reason for this is that you can comfortably overclock this CPU to 5GHz. Thus, although this is still “only” a 6-core CPU, we’re getting a very-high-clock-speed CPU for under $200.
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U9S
Although this isn’t the nicest looking thing in the world, being a big ol’ slab of metal and brown, this is a tried and tested cooler design from Noctua. It’s highly rated, and should be excellent at keeping a CPU cool.
The same RAM as the build above. It’s worth noting that the motherboard (see below) does list RAM on its qualified vendor list up to 4266MHz; so, if you want to tinker with this RAM to try and get more out of it over its standard profile, you probably can. The one thing to keep in mind is that RAM like this isn’t as harshly and broadly tested by the manufacturers as the larger established brands, so be patient if you’re going down that tinkering route!
So, there’s a lot of back and forth for the money at this level, yet the RTX cards allow us ray tracing capabilities (which are starting to be utilised in more render applications). However, the main difference here is the jump in CUDA cores. With the RTX 2060 you get 1920 CUDA Cores, which is a noticeable jump up from the GTX 1660 Ti (which has 1536).
Storage 1: Team Group GX2 2.5″ 512GB SATA SSD
This will act as a boot drive for the OS and a software drive; it’s a bargain SSD from Team Group, which has some very rapid speeds for a SATA drive.
Storage 2: Patriot VPN100 M.2 256GB
For our “work” drive, we have the very fast M.2 drive from Patriot. Having the large cooling solution on the drive has allowed Patriot to push this drive to the limits of PCIe 3 standards, giving you a great drive for a budget price.
Storage 3: Seagate BarraCuda 2TB
Acting as the main longterm storage drive is the ever-reliable and cheap 2TB HDD from Seagate.
Motherboard: ASUS Prime Z390-P
So, we have a LOT of connectivity options here for drives both internally and externally. Although we won’t be using it all today, this gives plenty of upgrade options going forwards.
Power Supply: Thermaltake TR2 TR-600 600W
Although this is a non-modular PSU, this 600W unit from Thermaltake does the job for this build.
Case: Cougar MX330-X
Although perhaps not the prettiest case in the world, this is very functional. It has a PSU shroud, good internal design both for cooling and build space, and has a nice front I/O kit. It does everything we need it to do!
Total 2020 ‘Ideal Low Budget’ Student Rendering Build Cost: $1040
So, what are we getting for the extra $340? Well, it’s essentially what we set out for! Although we don’t increase our core count, we’re taking advantage of the CPU being able to be comfortably overclocked to 5GHz to give us the single-core performance increase we need. On top of that, we’re going for a beefier GPU with a very noticeable jump in CUDA cores and access to ray tracing capabilities from the RTX line.
All told, this is a seriously solid setup for the price, and would set up any student modeller or renderer for success.
Go Forth and Build!
Now, before you go buying parts for one of our student budget build systems, there’s a few extras that you need to be aware of:
- A copy of Windows. If you are a student or work for a big business, you might be able to get a copy for free or at a significantly lower cost. If not, we recommend Windows 10 on disc ($90) or USB ($120).
- An optical drive—critical if you are wanting to install Windows 10 via disc. Good thing here is DVD-RW drives are cheap these days (here’s one for $21).
We also have general recommendations for:
If you want to see other builds with higher performance, check out the main page at Logical Increments.
There you have it—two student budget build PCs for 3D modelling/rendering!
If you have any questions or suggestions about this build, then let us know in the comments.