2014 Graphics Card
When I purchased my 2013 desktop computer, I assessed that the Intel HD Graphics 4600 in the 4th generation Haswell CPU is sufficient for my non-gaming needs. However, to leave open the option to add a graphics card, I chose a motherboard with a PCIe x16 slot.
I recently began learning about 3D Design and Modelling software. The on-chip integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600 continues to be sufficient for displaying 3D models, however, the 3D rendering process is a compute-intensive operation which can be made faster through the use of a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) for algorithmic calculations.
The scene in my Dream Beach House takes about 20 minutes to render on an i3-4340 3.6MHz CPU or an E3-1200 3.1Mhz CPU. The i3-4340 has 2 cores with 2 threads each while the E3-1200 has 4 cores with 1 thread each. With compute-intensive operations such as 3D rendering, all 4 threads in the system are used. Due to Intel hyper-threading architectural differences, the E3-1200 completes the rendering in slightly less time than the i3-4340 even though the latter has a faster clock rate. In single-thread operation (e.g. in typical desktop computer usage), the i3-4340 completes tasks faster due to its higher clock rate.
CPU rendering an animation sequence takes even longer. My Newton's Cradle takes 30 minutes to render a 41-frame video sequence - that's 1.7 seconds of video at 24 fps. There are a number of such sequences in the final video. GPU rendering is faster but it comes at a price.
In the following Nvidia video, rendering is shown with different GPU options. The Nvidia Iray VCA (Visual Computing Appliance) was priced at $50,000 when the product was announced in March/2014. The fastest option produces near real-time rendering using 16 VCAs at a price of $800,000.
I chose the Asus Strix GTX 970 graphics card. I again took my business to Memory Express. They have reduced their price beat policy to 10% of the difference (down from 25% in 2013). With a price beat applied and before shipping and taxes, I got it for $389 CAD.
The GTX 970 rendering time is between 5.5 and 7.5 times faster than CPU rendering, depending on the particulars of the 3D design. The Dream Beach House takes 3 minutes to render on the GTX 970 GPU (versus 20 minutes CPU rendering). The Newton's Cradle video segment takes 3.8 minutes on the GTX 970 (versus 30 minutes CPU rendering).
See 3D Rendering on GPU for my experience with overclocking the Asus Strix GTX 970 for 3D rendering purposes.
See my history with personal computers.