Whether you’re sculpting in Mudbox, animating characters in Maya, whipping up pre-visualisations in 3ds Max or drafting like billy-o in AutoCAD LT, some of the basics of what makes a good Autodesk workstation stay the same (stock up on RAM and pack in as many cores as possible), but with so many different software suites and qualified components out there, it can be difficult to work out which workstation is best for you. To help make things easier, here are our top tips for choosing Mac and PC workstations for your Autodesk software of choice…
For AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT for Mac users
We have good news: virtually any Mac will run AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT, from the beefiest of Mac Pros (ideal for handling big models quickly) to the smallest Mac mini (great for setting up freelancers with temporary desks, or if you want to take your setup with you to meet a client, as it’ll plug into any keyboard and display).
We know that a lot of users are sticking to their ageing Mac Pros in order to keep using NVIDIA Quadro 4000 or Quadro K5000 cards due to their higher fidelity, but the latest models have a huge amount to offer. With powerful 12-core CPUs on offer, the latest Mac Pro can help you create and navigate simulations far faster. The fact that the usual lumbering hard drive has been replaced by a fast, agile SSD means you’ll also be able to work with huge models far more efficiently.
If you’re really itching to customise your workstation, we’ll say it again: you can never have enough RAM. Get in touch with our team to find out how easy it is to pack your Mac with some extra memory.
For 3ds Max users
If you’re working in a field like games development, odds are you’re using 3ds Max or a 3ds Max-based Entertainment Creation Suite (if you’re not, you might want to drop us a line…). You’ll want plenty of processing power, so we’d recommend opting for a 16-core HP Z820 for maximum responsiveness, although a high-spec Z620 will do the trick if you’re budget-conscious. While the new Mac Pros look promising, we’re still waiting for Autodesk to qualify a configuration, so if you need an interim Mac workstation go for a 27” Quad-core i7 3.4Ghz iMac with at least 8GB of RAM – preferably more.
If you invested in iMac before the latest Mac Pro was announced and are wincing at the cost of replacing them, remember that you can use the iMac screen as a second display and harness the internals as part of your rendering setup, meaning that artists can continue working on their Mac Pro while their iMac takes care of rendering work, rather than sitting and watching the progress bar.
When it comes to graphics, you need to bear in mind that Autodesk recently rewrote 3ds Max’s viewport engine, moving it over to DirectX from OpenGL. This means you’ll get faster performance for your money using gaming cards than you will using traditionally professional cards – which is great news for your wallet, and means you can design your work on the same card your end user will be playing it on.
One good choice for working with Autodesk software is NVIDIA’s 6GB GeForce GTX Titan, as it has the kind of stamina you usually only see in pro cards and so is least likely to melt under constant use. However, it’s not qualified yet and is also pretty expensive, so you might want to opt for Autodesk’s qualified card, the lower-spec 4GB GeForce GTX 680, which delivers a surprising amount of power for such an affordable card.
For Maya and Mudbox
For areas like graphics or post-production work, we’d typically recommend Autodesk Maya or a Maya-centric Entertainment Creation Suite (Autodesk’s Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate gets you Maya, 3ds Max, Motionbuilder, Mudbox, Softimage and Sketchbook Designer, so it’s a good option if you want to make sure you’re covered for every eventuality). The main difference between Maya and an application like 3ds Max is that you really need a NVIDIA Quadro card to get the best possible graphics performance. The Quadro drivers are optimised for Maya, and going for something like the ultra-powerful Quadro K5000 or the K2000 if you’re kitting out an assist station will give you the smoothest, most accurate viewport performance.
While we’re still waiting to hear how Autodesk plan to handle the dual GPU potential of the 2013 Mac Pro, if you need a Mac in an interim then your only real option is the top spec 3.4GHz i7 iMac, with 8 or 16GB of RAM depending on the size of project you think you’ll need to handle (this can always be repurposed as a combined second display and a render node if you decide to upgrade to a Mac Pro further down the line). For PC workstations, we’d recommend going no lower than an HP Z620 (ideally a Z820) with as many cores and as much RAM as you can pack in, as both will help you complete projects in the fastest possible time.