For 3D modeling, it really helps to get a computer that's powerful enough to model complex scenes and render fast, definitely something better than one that is build to handle digital painting or graphic design.
In addition to the points mentioned in the article linked above, below are the specifications I look for specifically when getting a new computer specifically for 3D modeling. You can use the information below to build your own system, or get a pre-build desktop or laptop. There will be a list of my recommended systems below as well that you can use as a starting point when looking for your ideal system.
You'll need a graphics card that's capable of displaying complex scenes. An ideal graphics card should have a fast processor and enough memory. The processor will translate data into the things you see on screen, e.g. get the data from a Maya file and display the 3D models, scenes and assets on screen. The (temporary) memory stores all the models you see in the file. If the scene is very complex with lots of polygons, then it's going to use more memory. When it runs out of memory, the system will start to lag when you rotate the model in 3D space.
Here are the pages for the specifications as recommended by Autodesk for Maya, 3ds Max and AutoCAD. By the way, Zbrush is CPU-based software, so you don't need a top of the line 3D graphics card for that.
Another important point to note are the ports available from the graphics card. Nowadays most graphics card have DVI and HDMI ports. MiniDisplay ports are also becoming more common.
It's only recently that Autodesk has improved on the design of Maya and 3ds Max to use multi-core processors more efficiently. E.g. Maya 2016 added the parallel rig feature that enables you to use CPU and GPU for playbacks. But generally speaking, some of these 3D software are still not taking full advantage of all the cores available. E.g. If you want to multi-cores, it's best to set up multiple virtual machines, such as with 3ds Max. I've tested the latest Maya 2016 and it's now finally able to use multi-core and rendering with multi-core is just MANY TIMES FASTER! AutoCAD is worst because it's a single-threaded application, meaning if you're using 100% on a one-core machine, it will use only 50% of each core on a two-core machine (making a total 100%).
Even though the 3D software don't use multi-core effectively, I would still recommend you get at least a quad core, and one with relatively fast clock speed. Reason is your operating system will also use the processor. With more processors, the load will be shared between the OS, 3D software and other apps that you're using. Having a processor will help you render faster. So even though the 3D software may not use all cores, at least it can still render fast if you have a fast processor.
Personally, I feel that it's better to get less cores (at least 4) at higher clock speed, than more cores at lower clock speed.
8GB is the minimum I would get nowadays. If you're not short of budget, get 16GB. More memory will enable you to open and work on many applications at the same time without lag.
To save money, you can get the traditional, slower but spacious hard drives that run at 7200RPM. At the time of this writing, 6TB hard drives are selling. If you want a speedier drive, go for the more expensive SSD but you would have to live with smaller capacity. The ideal system would be one that has both SSD and hard drive. You can install OS and applications on the SSD to take advantage of the speed so that your system and applications can launch fast, and files can save fast.
Most monitors in the market now support 1920 by 1080 resolution and that's the minimum I would go for working with 3D software. I love having a large viewing space and still have space for the many control interface. I would choose a monitor with 1920 by 1200 resolution. You can check out this list for monitors that support 1920 by 1200 resolution.
If you can afford it, I highly recommend a monitor that supports 2560 by 1440 resolution. A higher resolution screen improves productivity significantly. Monitors that fit the criteria are the Dell U2715H, UP2716D and U3014. They are all good. I've use various Dell monitors over a decade.
I would advise against getting a 4K or even 5K monitor because the Maya interface is not optimized for such high resolution, and it will make the control panels and buttons tiny to see and click.
If the main application is Maya, you would greatly benefit from going the Xeon/Quadro route.
There are too many different configurations for listing so I've put only the main product line. You can visit the link to explore all the different configurations.
- Dell T7810 - 6-core 2.4Ghz, 16GB RAM, 1TB HDD, NVIDIA Quadro K4200 - (for Maya)
- HP Z1 G2 with NVIDIA quadro - (for Maya)
- HP Z840 (graphics card not included) - (for Maya, 3ds Max)
- Boxx systems - (for Maya)
Personally, I would go for the HP Z840 where I can get to choose my own graphics card. The base system is powerful enough and because it's a desktop, you can easily add additional storage and RAM. If you need SSD, Crucial M500 are priced competitively and reliable
- HP Zbook 15-inch - (for Maya, 3ds Max)
- HP Zbook 17-inch - (for Maya, 3ds Max)
- Latest ZBook models here (avoid those without the Quadro graphics card)
- Lenovo W540 - (for 3ds Max)
- Lenovo W541 - (for 3ds Max)
- Dell M6800 (for 3ds Max)
- Dell Precision 5510 (I've tested it with Maya)
These laptops all have good specificaitons. Of them, I've only used the Dell Precision 5510 and it's just slightly slower compared to my 2013 quad-core Mac Pro. That's really impressive when you're comparing a desktop to laptop.
What about a Mac system?
The most powerful system from the Mac would be their late 2013 Mac Pro systems that can go up to 12-cores. But unfortunately, I've read of complaints with regards to glitches and support problems on forums that it's probably not worth recommending Mac for running Maya. However, I did not really see any problems with running Maya 2016 on my 2016 Mac Pro.
A lot of other 3D software, tools, plugins are available on the Windows. It will be easier to share assets. For example, transferring objects from Mudbox to Maya is easier on Windows.
And for goodness sake, get an external drive to backup your files. An external hard drive like Western Digital My Passport is affordable and worth it for the peace of mind.
Share your system configuration
If you have recently bought a system for 3D work, share your system specifications with other readers here. It's always helpful to see what others are using, especially when it comes to building a specific rig for 3D work.