Building Your Own Houdini Workstation

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It finally happened – here is the long feared hardware episode you’ve not been waiting for! As Mo recently started freelancing, he decided he’d need a new computer. Also he decided to build it himself. Enjoy the resulting chaos.

A word of warning – if you decide to build a PC yourself you do so at your own risk.


So I’m freelance again. And get asked to bring my own workstation to clients more frequently. However I’m a bit hesitant to schlepp my dear Entagma-computer out to clients. So instead I opted to build a second, newer machine. These were the main things I expected from it:
– should be able to fit 4 GPUs
– at least 64GB RAM
– decent CPU speed for sims / general Houdini madness
– m2 SSD for quick caching/ fast boot
– power supply with ample headroom for power hungry hardware
– no liquid cooling shenanigans

Hardware choices

External DVD:
OS: Win 10 Pro 64Bit

I went mostly with components I’d built machines out of previously. Also I was trying to hit something like an optimal price/performance ratio. While during the past years Intel seemed to have an edge ove AMD when it came to multithreading performance, AMD seems to finally have caught up with their new Threadrippers (19xx and second gen 29xx) at a very attractive price point. So I opted for an AMD CPU and mainboard here. Went with the 1920x as it was only 90€ more expensive than the slower 1900x yet reasonably priced in order to not cause bad headaches should I decide to upgrade to a 2950x in the future.

The mainboard I chose was mainly based on its mechanical layout. Four PCIe x16 sots spaced apart two slots can accommodate four full grown GPUs – just what I wanted. It’s got 8 RAM slots which when fitted with 16GB memory modules can be filled to 128GB of RAM. For now I filled half of them totalling 64GB of RAM. (Threadrippers can be picky when it comes to RAM modules. I went with modules which I knew worked.) The only annoying thing are the very colorful (and bright!) LEDs scattered all over the board. But that’s not so much an issue if you’ve got a case without windows.

The case is a Fractal Design Define XL R2 – nothing too fancy, no windows, no excessive LEDs no glaring colors. Just about the most subtle case you can get. I’ve worked with this case before too. It fits four GPUs, lots of cables and some hybrid coolers (if you’re into them) pretty nicely. Also it comes with enough case fans pre-installed. It fits a big CPU cooler well too.

Keeping the CPU cool is a job for the 140mm Noctua cooler. I dislike liquid cooling for most cases. It adds complexity, weight and cost. A decently sized air cooler can keep your components cool without blowing your eardrums too. I like hybrid cooled GPUs thoug – when you stack 4 graphics cards directly on top of each other it makes sense to remove the heat through some sort of tubing.

Hard disk wise I opted for a 1TB m2 SSD which in theory should be a bit quicker than your plain vanilla SATA SSD. Which is nice for caching and quickly booting.

For the power supply I decided to get something hefty – just to be sure that I’ll be able to upgrade to increasingly powerful (and power hungry) GPUs. I found the Enermax Platimax 1700W to fit my specs nicely. Not sure though if it’s available outside of Europe.

Add an external DVD drive and a copy of Win10 Pro and you’ve got all parts needed to start building…

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