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Choosing the Right Type of Computer
Laptop Computers for 3D graphics
Laptop computers are not a very good form factor when trying to make 3D, because of the screen size, battery life and the inadequate ventilation for long term heat dissipation during 3D renderings. Additionally, the form factor will make it much more expensive in the performance-to-price ratio because of the miniaturization, and you may find it difficult to upgrade it later on.
You may however use a laptop to supplement your main computer, for the portability of working on the couche or to present your work outside. In that case, your main renderings and data storage will still rely on a desktop computer, so you can reduce the cost of the extra laptop. It is entirely optionnal for most users, but it may come in handy, to show your work during an interview or to make a presentation to a group on a projector.
If you really have no alternative than buying a laptop, then please take great care in the following guidelines. First of all, it needs to have a screen of at least 15 inches and a dedicated graphics card (not integrated in the CPU). Secondly, it needs to have a quad-core CPU of at least 2.4Ghz, and a minimum of 16 Gb of RAM. You will also need a separate (bluetooth) mouse, not a trackpad, and ideally a connectable second monitor. An SSD is also ideal, to maximize your boot speed, but you'll need at least 512Gb and a bigger external Hard drive for your Data. You can expect to pay between 1500$ and 2000$ for the full kit, for a laptop that you will be happy with.
We have taken the time to make you a pre-selection filter for laptops that would be good for 3D computing on newegg.com.
Desktop Computers for 3D graphics
Desktop towers are definitely, and without a doubt, the way to go for good performance and best prices. It is also the only form factor that allows adequate air cooling during 3D renderings, aside from dedicated render blades. It also allows for a certain margin for upgrades, later in time, to prolong it's useful life.
Why build your own desktop computer?
You can only build a desktop computer by yourself, because laptops are always custom assembled in factory and cannot be built from scratch. In fact, buying pre-made computer systems such macs, but also laptops, or even PCs such as HP, Dell, Asus or Alienware, also mean an extra cost. This cost may be directly on the bill, but it could also be hidden inside some cheaper quality parts, in reduced performances or reduced longevity for your system. In the end, this means that you will have to end up paying the cost of labor and profit for those companies anyways, unless you build your own computer.
Buying a pre-made computer is certainly more simple, but the performance gain from selecting exactly the parts with the specifications you need, is definitely worth it. If you're a computer enthusiast, you can also get the satisfaction of assembling it yourself and being able to know what to improve with time. Otherwise, you can still benefit from buying separate parts, and having it assembled by a local professional for a small fee. This way you get all the price benefits, without the trouble of building it.
In fact, we recommend neither a mac, nor a laptop, but instead a desktop that you build yourself. This way, you can choose which components you need wisely what you need and get great performance a the most affordable price.
To help you out, have a look at our guide on building the best computer for 3D graphics.
Choosing the Right Operating System
Another possibility is to make your choice in computers based on the Operating System (OS). Regardless of these considerations, we recommend that you choose the platform that you like the best (windows, linux or mac) and that you are most comfortable with. All of them will allow you to create 3D content equally, but maybe with different software options and Maya is available on all 3 platforms.
What you get with Mac is ease-of-use and customer support, which is certainly a consideration to think about with great care working with a computer isn't second nature. In the worse case, you can always install the Windows operating system on your mac and dual boot from it (beware it is more buggy than native), if there are specific windows software you need down the line. PC, on the other hand, will allow you to make good use of a very large range of free softwares, and more affordable components & peripherals. Additionally, your PC computer will last you longer, as you will be able to upgrade outdated components more easily with time and the OS will not force you to retire your computer sooner than necessary.
Using a Mac for 3D graphics
Apple's Macintosh are great! Apple makes great products with a convivial user interface (UI), good customer support and innovative designs. However, you will pay a premium for this, as well as the brand, which, in the end, makes it costlier than its equivalent parts assembled into a Windows PC. However, you can also use the windows environment (OS) on macs, but there are a few drawbacks in performance and bugs. You will also have to change your default mouse to a three button, non touch one.
For 3D artists, Macs are a good idea only for people who really have no clue about computers, when technical problems arise. This is however not the case of most 3D artists, which are usually relatively technically oriented. Indeed, problem-solving on a technical level is a big part of any 3D job already. If you're always having to ask someone else to fix your computer issues, Macs are a good solution for you. It comes with an integrated and universal operating system in a controlled ecosystem of hardware components and peripherals, to make everything runs much more smoothly and mostly problem-free.
One of the problems with macs is that 3D softwares are not always optimized for them. Also, their designs, like the imac, are often unsuited for heavy long term renderings, because of inadequate ventilation. This will not always be apparent instantlym, but will reduce the lifespace of your invesment. The only real alternative on apple is the mac pro, which is a standard computer tower with nice ventilation, but with a hefty pricetag too.
Using a PC for 3D graphics
A PC (or personnal computer), on the other hand, can run Windows or Linux, which are both good options for using 3D softwares. If you are able to deal with the windows environment and it's inherent flaws or Linux's more obscure setup procedures, you will be able to maximize your investment a lot more than previous options. This is what we recommend for the best price-to-performance ratio. You will find that the components you really need for 3D rendering (mainly the CPU and GPU) can be found in a much wider range of prices, and clock-for-clock more affordably.
Additionally, increasing the quality of those components doesn't necessarily require to upgrade the whole package, as is the case in most macs. This is also true, on a smaller degree, for all pre-made systems such as hp, dell, acer or alienware computer bundles, that also sell PC. In those cases, you have to check the specs carefully to determine if its a bargain or not. The ideal price-to-performance ratio comes when you select your components individually and then build it yourself. This is exacly why we have created this guide on selecting your optimal components for 3D.
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