Best Computer for running Cheif


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I want to buy a new computer to run Chief X6, I want enough power to run the program but I don't want to go broke doing it.  Any recommendations on CPU memory and video card and brand as well/ I have a Dell XPS and I like it need more power.




Dell XPS 8700

Intel Core i7 CPU 870 @ 2.93 Ghz.


64 bit OS


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Vinnie- I was in your boat last year.  I stumbled across "Tom's Hardware Forum", if you're comfortable ordering/assembling the system on your own, you can't beat this of all IT"S FREE!!!


All you need to do is go to the Hardware>Systems section, enter the system requirements for CA, and tell them you want a system that will run this program with ease.  Not long after that, one of their great guys will get back to you with a complete breakdown of what you need, where to get it, and how much it will cost (and they take pride in making sure they find you the best deal at the time).


I'll say, I was shocked after finding such a valuable resource, just not much like it out there today.  Even the gentleman that handled my computer was readily available for any questions I had throughout the assemble process and beyond.


Check it out, you can't go wrong!

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It's good to know what your going to do with Chief. Will you RayTrace a lot? Get the fastest CPU you can afford.


3D rendering? Get the fastest gaming video card you can afford.


Other than that get a reasonable amount of memory, 16 gb should do it, and a reasonably fast hard drive, 1 tb should be large enough. A large enough power supply to run all your stuff and you're off to the races.


I started off with pretty small models but got bigger and bigger jobs and needed to upgrade to make working in Chief easier/faster. Buy as much as you can afford with the CPU and video card your main focus.

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1) Get as many cores in the CPU(s) as you can afford, faster is better.

2) Get the fastest video card you can afford.

3) Get the fastest memory that the system can support.

4) Get a fast hard drive. SSDs are a good option.

5) Get a decent amount of memory. 8GB is probably good, more isn't all that expensive.


I also recommend taking the smart economic choice of buying new hardware every 2 years. Set yourself a budget, say $1000 a year and buy a $2000 computer every 2 years. This will keep you ahead of the curve on average since a $4000 computer today is probably going to be outperformed by a $2000 computer in 2 years. You can change the numbers and frequency to your liking but generally speaking systems at $1000 with reasonable component picks are decent for Chief. Spending twice as much won't get you twice the performance.

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Vinnie- I was in your boat last year.  I stumbled across "Tom's Hardware Forum", if you're comfortable ordering/assembling the system on your own, you can't beat this of all IT"S FREE!!!


All you need to do is go to the Hardware>Systems section, enter the system requirements for CA, and tell them you want a system that will run this program with ease.  Not long after that, one of their great guys will get back to you with a complete breakdown of what you need, where to get it, and how much it will cost (and they take pride in making sure they find you the best deal at the time).


I'll say, I was shocked after finding such a valuable resource, just not much like it out there today.  Even the gentleman that handled my computer was readily available for any questions I had throughout the assemble process and beyond.


Check it out, you can't go wrong!


BTW- I spent $604 bucks in Jan '12 for the system I am currently using, and it still runs CA without breaking a sweat!


I can only imagine what's available 2 years later...

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  • 6 months later...

I recently assisted a CA x6 user with a computer upgrade in order to address performance issues in CA.  I reviewed all the recommendations here and in other online forums where CA is discussed. The advice I read is pretty universal: get the fastest processor you can afford; get as much memory as you can; get a fast video card; RayTrace is a monster.

At a very high level, here's the system we're using. It was originally bought and configured with CA use in mind.

  • Dell XPS 9100, purchased 12/2010. Windows 7, 64-bit. A beefy, high-performance machine in its day, but almost four years old.
  • Quad-core Intel i7-930 @ 2.8 Ghz; 12GB RAM @ 1333Mhz
  • 64-bit ATI video card with 1GB DDR3 vRAM
  • two 750GB hard drives configured in hardware-based RAID1 (5400 RPM, 8MB cache, SATA II). More on RAID below.

In addition to seeing early evidence of a hard disk failing, the user experienced performance issues that are common in this CA thread:

  • RayTrace could take 20 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the size/complexity of the plan
  • Computer would become useless to do anything else while RayTrace or other complex CA operations were queued or executing (mouse/keyboard became unresponsive, video displayed ghosting/artifacts when the CPU finally got around to UI rendering)
  • CPU would flatline @ 100% across all 8 cores and stay there
  • Memory utilization would go to 11.9GB (near 100%)and stay there
  • Pagefile reads, writes, and page faults were constant, indicating that swap space was being heavily used. There's also a huge performance penalty paid for pagefile activity when the drives are slow. RAM can mitigate pagefile activity, but only until memory is all allocated

Although this computer is almost 4 years old, the i7 is still a relatively fast processor. The power supply is robust (525W), and the motherboard supports up to 24GB RAM in 6 slots, as well as hardware-based RAID1. A new computer could come with a faster i7, faster memory, and a fresh warranty, but performance improvements would be incremental and wouldn't be as dramatic as--for example-- jumping from an i3 to an i7, or from 4GB RAM 24GB. So we considered several upgrade options:

1. upgrade to i7-980 six-core processor @ 3.33Ghz (faster, 12 cores instead of 8, more CPU cache) ~$350 used

2. replace video card with GeForce GTX 750 Ti PCI-E video card (128-bit, 2GB DDR5 vRAM ) $169 new

3. upgrade from 12GB to 24 GB RAM ($350-400 new)

4. Samsung 840 Pro SSD (512GB) $343 new

5. two 2TB SATA III Hard Drives (7200RPM, Enterprise Grade, 64MB cache) $179 total

We decided to upgrade rather than buy a new computer just to get more cores and faster memory. We chose only the video card and the SSD options.

The GeForce video card was a modest upgrade-- this is a mid-grade gaming card pulling about 200W. It occupies two card slots on your motherboard. I monitored before/after performance with the new video card and saw lower overall CPU utilization for the same task-- evidence of effectively offloading complex rendering tasks to the graphics processing card. I also noticed that the Dell's internal fans no longer kicked into high speed when graphics-intensive tasks were called and executed. There are definitely much faster video cards available, but they would draw more power and require a power supply upgrade to have the right connector for the extra power draw. The card we chose was significantly faster, with twice the bandwidth and memory, much faster graphics chip with faster memory. Video performance was incrementally better, but it was not a "Wow!"

From a performance perspective however, the SSD's impact was unmistakable and clear. You notice the SSD all the time: when you power up and your OS fully loads in 20 seconds instead of 45; when you load a monster app like CA x6;  when you load any application subsequently. Adding the SSD was also like adding 18GB - 34GB RAM to the system via the pagefile. And instead of the pagefile being dependent on the speed of HD and the size of the HD's cache, you're reading and writing to/from the SSD pagefile at the speed of your SATA connection.. It's remarkable.

As an aside, I've been an SSD user for years, and have owned and used several brands including Kingston, Crucial, OCX, and Samsung. Samsung SSD has outstanding price/performance. For reference: the EVO is their price leader; the 840 is their mid-line product; and the Pro is the one you want.

The Pro also comes with software that will optimze it for performance, optimize it for capacity, or balance the two.  Selecting optimal performance will automatically adjust a handful of system parameters (pagefile, hiberfile, read/write caching and buffering, etc) so you don't need to be an expert to get the most boost from the SSD.

The upgrade has resulted in a computer that still takes 21 minutes to perform all four passes of the most complex RayTrace we can throw at it, but now the computer remains fully functional while RayTrace is active.  And you can continue to open other applications-- including hogs like iTunes or Outlook--  while RayTrace is running, and there is no visible impact on performance. The display doesn't ghost or create visual artifacts while RayTrace is executing like before, and the mousing is accurate and responsive. RayTrace still buries all 8 CPU cores--briefly--  and physical memory still gets maxxed out @11.9GB, but CPU and memory utilization gradually decline as the queued task is executed.

Bottom line: the video card and SSD together cost about $500.  If you shop hard, the Samsung 840 Pro SSD has dropped to about $300 for 512GB as the 850 Pro has been released. Expect to pay at least $100 more for the 850 Pro/512GB.

The hard drive upgrade ($179) was essential because of the disk errors that were reported by the controller bios at boot time. If you're not familiar with Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, RAID is a technique to write data to more than one hard drive, protecting data by the redundant writes. There are tons of RAID levels out there, but for consumers, a hardware-based RAID1-- also known as "disk mirroring"-- is a great, price-effective option. Under Windows, you could alternatively use Disk Manager to enable OS-controlled disk mirroring; this is both slower and less resilient than a hardware-based RAID1, but doesn't requre hard drives with identical capacity. That's another topic. Users who want to protect their data should consider RAID1 as a relatively inexpensive way to mitigate the risk of hard drive failures, and consider whether your next computer includes an embedded RAID controller as an option. Entry level computers and bargain computers won't have enough drive bays for multiple disks, and won't include a disk controller that supports RAID1. Mid-tier and "performace" machines will. Higher levels of RAID are for dedicated storage devices and servers.

All the essential internals of this upgrade-- the video card, SSD, and HDs-- could be transplanted to a newer computer if the motherboard failed, and all of these components would still be as viable and fast as comparable components in a new computer.

I'd be happy to get in the weeds regarding all the aspects of this upgrade. RayTrace is still a beast. More CPU cores and more memory would probably goose CA performance visibly. But given the tangible improvements we've made and their cost, my CA user is very satisfied. If you've got $300 to spend, I'd strongly consider SSD as the horse to ride.



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Sounds like a decent upgrade and you probably got the

most bang for your buck. The only thing you said that I

might take exception to is that your 525W power supply

is "robust". In today's environment I would want 750W

minimum and more likely 1000W. If you eventually want

to go to the real performers in the video card market you

will need a bigger power supply (as you noted) and you

will probably need a bigger case to pack all those goodies



I recently went for the brass ring and sprung for the GTX

780ti. The card is a physical monster. It is literally the size

of a foot long 2 x 6 and weighs in at 30 ounces! Imagine

that in your laptop. I could have fit it into my 8 year old

Antec case but I would have had to take the tin snips to

the drive bay frame to make it fit.



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The raytrace is really all about the setup . I do 3 to 5 minute RT's and they are pretty good but I really have never had to wait 21 min. if you have a lot of lights on it does take forever. What I do is turn off all the lights and use light sources in each room as needed. Its all in the setup.

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Thanks for that great write up Steve. Very clear and informative. Didn't know there would be relationship between a faster GPU and better performance during RT's - makes sense just didn't connect the two.


I've been tempted by an SSD card but my system is pretty fast overall. As you see in my specs it's a pretty capable system but still nothing mind blowing about the speed. I had an older i7 and this is probably twice as fast but even twice as fast is not really 'fast' to me. When the models get large even 2 Xeon processors slow down.


Raytracing speed is all about the lights and set-up (and CPU of course) as Perry suggests. Trying doing a search and see if there's some setting changes that will help quicken your RT's unless you like a lot of lights in which case you will wait. I almost never use lights and brighten the spaces with the light editor in the RT window.

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Rich, Perry, Larry, all--


First, thanks for your replies and feedback. For the record, I'm not a CA user; I'm a frugal hardware geek-consultant, hellbent on squeezing performance out of computers. I've worked in IT professionally and independently, giving me a lot of opportunity to experiment with old and new hardware.  I'm certified on some enterprise server, desktop, laptop, and storage hardware, giving me confidence to take stuff apart and upgrade. I'm not an overclocker, I've never supercooled anything, or taken snips to outer skin to make something fit.  I like working on standard high volume hardware because it's what people and corporations buy and use.


I posted back to this forum because I consulted ChiefTalk, Tom's, Dell, and this topic extensively in considering the New Vs. Upgrade decision for my customer. All forums were great in pointing out not only performance-focused enhancements (e.g. memory, CPU cores), but also in providing tips for resource-intensive specific tasks (like RT). My CA user had followed some of the strategies mentioned-- e.g. breaking a plan down into smaller chunks/layers, turning off lights-- in order to compensate for the thrashing induced by RT and those other intensive tasks.  And the killer plan we chose-- a large multi-floored addition to an existing house--  was deliberately selected in order to make her computer work as hard as possible.  I needed tasks that would lend themselves to before/after analysis, time comparisons, performance inspection, and that would illustrate the kind of thrashing that CA can cause, worst-case.


I used Windows TaskManager and Resource Monitor extensively to trace not only activity by the CA executable itself, but also by the child processes (like RT) and threads that were spawned when the new tasks were invoked.  TaskMan and RM give you the ability to identify a process by name and ProcessID (PID), and to trace that PID through your system. Using RM, you can watch the PID as it causes CPUs to spike and max out, causes memory utilization to climb to near capacity, causes the pagefile to swap data in and out, and then begins generating page faults-- all linked to the PID.


It was surprising to see in Resource Monitor that only 9 threads were spawned by the mongo RT task. But within CA, it was even more surprising to not find any ways to modify resource allocation.  This would also be a nice enhancement to CA: a Wizard that analyzes a task or a series of tasks, and then offers performance tweaks or recommendations based on your computer's resources.  I'm sure there are embedded formulas or algorithms in CA that do this already, but I didn't see any parameter files that I could touch/view/modify. Even after the SSD upgrade, the number of threads spawned by CA and sub-processes didn't change. Maybe that number is hard-coded based on CPU speed, core count, and/or installed memory. Dunno-- if there are CA insiders out there who know, it would be interesting to know whether these parameters are hard-coded, table-based, dynamic, or tunable.


I wouldn't exclude a faster video card down the road, but my user doesn't do a lot of 3D rendering or other tasks that seem to tax her video resources. If it were my computer, I think the next purchase for this XPS 9100 would be the i7 upgrade or doubling the RAM. The existing 12GB RAM was a lot -- and expensive-- in 2010, but faster RAM is available now and the mobo supports 24GB. But the SSD pagefile mitigates the RAM issue. As for the upgrade to the Intel i7 980 processor: more cores, more horsepower-- and more onboard CPU cache!--  would definitely be noticeable.  Don't underestimate the performance impact of moving from a very early i7 to a more recent one if it offers a significant bump in both clockspeed AND L2/3 cache. CPU cache is king.


We did consider a workstation platform with multiple physical CPUs, but I've had bad luck with workstations overall: they tend to generate a lot more heat, to not last as long before internals wear out, and ECC memory is a lot more expensive than non-ECC. Hot rods can be nice to look at, but it can be expensive to rely on them as your everyday driver. Your mileage may vary, but the only multi-proc devices I've been happy with are servers. Maybe you can run CA on a Windows Server OS, but it's cost-prohibitive and not worth pursuing as an option in this case.


It you're on the fence about SSD, it's safe to come down and buy one. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy for any particular vendor, I'll point you to a link that I discovered after I purchased the SSD for this upgrade.  It confirms and conforms with my personal experience, brand by brand.  It's good reading, but you can jump directly to the conclusion, too.


If you've already got a muscle-box-- but not an SSD-- it's time. If you're constrained by price, consider getting a smaller capacity SSD for your boot drive and pagefile, and keep your data on less-expensive spinning drives. You won't be disappointed; more likely, you'll wish you had bought a bigger one, and done it sooner. I stand by my SSD brand recommendation in my previous post; it will be the smartest $340  you've ever spent on computing hardware.



Thanks again and HTH,



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Yep, there's a lot to like about SSD's. Why wouldn't

you want to replace an internal disk spinning at 5 to

10 thousand rpm with a drive that has no moving

parts? Think about that, no moving parts. Are you

kidding me, a fence post has no moving parts. A

rock has no moving parts. How the heck does a

highly sophistimacated doowhackey like a data

storage and retrieval device have no moving parts?


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I see the Samsung 840 Pro SSD for $300 and the 850 pro for $350.

Is it worth the $50 for the 850? (both 512)


I have an older box, 2011 vintage, see specs in attached pictures.

Seems to run OK except for Ray Trace but I don't do much of that yet.

So I guess the SSD will still be a good investment?



Thanks for your time & a great post!




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Knock wood, I haven't had any issues with the ATI although my Wife's computer has.

I bought Dell Refurbished & have been happy with them.


I may go the build your own route next time.


I see the 1 TB EVO is 450 & pro is 600+ 

Wow, that's quite a hit for Pro. My question is would you be better off with  512 Pro or a 1TB EVO?

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I was curious about those with SSD's. I'm just now checking the disk usage on my current 1 TB disk that has everything on it - OS, programs, data files. pics - everything and I've used only 160GB. This after a couple years of usage meaning at least to me I'll never need a 1TB disk for anything in the near future.


I've also read that a good strategy for an SSD is to put the OS and programs on it and data files on another disk. I'm thinking that means anything over 256 GB SSD would be overkill - for me and my usage at least.


Anyone follow a similar strategy? OS and programs on SSD and files on another disk? And if so why would you need a 512 or 1 TB SSD? Am I that stingy in my disk usage? Are you all using that much more disk space than I?


Thanks for any insight.

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This is generic advice regarding SSD choice. I really like my 840 Pro, but would strongly  consider the 850 Pro based on recent reviews. Here's one:

The 850 Pro appears to have even more bang than the 840 Pro, at a tempting price. Also, prices on the 840 Pro have fallen since the release of the 850 Pro-- my 840 Pro is down $54 to $289 in less than two months, which means I could've had an 850 Pro for almost the same cost.

In terms of capacity, I care about data protection as much as I care about performance/speed. Like my CA user, my own computers use RAID1 for data because I've had to pay for data recovery services before. A reputable data recovery service for a crashed hard drive is going to start at about $1500 and go up, depending on how much data is recovered. RAID1 is *such* an inexpensive way to protect your data, whether it's your designs and intellectual property, or your libraries, taxes, and kid videos. So the choice I've made and recommended many times-- for myself and my clients-- is to get a moderately sized SSD for boot, OS, and Programs, and to get two fast mechanical drives-- sometimes a third as a spare-- for RAID1 data storage.

If your machine supports a limited number of spindles/bays, factor that knowledge into your decision-- along with the age of your computer, the importance of your data, your budget, and whether you enjoy your computer, or tolerate it as a necessary tool. 

To that point, I hesitate to make additional recommendations because I don't know what your computer gets used for, what sorts of performance issues you experience, your budget for computing overall, your replacement plans, etc.  However I did review the specs on your computer and see some important differences between the XPS 9100 that I worked on and yours. Generically, these are things that I would consider. The XPS 8100 has

-- Smaller power supply (325W)
-- Earlier processor (i7 870)
-- Support for SATA II only
-- Two internal hard drive bays (Vs.4)

Based on your existing config, there aren't many upgrade options before the balance would tip in favor of a new computer. The i7 installed is the fastest model that the XPS 8100 supported, according to the Dell manual and specifications. A video card upgrade-- even a mid-tier card-- would be limited by your power supply and its connectors. PSU upgrade? Hmmm. Depending on your technical experience, you could see the upgrade as a cool challenge, or way too much. It's ultimately your call. The XPS 8100 is the final model in that form factor.

Even though your computer only supports SATA II, SSD is a solid, available upgrade that would extend the useful life of the XPS 8100. You will experience a conspicuous boost in performance in all the ways previously outlined. In comparable Dells that have even slower motherboards, slower processors, and less, (slower) DDR2 memory, SSD disk performance is outstanding compared to the original mechanical drives. My Vostro 200 Minitower desktop (SATA II) shows a 6.9 in in HD performance in Windows Experience Index; a test Latitude 830 (2007) shows a 6.9 in the same category. My Latitude E6520 (2011) shows 7.9.

WEI isn't a precise measurement, but it's a common benchmark. I know these older computers are throttled by the clockspeed of the motherboard, and by Aero/graphics capabilities. But my eyes tell me that bootup, application loading, and app swapping are as fast as in new computers without SSD. Keep in mind I'm not loading CA X6, but my iTunes, PowerPoint, and Visio really pop when I load them.

The Samsung family comes with Magician software to optimize performance, and to update SSD firmware. Run it. There is also a disk cloning tool to simply installation and data migration. Likewise: competing SSDs come with Acronis True Image, or comparable proprietary cloning/disk management tools. Some SSD vendors will require you download and burn an ISO to update firmware and won't prompt you when firmware upgrades are available. It's all worth considering when you're buying an SSD.

HTH, good luck, and let us how it goes.


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Wow, great info Steve.

Thanks so much for you time & expertise.


Yes the power supply was a weak link. It died earlier this year so I now have a 500+ watt from CompUSA.


I just took a big hit buying CA last month and it runs OK. Slightly longer load time than ACAD2006.

So a new box will have to wait.


I am not concerned by start up times. I leave my computer on 24/7 and restart every 3 day mostly.


I think I will get the SSD 850 512

I have 296gb used on my 1TB C: drive. I use the 2TB as back up for my & my wife's computer. Actually 2 each 2TB drives & a Black X External Drive Dock.

So I keep one of the 2TB drives in my fire proof safe.


Maybe the RAID1 would be a better choice with the SSD as C: drive and the two 2TB drives as the RAID set up.

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