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Building a render farm with 'normal' computers

13

Jamesy writes:

In this video we show how you can easily make a render farm out of pretty much any computer that can run blender. If that sounds like something you'd be into, read on and of course watch the video too :)

Up until fairly recently I had been using two laptops to render. I used our addon to enable rendering using both of them at once as this pretty much halved my render times, which was great, though it was still slow. So I bought some extra computers online at auction (they were cheap, but still able to run blender reasonably well) and started to use them with the laptops I had, and halved my render times again. This video is a tutorial of what I did, and why I did it.

In this tutorial you'll learn about how to use our addon to build a render farm in a really easy way, you'll also learn about why when considering any computer for use in a renderfarm, you'll want to have a decent amount of RAM, I even show you how to upgrade RAM in a desktop PC. Finally you'll learn about how to manage the many computers you might end up with without having to buy a keyboard and mouse for each one!

About Author

James

I'm a software engineer, I've worked on numerous technologies over the past 10 years. I started out working on full motion flight simulators and then worked with embedded systems. I now work on building an add-on to support rendering using multiple computers over internet/local networks. I started using blender in 2009 and have done small projects with it since then, however, crowd render, our network rendering add-on is by far the biggest adventure with Blender to date.

13 Comments

  1. My main PC has two GTX1060 GPUs, which are massively faster than its i7 CPU for rendering. Could I use the GPUs on the main PC and the CPUs (or even GPUs) on the networked PCs? If not, I would need to buy about 7 additional remote PCs (at much greater cost than the GPUs) just to match the performance of my single desktop PC.

    • Hi Reaction, Yes, you can use GPUs on one machine and CPUs on others :) This is quite easy too, all you have to do is to save each machin's user preferences to use the GPU for the GPU computer and leave the ones you want to use with CPU set to use None.
      If you have active connections in crowdrender, remove them and then re-add the nodes and re-connect.

      Now all you have to do to render on GPU on the main machine is to select GPU as the device to render on using the user preferences. You will need to re-sync the nodes each time you want to change a setting in the render settings panel, including the device to use for rendering, sorry about that, the next version of the pre-release should automatically update this without needing to transfer the blend file at all.

      Hope that helps? :D

      James

  2. Basically, as your article suggests, getting enough RAM to handle a render farm would be the best way to handle it. That is something I will be sure to remember as it sounds to be quite useful in the future. Hopefully, the computer I aiming to get soon would have enough specs to run this program as I'll be needing it for my designs. Thanks!

    • Hi Vivian! Great! Hope you get the computer you want, and yeah, RAM is important, for speed, if you're considering a GPU, choose wisely, GPU RAM can't be upgraded as its soldered to the GPU card. System RAM can be upgraded. For Blender, I wouldn't go below 16GB for system RAM these days.
      Features such as Microdisplacement can cause spikes in RAM that are... mmmm insane? I once saw my system RAM peak at 55GB. That was on a mac laptop with only 8GB installed (I think the mac is able to use SSD swap space to assist, virtual RAM basically, so invest in an M2 SSD too if you plan on doing any micro disp stuff)!

      All the best!

      James

  3. Hi Haluk, not as yet, we did have crowdfunding campaign setup and one of our stretch goals was to fund the development of a plugin for another application. But sadly we didn't reach our target. We're thinking of moving the campaign to our own website where people can donate to development in a similar manner to how blender is funded by the community.

  4. Hi there. First of all: Great product! Im gonna sign in to test it for sure.

    I was just wondering. The computers in the network, what need to be the minimal specs? Do you need a SSD? Does that make any difference in rendeting? Or does the rendering only thrive on the CPU or GPU? Im asking this cause i can get my hands on three HP Elite 8200 mini tower desktops with each a i7 4770 3.4Ghz processor, a AMD Radeon 6570 GPU, 16GB RAM and a 500 Gb HDD. Is it wise to upgrade parts or is this configuration more than enough? When i need to upgrade i buy 2 machines, if not, i buy all three.
    Whats the best c.o.a?
    Let me know!

    • Hi Alexander!

      Great news! We're always happy to have new artists try out the add-on, please get in touch with any feedback you have on our website. Now, your question needs answering, here goes!

      There is no minimal hardware spec as such, you just need to be able to run blender, and also have more than one computer, connected to the same network, either wifi or ethernet.

      There's a lot of variables to consider when making a render farm. First SSD, you don't 'need' an SSD if your projects will be small and you have plenty of RAM. SSDs really help when your projects are large and you risk running low on RAM which may force your computer to use swap space on your hard drive.
      Running low on RAM will kill your render speed almost completely even with an SSD but its not as bad as on some OS the render will just error and stop. On MacOS and win 10, they somehow can keep going, probably by using the SSD. I've seen scenes with 55GB of data in 'memory' (which def means my SSD is being used, my system only has 8GB of RAM!) when using micro displacement.

      The specs of those machines sound reasonable, though that depends on price. Remember you are paying for performance not specifications! Maybe consult a few online resources to see if the price being asked is reasonable. The 4770 is a decent CPU for its time ( see -> https://ark.intel.com/products/75122/Intel-Core-i7-4770-Processor-8M-Cache-up-to-3_90-GHz). It is getting old now though being fourth generation and we're now up to the eight generation of the core series from intel. Compare that with the current generation variant -> https://ark.intel.com/products/126686/Intel-Core-i7-8700-Processor-12M-Cache-up-to-4_60-GHz

      For some comparisons of value see https://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i7-4770+%40+3.40GHz&id=1907 you'll see straight away that this is not the best 'value' processor, but that depends at what price you're getting it, plus the other components. The chart behind that line illustrates a point I've made in our recent article (link below) about how price tends to go up a lot for marginal gains in performance, which makes the value for the processor decrease, it ends up you pay too much for those extra performance points. So distributing by having multiple systems starts to look attractive. But, you still need to factor in the cost of buying multiple motherboards, RAM and so on.

      Speaking of RAM, there is an ok amount in those systems, about the minimum I'd recommend, but you'd want to know the speed. You're buying DDR3 RAM here which is going to be half the speed of DDR4 that is now the standard being used for new machines. Generally the more RAM the better due to the above mentioned issues with running low on it, but the frequency at which it can run is also a concern. You also have a limit of 32GB of RAM with the i7-4770, but 64GB for the 8700

      The GPU though likely won't render with cycles though, I have a 6770 and it's now too old for blender and isn't even recognised, so don't buy those systems because of the GPUs, if you can buy them without the GPUs in, save your self some money, esp if you intend these machines to be render slaves.

      One good thing about having multiple systems is that you also have redundancy. Hardware does fail. If you have a deadline and one machine dies, at least it's not your ONLY machine. So in general, more machines is a good thing, obviously they cost more, but you can only go so fast with a single machine before it becomes prohibitively expensive (see our article here on why render farms matter -> https://www.crowd-render.com/single-post/2018/06/28/How-Distributed-Rendering-Helps-You).

      Basically if you price up a similar system that would give you the same passmark as all three systems put together, and its cheaper, its probably better to go with that. But, if it turns out you can get the three systems for less than a single system, I'd go with the three systems if rendering is what you're going to be doing with them most.

      At some point, having multiple systems becomes the only way to get more speed. Crowdrender will handle a lot of computers, so you should be able to get very good performance from those three computers. Plus we're currently crowdfunding on our website to build the first feature of our beta system, which is a better load balancer that will use as much of your system as it can, with no nodes left idle until all frames are rendered. Its an exciting time for us building this as we love pounding out the pixels. Keeping silicon hot by number crunching is what we love best ;D

      You can read more about the crowdfunding campaign here -> https://www.crowd-render.com/crowdfunding

      Hope this helps and all the best with your purchase! Feel free to ask more questions.

      James

      • Thanks for the comprehensive answer. Apreciated!
        I can get the sustems for 200 euro each. I could replace the GPU's for Nvidia 1050 TI's 4GB. About the maximum what it can take.

        Does that sound like a nice deal?
        Or do you feel the money can be better spend.
        Let me know. :)

        • Hi Alexander,
          That depends, its not just the cost of the CPUs but you're also getting RAM, power supply, motherboard, operating system and so on. It might be an idea to see what you could get the components for on e-bay/amazon or a similar system.
          The CPU is still not bad even though its second generation. Its got a decent base frequency of 3.4GHz, which means when you're rendering, all cores should be able to reach 3.4GHz. Its also hyper threaded so you'll be getting 8 threads rendering at once.

          Remember, the price of the system has to be put in context with the alternatives which are:
          1. spending 3*200 on a single system, will you get better performance? you'll have 3*8 = 24 threads total, how much is a single CPU that has 24 threads? Also, you're getting complete systems with, I assume, software installed that are ready to go?
          2. Sourcing the parts separately for two or three similar systems to get the same performance
          3. Spending the money having fun while your current rig renders ;)

          Hope that helps

          • Thanks.

            I want to be as cost effevtive in my decision as i can be. Right now im gonna think about rather i want to buy 2 machines instead of three and max the specs of those 2 with an extra ssd, Nvidia 1050 TI LP 4GB card and 32GB RAM. But then offering 8 threads of CPU power.

            Or buy all three and leave the HDD, 16GB of RAM and Saphire radeon 6570 in there. Wich makes less spect machines that might get in trouble with rendering particle systems or big scenes through cycles.

            Cause sometimes renders need a lot of CPU power. Sometimes you need a kick out of a GPU. Choices..choices.

            I also want to use the network chain for rendering with adobe after effects by the way.

            Thanks for the help so far!

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