Building a desktop for architecture


So this will be my first attempt at building my own computer. I have read a few articles and done my shopping looking for performance that is upgradeable and at a reasonable price point.  I was hoping maybe some of you could comment on the hardware I have spec'd. I would like to know what you think regarding compatibility or things I might be missing that would prevent the system from working properly. Also will this be adequate for general architectural purposes. The programs I use include Sketchup Autocad Rhino with Grasshopper ,Vray and the Adobe Suite. 

if you have any advice for a first time builder I would love to hear it. I have used and upgraded for years but this will be my first ground up build.

I found these links useful so far. 

life hacker 3 part guide


I also thought this would be a useful conversation for some of the students out there who keep asking about which computer to buy. And how to go about making one for yourself. 

Here is my current shopping list. I don't know if i will buy it all from new egg but its a nice place to shop. My budget is 1000. 

LIAN LI PC-K65 Black Aluminum / Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

ASUS Sabertooth X58 LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard

Intel Core i7-960 Bloomfield 3.2GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Desktop Processor

ASUS EAH6670/DIS/1GD5 Radeon HD 6670 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready Video Card

Rosewill Green Series RG630-S12 630W Continuous @40°C,80 PLUS Certified, Single 12V Rail, Active PFC "Compatible with Core i7,i5" Power Supply

Mushkin Enhanced Chronos MKNSSDCR120GB 2.5" 120GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)


G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory 

ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 Channels PCI Express x1 Interface Sound Card

ASUS 24X DVD Burner 

Vantec 58-In-1 Internal Card Reader/Writer with Built-In USB Port for 3.5" or 5.25" Drive Bay

Total price tag right now $1012


Would really appreciate any comments you might have. but please keep in mind my limited budget. I don't really want to hear you need "super expensive computer part". if somethings missing I will have to downgrade something else.  




Mar 16, 12 1:17 am
i r giv up

i disagree with your processor choice.

that i7 is not worth the price in performance. even an FX-8120 from AMD will beat it. I'm not advocating AMD, I'm just stating how bad the price/performance ratio is.

get a i5-2500k. it performs better and it's cheaper.

take the 80 dollars you save and buy yourself an extra 4 gigs of ram.

Mar 16, 12 7:42 am

Thanks fluxbound! Thats some useful info! 

Mar 16, 12 8:59 am

I recommend tom's hardware and anandtech as resources.

I have an antec p182 for a case.  I just like the look of it better, but it also keeps things quiet and cool.  I've had 2 computer guts through it so for.  Might be worth looking at (or p183, p280, p-whatever).  Probably should keep in mind that everything else is going to go obsolete before your case, and the case is what you and everyone else is going to see.

I like the i7.  That's what I got, but that's mostly because it was on sale.  i5 is fine if you need to cut cost somewhere.

Your video card was made for games.  If you're mostly going to be spinning around 3d models in sketchup or rhino or whatever, with lots of polys and textures, I would consider the Nvidia Quadro series or AMD's firepro.  This review might help.  These cards are optimized for 'work'.  I would highly recommend considering one of the workstations cards.

I would not do a solid state drive.  They still cost too much for how much they hold.  You can get a normal platter drive, maybe a 2TB 7200rpm, for most everything and then use an ssd to speed up specific applications like maybe set up adobe scratch files to write to it.  You can try to look for intel smart response, which might help if you're looking for a bit extra loading speed from the hard drive.

I don't see why you would get that nice of a sound card.  The board should have integrated sound.  If you have a nice stereo set up through your computer with surround speakers and all that, and if you use it, then sure it's worth it.  However, if you have a couple cheap speakers then stick with the on board sound.

I would also stick with your 8 gigs of memory, and if it looks like it's a bottleneck down the road you have room to add two more (keep the same size and mfr. if possible).  My experience still suggests my cpu is the bottleneck for rendering, but I don't always get to test the latest and greatest hardware or software.

I would also recommend a better heat sink than what comes with the processor.  Maybe something like this and don't forget this.  Probably best not to go cheap on thermal compound.

Mar 16, 12 10:45 am

The 1366 motherboard/processor platform is outdated - I would go for LGA 1155 (best performance value) or 2011. (2011 is probably unnecessarily high-end.) The Core i5 2500k is supposed to have the best performance for the price. It's also a much better value than any AMD. Also I would avoid the Rosewill power supply and get something more reliable - Seasonic, Corsair, Antec, Enermax, etc. are good brands. You could get more RAM if you want, but 8GB will be okay. You don't need a workstation card if you're on a budget, but a gaming video card probably won't do anything and you'll be relying primarily on your CPU, so just go with whatever video card is cheap.

The SSD isn't a bad idea - if I was building a computer right now I would get one too - but you will need to supplement it with a conventional hard drive that can give you more capacity.

Mar 16, 12 11:42 am
i r giv up

Do NOT get a Quadro. It's essentially a gutted gaming card with less functions and an exorbitant price tag for the performance you get. A top of the line gaming card is also generally a few steps ahead in terms of performance when compared with a workstation card.

Oh and you're bound to have compatibility issues when dealing with certain kinds of real-time rendering (ever seen that Falling Water walk through using the Unreal Engine? that's going to crash you out on a Quadro).

Suggesting a Quadro is quite possibly one of the dumbest hardware suggestions for an architect I've ever read.



Mar 16, 12 11:48 am

Check this site out. I used it to make a gaming machine, which renders great for me considering all my rendering at home can just be set overnight. Anyway there are a lot of folks on these forums that can direct you to get the most bang for you buck and I suggest making an account and showing them your build like you did here and a price range. They will all differ slightly on what they suggest for parts but they will usually explain why as well. Hope that will help

Mar 16, 12 3:26 pm

I also think an SSD is a great thing to purchase actually unless you enjoy watching apps load and seeing the spinning hourglass. The difference for me is Photoshop now takes 2 seconds to load after clicking the icon. They are expensive but the way to use them effectively is to only install your applications and windows to the drive. All, and I do mean all other data should be saved to a secondary hard drive. Windows 7 is especially helpful in this regard as well and makes it very easy for you to set all your libraries to another harddrive, eg. my documents, music, etc.

Mar 16, 12 3:30 pm

Thanks a lot guy for all of your help. I really appreciate the feed back.  I'm going to re evaluate my processor and mother board and try and get some more feedback regard the gpu. 

As far as the hard drive is concerned Chad nailed it. I plan on using a 1tb sata 7200 drive that I bought to upgrade an old computer. I was just hoping to use the SSD for the OS and programs but it will not be my only storage. 

Any other advice for things to look out for in preparation of and during the build?

I will continue to post what I learn and what I finally go with. It sounds like some of the students around here could use a technology thread about something other then which macbook pro to buy. :) 


Mar 16, 12 7:06 pm

The i7's totally worth it for renderings, although I can't hate on the AMD 'cause I haven't had one since the Phenom.

Don't know if anybody's mentioned it, but if you do get an i7 get your ram in a multiple of 3 ( i have 6 gigs although something like 12 is better for a real workstation).  For some reason the i7 uses RAM more efficiently if it comes in multiples of 3.

Mar 16, 12 8:12 pm

NVIDIA GTX -----> iRay or VRAY RT for rendering (and many others GPU accelerated render engines available, and a lot others coming soon... and also some applications like Adobe premiere that uses CUDA Cores)

Mar 16, 12 9:40 pm


I like the i7 better than the AMD's offerings at this time. I'd also dump something in favor of more RAM, at least 16 GB, even the Solid State Device Drive, and end up with a lower total cost. I'd also skip the external sound card and use the one built-in the MOBO, or get one that has one built-in.

I'd also probably skimp on the video card. Many game cards are more than adequate for AutoCAD, Revit and 3D Studio Max. I've found the main bottleneck to be RAM and CPU power, so that's where I'd focus most of the expenses.

I'd put the money "saved" towards a 2540 x 1440 or higher resolution monitor. They're a joy to work with and can help save a lot of time and paper, as the need for check prints or plots diminishes with screen size and resolution.

When you're done, please post performance benchmarks. In the end, what really matters is how much the computer will help you get work done.

Warm regards from Los Angeles,


Mar 17, 12 10:19 am

be sure to get a nice, IPS monitor. way more important than any specs in your tower.

Mar 17, 12 11:14 am

If you can, buy a motherboard that supports RAID. Put two identical hard-drives, set them to mirror each other and save yourself headache when it comes to backup. 

Mar 17, 12 3:53 pm

How about windows 8?  It looks like that could come out towards the end of this year.  The best I can tell (from reading about 1 review of the beta) they are now focusing on tablets more than desktop computers, but it will be the same OS.  So do you think we will need touchscreens for AutoCAD and such in the next couple years?

I'm having second thoughts on my ssd comments previously.  So if you RAID HDDs, you would only RAID the platter drives used for file storage right?  The OS and programs would all be installed on the SSD, and scratch disks for Photoshop would be set to SSD.  Is that about right?


Mar 19, 12 1:44 pm

Don't sweat the RAID decision at this point. Just make sure the mobo supports the different RAID levels you may be interested in. Skip the SSD to save money now, get more RAM instead.

Mar 19, 12 2:18 pm

Definitely post your "final" build for people to reference and think about future expansion. Final is really meaningless in this case as you will always be adding upgrades if you end up loving your initial build.

Mar 19, 12 3:50 pm

For an economical machine, you are sort of already narrowed down to the i5-2500 or i5-2500k.  Make sure it is the K version and for $40 more, get an aftermarket cpu heatsink.  With very little research I've overclocked my i5 K up to 4.2 Ghz.  That is a return of 27% (Not quite sure Ghz to performance relationship is direct though).  I've done this on multiple machines for multiple years.  There is little risk.

As was said, you are going to get the basics first.  You can upgrade the video card/ssd at a later date if necessary.

I think the motherboard you quoted earlier is way overkill.  Get only what you need, and shop brand and reviews on newegg and get the cheapest and most reliable you can get.  I prefer ASUS, but gigabyte and intel are solid choices as well.  Make sure it has 4 ram slots.

Ram is super cheap, so you get a great return on your dollars there.  I only use the 16gb I have if I'm really lazy and have 3 major max scenes (millions and millions of polys), a few 300mb photoshop files (pshop gobbles the memory), Autocad, and 20 browser tabs open at the same time.  So no need to go overboard as long as you are efficient with your work.  Make sure the ram speed matches the highest motherboard supporting speed.

Do NOT skimp on power supplies.  This is the component that is the heart of your system.  Nearly every hardware problem I had is poor quality PS related.  I prefer the corsair brand, and if you chose to overclock, get something with a single 12v rail.  That helps you determine the quality of the PS.  (more 12v rails means the less stable the supply).  You won't need to go over 650 watts in this system, most likely 500 will be more than enough.

You can skimp on Cases (a nice cheap alternative is the Antec 300).  A sound card is not required, so you can drop that.  Get a cheapo dvd drive.

Now, you are down to the tough decisions.  In computer hardware, there is no "best" there is only the best you can at the time and for the money.  Since this is a budget machine, the few seconds waiting for a program to load is not worth the cost of an SSD, since you need to invest in a spindle drive anyway for storage.  Partition the big drive and you can upgrade later as money comes available.

My preference is to invest into a video card.  It will keep you happier working in complicated 3d files.  That contentment goes a long way.  Make sure you do some research and do the best for your money.  Do NOT get anything that is either a Pro card (quadro) or multi-GPU related (SLI or something like the 5970).


Good luck!

Mar 20, 12 10:34 am

I'm in a similar situation to Jonathan. 

I want to invest in a desktop machine that can render complex geometry quickly in V-Ray and Maxwell. The best pre-built desktops exceed my budget of around $2500, so I’m looking into building my own out of the following components. I would appreciate it if anyone could point out any errors or give me any tips on better/more cost effective parts before I order everything. Thanks.  


Corsair Obsidian 650D


Power Supply:
CORSAIR Professional Series Gold AX750 (CMPSU-750AX) 750W ATX12V v2.31 / EPS12V v2.92 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply


Intel DX79T0 - Extreme Series ATX Motherboard 1600MHz (Socket 2011)


Intel® Core™ i7-3930K Processor (12M Cache, up to 3.80 GHz)


Graphics Card:
EVGA 015-P3-1480-KR GeForce GTX 480 (Fermi) 1536MB 384-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card


(CORSAIR Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model CMZ16GX3M4A1600C9B - $97.00


Storage (SSD/HDD combo):
OCZ Colossus LT Series OCZSSD2-1CLSLT120G 3.5" 120GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)


StarTech SAT3510BU3 Aluminum / Plastic 3.5" BlackSuperSpeed USB 3.0 SATA Hard Drive Enclosure w/ Fan


Optical Drive:


I appreciate any comments/advice. Thanks!

May 31, 12 1:08 am

Is there a reason why you're going with LGA2011 vs LGA1155? The new 3rd gen i7s (as well as older 2nd gen i7 CPUs) are compatible with it. I know the 6-cores may be tempting but the added cost of the "Intel® Core™ i7-3930K," doesn't really give you much over the current 3rd gen i7s, specifically the i7-2700k. When you start over-clocking the differences will be even less, especially since you're only talking about using vray and maxwell.


May 31, 12 2:35 am

Just get an 27" iMac i7 beefed up. 

This coming from a PC guy all his life and has always built my computers from scratch. 

Recently purchased one and I don't regret it at all. Best of both worlds with Bootcamp. I do agree its expensive, but its worth it in my honest opinion. 

May 31, 12 8:00 am
i r giv up

ew no

May 31, 12 9:40 am

to each their own...  

May 31, 12 9:46 am

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: