What Kind of Computer Do You Need for 3D Rendering?

By Larry Alton
Published 04/01/2020
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There are many technologies that require some level of 3D rendering. You may want to create an architectural design and show it off to some prospective buyers. You may want to experiment with your VR headset, allowing your computer to render a 360-degree environment on the fly. You may just want a better gaming experience.

In any case, regardless of what your intentions are or what software you’re using, you’ll need to meet certain hardware minimums before you can render effectively.


PC Components to Consider

Every 3D rendering application is going to have slightly different demands, but there are some generalized components you’ll need to consider, including:

  • CPU (your processor). Your CPU is your central processing unit, sometimes called your processor. It’s the main component of many computers, and is used to execute instructions from a computer program. CPUs are great at performing basic arithmetic and logic functions, and can dictate the speed of your computer in certain conditions and with certain programs. While you’ll want something reasonably powerful, this isn’t the most important component for 3D rendering, and you can afford an average CPU in your build, so long as your other components are optimal. A 4.0 GHz base is ideal, but for some applications, you can get away with less.
  • GPU (your graphics card). A GPU is a graphics processing unit, and as the name suggests, it bears some resemblance to a CPU, responsible for processing certain computations. The difference is that GPUs specialize in processing graphics and complex calculations. The best way to think about it is CPUs are good at handling multiple tasks and many types of tasks, while GPUs are good at handling a few specific types of tasks very quickly. GPUs are vital for 3D rendering, and should be one of your biggest priorities. If you don’t have a graphics card, you probably won’t get very far. There are a few different ways to evaluate graphics cards, but one of the industry standards is currently the NVIDIA GTX series. A NVIDIA GTX 1060 or higher (or the equivalent from another brand) will be sufficient for many applications.
  • RAM (system memory). You’ll also need to allocate some RAM for your 3D renders, particularly if you’re rendering complex architectural structures. Again, your needs will depend on your application. For some 3D rendering jobs, 8 GB of RAM will get the job done, but to be fully optimized, 32 GB is recommended, with a MHz rate as high as possible (ideally not less than 2.2). You can think of RAM as the short-term memory of your machine; it’s used to store information for the render, and is especially important for 360-degree and/or VR applications.
  • Graphics card memory. You’ll also need to look at the specific memory of your graphics card. Ideally, you’ll have 6 GB or more of graphics card memory or more.

Additionally, you’ll want to experiment to make your PC run faster. For example, many people can improve their computer’s performance by clearing out unnecessary data, reducing the number of programs they run simultaneously, and regularly scanning for malware (then removing it, if and when it’s found).


Testing for Different Applications

Most software platforms, games, and other applications will recommend specific specs for their product, and many will give you a chance to test your machine to see if it’s up to snuff. For example, when downloading a software product, it might tell you whether your machine meets the minimum recommended specs. You might also see markers for the “minimum” specs and “optimal” or “recommended” specs; as these titles suggest, you won’t be able to run the application at all with below-minimum specs, but for the best experience, you should strive for “optimal” specs.


What Happens If I Don’t Meet the Minimums?

If you try to run a piece of 3D rendering software without meeting the minimum requirements for that software, don’t worry—your computer won’t explode. In some cases, your computer may freeze or work extremely slowly; if this gets worse, the computer could crash. In other cases, you may suffer from a handful of basic performance problems; for example, you might see stuttering or inconsistent frame rates, or certain renders won’t be as detailed as they should be.

In most cases, you can make upgrades to your current PC to help it perform optimally for your 3D rendering software. For example, you can trade out the RAM for something more powerful, and you can install a new graphics card. In other cases, it may be best to start from scratch; this is especially true if your current PC is very out-of-date, or if you’re missing several of the components necessary to run an application.


About the Author

Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. A graduate of Iowa State University, I’m now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.