Mobile workstation and external GPUs

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Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby Stigmond » Wed Dec 21, 2016 1:16 pm

Stigmond Wed Dec 21, 2016 1:16 pm

I am new to Octane render and have some questions regarding a potential setup.

I am a 3D generalist working in product visualisation and character illustration. I currently work on the mac and use C4D, Modo, Zbrush and substance painter.

I have had a chance to demo Octane Render and I am impressed. I currently have a 2013 Macbook Pro with Nvidea GTX750m so the render time are slow. I have a 12 core mac tower (2012 aluminium) and have considered getting a Titan for that but it looks like Apples lack of support for Nvidea will have me jumping through hoops.

I have used Mac for 25 years but am unhappy about the direction Apple are taking regarding pro users so I have decided to jump ship and go with a PC.

From reading the forums it looks like a desktop with multiple GPUs is the way to go. My problem is that I freelance all over London so I need a setup that I can travel with.

I am considering getting a 17" Gaming laptop/workstation as they seem to have good spec for Octane (Dual GTX1070s or 1080s) or maybe a smaller 15" with 1 card. I would then like the option to connect the laptop to more GPUs (at home) when I need faster renders. So, some questions:

Is anyone using a dual GPU laptop? If so, how does it perform with Octane?

What is the best way to expand my GPU setup? Would I need thunderbolt 3 or can I connect to a second computer and access the GPUs via ethernet?

How many external GPUs can a thunderbolt 3 connection see?


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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby glimpse » Wed Dec 21, 2016 10:32 pm

glimpse Wed Dec 21, 2016 10:32 pm
hi, Steve,

let me answer few questions for You, to kick start conversation with some recommendations.

Your 750m gives around 12-13 in terms of OctaneBench & then in Your silver Mac You should have a possibility to add pair of 980Tis - & these would give You around 250 in OB, so the work that is done in one one hour, on Your Frankenshtein would take like ~3 minutes =)

don't buy 1080s/TitanX (or any other pascal cards yet), but anything from Maxwell line like 980Ti or TitanX would work great =) also, You would probably need external power supply ;) - so with soem small mods You might be able to keep Your mac & enjoy working on it!

Pascal based GPUs (1070/1080s) are very efficient & even 1070 are close to performance of 980Ti if You got good cooling (& that matters a lot), so if You're going to choose big a** laptop, do not look too much to outside & think about things like proper ventilation (obviously, good screen, etc.)

So what's next? EGPUs is a pain in the back..- those are teased for years, but honestly, there isn't solution on the market that just works without any issues & would be compatible with wide range of devices.. if You need somewhat portable PC-laptop, look at razer + razer core (not the cheapest choice, but..)

Screen wise.. all those beefy laptops are mostly oriented to gamers, meaning You would usualy get fast but far from accurate screens & then even PRO labeled screens are with cosmic deltaEs (in a range of gimmicky touch bar, but that's another theme on it's own).

Alternatively You can get a bit better laptop & look for something like Thunderbolt 3 via USB type C unit from companies like Akitio.. however compatibility is not guaranteed & You need to test it on a case by case.. (seems to work with some laptops & things like Skultrail NUC, but then no go with Apple's new laptops..)

Dual GPU laptop will perform twice as fast compared to single GPU laptop (with the same card =)

The best expansion is none (if You wish to avoid problems). Getting powerful enough laptop to make some & having somewhat portable powerful render render node that could be used as standalone computer would be Your best bet.

External GPUs are not limited connection type, but rather capabilities of Your computer..- You can find cases that would hold multiple GPUs.. but the problem might be to recognize those cards or even boot with that device plugged into laptop. Another issue is stability under full load.

That's why I would personally look at something like small enough laptop with inbuilt discrete GPU like 1070 & integrated GPU (to power screen while more powerful card would render) & then something like proper small computer, based on smallish MATX motherboard with 2-3 GPUs so You can easily pack for traveling if needed.

Feel free to ask any questions. I'm pretty sure guys on this friendly forums will be happy to give You some advice & different perspective as well. We all have slightly different needs & preferences, not to mention taste & the way we look at things, so put Your needs, try to learn as much as You can about different options & eventually You should be able to make educated decision.

Good luck! (& don't be afraid to ask if You have any more questions =)
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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby Stigmond » Sun Dec 25, 2016 9:46 am

Stigmond Sun Dec 25, 2016 9:46 am
Hi Glimpse,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed response. Lots of food for thought.

Your advice about upgrading my 12 core mac tower would work if I didn't have to travel. I would love to stay with Mac OS and it would be the most cost effective solution, I haven't ruled it out. The problem is that I work all over London and I need a mobile solution.

I'm also being lured away from the mac as the new laptops (in my opinion) are way too expensive, underpowered and lacking ports. In the UK a fully spec'd 15" macbook pro is over £4000. Thats with only 16gb ram and a poor graphics card. For that I can get a 17-18" pc laptop with 64gb ram, loads of storage, HD display and 2 x GTX1080s (albeit with poor battery life). I take your point about about checking screen quality and other details as I also need a machine that will calibrate accuratly for retouching and graphics.

I was hoping for a mobile solution that I could expand when needed to increase render speed but I sounds from what you say that the eGPU route is not recommended. I also want one machine to do it all as I find it tedious at the moment switching between macs. Even with drop box, if the 12 core hasn't been on for couple of weeks, it takes a while to update.

I am tempted to go for a 17" dual 1070 or 1080 gaming/workstation laptop as it would be a faster machine than my current 2013 MBP and should give decent rendering speeds. I've also seen the ASUS ROG with water cooled docking station. I wonder if that is a gimmick? MSI do a model with Thunderbolt 3 so I will do some research as to whether anyone has got one working with external graphics.

Thanks again for your help and suggestions, If anyone is getting good results from a gaming laptop/workstation it would be good to hear about your experiences.

Regards Steve
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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby p3taoctane » Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:05 pm

p3taoctane Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:05 pm
Gidday Steve,
I have given a ton of thought to your very issue.
I had a PC BOXX 17"Laptop with an Nvidia card that was pretty decent a couple of years ago.

I could run all my apps ... Maya, Photoshop, Octane, Zbrush etc... all ran fine with no problems and I had an NTSF formatted external drive that I could transfer to my Mac Desktop and it did most of what I wanted. ( Bought two power bricks so one was at work and one at home so I only had to cart the laptop itself around). You can use the external PCI slot on some of the laptops to hook to external GPU box then you really have a multi monitor renderer desktop machine.

It weighed a ton and some.. the brick it came with almost weighed as much.... traveling... good for going somewhere and plugging in.... but sitting in the airport with this container of heat on my lap for 15 minutes trying to render anything... nope. It is a mini desktop in reality. And yep it powered up two fans to keep it cool but in reality it's not portable. As far as octane is concerned... you can set up pretty decent scenes and get them ready to render then ... you should probably render them on something else if you are going to run that thing for longer than 30 minutes straight full bore ... you are not going to get a print ready resolution noiseless image. Forget sitting in bed before you go to sleep and just cruising the forums... will cut of the circulation in your lower body : > )) I would constantly live in fear that I would overheat it.

What I did is use my Macbook air and the an external thunderbolt GPU 980ti with built in water cooled radiator with a 450Watt PSU and built a little case... smaller than the 17" and weighed a lot less.

Still not an airport render machine, still have to plug it in and desktop it... but it runs all day cool enough and if I go out and do something it can crank away no prob.

Depends on you style and workflow... I still look at the dual 980 or 1070, 1080 laptops and go wow that would be great... so I see where you are coming from.

Anyway hope that helps... though it will prob just make the decision harder : > ))

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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby Stigmond » Tue Jan 03, 2017 12:43 pm

Stigmond Tue Jan 03, 2017 12:43 pm
Peter, Thanks for for your post, Sorry for the delay, Christmas took over.

Its good to hear from someone who has used one of these mobile workstations and you made me chuckle with you descriptions of its limitations. I had turned a blind eye to weight and battery life so interesting to hear they are an issue in the real world.

It has got me thinking when and where I use my current laptop. I do a lot of work on the move (2 hour train commute each way) so weight, heat and battery life is a concern. I had a look at the Razer Blade (pro) after Glimpse mentioned them and they look really interesting. The 17" has a gtx1080, a great screen and enough ram/cpu power for my needs. It is also relatively light compared to other offerings and the battery life would be fine for me. There are 2 problems, the price is very high when you consider that you can get a 64gb machine with 2 x 1080s for a similar price. I have also read that It doesn't officially support the razor core, can anyone confirm this? If it supports the razor core, that could be interesting for a speed boost when needed.

I am still looking at machines like the MSI Titan SLI but wonder if they are trying to pack too much in and question whether it is truly portable. Also, I guess when under full load the 1080s will throttle down as they get too hot. Would this throttling still produce faster renders than 1 card with adequate cooling.

Peter, could you elaborate on your water-cooled setup for your mac? This might be the way to go for now as I can always utilise the card further down the line if I go the pc route.


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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby p3taoctane » Tue Jan 03, 2017 3:27 pm

p3taoctane Tue Jan 03, 2017 3:27 pm
Sure Steve
It is a GPU hybrid system with a built in radiator. ... 080+hybrid

And an external GPU box. ... ternal+gpu

Takes a little work... Tom has done a great job hooking his up cleanly.

Two hours is a decent time to get stuff done I must admit. Still a tough choice i can see.

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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby creativebloke » Sun Jan 08, 2017 1:41 pm

creativebloke Sun Jan 08, 2017 1:41 pm
I'm in this position as well, I have been runnning both mac and windows for a couple of years and the performance benefits of everything other than admin chores and the general feeling of niceness that the Mac OS provides. The Windows system outclasses the mac in every respect of 3D Design. I work from home, but I need a portable machine for clients and also for evening work, (as my home studio systems aren't easily available in the evening as they are in a seperate area in the garden, which on a cold winters night I can't be bothered going to and I have small kids so babysitting duties have to take priority, and with the best will in the world VPN's when they work can be great.....and then they don't.).

So this has had me thinking along similar lines of replacing my MacBook Pro with a gaming laptop (can't justify the cost of a workstation pc) which has enough grunt to be my main work machine and frees up my towers for pure rendering. I am heading towards an Alienware 17 r4 as it seems to offer a good balance between support, screen (I would get a 4k one, as I am also a generalist), build, and design.

Equivalent MSI systems seem good, but I worry about the support issues, the 4k option is only available on the 17" SLI options which with 2 powerbricks seems ludicrous in terms of portability or the 15" which doesn't cool as well as the 17" options, and the reduced size may make the benefits of a 4k screen redundant.

I am waiting for the kabylake options to come to market on both these machines, mainly because they offer potentially better battery life with more grunt in the integrated GPU which could become useful for when i am out and about.

I have explored this problem for years, and the EGPU option for mac seems like a non starter imho, as its not solving many of the inherent problems with using a mac for 3D, for example the night and day difference in Cinema 4D's viewport performance and also it knackers any sort of portability options of a laptop.

It is annoying the Mac is no longer a dependable platform, and I miss expandability of a laptop which the Alienware and the MSI offer, and the Razor doesn't seem to, as nice as they are, again the cost is a killer.
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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby deepsingh852963 » Fri Aug 18, 2017 6:46 am

deepsingh852963 Fri Aug 18, 2017 6:46 am
TB3 is limited to PCIe x4 and approximately 5 GB/s of bandwidth. PCIe x16 has approximately 16 GB/s of bandwidth.

I could see a used suit for x8 equivalent bandwidth concerning "Mainstream" GPU's. But, at x4 you are going to profit quite the sham hit for all that needs the cold bandwidth. And, if you are direction all else of that same TB header, I espouse that would fade away taking place sharing that bandwidth. Honestly, I think at this mitigation you are augmented off getting a laptop once a loud GPU that can be turned off following not in use, or one of the Intel CPU's previously their extremity of the lineage GPU.

Someday we may have ear-splitting outdoor GPU connectivity options, but that day is not today (or in the stuffy term). Especially taking into consideration the bandwidth GPU's longing growing subsequent to each adding taking place understandable. Soon x8 for low halt will not be satisfactory.
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Re: Mobile workstation and external GPUs

Postby prehabitat » Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:30 am

prehabitat Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:30 am
What did everyone end up doing?

Feedback on your choice?
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