Best Computer For Game Design

best computer for game design

David wrote in with this question:

I want to make games but my computer is junk. Blender doesn’t work good. I’m going to get a new one. What graphics card do I need? Is 256bit enough, or should I get 3 gigabytes or 4?

Thank you for your question!

How A Computer Works

First off let’s start by looking at the main components in a computer and how they effect performance.

The processor (aka CPU) is the main chip in your computer and handles most of a program’s calculations. Graphic card (aka GPU, or GFX) upgrades have gained in popularity over the last few years because of many game’s dependance on them for high frame rates and using the maximum texture quality. Some programs depend on graphic cards to replace the traditional CPU because they can run calculations hundreds or thousands of times in parallel on the GPU (Folding@Home is a good example of this) and return the final result very quickly. Now memory (aka RAM) is another important factor to keep in mind. Memory stores information between the hard drive and the processor (or GPU) so that it can be quickly accessed.

I’m afraid that, because of how these components work together and that I don’t know about the rest of your computer, I can’t answer your question. But continue reading and I’m sure you can figure out the answer of what you need yourself!


What The Programs Need

Most popular programs don’t even support or use graphic cards fully (yet?).

Blender 2.65 does not use the GPU except if you are rendering with Cycles. You would be better off with a balanced system.

Maya 2013 utilizes the graphics card to a degree, however Maya will perform best with a balanced computer. Check out the comparison between professional workstation and consumer graphics cards.

ZBrush 4 only uses the graphics card to display the window on your screen (like any other program) but the 3d stuff isn’t accelerated by it at all. For ZBrush you would be best off with a 64bit processor and lots of fast memory. Note: ZBrush 4 is a 32bit application, but is large address aware so it can use up to 4GB of memory with a 64 bit operating system. The upcoming ZBrush 5 release is reported to be a 64bit application and will be able to use more memory.

Mudbox 2013 will use a graphic card’s memory for texturing and post FX. Like ZBrush, you would be best off with a 64bit OS and a good amount of RAM in addition to the GPU.

Unity 4 can use a good graphics card for testing scenes but remember that even if a game that you author runs smooth on your computer not everyone who wants to play it will have as good as a system as you (especially if you want to make games for mobile). Also because you likely will need to load numerous assets into a scene, you also should have a fast hard drive.


What To Upgrade

For 3d modeling I recommend keeping the power in your computer balanced. Don’t put a $600 graphics card in your system when you have a $50 processor. The processor will bottle neck your graphics card and you won’t be able to use it to it’s full potential. Likewise, upgrading your memory if you have a slow hard drive or CPU will have little effect on improving performance.

A new computer will probably cost you more then upgrading the parts you need to meet the minimum requirements for Blender. I would recommend meeting those and then once you learn more, buy a new (or upgrade to a) wicked fast computer based on what you find that you need.

Also remember that better hardware won’t improve your modeling skills. You might want to think about buying cheaper hardware that will work fine and spend the rest on a few classes.

Triangles or Quads For Video Games?

Let’s start by looking at the basic shapes of polygons used with 3d modeling:


Triangles are made up of 3 sides which meet at the corners (called vertices). Quads are made of 4 sides. You can see in the above image how every shape can be broken down into smaller triangles.


Ngon example

There is also what is call an ngon, which is used to refer to a polygon made of more than 4 sides and has not been divided into triangles or quads. Ngons are not acceptable for games.

What to use:

Since all surfaces are automatically broken down into triangles in the game engine anyway which should you model with?


Dividing a triangle into quads.

Edge flow on organic models is important when you go to animate them to avoid problems with deformation. In these instances quads are preferred and should give you better results.

Additionally with programs that subdivide your model many times, such as Zbrush, quads will give you cleaner results because of the way triangles are subdivided.


Good edge flow around an rhino’s eye.

On low poly (like those used in games) or hard surface (e.g. a table) models, modeling with triangles is perfectly acceptable. Just make sure that you have good edge flow where there will be joints so that during animation the model deforms properly!

Once your model goes into the game the cost of that model will largely come down to how many triangles (commonly referred to as tris) the model is divided into, so plan wisely!

Comparison of silhouettes based on triangles used.

Comparison of silhouettes based on triangles used. Source