Building a VFIO PC

What is VFIO?

I’ve been hearing about VFIO PCs for a little while now and have been intrigued.  VFIO (Virtual Function I/O) allows a virtual machine to have full access to a dedicated GPU.  This makes gaming in a Windows VM easy and offers great performance.  Dual booting an OS is longer necessary!

I have been seeking a new project and I figured a VFIO build would be fun.  After going down the rabbit hole I wanted to share my findings and detail my build.

The VFIO Build

CPU Intel i7-6800K with cooler – This has VT-d/-x and will work fine.  More cores are better for virtualization so go with six.

Motherboard – ASUS ROG MAXIMUS VIII – Solid LGA 1151 motherboard, a favorite of a few VFIO builds I researched.  Should be easy to configure. Integrated GPU support so the host has a GPU to work with.

RAM – Corsair LPX 32GB – Not messing around here. Again with virtualization, more is better.  You should be OK with 16 GB to start, this is always easy to upgrade later.

GPU – MSI Radeon RX 480 – This is the pass-through card that will do the heavy lifting.  An AMD card should be easier to configure than nVidia but still may need some tweaking.

HDD – Samsung 850 EVO 500GB – These haven’t let me down yet.

Case – Corsair Obsidian Series Black 450D – I’m partial to Corsair cases, clean and high quality for the price.

PSUCorsair CX750M 750W – Plenty of juice.  Modular.

Wrap Up

That should be everything you need for a nice VFIO machine.  I’m running Arch and the RX 480 pass through works great.  To get it to unbind from amdgpu I needed to blacklist amdgpu and reboot. Arch gets the integrated GPU.

/r/VFIO is your friend for getting this all working.

 

 

 

 

Solidworks Icon

The Best Solidworks PC – 2017 Edition

EDIT: This article has been updated in Building a Solidworks PC – 2018 Edition

Dassault has shuffled out another release of Solidworks.  I have become pessimistic with upgrades and none of the new 2017 features seem to be game changers.  Maybe something clever will warm my crusty engineer heart.

This article is a refresh from my workstation build last year.  Not a whole lot has changed regarding a workstation build but by now you should be on Windows 10 and be considering a ridiculous amount of RAM and a beefier CAD GPU.  Overall there have been minimal performance relevant changes in 2017 and most of the hardware remains the same.

The core of a good Solidworks workstation is still a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a Solidworks approved workstation graphics card.  A thread on Reddit has a great breakdown on Solidworks performance and how component selection will improve performance.

Solidworks performance is limited by the CPU and unfortunately only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel I7-6700 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Solidworks which is why you want something like the Quadro K4000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1880.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel I7-6700K – great performance for the price, LGA 1151 processor

Motherboard – MSI Z97 LGA – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics CardQuadro K4000 – pricey but you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Kingston 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 850 EVO-Series 1TB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD LG Electronics Super Multi Drive – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I get files mailed to me on a DVD.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes!

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS Windows 10 Pro OEM – The new supported standard, if you don’t upgrade now you may be forced into it soon

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.