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What's the best Computer for game design?

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Any normal desktop will do just fine. A semi-new graphics card (GeForce 7XXX) is recommended, since they are extremely cheap, but memory is probably the most important component.

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Those tools aren't really for game design so much as they are for art.

Development machines can be almost anything; I learned on an old Atari and slogged for years on a K6-2/200. Machines that run those art packages might need a lot of RAM and substantial processing power, but if you're just learning, I seriously doubt you'll be doing anything to justify an expensive machine.

However, the machine itself is significantly cheaper than a single license of any of those tools, so I doubt the hardware expense is your biggest problem with learning.

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If you want to use packages like Maya, you will definitely need a lot of RAM. Also, I believe there are video cards specifically made for such programs, such as the Oxygen Labs line (although I don't think those cards run very well within runtime games - so you might not want to bother with that.)

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I use a macbook pro (just a preference, windows will run them all too) here for all my game art. Of course I use it for photography, art, programming, 3d renders, pretty much everything maya, adobe, corel, and the like.

But as others have stated, you can use anything really but please make sure you have lots of ram. Also these programs are not cheap. I've spent over 15k for my software. You may be better off downloading personal learning versions (if the program has it) or if you go to a college you can get a student discount sometimes depending on your school.

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Nearly all pc's will run those applications just fine. However, when you're using complex scenes or models, moddeling as well as setting up your scene will become harder, much faster on slower and/or older machines.
Render times will equally take longer on slower and/or older machines.

Memory as well as good processing power will benefit you the most in all cases.

So in short, a heavy machine is not required but does tend to make things a lot easier.

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To give you a concrete idea, I use the computer I bought 5 years ago to do work in 3Dsmax... That's a 2.1 Ghz Athlon XP (2700+), 1 GB of RAM, and a Radeon 9600XT. Definitely not a powerhouse by today's standards, but still, I can enable basic shadows, textures, etc, in the viewport with only a very minor performance hit...

These apps use OpenGL or DirectX, so what's really important is just the graphics card. When it comes to rendering, I don't think it matters what your computer is, it'll still take hours to render minutes of animation..

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