ITT people who VERY MUCH don't know anything about computers :/
The more cores the better. If it's just a uni course, get an i7 930,
and at least 6gb ram. If you're rendering your own feature length indie
3DCG film, get a two socket server mobo, put as many cores as possible
in each socket, and get 24gb. And build as many of these as you can
2.) Get DDR3. Unless you're exceedingly broke, there
should be no reason not to get DDR3. That and you'll have to have it for
an i7 930.
3.) GPU doesn't matter at this point for rendering.
It is all done by the CPU. You can get an nvidia card to get CUDA, but
Maya/Max aren't going to use that yet.
4.) 64 bit OS all the way.
Booting in safe mode might save you just a little bit of headroom, but
unless you're just using the thing as a dedicated render box (in which
case, yes you'd run linux) just install a fresh copy of your OS and
don't bog it down with a bunch of unnecessary shit. After I install
windows I make sure my drivers are fine, and then anything else I clear
out of the tool tray, or disable from starting at boot, etc.
decent gaming card will be fine. The only place that the video card
really helps you is displaying a lot of stuff at the same time/really
high res meshes. But that's what you have layers for. If you're really
worried about it, go spend $1300 on a pro card.
7.) Getting an
SSD is a good suggestion, but it's not really necessary. It's nice, but
it isn't going to speed up your render settings. HD's are cheap, get one
for your os, get a bunch of 1 tb drives and raid them for your storage.
Striping them will speed up image save times, but that's probably
negligible. (I'm editing HD footage like a champ off of just one drive).