Sunday, April 20, 2014

Motherboard, CPU and RAM upgrade: going (almost) all the way

I mentioned earlier that it had been probably more than a decade since I last upgraded my PC. Sacrilege! When you go that long, things get away from you to the point that you can no longer just upgrade a component here and there - the interfaces don't even match up anymore. So a little while ago I had hit up Ebay for a used but somewhat recent Intel DP35DP and Q6600+ combo - just to get my feet back in the water:

This at least got my desktop up to the speed of my 2 year old laptop... but you know what? It just didn't look right in my Corsair Vengeance C70 case. That case demanded something beefier. I decided I wanted a modern gaming system again.

So when the latest Micro Center circular presented me with a deal I couldn't refuse, I jumped on it:

The components:

  • AMD FX-8320 8 core CPU ($129, on sale from $179.99)
  • Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3 rev. 4 ($94, on sale from $159.99)
  • Not pictured - 8GB Crucial Ballistix Sport RAM ($66, on sale from $99)
I took Micro Center's 2 year replacement "warranty" on the CPU - which even the service guy told me is basically just a 2 year extension on their return policy. Come back in 2 years, get a CPU upgrade for free! (Well, really for the $20 it costs for the warranty. Still a good deal.)

My previous desktop processor was an AMD Athlon XP... 12 years ago. I'd been Intel pretty much ever since. I was kind of disappointed to learn that AMD's still got a lot of the same issues with their CPU's - they run hotter than hell, they require their own electrical substation and their memory controllers were scrounged out of Intel's garbage dump - but their raw performance per dollar still can't be beat, and that's at stock speeds. An Intel CPU that runs this fast would cost twice as much, and have fewer cores. I do a lot of video encoding, so I can never have too many cores. Give me ALL THE CORES.

I also read after installing the 990FXA-UD3 that these boards are known for having heat issues with the voltage regulators - but more on that in another post (there is an easy solution).

It's actually a pretty sweet looking board - I like the black and, uh, black-ish silver look. Stock CPU cooler for now, but I'll be talking about upgrading that in another post. I wanted to see how much of a joke this cooler really was first. (Hint: it is more of a groan-inducing pun.)

Closeup of the RAM and CPU cooler. The RAM isn't the prettiest, but it gets the job done. It's also not the fastest, but it... gets the job done. AMD CPU's can't really stress RAM much anyway, so it's fine.

Installed. Matches the black C70 case perfectly. You will notice that I don't have a decent graphics card yet - that's the final piece of the puzzle, and I should have at least a GeForce GTX 760 by early June. Hopefully the 800 series will be around by then and will knock a few bucks off the cost of the 760's (I doubt I'll be able to afford an 860 regardless).

Installation of this board in this case was like butter - in fact I've never had an easier time building a computer (for all intents and purposes, this was a new build). Everything worked on the first try and even Windows 7 played nice - no reinstallation necessary, just a lot of new automatic driver installs and a call to Microsoft's automated re-activation service line. 

The full C70 case with the new components installed.

Performance-wise I can only give you some anecdotes. Right now I'm mainly using these new components for ripping and encoding Blu-Ray discs for my tablet - actually an extremely CPU-intensive task if you want decent quality and small file sizes. I'm using MakeMKV and Handbrake to do the work, encoding at the full 1080p using the "slower" preset, x.264 and "High" profile, no filters, 2 pass encoding at 2000mbps with turbo first pass. With the old Intel setup, I'd get maybe 9fps if I was lucky. (The Athlon XP gave me more like 1.5fps - intolerable!) The Q6600 was fast enough to do about one BD disc in a 24 hour day.

This new rig is giving me about 50fps on the first pass and 30fps on the second. That's at the stock 3.5ghz. That's fast enough to re-encode a BD disc in an evening. It feels very fast! But still, someday we'll be able to do this kind of thing in 5 minutes - there's still plenty of room for improvement.

Next up: CPU cooler upgrade and overclocking!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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