My old overclocked Q9650 desktop was an absolutely awesome system, but 9 years after that CPU was released, I figured it was time to upgrade. Other than everyday light tasks, I mainly use my desktop for gaming and software development. I wanted to go HEDT this time, so I started putting together some options. The goal is to eventually use Crossfire/mGPU as an upgrade path, depending on how support for those features pans out as DirectX 12 matures. I also wanted an upgrade path to a higher core count processor if future games start having better multicore support.
Due to the possibility of multiple GPUs, and the decision to go with NVME drives, the typical desktop processors with 28 lanes was not an option I was comfortable with, especially given the fact that I like my systems to last several years (other than GPU upgrades, which have generally lasted around 3 years). Here are some comments on the builds I rejected.
Intel's 8-series launch is too new, and does not have support for enough PCIE lanes. AMD has done a great job with Ryzen (kudos!), but to get the lanes I wanted, I would have needed to go Threadripper, and here in Canada that would have meant over $700 just for the processor, and over $400 for a motherboard. Sigh. Intel's latest HEDT launch has been a "clustertruck", where anything below 10 cores does not support more than 28 PCIE lanes. What the hell, Intel? That meant going with at least a i9-7900X - at the time of writing, that's around $1200 CAD. Ouch. Also, for some stupid reason, Intel keeps using cheap TIM, which means you need an extravagant cooling solution to even have a chance at taming the heat from these beasts. Awful.
Ultimately, I went for a Broadwell-E solution. Broadwell seems like a forgotten stepchild of the Intel product line. It had very little presence in consumer desktop versions (compared with Haswell and Skylake), and Broadwell-E launched at ridiculous prices for somewhat modest increases over Haswell-E. However, for my use cases, it checks all the boxes. I also have a lot of experience working with an i7-5960X in a professional environment working with real-time 3D scanning technology, and clearly saw the benefits of the X99 platform (interestingly, quad-channel memory made a massive difference for this use case). While the i7-6950X would have been pretty baller, it's still ridiculously overpriced. I opted for the 6-core i7-6850K, which seemed like a good balance between number of (useful) cores and thermal output. It has also dropped down in price to $450 CAD or so, which actually seems pretty reasonable for its level of performance.
6 cores, 40 PCIE lanes, NVME boot and storage drives, and a few upgrade paths, I feel I should be set for several years. Mark your calendars - new build coming in 2024!
I am not usually one for "bling" in a case, but I wanted to do something subtle to give the system some character. I picked up a magnetic RGB strip and set it to a dim orange colour. I have an ever-growing assortment of Noctua fans, and wanted something that fit in with the Noctua brown-beige and the red RADEON logo on the graphics card. It turned out really well. An unintended consequence of adding the LEDs was the effect that it has on the fans (when set to a dim brightness). The refresh rate of the light interacts with the speed of the fans, and at one point I thought one of my fans was defective since it appeared to be spinning extremely slowly. Again, just a trick of the light, and shining a flashlight on the fan revealed that it was spinning fine. It's a cool effect that I highly recommend exploring in your own builds. Admittedly, the pictures could be better, since they don't quite convey the nice warm glow that the case puts out.
The build went relatively smoothly, although I was initially missing the LGA2011-v3 bracket for the Noctua U14s cooler (reused from my old build, cooler bought pre-X99). I found it slightly more daunting to overclock the processor and RAM compared with my old LGA 775 system. Even just to run the processor at stock speeds with the RAM at XMP settings was not straightforward. The XMP setting bumps BCLK up to 125 MHz instead of 100 MHz, which seems to throw off the rest of the motherboard's "easy OC" options (it initially suggested a 5 Ghz OC - that's not going to happen!). In the end, I was able to get everything working the way I wanted - 3000 MHz on the RAM using the recommended XMP settings (manually entered), with a relatively modest overclock on the processor (4.125 GHz compared with stock 3.6 GHz). In the short term, I'm perfectly happy with this, but as the processor starts to age a bit more, I will aim for closer to 4.4 GHz to eke out a bit more performance.
Once Windows 10 was installed and all drivers were set up, etc, I started having a really bizarre issue. The computer had no stability issues while running Prime 95, 3DMark, etc, but if I left the computer for awhile, then came back, it would reboot as soon as I touched the mouse or keyboard. I narrowed it down to the screen dimming; if I disabled the screen dimming so that it never turned off, everything was perfectly stable. After some digging into Windows minidump files, it turned out to be a graphics driver issue. A dose of Driver Cleaner and a fresh install of the latest AMD WHQL driver package completely resolved the issue. Definitely a weird one.
FYI, build is named "Brain" after Penny's dog in Inspector Gadget. What can I say, I'm a child of the 80s.
More details and component reviews to follow.