Hardware Confusion 2019

Author: Koroush Ghazi

Last Modified: January 2019


It's been almost precisely ten years since I first built my current, soon-to-be-replaced, system, as detailed in the Hardware Confusion 2009 article I originally wrote in January 2009. I never intended the system to last for ten years, and while it had some major upgrades in the form of several new graphics cards, an SSD, a Blu-ray drive, along with some new peripherals, the core of the system (CPU, Motherboard, RAM, PSU, fans, case, monitor) has endured ten long years of use. Quite frankly, it's been a fantastic ten years with this system. It's never skipped a beat, operating with total stability, even on the hottest days, and under the heaviest of loads, for hours on end, day-in, day-out. It remains sufficiently responsive for daily use.

Sadly, the system is now well past its expected life, and I have little doubt that shortly the motherboard, power supply, RAM, and/or CPU, will either go out with a bang, or start corrupting my data, possibly in a manner that I may not detect until it's too late. Therefore, before any catastrophic event potentially damages my re-usable components, or more importantly, my irreplaceable data, it's time to retire this system gracefully and move to a new one, also allowing me to enjoy a range of recent technological developments absent from my 2009-era PC.

The 2009 System Specs as they currently stand are as follows:

CPU: Intel Core i7 920

CPU Cooling: Stock Intel HS&F

Motherboard: ASUS P6T-Deluxe X58

RAM: 6GB (3 x 2GB) G.Skill 1333MHz DDR3

Graphics: EVGA GeForce GTX 970 SC 4GB

Sound: Onboard ADI AD2000B HD Audio Chipset

Monitor: 24" Samsung 2443BW LCD

Primary Drive: 240GB Intel 520 SSD

Network Drives: 8TB (2x2TB, 1x4TB) WD My Passport USB HDDs attached to router

Optical Drive: Pioneer BDR-205 Blu-Ray Writer SATA

Keyboard & Mouse: MS Wireless Desktop 3050

Power Supply: Seasonic M12 700W

Case: Cooler Master Stacker 832 SE

OS: Windows 10 Professional 64-bit

Network: ASUS PCE-AC56 PCI-E WiFi Adapter

Router: ASUS RT-AC68U

The 2019 System Specs consist of entirely new components, combined with a range of existing components from the system above (denoted in italics).

CPU: Intel Core i7 9700K

CPU Cooling: be quiet! Pure Rock CPU Cooler

Motherboard: ASUS Prime Z390-A Socket 1151

RAM: 32GB (2x16GB) Corsair Vengeance DDR4

Graphics: EVGA GeForce GTX 970 SC 4GB

Sound: Onboard Realtek ALC S1220A HD

Monitor: 24" Samsung 2443BW LCD

Primary Drive: 500GB Samsung 970 EVO M.2 NVMe SSD

Secondary/Scratch Drive: 240GB Intel 520 SSD

Network Drives: 8TB (2x2TB, 1x4TB) WD My Passport USB HDDs attached to router

Optical Drive: Pioneer BDR-205 Blu-Ray Writer SATA

Keyboard & Mouse: MS Wireless Desktop 3050

Power Supply: Seasonic Focus Gold 650W

Case: Fractal Design Define R6 Black

Network: ASUS PCE-AC56 PCI-E WiFi Adapter

Router: ASUS RT-AC68U

As with my last system, I am not planning to overclock. The main change with this system is that I will not be using it for gaming, hence my decision to substantially reduce the cost by keeping my old GTX 970 GPU, and my 24" 1920x1200 60Hz TN LCD monitor. I plan to eventually replace the monitor with a 28" or larger 4K IPS panel, but a decent one would currently set me back almost another 50% on top of the cost of the system, so it's not worth it yet. Note that the new components were all purchased from PC Case Gear in Australia, but they were purchased at regular retail prices; as with my previous systems, I am not sponsored or provided free hardware by any retailer or hardware manufacturer.

Update: The Parts are Here. Where's the Ryzen?

The parts are here, as pictured above, and the build will begin shortly. Nothing looks like it was damaged in transit (fingers crossed). The Fractal Design Define R6 Blackout case was known to be delayed when I ordered the system, but has been sent out now and should be delivered early next week. I'm confident things will go smoothly, thanks to some planning and useful advice from others. I was completely rusty as to the state of play with the latest hardware, and admittedly, also somewhat lazy, with some of my initial component picks. That's where some food for thought really helped me refine the system with better components at a lower cost. And of course, that's what I intend this article, when it's completed, to do in turn for you!

I believe everything has been accounted for: the motherboard supports the new Intel 9000 series out of the box, as its (August 2018 dated) manual points out, so I shouldn't have to somehow pre-flash the BIOS to support the CPU - that would be a pain. The 150W cooler is rated well above the i7 9700K's nominal 95W TDP, and comes with Thermal Interface Material (TIM) already applied, so it should be an easy installation and should keep the CPU at reasonable temps with minimal fuss or noise; remember, I'm not going to overclock, and I'll tell you why later. The case is a highly-rated mid-tower, so there should be plenty of room to breathe. Everything should be a pop-it-in, plug-it-all-together, and turn-it-on affair... shouldn't it? We'll find out whether I screw things up or not. Don't worry, I'll be honest about any mistakes I make along the way, and I nearly made a couple during the system selection phase which I'll detail.

On to the "Why didn't you buy the Ryzen 2700 dude?" and the "Didn't you know the amazing Ryzen 3000 series is coming out soon?!" queries. On the surface, this appears to be a major blunder in and of itself. All the cool kids are buying AMD CPUs these days, why did I get an Intel?

Firstly, why not a currently-available and cheaper Ryzen 2700X instead of an i7 9700K? I did seriously consider it, especially as I don't game much now. The benchmarks were all over the place, but the 9700K has what seems to be the right balance of single and multi-threaded performance, and the right number of physical cores combined with a high boost clock, making it better now and into the future; it covers all the bases as a "Jack of All Trades". Most reviews seem to agree that the i7 9700K is a better CPU than the 2700X, but at a higher price. The price difference wasn't significant, considering this is the last desktop PC I will ever build, so I spent the extra few bucks.

Now the big one: Why not wait for the Ryzen 3000 series? Three key reasons:

1. The single biggest reason is that I'm very worried that my current 10 year old system will die literally any day now. Motherboard, CPU, RAM, SSD, all the case fans, and especially the Power Supply, are all running well past normal life expectancy at the ten year mark, even for high-end gear. The various rumors I read indicated that the next-gen Ryzen Desktop CPUs probably won't hit stores until March or April at the earliest, even if they're announced next week. I don't want to risk blowing my PSU for example and wind up damaging the several components I want to reuse (GPU, PCI-E Wifi card, existing SSD, BD drive), or having some of my data corrupted through subtle CPU/RAM faults and have it find its way into my backups, or have my SSD brick on me with no warning. I use my system not only to earn a living, it's my primary recreational and educational computing device, as well as my central store and manipulator of personal data. I'm not risking that just to save a few bucks.

2. I want to get on with my Linux Experiment ASAP, and waiting several months, or starting now then having to transfer everything onto a new system partway through, would not only be very disruptive, it would also ruin the continuity of benchmarks and general system impressions. It's always better to evaluate software on the same system and the same environment from start to finish.

3. Intel i7 9700K CPUs are in short supply at the moment. If the Ryzen announcement is a bust next week - and by "bust", I mean they don't live up to the incredible expectations people have come to have for them - then the 9700K in particular, as an enthusiast's price/performance "sweet spot" for the current generation of Intel CPUs, will rise in price rapidly or wind up being sold out. So I've gambled a bit by getting one now.

As you can see, at least one of the reasons above is fairly unique to me and the handful of people like me, who've kept a 10 year old system running as their daily driver. A bit less unique is my need to get on with doing what I have to do without worrying about sitting and waiting for the "next big thing", which as we know is always "just around the corner".

On the other side of the equation, it is true to say that it's typically best to upgrade your CPU/system on the crux of a new architecture, to maximize its longevity. Since AMD is moving to a 7nm process for their next-gen Ryzen CPUs in the first half of 2019, the rumors are that these CPUs will have even more cores, be faster, use less energy, and be cheaper than the Intel equivalents. For example, the Ryzen 7 3700X, the alleged direct competitor to the i7 9700K, is rumored to have 12 physical cores, 24 with Hyperthreading, and start at 4.2GHz, boosting to 5GHz - compared to the 9700K's 8 physical cores, no Hyperthreading, 3.6GHz base, 4.9Ghz boost clocks - all at (again, rumored), a lower price.

I completely agree with this approach, so I'm recommending that unless you are in a situation like mine, you should do as I say, not as I've done, and wait for solid, substantiated, information on the specifications, and the real-world performance, of the upcoming Ryzen 3000 series, before upgrading your system. You may save a lot of money, and also get better performance, just by sitting on your wallet for three months.

Just to stir up the hornet's nest a bit, I can't resist noting that, as I've frequently seen in almost 30 years of being a tech enthusiast, people tend to heap hyperbolic praise on the underdog, in this case, AMD, and all manner of (sometimes undeserved) scorn on the perceived evil overlords, Intel and Nvidia. What's my opinion? I think that with Ryzen, AMD has definitely reintroduced much-needed competition to the CPU market, and we all benefit, both with better CPUs, and lower prices. I genuinely hope it continues, not just with CPUs, but with GPUs too.

Let's be sane here though, and not turn into giddy fanboys and fangirls. AMD doesn't exactly have a sterling record of being able to maintain their pace of innovation. They've rocked the market before, and have subsequently failed to live up to the hype. My advice would be to just keep a cool head, and hope for the best, but expect the worst. I have a feeling that realistically, the Ryzen 3000 consumer-oriented CPUs will deliver a competitive alternative to Intel. Any speculation that you could grab a 16/32 core/thread Ryzen 3000 for peanuts, easily overclock it to beyond 5GHz, and have it performing the same Instructions Per Cycle (IPC) as a 9700K or 9900K, is dangerously fanciful. You know what, though? If AMD can manage to do it, then that would be fantastic! If they can't, so be it, but let's not have bitter recriminations - the hype is largely fan-generated.

For the rationale behind all of the components I bought, lots of hopefully useful tips, tidbits and thoughts, and the reason for my mysterious use of the phrase "the last desktop PC", stay tuned for the full article!