My existing system is still quite powerful, so why upgrade?
Hi all. I was pretty captivated by the Ryzen CPUs when they first came out a few years ago. Back in August I’d noticed several issues beginning to creep up on my old Alienware X51 R2. Believe it or not it’s now 5 years old. It’s done very well, and had numerous upgrades over the years, but I felt it was time to replace it for a number of reasons:
- I’ve been having kinda a lot of issues with the Nvidia drivers and my GeForce GTX 645 lately.
- For certain tasks, like running multiple virtual machines, and especially compiling programs in Cygwin, the Intel i5-4440 CPU is beginning to show its age.
- When I upgraded to 16GB of RAM (the most it will take), I noticed a bunch of new firmware bugs about memory occasionally not being recognised.
- My old 1 TB HDD that came with the machine was beginning to get slower and slower – not a good sign, and also very annoying.
Having said all of that, I still love this machine and it looks amazing, but I knew it wouldn’t be worth fixing everything on it, and some limitations like the RAM couldn’t be fixed anyway.
So I set about figuring out what to replace it with. I figured I wanted a faster CPU and the ability to take a lot more RAM for future proofing. I had a look at pre-built systems, but the high end ones were all focused on gaming, meaning a slower CPU and a powerful GPU – not what I needed. It’s been a while since I did a post like this. The closest thing was probably the posts about my old laptop that then broke really quickly. Hopefully this time it will go better 🙂
Choosing the hardware
The first thing I wanted to decide was the CPU, because for my use case that’s the most important part.
The CPU – Ryzen 3600
I was quite keen on buying and AMD CPU after hearing about the security issues with Intel’s Management Engine and the Meltdown vulnerability that only Intel CPUs are affected by. Just to be clear, this is a personal choice and I don’t take issue with anyone who prefers Intel. AMD processors certainly have their problems as well.
See as the AMD Ryzen CPUs came out a few years ago, and had great success, I thought I should look at them. After some browsing, I found the best option for me was the Ryzen 3600. This is a 6-core CPU with SMT (like hyperthreading), as opposed to my old i5-4440 with 4 cores and no hyperthreading. Overall, the Ryzen 3600 is around 50-80% faster by most measures, while using less power, which I’m pleased to say is going to become a common pattern.
Fancy brands and features like RGB RAM aren’t important to me particularly. I don’t generally need a specific clock speed either, but I heard with the Ryzen CPUs, the infinity fabric is sensitive to memory speed, so I went for a Corsair Vengeance LPX 3200MHz kit.
I knew I wanted more RAM than in the Alienware, but I had a budget, so I ended up getting the two 16GB modules, and decided to get a really good motherboard so I could add more RAM in future if I needed to. The single 32 GB modules were either slower or really expensive.
One thing that’s great about AMD’s Ryzen CPUs is that you can often upgrade to a newer generation of CPU even if you have an older motherboard. I could have gone for a cheaper B450-based motherboard and applied a firmware update so it’d work with my Ryzen 3600, but there were a number of problems with this:
- Most of these older boards could take “only” 64GB of RAM. This was more than I needed, but I’d rather have a motherboard that I won’t end up having to replace for a long time.
- I might have needed one of AMD’s older CPUs or a boot kit in order to upgrade the BIOS – too much of a hassle for me.
- If I wanted to upgrade my CPU later, I’d probably need a new motherboard – the B450 chipset was meant for first-gen Ryzen and can only go so far.
So for future-proofing, I went for an X570-based motherboard instead, specifically the ASRock Phantom Gaming 4. This is one of the cheaper motherboards, but can take 128 GB of RAM, has lots of SATA ports and PCI express lanes, and 10-phase power for solid CPU power delivery. The power delivery is especially important for stability if you upgrade to a really top-end Ryzen CPU. It also has an onboard heatsink for the chipset as you can see in the photo (top right):
This seems strange to me, but apparently it’s normal for X570 motherboards. This also seems to perform well and prevent itself from overheating, unlike some models. I did see a comparison where one model overheated really badly, though I am now unable to find it for some reason.
After recent issues running GetDevInfo on NVME drives (now fixed with v1.0.6), I wanted to use an NVME drive as my main boot drive in the new PC. I’m going to keep my 1 TB Samsung 850 QVO drive from VMs too, but I thought it’d be good to get some of that amazing NVME performance I keep hearing about.
After some shopping, I realised the NVME drives had come down a lot in price since I last looked. I eventually went for a 512 GB Sabrent Rocket using the M.2 connector. It even came in a nice metal box.
Ryzen PC: What Next?
We’ve now covered the main parts of the hardware that make up this system. The next post will demonstrate the case, fans and PSU I picked. Then we’ll jump into assembly and several notes I made while building that might help anyone else in a similar boat. There will also be a link to the PC Part Picker list I made in case anyone wants to replicate this build.
After that, we’ll do benchmarks to compare the new and old systems, and I’ll point out the configuration and issues I encountered to help anyone else building a similar system. This was my first self-build, so there were plenty of things I did wrong 🙂
That’s all from me for now, but stay tuned for more posts soon!