[SOLVED] First computer build after 8+ years: advice sought

Jan 13, 2019
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Introduction

My main computer, on which I am typing this message, I first built at the end of 2010, and now needs replacing: it has become unreliable over the last year or two, with random blue screens not fixed by upgrading the PSU to a high-end 1.2kW unit and with no errors showing on MemTest. Also, performance is now problematic in a number of tasks, including photograph editing, gaming, watching 4k video at 60fps, amateur software development and general multi-tasking.

I am now looking to build a completely new system, having not undertaken a major computer build for a number of years, and I should be grateful for anyone's thoughts on my provisional conclusions.


Use cases

I have quite a varied set of use cases for my PC, including:


  • ■photograph editing;
    ■video editing (currently 1080p, but would like to be able to edit 4k video in future);
    ■gaming;
    ■amateur software development;
    ■watching high-resolution video (my current computer cannot cope with 4k @ 60fps);
    ■Blender (for low-resolution graphics for software development but also increasingly for 3d printing; not so much high resolution rendering);
    ■office tasks with heavy multi-tasking (including using an all-in-one LED ("laser") printer with a very efficient double sided ADF for the scanner);
    ■storage of sensitive data for professional purposes (I use an encrypted SSD to store this in order to conform to European data protection legislation); and
    ■some other miscellaneous things such as computer control of model railways.
The amateur software development is of an open source computer game called Simutrans-Extended, a fork of the original Simutrans (a sort of Transport Tycoon clone) from the late 1990s. The original game was not very demanding on hardware at all, but the Extended version is much more complex (and the maps are orders of magnitude larger) and is actually very computationally intensive. I added substantial multi-threading support in 2016 for the most computationally intensive parts of the code, albeit because of the older architecture of the game and the fact that the multi-threading applies only to specific parts of the code, not all cores are fully utilised when running (the details of how it works are quite complex and I can elaborate if this would assist).

However, such parts as are multi-threaded are able to take full advantage of an arbitrary number of threads and are not limited to 2 threads as some commercial titles are. Parts of the code remain single threaded, however. Performance of this software when using a non-optimised debugging build on large maps (such as when users report bugs and upload reproduction cases in very large saved games) is problematically unresponsive on my current computer.

Also, there are some potential new features that I would like to add in the future that are not likely to be workable with <16 or so cores.


My current build


For reference, my current specification is as follows:


  • ■Intel Core i7 950 (first generation, 4 cores) overclocked to 4.12Ghz;
    ■12Gb of RAM (which is proving inadequate especially given my fondness for large numbers of browser tabs);
    ■2x 980Ti in SLI*;
    ■a PCIe Creative sound card**;
    ■a TSST DVDWBD SH-B123L rewritable DVD drive;
    ■2x SATA SSDs: (1) 1Tb Samsung EVO 2.5" from 2016**; and (2) one OCZ Vertex 2 3.5" 800Gb from 2010;
    ■a 2Tb WD Green HDD;
    ■dual monitors: (1) 4k 31" Asus Predator XB321HK; and (2) an Asus 1440p monitor (in vertical orientation);
    ■a 1.2kW PSU**; and
    ■Windows 7 64-bit.
* This is not an ideal arrangement; but I wanted to be able to enjoy 4k gaming in early 2016, and this was the only way of doing it at the time.
** These are upgraded components

The HDD is mainly used to store photographs and videos and is now virtually full and problematically slow. The old 850Gb SSD used to be the main system drive until it was replaced with the 1Tb model; it has now been cascaded to being the encrypted drive (using VeraCrypt) to store client data that I use for my professional work. The other volumes on the system are not encrypted.

The system is air-cooled using a very large low noise heatsink from Noctua with the two huge fans. The degree of cooling is not ideal; semi-idle (i.e. with web browsing) CPU temperatures to-day are 60-70C. The GPUs very easily get to 80C and then thermally throttle under load: I had to cut a large hole in the side of my case and sit a fan in that hole right next to them to mitigate this somewhat. The two cards are problematically close to each other in my current case, so heat builds up between them: I have had to remove the backplate of one and use the SLI protector blanking plugs as spacers to force them a few mm more apart than they would otherwise be. I believe that these are factory overclocked cards.


Parts intended to be retained for the new build


A number of the components are either fairly new or still good and do not need upgrading. The parts that I intend (unless some reason becomes apparent not to do so) to use in the new build for their original primary purpose are as follows:


  • ■2x 980Ti in SLI;
    ■dual monitors: (1) 4k 31" Asus Predator XB321HK; and (2) an Asus 1440p monitor (in vertical orientation)*;
    ■the PCIe Creative sound card;
    ■the TSST DVDWBD SH-B123L rewritable DVD drive; and
    ■the 1.2kW PSU.
* I am likely to replace this with another of similar specification to allow me to use my existing monitor in my new shed with a small Intel i5 NUC, but that should not materially affect this build.

I also intend to migrate all of the storage devices to the new case and use them at least initially to transfer data, although the HDD I plan to disconnect and cease to use once I have transferred the files. I plan to cascade the existing main SSD to be the encrypted SSD after a while and retire the old SSD (but possibly keep it connected as it is silent unlike the HDD and draws much less power). This is significant for the choice of case.

The graphics cards I do plan to upgrade eventually but it seems a little early to do so now.


Room location

The computer will be in my study next to my desk sitting on wooden floorboards. There is enough space for a full tower case, and there will be no real advantage in having a case shorter than necessary.


Budget

I am not heavily constrained by budget, but I do not want to waste money on something that is unlikely ever to be of any noticeable benefit to my current or reasonably likely future use cases.

I tend to build computers to last a long time (my previous major builds being in 1998, 2003 and 2010), with high specifications when initially built that become respectable and then tolerable over the expected lifecycle, which seems to get longer with each generation, so this is relevant to the overall value for money proposition.


Particular requirements

Aside from the use cases given above, my particular preferences are set out below:


  • ■low noise, especially it idle or low loads: I prefer to use "quiet" cases - this is quite a high priority;
    ■a traditional appearance - I am not a fan of glass sides and RGB lighting;
    ■very low maintenance: the less often that I have to clean dust filters, replace fans with failed bearings, etc. the better;
    ■ease of maintenance: accessing the case and adding/removing things should be as non-awkward as possible in every way;
    ■ease of building: I do not want to have to mess around with custom water cooled setups, for example, or work on a cramped, awkward case;
    ■very high responsiveness in general use and photograph/video editing (my current computer is unacceptably slow in photograph editing);
    ■upgradability with relative ease;
    ■longevity given how long that I like my computer builds to last.

Preliminary specifications

I have put together what I think is a sensible outline idea of the sort of system/components that might be sensible to fulfil my requirements, although I am unsure about a number of things, and I should be grateful for feedback on these. These are the components that are currently planned to be new rather than cascaded from my current system:


  • ■AMD Threadripper 2950x (16 core);
    ■Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3 air cooler;
    ■Gigabyte AMD AORUS X399 XTREME E-ATX or Asus Prime X399-A motherboard;
    ■not quite sure about the memory yet, but plenty of it and whatever is recommended to work best with the Threadripper 2;
    ■not entirely sure about the case yet, but something large enough to take E-ATX and optimised for quiet computing, perhaps something like the Be Quiet! BG012;
    ■Samsung EVO 850 4TB SSD (for storage of photographs, videos and downloads, not encrypted); and
    ■a ~1Tb M.2 drive for boot and system applications - I am not sure of which one yet.
I am provisionally planning to use the Precision Boost Overdrive feature to overclock this CPU rather than overclock manually as I have done with my last two builds.


Areas of uncertainty

As will be noted above, I have yet fully to research a number of the components; any thoughts in this regard would be much appreciated.

I am still not entirely sure as to whether the Threadripper is the best architecture as against the Intel given the latter's better per clock performance, although I note some concerns about the latter's thermal performance and the price difference seems to be very great.

I am not sure whether air cooling as specified above would be preferable to an all-in-one water cooler with a very large (~360mm) radiator (an open loop system is not something that I would consider owing to the extra work involved in building and maintaining it). Some tests seem to show little or no thermal improvement with this sort of liquid cooling (although I am not sure whether this includes testing with the larger radiators which a larger case as I am considering should be able to fit), and I note that, given my strong preference for quietness, one has to contend with the noise of the pump as well as the noise of the fans. There is also the question of whether to water cool CPU, GPUs (given the planned upgrade in 1-2 years of these), both or neither, as well as the question of how best to cool the VRMs etc. if not using an air cooler for the CPU. I should be most grateful for people's thoughts on this issue.

Thermal paste seems to be applied differently these days, at least in the Youtube videos that I have watched, than was recommended in the 2000s. I recall the standard advice always being to use a small amount of paste and then manually spread it (with gloved hand) to an even, thin film on the die before fixing the heatsink. This was using compound such as the original Arctic Silver. The standard procedure now appears to be to apply several large dollops of it to the die/heatspreader and let the force of attaching the heatsink squash it into a film: but this appears to produce a very thick film, which I always recall being advised (back in the 2000s) was not good at all for thermal conductivity. What has changed - are people just using bad technique now, or have more modern thermal compounds called for newer methods?

Also - I still have plenty of thermal compound from the 2000s left; is it sensible to use it, or is it better to replace it with new thermal compound?

Finally, the operating system: I am still unsure of whether to use Windows 10 or Ubuntu 18.04. I have used Ubuntu for many years on secondary computers, most recently my i5 NUC that I use for work and some other things (and that will be used in my shed when that has been finished), and in many ways it is quite satisfactory, but I worry about things such as compatibility with photograph editing software (Capture One Pro can run in Virtualbox, but it presumably loses GPU acceleration support when doing so and requires more work to set up the storage to be accessible equally from actual Linux in a sensible place). Gaming is less of a concern as my favourite games are mostly compatible with Linux in any event (e.g. Cities: Skylines, Prison Architect and Civilization VI), and Simutrans-Extended is cross-platform, although I have always used Visual Studio for debugging and am not quite sure how to set up a graphical debugger in Linux or how well that Visual Studio works in a VM. I am somewhat concerned by the lack of control over one's own computer that using Windows 10 entails, however. I also intend to upgrade my tablet from an Android tablet of 2014 vintage to a Surface Pro at some point if this makes any difference.


Conclusion

I should be very grateful for people's input in relation to these matters: it would be much appreciated.
 
I can plan out a threadripper build however since you are reusing many parts my inclination would be for you to wait (just 6 months more) until June of 2019. That's when 3rd generation Ryzen will be released. With your new build, those dual 980ti's will still be the limiting factor at 4k resolution. Since you've gone 10 years with your exiting rig, IMHO you definitely can wait another 6 moths for some improved hardware from both red and blue teams. As of right now, the best threadripper's IPC isn't nearly as good as Intel, and Intel's premium price to performance isn't justified. On top of all this, the 9900k was released as a knee jerk response to AMD's increased competition to stay top dog. After 7th gen Intel hasn't been releasing processors from a position of strength, but a counter from AMD. I was fortunate enough to upgrade from an i5 2500k to a R7 1700 when they first came out. For this i'm glad because i'd like to eventually have builds by both teams, but the dust/price to performance needs to settle and the playingfields need to be leveled. Therefore i'm going to sit on this Ryzen system to see the new innovation that is about to come out, as well as the core count/thread per dollar, that will be the new norm. I suspect AMD will come VERY close (Maybe even surpass) to Intel's single core performance with this next release. The lower 7nm fabrication will allow more room for higher core counts and frequency.
 
I can plan out a threadripper build however since you are reusing many parts my inclination would be for you to wait (just 6 months more) until June of 2019. That's when 3rd generation Ryzen will be released. With your new build, those dual 980ti's will still be the limiting factor at 4k resolution. Since you've gone 10 years with your exiting rig, IMHO you definitely can wait another 6 moths for some improved hardware from both red and blue teams. As of right now, the best threadripper's IPC isn't nearly as good as Intel, and Intel's premium price to performance isn't justified. On top of all this, the 9900k was released as a knee jerk response to AMD's increased competition to stay top dog. After 7th gen Intel hasn't been releasing processors from a position of strength, but a counter from AMD. I was fortunate enough to upgrade from an i5 2500k to a R7 1700 when they first came out. For this i'm glad because i'd like to eventually have builds by both teams, but the dust/price to performance needs to settle and the playingfields need to be leveled. Therefore i'm going to sit on this Ryzen system to see the new innovation that is about to come out, as well as the core count/thread per dollar, that will be the new norm. I suspect AMD will come VERY close (Maybe even surpass) to Intel's single core performance with this next release. The lower 7nm fabrication will allow more room for higher core counts and frequency.
 
Jan 13, 2019
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Thank you for your thoughts. If I were upgrading only for performance/features, then I could definitely wait another 6 months (indeed, another 12 months), but my current computer is becoming increasingly unreliable with blue screen errors which take away a great deal of my time and make me very unhappy whenever it fails and interrupts what I am doing. Also, my hard drive is nearly full. In those circumstances, I do not believe that I have the luxury of being able to wait for the ideal time to upgrade.

I really ought to have upgraded some months ago to save all the pain that the repeated failures cause, but I hoped that I would have been able to solve the problem with a PSU upgrade, which transpired not to assist.
 
9 times out of 10 blue screens are graphically related. You most likely have updated your graphics drivers, so i'd be inclined to suspect an issue with your SLI config or with one of your graphics cards. I'd recommend disabling SLI and seeing if the issue replicates with an individual graphics card by testing them each individually, to isolate the cause to possible hardware failure on one of them.
 
Jan 13, 2019
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Thank you: that is very helpful. I will have a go at testing the graphics card issue when I have some time.

As to the parts to be retained:

Parts intended to be retained for the new build

A number of the components are either fairly new or still good and do not need upgrading. The parts that I intend (unless some reason becomes apparent not to do so) to use in the new build for their original primary purpose are as follows:


  • [li]2x 980Ti in SLI;[/li]
    [li]dual monitors: (1) 4k 31" Asus Predator XB321HK; and (2) an Asus 1440p monitor (in vertical orientation)*;[/li]
    [li]the PCIe Creative sound card;[/li]
    [li]the TSST DVDWBD SH-B123L rewritable DVD drive; and[/li]
    [li] the 1.2kW PSU.[/li]
 
The term is called "pancaking". Too much heat between the graphics cards because of little space between them. I've had one graphics card fail in a crossfire config, so lets find that out first before we put together your new system.
 
What I would look real hard at is the actual benefit of SLI in this day and age. Game developers are giving us fewer and fewer titles that actually support SLI, and nVidia itself is providing fewer and fewer cards that can be SLI'd. Just saying, I think SLI as a tech has run its course, and we've reached a point of diminishing returns.
 
Jan 13, 2019
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Thank you both for your replies. Firstly, as to "pancaking": I have real doubts that the crashes that I am seeing relate in any way to GPU temperature. That is because they occur mostly when the GPU is at idle. At idle, the GPUs give temperatures of ~30C. At load, one of them tends to become hot and heat throttled, and so this is an issue in that case; but that does not appear to cause the crashes for the reason just given.

As to the benefits of SLI - the only reason to use SLI in the new build is that I already have the graphics cards. When the graphics cards end up being replaced a year or two hence, the plan would be to use a single card. However, a single 980Ti is generally not adequate for 4k gaming, which is why I bought two in the first place.
 
<Edited UK Currency> No frills and straight to the point:
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant
CPU: AMD - Threadripper 2950X 3.5 GHz 16-Core Processor (£809.59 @ Overclockers.co.uk)
CPU Cooler: Noctua - NH-U14S TR4-SP3 82.52 CFM CPU Cooler (£71.88 @ CCL Computers)
Motherboard: Gigabyte - X399 AORUS XTREME EATX TR4 Motherboard (£415.52 @ Box Limited)
Memory: Corsair - Dominator Platinum 32 GB (4 x 8 GB) DDR4-3600 Memory (£519.99 @ Corsair UK)
Storage: Samsung - 860 Evo 4 TB 2.5" Solid State Drive (£574.98 @ Ebuyer)
Case: Fractal Design - Define R6 Gunmetal ATX Mid Tower Case (£122.96 @ More Computers)
Total: £2514.92
Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
Generated by PCPartPicker 2019-01-15 02:21 GMT+0000
There is room for an optical drive.
32gb quad channel memory kit with the tightest timings I could find at 3600 mhz. With that many cores/threads you don't want to limit quad channel and frequency.


 
Jan 13, 2019
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That is very helpful - thank you. I live in the UK, so the prices are not directly relevant but the part suggestions are most helpful. Thank you again.
 

The point is, while a single 980ti is not adequate for 4k gaming, I submit that unless the game specifically supports SLI, you are going to be, in effect, using a single card anyway( if not less!). So, you have the additional cost, heat, and complexity with no discernible benefit.
 


And my point was that unless the OP has applications that specifically support SLI, he would be better off only using ONE 980ti. His machine would run cooler, use less electricity, and may actually perform better with only one card. As a side benefit, he could sell his second 980ti and help defer the cost of his new system.
 
Jan 13, 2019
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Thank you for your suggestions. Do you think that there is a realistic chance of the fact of there being two graphics cards causing the system instability quite aside from temperature (since, as noted, crashes usually occur when the graphics cards are not stressed and their idle temperatures are circa 30C)? If temperature is likely to be the only issue, then it is not worth removing a card to test whether this helps. However, if there is a realistic likelihood of the problem being something other than temperature, then removing one of the graphics cards might be a worthwhile thing to test.

As to the new build, from what I can tell, the newer motherboards seem to allow more space between graphics cards so that the "pancaking" issue will not be a problem. In relation to software, I do play Battlefield 1, which makes full use of both cards, so I should rather not get rid of one of them until I upgrade to a single, better card in due course. (I have not played this much recently - but I have been very reluctant to do anything too computationally demanding for fear of triggering a blue screen crash in the last 6 months or so).
 


Testing the cards singularly would show if one card or the other is having issues. If one card has issues, that could definately cause the instability when both cards are used.
 
It's not a matter of thinking realistically, as it could realistically be anything. That's why troubleshooting via process of elimination will assist you in ensuring the problem isn't transferred to your new build. Confirmation.
 
Jan 13, 2019
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I am not sure that I understand this reasoning: if the chance of the problem being the graphics card is negligible, why is it worth any non-negligible effort to test for this possibility?
 
Because you don't know for certain. Proof. Otherwise the problem could be unknowing be transferred to your new build. Test each graphics card individually before you use them in your next build please. If instability replicates on only one card, then we've narrowed down the problem. If the issue still replicates on both graphics cards individually then i'd feel more confident in using them in your next system. Especially if your system has onboard graphics and the bsods replicate.
 
Jan 13, 2019
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I am a little unclear. I do not know for certain that I am not dreaming the whole thing, but you are not suggesting testing for that, presumably because the prospect of this eventuality is too remote. Do you really mean that there is a small but non-negligible chance that this sort of problem is caused by one or other graphics card (or alternatively by both in combination) being faulty and that, although relatively small, the chance of this being the cause of the problem is sufficient for it to be worth the time and effort necessary to test for this?

If not, I am afraid that I am not following at all.
 


if we were talking about your health, wouldn't you want to test that there is nothing wrong? Just like a colonoscopy, some procedures are there to eliminate the small, but non-negligible chance that you have colon cancer. In fact, you WANT a no problem found result here.
 

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