Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kommanders New GodBox

So we just finished building Kommander a new computer, and man is it a hell of a box.

He bought the computer in 2002, and hasn't upgraded since 2003 so his box was getting long in the tooth. He couldn't play any of the newer games at more than the minimum settings... or at all in some cases. THe original system was a quite good for the time Alienware PC, but over the course of 5 years, standards change. Memory has gone from DDR to DDR2 (and jsut recently DDR3), graphics have changed from AGP to PCI express, hard drives have gone from IDE to Sata2, even power supplies have changed. Basically, a computer from 2002 can't be economically upgraded at this point, you jsut need to replace everything but the case.

So, he comes to me and says "I don't want to upgrade my computer for 5 years, what should I buy?"

Well now... We went for the most future proof combined with the most bang for the buck, and this is what we came up with.

1. Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (4 core 2.4ghz - retail with standard HSF)
2. Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6 Motherboard
3. 2x 1 gig 1200MHZ DDR3
4. EVGA GeForce 8800gts wit 320mg of GDDR3
5. Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500gb SATA2 drive with 16mb cache
6. Antec tripower 650 watt ultra quiet power supply
7. 4x Antec ultra quiet 80mm double ball bearing fans

Originally we ordered what I thought was a motherboard and RAM combo, so I never checked it to see if it was the correct RAM. Unfortunately, it was actually a CPU RAM combo, and we had ordered the wrong memory for the motherboard (ddr2 instead of ddr3, and they aren't compatible), but a quick trip to Frys and several hundred dollars later (DDR 3 IS FRIKKEN EXPENSIVE - but also insanely fast) and we are golden.

Even better, the proc is specced at 2.4ghz and 1066mhz FSB, but with this CPU and RAM, it runs just fine at 1333mhz fsb, and 2.7ghz without even adjusting voltage or raising the heat of the CPU... at all really. Oh and the MoBo utilities let you adjust your overclocking on the fly; including independent adjustment of all relevant speeds and voltages (pci clock, memory clock, memory latency, bus timing, and cpu clock, plus memory, pci, and cpu voltages)

The only things he kept from his original box were the case, the hard drive (to use as a download drive), and the DVD/CD burner . He also grabbed a new Logitech bluetooth wireless mosue and keyboard (that I thought I wouldnt like, but is actually very nice.)

The total cost, including the unexpectedly expensive replacement RAM was just over $1500; and a bargain at that price let me tell you. If you were starting from scratch, it would have been an extra $100 for the case (it's a prety nice case), and $50 for a decent quality DVD burner.

You can buy a similar system from Dell without all the overclocking goodness... for $3000. This, is why I only ever buy low end corporate or grandma computers from the mass market vendors folks.

GOD DAMN this is one fast box. I have never in my life seen a faster windows boot time. Seriously, you go from device config screen to responsive desktop in under 5 seconds.

We did a little testing based on what we had available at the moment (we hadn't hooked the system up to the net yet for patching etc...). I had to actually shoot the screen with my camera since we had no network yet (well, I could have played USB drive games, but I didn't feel like it).

Here's a pic (click for larger) of the box with 5, 250mb DiVX encoded AVIs playing, and the (rather huge) game F.E.A.R. installing off a DVD in the background (onto the same drive the movies were playing off of):

You can see that the average utilization is only 20% or so (actually that was a peak, it was down below 15% most of the time), and that three of the cores are taking all the system chores, while the fourth handles the video rendering. The pagefile usage is negligible for a 2 gig system at 364mb, and the memory loading is quite low, with 1.65 gigs available.

Only after opening 25, 250mg DiVX encoded AVIs (and still installing FEAR in the background by the way) did we manage to peg one core; and the average system load remained around 35-40%, with full responsiveness. The memory utilization was still quite low with 600mb of swap allocated and 1.4gb of RAM available. I could have done all my normal desktop tasks and never notice a performance hit.

We used one application (mplayer classic) for most of the videos, which opens multiple instances, and multiple plugin renderers; but the way it's threaded they all open as children of the first. This means that by default they'll all run on the same processor (you can tweak that, but we weren't going to mess with it).

I've had lots of folks ask me "why would I ever need four cores, or even two. ONe core is jsut fine for what I do", to which I tell them trust me, two cores IS better, even if you don't use applications that will thread across multiple cores, because of multi tasking. If you run a lot of different applications at once, the multiple cores make a HUGE difference.

Just for comparison, I have a single core 2.4 ghz machine with 2 gigs of ram instead of this quad core 2.4ghz with 2 gigs. You can see that this system is only using one core for rendering the video so you would think things would be roughly comparable, excepting the fact that my ram is just DDR, and allowing for processing overhead right?

Not even close... I can open TWO large divx videos before my CPU pegs, all my RAM gets allocates, and my system becomes marginally responsive; because of the constant context switching and thread scheduling and memory games etc...etc.. In a quad core system, the system management load is spread out over the other cpus, allowing the assigned core to spend all it's time on the rendering task. Yay for symmetric multiprocessing.

Now for a plain outrightreal world performance test relevant to gamers, we ran the F.E.A.R timedemo at 1024x768 (FEAR doesnt support 1280x1024 - the max natie of this monitor) with every graphical option maxed out, and every quality setting in the driver tweaked to maximum:

This is the fastest non-SLI F.E.A.R. timedemo I've ever seen. YOu'll see it never dropped below 60fps, and the average was 125. For comparison, my single core 2.4 with 2 gig ram and one of the best of the AGP generation of video cards - a radeon 9800 with 256megs - can't even run the demo at these settings.)

Lord, what this box would do with a real 64 bit OS, 4x 2 gig sticks, and a 6x 500gb raid array on it (which you can do on the MoBo, plus two other drives mirrored together for the OS) ;-)

I don't know why I'm so jealous, I work with multi-million dollar computers every day that are a hundred times faster than this one.... of course I can't install Oblivion on those ones.