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P-166: New Computer Build: December 2015: Part 1: CPU, RAM, and Motherboard

by on Dec.02, 2015, under Inventions, Tutorials

I had planned to wait until the release of the Oculus Rift Consumer Version (CV1) before upgrading my computer, but I have had some issues lately with my machine which indicated that my graphics card, at least, is dying, and my RAM may be about to fail as well. I already had to replace on stick due to faulty RAM, leaving me with 6GB’s out of my original 8GB’s. My machine is now almost six years old, and has been used extensively for heavy-duty tasks for the entire time, so it has done very well to last this long. This was the first machine that I build completely from scratch (instead of upgrading or buying a prebuilt machine) and it has been my most reliable and longest lasting machine.

However, I now feel that I should upgrade immediately, instead of waiting until Quarter 1 2016, since, number 1, the Oculus Rift could be four months away (If it releases in late March, or is delayed), and I don’t know if my current machine will last that long, especially if I use it extensively. Secondly, it is unlikely that there will be any major hardware releases in the next few months.
So, on to the build.

Initially, I had hoped to replace only my graphics card and RAM, and buy a new Hard disk. However, my CPU is an AMD Phenom II X6, and may not be up to the challenge of the Oculus Rift, or modern Games or Software Programs. If I replace my chip, I will also need to replace my Motherboard, since the AMD AM3 Socket is now obsolete.

The primary purpose of the machine will be, obviously, game development and software development, with gaming being of secondary importance. This means that it will need to be powerful enough to run my own code (which can be quite demanding, depending on what I am doing) as well as the latest games, while also being able to multi-task and handle the many programs that I would typically be working with at once.

CPU

The first major change that I intend to make is to switch from AMD to Intel for my CPU needs.

I have actually never bought an Intel CPU for a machine that I built myself, I have always used AMD. This is because AMD used to have comparable or better performance to Intel for gaming at a lower price. This is no longer true. Current AMD chips such as the AMD FX 8 and 9 series are generally known to be poor or very poor for gaming. AMD seem to have almost withdrawn from the desktop enthusiast market to focus on APU development (Combined CPU and GPU, used for lower-spec machines or mobile devices) and Graphics Cards.

This leaves Intel the clear choice, with one slight exception. AMD currently favours more cores, (up to 8, usually) with less performance per core. Intel generally favours fewer cores (usually 4 to 6) with significantly greater performance per core. Since the majority of games still do not effectively use multiple cores, Intel Chips almost always perform better. However, for a machine that will be used extensively for game development, multitasking performance is a vital consideration. I would always have many programs open at once, from compilers to image editing programs, to 3D visualisation software, games that I am have created, and all kind of other software and web browsers.
In addition to this, some games, such as multiplayer games, use the CPU much more extensively, due to the their nature. I spend a lot of time developing virtual worlds and multiplayer games, so this is something to consider. AMD FX chips, with their greater number of cores, could perform better here.

The i5 line of CPU’s from Intel however, have just 4 cores, with no hyperthreading, which means, basically, that 4 physical cores is all you get. This is a shame, because otherwise, the i5 is an excellent choice for a gaming CPU. It is powerful, and relatively inexpensive, while also having good power consumption stats. However,  with the i7, while it’s greater cost may not justify it’s moderate increase in gaming performance, it does have 4 (or 6, for the extreme high end models) cores, with hyperthreading, giving 4 physical cores and 8 logical cores. This would provide greater multitasking performance.

The question then becomes one of function.
For a machine being built on a budget, or being designed more for multi-tasking than gaming, an AMD FX might be a good choice.
For a strict gaming PC, the i5 wins.  The CPU is of lesser importance to the GPU for gaming, so a smart move would be to buy a high-spec i5 instead of an i7 and spend the money saved on a better GPU.
However, for a machine that will also be used heavily for multitasking, it may be better to get a mid-spec i7, and still get a high-spec GPU. This will work out more expensive, but unfortunately, the only way to get the best of both worlds, is to pay for it.

I have decided on an Intel chip, and their newer Socket 1151 architecture. I am not certain whether I will get an i5 or i7 yet, it will depend on the best prices that I can get from suppliers.

RAM

The next piece of the puzzle is RAM. DDR3 is now on the way out, so purchasing the new DDR4 RAM is the only sensible choice. DDR4 RAM, while obviously more expensive than DDR3, is still very reasonable. I had planned to get 16GB of RAM, but I have seen 32GB’s of Corsair RAM for sale for about €300, which is an excellent price. RAM is often overlooked for gaming and general computing. Games use RAM extensively, as do applications. Ever wonder where the data from all those programs you have open is stored? Or from all those tabs that you have open in your browser? Insufficient RAM is a big cause of system slowdowns and poor performance, and there is certainly no such thing as having “too much” RAM. I like Corsair, the Dominator RAM that I have in my current system has served me very well, so I will likely pick up some DDR 4 Vengeance RAM.

Motherboard

Choosing the CPU (and Socket) and RAM first makes the motherboard selection quite a bit easier. I need something that is Socket 1151 compatible, with support for DDR4 RAM, and is aimed at the performance market. I am a fan of Asus, two of my development/gaming machines have used Asus boards (My current one uses a Crosshair IV formula, which I love. I would get a Crosshair V formula, but it only supports the AMD platform). I am looking at an Asus Maximus HERO at the moment, but I don’t know if I want to spend €200 plus on a board. There are several other cheaper options that I might go with, but saving money on the board might not be the best idea, since a cheap motherboard will hurt the performance of their entire build, and maybe even affect the reliability of components.

These are the three components for which compatibility is key. The CPU, RAM, and Motherboard all need be chosen carefully to make sure they work properly together.

My next posts will deal with the single most important part of a gaming machine, the graphics card, as well as the hard drives (SSD or HDD?) and some discussion of the case and cooling options (Water or air?) and power supply. When I get closer to a solution, I will also post a final parts list.

 

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