Computer upgrade

I just upgraded my computer’s CPU, motherboard, and memory. It has been a long time since my previous CPU upgrade – almost exactly 6 years. This is the longest that a CPU has ever lasted for me, and it was not top of the line when I bought it. It seems like the rate of performance increases has slowed down, at least in the desktop sector. I wouldn’t have needed to upgrade at all if it weren’t for doing a lot of compiling and wanting to play more modern games.

It seems like the mainstream software the most people use (OS, browser, Office, email) has not really put new demands on computer hardware. Some web pages have become more CPU intensive, but I feel like the hardware demands are limited by the prevalence of phones and tablets. With so many users having low end hardware (even top of the line phones and tablets are slow compared to desktop hardware), software requirements have stayed low.

Maybe once the mobile market has caught up we will see new software demanding better hardware. We should at least see higher resolution displays once the ultra-HD TVs start to arrive.

Back in 2007 I bought parts for a complete system: a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 8600GTS, 2GB ram and windows Vista. Since then I have upgraded the memory to 4GB, swapped out the video card for a 260 GTX and upgraded the OS to Windows 7 then 8. Lately I haven’t been able to play games on the high quality settings, and I have been doing a lot of game development that has long compile times.

I have been watching CPU prices for about 6 months, and I have been surprised by how little change there has been. Until the Haswell chips came out, the CPU I wanted was the i5-3570K. The price of that chip didn’t change at all for 6 months and still costs $220. When the Haswell chips came out, our local computer store (Micro Center) had a decent sale that made me decide to do the upgrade.

I debated between the i5-4570, i5-4670K and i7-4770K. Micro Center had good bundle deals on the K models which made the i5-4670K and the i5-4570 about the same price. I wanted to get the i7, and the price/performance ratio is about the same between the i5 and i7, but I figured that I will want the $80 price difference for a video card upgrade before I will need the i5 to be faster.

I put the new motherboard, CPU and memory into my existing case. There were a couple problems: my DVD drive is IDE and the new motherboard doesn’t have that connector anymore, and a couple of the front panel connections don’t fit into the new motherboard. Since I wasn’t able to plug in the DVD I booted back into my old Windows 8 installation to make a USB installer. I was very impressed that Windows 8 was able to detect and handle all the new motherboard drivers. Sound, network, etc all still worked without a re-format or even a re-boot. I have tried this before with Windows XP and it go well at all.

I decided to go ahead with the re-format since I hadn’t re-formatted since installing Windows 7. I formatted my SSD and installed windows on it, but the installation failed to boot the computer. After some digging, I discovered there was a conflict between the new UEFI/GPT formatted SSD and my old MBR data disk. My MSI motherboard supported non-UEFI devices, but couldn’t turn off UEFI entirely. So I couldn’t get windows to use MBR on my SSD and it wouldn’t boot with one UEFI/GPT drive and one MBR drive. So I ended up formatting my data disk as GPT and trusting that my backups were current.

After that problem, the Windows 8 install went smoothly (though I did have to use the phone activation system to convince Microsoft that I wasn’t using my license on two computers). I’ve been impressed by how little Windows 8 needs to re-boot. I’ve installed lots of software, some drivers, and lots of windows updates with very few re-boots.

One of the new features of the Haswell motherboards is Intel Rapid Start. It lets the computer go to sleep like normal. But after some amount of time, it wakes the computer back up, writes system memory into a hibernate partition on an SSD and puts the computer into hibernate mode. This is supposed to save energy since the memory is still getting power in sleep mode. In practice (at least for me), being in hibernate saves 3 watts over being in sleep. And since the computer comes back from sleep in about 2 seconds and hibernate in 20 seconds; I turned hibernate back off and will just use sleep mode.

Overall I am very happy with the new computer. I can now play the Neverwinter MMO at nearly full detail, and compiles are about 7x faster.

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