It’s Zen Time

Back in 2003, it was Hammer Time for the PC industry. My own home PCs missed the wave because I had just bought a 3.2 GHz Northwood Pentium 4, which was replaced in 2006 by a Core 2 E6600, a 64-bit dual-core Intel CPU running at 2.4 GHz. The Core 2 was not really better than Athlon 64s and Phenoms, but it wasn’t worse either. And when the next upgrade came in 2011, Intel’s Core i7 unfortunately did not have much real competition from AMD.

But that was when Intel still made desktop boards (I’ve been overall very happy with the DQ67OW board), and years before AMD processors were reborn with the Zen microarchitecture. Part of the reason why I stuck with Intel is that I’d had bad experience with boards and chipsets for AMD CPUs, but AMD eventually saw the light and realized that it’s not helpful to their cause to rely on the likes of VIA or nForce.

After a very useful discussion on a previous blog post, I decided to go for the ASRock X570 Pro4 board. That was about the only board I could find which combines the lack of silly bling and things I really don’t need (like onboard WiFi) with an Intel Ethernet controller, since I’m happy to spend extra money to avoid Realtek Ethernet chips.

So I got myself a Ryzen 7 3800X, thinking that if it proves too slow for my needs, I can replace it with a 12- or 16-core CPU in six months or a year without needing a different board. So far that actually seems unlikely because the CPU can chomp through build tasks at about 4.3 GHz under 100% load, and eight cores with SMT aren’t so bad (certainly far better than my trusty old Core i7 2600).

AMD Ryzen 7 3800X
AMD Ryzen 7 3800X Processor

When I put the new system together, there was just one problem: The CPU fan. The stock Wraith cooler provided by AMD is not bad, and children love the LED lighting. But although the CPU temperatures were fully under control, the noise required to keep it that way was bothersome. Worst of all, while the stock AMD fan is not terribly loud on the absolute scale, changes in speed are very audible and I found them extremely annoying.

AMD Wraith Spire Cooler
Colorful and pretty, but too loud

So I went looking around and eventually decided to go for the Dark Rock Pro 4 by be quiet!, the same company that made my new case and PSU. This model was not my first choice, except the smaller Dark Rock 4 cooler would, according to the very helpful board compatibility check on the manufacturer’s web site, conflict with the DIMM slots on the motherboard. Since I already had four DIMMs installed that would be a problem.

After putting the new cooler in place (which unfortunately required taking the entire motherboard out of the case again, but that’s life), I was exceedingly pleased with the results. The cooler is rated for 250W TDP and the CPU at 105W TDP, which means the CPU fans don’t have to work very hard at all and are therefore indeed very quiet, to the point where the hard drive appears to be the loudest part of the system. I also appreciated the fact that when the CPU fans ramp up, the change in fan speed is far less noticeable than with the AMD cooler.

Unrelated pleasant surprise: The ASRock X570 Pro4 has a fully functioning PS/2 port, and I’m typing this on an old Logitech PS/2 keyboard (because I don’t know where my Model M is right now).

So far about three weeks in, I’d say the new machine has been money well spent. Multi-threaded performance is 2x–3x better than my old system, single-threaded performance can keep up with anything out there, and new components (NVMe SSD, 10 Gbps SuperSpeed+ USB) don’t hurt either.

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8 Responses to It’s Zen Time

  1. 8 core/16 threads at 4.3Ghz sounds pretty awesome! If the Xeons weren’t so cheap and easy to get I probably would have waited.

    I’m starting too branch out to Japan, and my apartment only has a single breaker giving me 1500 watts for everything. Obviously a 600 watt monster might be a bit too much. I bought some used i5 thing that is so insanely tiny, did the usual replace the disk with a SSD, and add more memory which makes it more bearable. Although I can leave my Xeon powered up, and use it over the magical internet. As long as China doesn’t cut the cord.

    Have you used that Visual C 6 repacked thing? It’s so nice for parallel builds.

  2. Rugxulo says:

    Does this machine still have a traditional BIOS (or CSM)? Probably not, but it’d be nice if you had that available (even if unlikely), especially since that’s soon disappearing.

    Yeah, Ryzen was supposedly re-developed from scratch, that’s why it’s so much better. I don’t have one (yet?), but everyone majorly loves AMD again. It’s been their most successful few years ever (2017-), roughly speaking. (Even next-gen consoles will use Ryzen, supposedly. Current gen [X1, PS4] uses older AMD64 cpus, which ironically did little to make AMD more popular. But they’re a smart company, so I’m glad they’re succeeding.)

  3. Michal Necasek says:

    Traditional BIOS no, but it does have CSM.

    The Zen architecture was definitely developed from scratch. The previous new architecture, Bulldozer, came out in 2011 and it was supposed to be an answer to Intel’s Nehalem microarchitecture, but that never really panned out. I imagine that AMD realized soon enough that Bulldozer was going nowhere, and started working on Zen. And clearly Zen came out much better than Bulldozer.

    Without competition, Intel just gets lazy so even as an Intel user I always wanted AMD to be successful 🙂

  4. Richard Wells says:

    Intel’s problem with the latest die shrinks was not being lazy; it was trying to do too many new things at the same time. The classic Intel system of small incremental changes always yielded nice steady improvements.

  5. Vlad Gnatov says:

    Booting dos would be an interesting experiment. I’ve tested csm on e7-4830/some asus mb a few years ago. While real mode worked, xms manger was only able to see 1023m max and I got gpf with all v86 managers that I’ve tried (emm386, qemm, jemm).

  6. Chris M. says:

    A lot of those DOS tools are likely making assumptions and trying to use memory that is reserved by the system for some reason. While the XMS 3.0 spec should support up to 4GB of RAM, this was never tested in practice and they never had to deal with PCI Express devices possibly reserving memory blocks for their own uses!

    Of all the protected mode memory managers, only JEMM is new enough to have any concept of a “modern” PC, but even that one is wonky on true BIOS machines compared to the tried and true EMM386, etc. Even if it did work, the UMBs tend to be reserved for all kinds of stuff on these new machines (64k for the BIOS just doesn’t cut it anymore), limiting what you can load high.

  7. Christian says:

    So is this the replacement for the 5K iMac you got five years ago? And what OS are you running on it?

  8. Michal Necasek says:

    No, the iMac belongs to my wife 🙂 The Ryzen 7 3800X is a replacement for DQ67OW + i7-2600 and it runs Windows 10 and Ubuntu Linux.

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