I decided to not publish the cost of the components of this system, this is rarely useful because of regional variations in the pricing of components as well as for the fact that the sickening price drops that occur as computer technology ages is almost too much for me to observe too closely! But I can certainly say that the overall build was plotted out on one of those amazing 'partpicker' sites which allowed me to plot out my uneasy compromises between quality parts and expense. And here then are the components themselves:
- CPU and Motherboard: The central plan for this build was always to get hold of as much Threadripper as I could afford and this landed me with an AMD 2950X: a 16 core, 32 thread CPU. The specific purpose for this selection, Gentle Reader, was to make large, complex compiling tasks under Slackware Linux completely trivial. For example Libreoffice 18.104.22.168 can be compiled in 30 minutes, QT 5.13.2 in 50 minutes and Linux Kernel 5.6.11 in substantially less time than this on the Threadripper build. The other purpose was to allow for really fast video transcoding, one of my hobbies, and for this the Threadripper CPU just keeps delivering, with the caveat that this effect is seen only with codecs that actually support multi-threaded and/or multi-tiled encoding. As for motherboards at the time of this build there were not a lot of motherboards suitable for the newer TR4 sockets so I purchased the MSI Meg X399 Creation board. Perhaps more boards are available now but this one has served me well although I am really not that keen on EATX boards...
- Power Supply Unit (PSU): Selection of a suitable PSU for me was a little difficult as I made the great mistake of asking too many people for too many opinions! However my final choice of a Corsair 1000 Watt RM1000X fully modular supply was a good one after I discarded much well meaning but usually misinformed advice. This is a reliable, efficient PSU (80 Plus Gold) from a well known company, it is fully modular so I don't have to wrestle the octopus any more, there is room in terms of power output for my system to upgrade over the years and it has worked out extraordinarily well over the last 7-8 months. My only regret is that I probably would have been better with custom PSU cables as the EATX board and my choice of a Corsair Obsidian 500D case made routing cables pretty tight...
- Cooling: There is a world of 'Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt' (FUD) concerning cooling Threadripper CPUs and I confess that for a time I was a little stymied; this is what happens when you listen to too many conflicting and often strongly held beliefs. However I can tell you, Gentle Reader, that my own experience has taught me that a 2nd generation Threadripper can be more than adequately cooled with a non full cover AIO water cooler. I installed a Corsair H150i Pro 360mm AIO and under full load I have seen no hotter than 63° Celcius (145° Fahrenheit) with ambient 25° Celcius (77° Fahrenheit). These numbers taken from a LibreOffice compile, a more than adequate test. And more excitingly this is my first water cooled build, the AIO makes this all very, very easy!
- RAM: When I bought RAM for this build the prices were still a little crazy so this was a definite limiting factor. However I knew that I wanted 32GB to cater for both running and / or compiling multiple large applications but more importantly to allow several well resourced Virtual Machines to run at the same time. Subsequent experience has shown that 32GB is the perfect number for my usage. I picked up 4 x 8GB DDR4 3000MHz RAM, Vengeance LPX, and out of the box I set an XMP Profile in the BIOS to allow an eventual MT/s (Mega Transfers Per Second) of 2933. Lots of FUD in this area regarding the amount of RAM actually needed as well as the actual transfer speeds required, I listened to too many opinions, consulted the motherboard's data sheet and then made my own mind up. In this case it has all worked out very, very well!
- Data Storage: This build marked a big change for me in terms of data storage as for the first time I did not use any mechanical drives. Instead I eventually settled on 2 x Crucial MX500 2.5inch SSDs of 2GB each. Now, Gentle Reader, there is a plethora of misinformation online concerning use of these SSDs with or without a companion mechanical drive. I researched this carefully in terms of life of these drives (the biggest issue) and importantly these drives have a TBW (Terabytes Written) company spec of a more than adequate 700TB. So if I write 20GB per day I will have total write of 7,300GB per year, or 7.3TB roughly. So potentially a 90 year life for the drive. If I go nuts and increase overall writes to 50GB per day I would amass writes of 18,250GiB per year or 18.25TB. In this highly unlikely usage the guaranteed usage of the SSD, based on the company spec of 750TB TBW, would only be 38 years. Convinced? I certainly am!
- GPU: A GPU can potentially blow out the cost of a computer build so I had a long, slow look at my needs before selecting what turned out to be the perfect GPU for my needs and for this build. I played a few games but I am not a gamer as such, I use MPV for my media playback needs and by default this uses hardware GPU acceleration and I was especially keen to investigate hardware GPU accelerated video encoding. And so the compromise between quality and price landed me an MSI 6GB GeForce GTX 1660 Ti. This particular card gives me access to Turing architecture and has been a mind-blowing introduction to hardware video encoding, a great performer with the games that I play and gives flawless playback of the Star Trek: Picard series (among many others!).
And so that represents the heart of the Threadripper system that I built in May-June 2019. It has given great performance in the months since that date. And you may ask, Gentle Reader, did I make any mistakes or have any regrets? Well I admit to forgetting to install the IO shield and I also confess to having left it that way; I will recify this when I tear the system apart for spring cleaning at the end of 2020. At this time I may also replace the PSU cables with custom ones. But apart from these two minor issues I have been extremely happy with my choice of components as well as extremely happy with the whole build process. I have used the system solidly for the last 6 months or so and it complements and extends my Slackware usage comprehensively.
I plan to keep this system for 5 years and then build myself a newer system; 5 years seems to be about the sweet spot for my usage: sitting between fair usage and obsolescence. With this in mind I have carefully stored away all packaging, extra cables, screws and oddments to make the components much more saleable in the future and of course much easier to send off in the post! Thus for the first time in my history of computer building I am planning the end of a system even as I am still actually building it! So it goes in the world of computers I guess..
A revisit 12 months down...
Hard to believe that this build is now 12 months old and it continues to serve me very, very well! I have now performed a few necessary maintenance jobs on this build, courtesy of a burst of cold, rainy weather:
- I/O Shield: I made the rookie mistake on this build of forgetting to put the I/O shield in place. So now, 12 months down, I removed enough of the hardware to allow me to place the shield. I was lucky and simply had to remove the GPU, the rear cooling fan and of course all the motherboard screws. This allowed me to move the motherboard to one side and slip that little sucker in place! Hopefully my next motherboard will have no I/O shield, newer boards seem to have a built-in shield.
- Thermal Paste: I took this opportunity to remove the head of the AIO from the CPU and checked on the state of the thermal compound. Good news is that my method of applying a large blob on the centre of the CPU (on the 'Z' of Ryzen) resulted in an excellent spread of paste. It did look a little dried out though and I removed it all and placed another large dollop of Artic Silver Thermal Compound. Should be fine now for another 12 months.
- Dust Bunnies: The Corsair Obsidian 500D case I built in has 3 great dust filters and I spent some time cleaning these off, although I have also done this during the year. The air intake at the front had the greatest harvest and I have left myself a mental note to keep on top of this. It was a good time as well to generally clean out the inside of the case as there was a fine film of dust in most areas.
- More Fans: Now that I have performed some basic maintenance I have also starting looking for two 140mm case fans plus splitter to replace the pretty ineffective single 120mm fan that currently sits at the top of the case. So far the Noctua 140mm fans look like the best option. That pretty much completes my plans for air flow in this great case and will hopefully be purchased and installed soon
Taking a screwdriver to my build again has left me a little hungry to build another computer but this is impossible to justify at the moment. I have also given up my thoughts of buying custom PSU cables as a small protest at the extortionate price being charged for them. So it remains to return to the joy of running a very, very nice computer build and simply dreaming of its eventual replacement.