Here are some retro- and introspective reflections on the occasion of PC upgrade at Christmas 2011. After three days (and one night) of installation, hacking and re-installation, I have again a personal play/workstation that is pretty pleasing to use. (My apologies to the family, who have been surprisingly long-suffering towards daddy’s immersion in computer assembly.) Even while I seem to blog about some ‘upgrade’ or another every other month or so, this kind of major, component-based PC upgrade is something that I thought already was a thing of the past, but now seems more like part of the “five-year plan”. After all, manufacturer assembled laptop systems, gaming consoles, tablets and smartphones have taken up much of the role that used to belong exclusively to a “computer”. But apparently we still need also the PC – the loved and hated general-purpose device that celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year. (http://www.pcmag.com/anniversary-of-the-pc)
I will not go to the art or culture of engineering, even while immersing inside a contemporary personal computer allows one ample opportunities to reflect on the character and evolution of both. Also, the history of hackers and their role in the creation of not only the first personal computers, but also in the software and computing and gaming cultures that have driven much of the evolution of personal computing from its early days has been well documented elsewhere, e.g. in Steven Levy’s classic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackers:_Heroes_of_the_Computer_Revolution). My first ‘home computer’ was Commodore 64, which has gained a cult status over the years. That computer had c. 1 MHz processor – my Intel Core i5 2500K does computations at 3,3 GHz speed, which translates to 3300 times speed increase I guess (over 4 GHz is rather easy to reach in overclocking), and this does not take into account what has taken place in the graphics processing units between 1983 and 2011. (The actual, cross-platform speed comparisons are a much trickier, of course, and it has been claimed that the original 8088 based PC was actually slower than the C64, even while the PC run at nearly 5 MHz: http://trixter.oldskool.org/2011/06/04/at-a-disadvantage/.) Yes, the PC games are not necessarily “better” today (but they look fancier, and are generally much more complex), and you could do word processing or go online with Commodore 64 as well, so nothing extremely radical in those areas. But even incremental quantitative change translates eventually into qualitative ones – the user experience of today’s personal computer hobbyist is rather different from that of the 1980s counterpart.
The actual problems today are a sort of ‘embarrassment of riches’: both the hardware and software developers are providing so many opportunities for the user, that only the most dedicated ones are actually able to make full use of them. Also, some features are still so difficult to set up that few regular PC owners will ever actually be able to get them running, while their system nominally supports them. For example, in my case I had a system (motherboard, processor, hard disks and a processor) that could support something called “Intel Rapid Storage Technology” (RST). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Rapid_Storage_Technology.) In practice, however, I ended up carrying out a series of multiple full Windows installations, trying out different ways to make the Windows boot from my SSD in the required Raid BIOS configuration, having only OS crash after a crash. Now I have the system all set up and stable, but this is with BIOS set to AHCI rather than the Raid mode, and I will not want to waste another three days to try yet another way to make it work. Also a new technology called Ludic Virtu appeared a bit tricky (in BIOS/Advanced Menu/System Agent Configuration/Initiate Graphic Adapter needs to be set into iGPU rather than PCIE/PCI to get the Virtu drivers to install at all). I still remain puzzled by the precise benefits that the two different options (d-mode / i-mode) allow in terms of gaming performance, power consumption and video transcoding. My new video card is ASUS GTX 560 Ti DirectCU II TOP model and together with bundled Asus software it also allows claimed real-time overclocking benefits, automatic temperature monitoring and ‘Smartcooling’, which keeps the system quiet in normal use and then gradually speeds up the CPU fans when 3D gaming graphics heat things up. (http://www.asus.com/Graphics_Cards/NVIDIA_Series/ENGTX560_Ti_DCII_TOP2DI1GD5/) My initial tests show that all this overclocking power and cooling is a mixed blessing: yes, I can now run Skyrim at the Ultra High graphics settings, and perceive all the minor details in dragon’s skin and character clothing that artists had put there, have the system sensors at cool area (the Arctic Freezer Pro 13 CPU cooler I installed to replace the stock Intel one also helps here) – but this also means that the GPU fans sound a bit like a jet engine when all those textures, shaders and millions of polygons hit the screen.
To sum up, here are some of the advertised technologies, most of which I have had no time to test to verify whether they are genuinely useful:
- Fully PCI-Express 3.0 Ready, Intel Z68 motherboard. USB 3.0 Boost includes world’s first UASP support
- Dual Intelligent Processors 2 with DIGI+ VRM Digital Power Design
- UEFI BIOS (EZ Mode) – Flexible & Easy BIOS Interface
- LucidLogix® Virtu (Universal Switchable Graphics) – Auto Switching between Integrated Graphics and NVIDIA/AMD Cards
- Intel® Smart Response Technology – SSD Speed with HDD Capacity
- BT GO! (Bluetooth) – Diverse BT Enjoyment, New Technology Lifestyle
- GPU Boost – Push the Limits with iGPU Level Up!
- Quad USB 3.0 Support – Double Access, Double Convenience
- Quad-GPU SLI and Quad-GPU CrossFireX Support
Intel Core i5 2500K:
- Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
- Intel® Virtualization Technology (VT-x)
- AES New Instructions
- Intel® 64
- Idle States
- Enhanced Intel SpeedStep® Technology
- Thermal Monitoring Technologies
- Intel® Fast Memory Access
- Intel® Flex Memory Access
- Execute Disable Bit
ASUS GTX 560 Ti DirectCU II TOP:
- overclocked graphics card for superb 3D Vision™ gaming
- Top-selected and overclocked to 900MHz, 80MHz higher than reference for faster and smoother performance
- Speed up heat dissipation with doubled airflow via exclusive DirectCU dual fan design
- Pump up graphics performance with Super Alloy Power delivering a 15% performance boost, 2.5 longer lifespan and 35C cooler operation
- Crank up 50% faster clock speeds with exclusive Voltage Tweak
- ASUS Smart Doctor: Your intelligent hardware protection and powerful overclocking tool
- ASUS Gamer OSD: Real-time overclocking, benchmarking and video capturing in any PC game
- Splendid™ Video Intelligence Technology: Optimizes colors in various entertainment scenarios with five special modes — standard, game, scenery, night view and theater
- GeForce CUDA™: Unlocks the power of GPU’s processor cores to accelerate the most demanding system tasks
- NVIDIA® SLI™: Supports multi-GPU technology for extreme performance ode
- NVIDIA PhysX™: Dynamic visual effects like blazing explosions, reactive debris, realistic water, and lifelike characters
- NVIDIA® 3D Vision™: Immersive yourself in 3D gaming world
- DirectX® 11 Done Right: Brings new levels of visual realism to gaming on the PC and get top-notch performance
- D-Sub Output : Yes x 1 (via DVI to D-Sub adaptor x 1)
- DVI Output : Yes x 2 (DVI-I)
- HDMI Output : Yes x 1 (via Mini HDMI to HDMI adaptor x 1)
- HDCP Support : Yes
The world of competitive technology development and particularly the world of tech advertisement are truly worlds of wonders.
There are some more photos that document the components and assembly work in Flickr:
One thought on “The five-year upgrade plan”
Commenting on myself: the single most important component for speeding up the system/OS response times (and one that would have been crucial also for the operation of RST) was installing SSD as the primary system disk. My choice was OCZ Agility 3, 120 GB.
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