Buying a new computer in 2010

I bought four Core 2 systems back in 2008 (see here and here), They're all running fine - the e7200 is my wife's office machine, the e7300 is the kitchen computer, the e7400 is my Windows test machine, and the q9300 is my Linux test machine which runs valgrind on the wine test suite every morning. But now that I'm working at home more, I really need a separate development workstation. This machine needs to do entry level gaming, too, so I'll use an nvidia GeForce GT 220 and a motherboard without onboard graphics.

Here's the non-cpu-specifc part of the system:

Now on to the cpu-specific part.

i7 920

According to phoronix-test-suite's build-linux-kernel benchmark, my q9300 takes 690 seconds to compile the kernel, but the i7 920 takes only 340 seconds.

Here's a possible configuration:

Grand total: $1106 plus $106 tax and $24 3-day shipping = $1236

AMD Phenom II x4 955

AMD is worth a look, too. The AMD Phenom II x4 955, $160 at newegg, takes 450 seconds (384 seconds overclocked) on the same benchmark, and might be a good choice if you're short on cash.

Here's a possible configuration:

So, is the extra $250 worth the extra 30% performance? Shmaybe... especially since buying a new computer less than twice as fast as the old one just seems wrong.

I decided on the i7, and am waiting for it to arrive. I'll update this page once I have benchmarks.

Problem #1: Socket mismatch

Whoops. The i7-920 has 1366 pins, but the BOXDP55WB doesn't. Had to upgrade to a more expensive motherboard, chose the ASRock x58 Extreme ($160 at newegg). If I could do it all over again, I'd probably have chosen the i7-860 instead, which is the same price and just as fast, if not faster, on many benchmarks... and can use the cheaper motherboards.

Problem #2: won't boot with more than one stick of RAM in, LEDs stuck at 38

After initial system assmebly, the system would boot, but only if exactly one stick of ram is in. Doesn't matter which stick, doesn't matter which of the (white) slots; more than one stick, and the Dr. Debug LED says "38" and hangs. I contacted ASRock, got an RMA, and exchanged the board for a new one. Problem solved.

Problem #3: Won't boot, LEDs stuck at 75

After six months of reliable use, the system started refusing to boot again. Even with just one stick of RAM, the LEDs are stuck at 75. I can't even adjust the DRAM voltage because the board doesn't stay up long enough to let me do that; it hangs after Entering SETUP and before Setup starts. It usually still responds to control-alt-delete, though.

I contacted ASRock, got an RMA, and exchanged the board for a new one again (good thing it was still within the 1 year warranty period). Problem solved.

Problem #4: kernel panic when reading DVD info

The tiny test program low.c causes a kernel panic, reported as ASRock couldn't care less, since they don't support Linux. Possible workaround: buy a plug-in SATA controller with a different chip, and plug the DVD into that.

Problem #5: won't boot, LEDs stuck on 75

After two years of reliable operation, the computer suddenly started not booting. The Dr. Debug LED says "75". This is very early, about when the IDE drives are being detected, and you can't get into the BIOS prompt. Resetting the CMOS by moving the little jumper for a second didn't seem to help, but the next morning, after complaining about bad CMOS checksum, the computer started booting properly again. It's been OK for two weeks since, so I guess that really did fix it.

ASRock's technical support people have responded promptly via email every time I've asked them anything. They won't support Linux, though, so if you have a problem after OS boot, you'd better have Windows running.

Problem #6: too slow

Fast forward to 2020. The system still works! And it's probably the only case and power supply in the house big enough to fit a full-size graphics card like the GTX 1660. But it's a bit slow. (Let's face it, a passmark score of 1219 single-thread, 8668 multithread just isn't exciting anymore.)

To pep it up, I bought a Xeon W3670 for $30 from Silicon Salvage (ssinc1500 on ebay). That's a hex core that's noticably faster (single core 1515, multicore 14,806), yet still obsolete enough to be dirt cheap. (The next processor up, the W3680, is only slightly faster, but cost $45... and I wanted to cheap out here.) Also, fun fact: the W3670 is nearly identical to the i7-970.

Installing the new CPU was a snap, since it has no pins. The only challenges were remembering how the heat sink pins work (you have to pull the pin up so the inner pin isn't pushing the outer pin apart when removing or inserting), and remembering to get thermal paste.

Fun fact: with no thermal paste at all, CPU temperature shot right up to 60C and kept climbing. With thermal paste, it stayed below 32C.

I validated the CPU with stress-ng --cpu 0 --verify --verbose --timeout 5m, then installed and ran Phoronix' timed kernel compilation benchmark with

$ wget
$ sudo dpkg -i phoronix-test-suite_10.0.1_all.deb
$ sudo apt install -f
$ phoronix-test-suite install pts/build-linux-kernel
$ phoronix-test-suite benchmark pts/build-linux-kernel 
Results for Timed Linux Kernel Compilation 5.4 on this and two other machines laying around: So the ol' gaming box is once again the fastest machine in the house, at least for multicore.

Problem #7: I still have a what installed?

The dang thing still had a rotating rust hard drive, so I popped that out, popped in a Samsung 860 SSD, and did a fresh install of Ubuntu 20.04.1.

This lowered the timed kernel compilation time by two whole seconds, to 251 seconds.

It still takes 15 seconds for BIOS to decide to start loading the OS (ick), 15 more seconds to get to the login prompt, and another 15 seconds to bring up gmail. Aside from the infernally long BIOS delay, that's fine.

Problem #8: odd popping/crackle when any sound starts

This was rather annoying; appears I am affected by Fix: add the following line to /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.d:
options snd-hda-intel power_save=0
Reboot, and all is well.

Related pages

I saw these after I did my research, haven't checked my list against them yet:
Originally written March 2010; updated July 2012 and December 2020
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Dan Kegel