Building a PC, Part VIII: Iterating

The last time I seriously upgraded my PC was in 2011, because the PC is over. And in some ways, it truly is – sure, they can slap a ton more CPU cores on a die, but the overall single core performance increase from a 2011 high end Intel CPU to a 2015 high end Intel CPU today is really quite modest, on the order of maybe 30% to 40%.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Yep, I swapped out the hard drive on my laptop for an SSD about a year ago. The effective performance difference I got from that change was crazy. I’m now convinced that for most general computing tasks these days the disk is the bottleneck.

Now I’d really love to set up a desktop with a multi-disk raid-0 SSD array just to see what kind of monster performance I could squeeze out with that kind of set up.

I just put together my first desktop in over 5 years last night - it’s an i5-6500, because I’m shooting for price/performance. For my boot drive, I went with a Crucial BX100. It’s not M.2, but it’s literally half the price.

My question is, how much will it matter? I got the mid tier CPU for the same reason - pretty good, for quite a bit less…

Huh, I already got a PCI-E SSD for my computer back in 2011! I didn’t need no new chipset for it!
I believe it registers as a RAID controller or something to get around the lack of support.
OCZ RevoDrive X2 128gb
I wasn’t sure about the performance so I ran a quick benchmark:
540 MB/s Read
0.2ms Random Access Latency

Maybe not the best read speed these days but excellent latency. Not bad for a 4 year old harddrive I think!

Isn’t the hyperthreading in i7 better for programming?

I guess that, while using functional programming, one can take advantage of many CPUs, so you could probably obtain a 2x 3x increase by multiplying the number of CPUs in your build.

Only for some tasks, I agree.

I’m running SandyBridge build in a CoolerMaster HAF-X with an Asus-p67 Sabertooth board that I built back 11’ … I’m still really happy with it… Still clocks well… runs cool… great build for a dev… Here’s a Recent CPU-Z Clock

For desktops:
I spent $600 upgrading last year and for me it was a huge improvement with the new CPU. I was on a 3.16 wolfdale core 2 duo. I recently upgraded to the i7 4.16GHZ and wow…

For me the return:
SSD = greatest value
CPU upgrade for me brought the 2nd best return
32GB of ddr3 just because
Liquid cpu cooling just because it was on sale
< $600 to upgrade and bring my system into a very pleasing performance level.

I really want to do a surface 3 pro, but the cost is so high for what you get power wise. Since I do some video editing on occasion, some photography editing, and other usage I find that the upgrade for me on the desktop was well worth it. Compare $600 on the surface pro category and I’d be far less setup for power.

But, i’m pretty picky. I have autohotkey scripts and use sublime as my default text editor so that puts me outside the normal user category for sure :slight_smile:

I get the benefit of a great work environment that bought us ZBOOK15, 32 GB ram, dual SSD, and i7 processors… so I’m perhaps a bit prejudiced towards a more powerful laptop over a smaller less powerful one.

When they make a surface style tablet that I can upgrade components on, like a modular tablet with quality craftsmanship and great performance options, I’ll be all over that!

Jeff, why do you need an i7?
Are you doing video editing or physics simulations or run dozens of virtual machines simultaneously or compile huge projects?

Also, Skylake currently isn’t worth it, it’s too expensive compared to previous generations but the performance increase is minimal, it’s recommended to wait a few months for the prices to go down.

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10x improvement in latency seems pretty significant to me. Of course it’s an open question how much this will lead to overall system improvement, but the potential is there.

I have a rule of thumb - you need an overall 50% speed increase or you’ll barely notice it.

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It’s funny because even the official Intel promotional slide decks only promise a 30% performance improvement for a 3 year old PC:

I think that’s kind of optimistic. I’d say it’s more like 30% improvement for a 4 year old PC.

Also since someone on Twitter brought it up, the Intel 750 solid state PCI SSD.

  • Booting from this will be challenging since it’s a PCI express add-in card.
  • Ironically as fast as it is, it makes booting suuuuper slow since the card has to be specially initialized for boot, like a RAID controller, etc.
  • You have to buy the 1.2 TB version to get the fastest speeds. Which is … not cheap.

I feel that the M.2 drives will soon be mainstream in a way that PCI express add-in drives never will, since

  • they are very easy to install
  • supported in Skylake out of the box as a standard drive type
  • perform great at full PCI express bandwidth on Skylake
  • offers a solid 2x real world performance bump over traditonal SATA SSDs in light and heavy workloads.

The absolute minimum to notice a performance difference is 25%. Anything less than that, I doubt anyone except the most performance sensitive would be able to tell.

This is also why a 30% performance improvement in 4 years of PC CPUs – even coming directly from Intel’s promotional materials, which is optimistic – is kind of a bummer… it’s barely over the threshold :tired_face:

I also did something similar in the past. I had a 2008 MacBook and I got its HDD upgraded to a 128GB SSD. I also got rid of the Mac OSX and installed ubuntu.

It changed the computer. It is still working. I agree with some of you saying that the actual bottleneck is the hard drive. For me the second one is memory and CPU. I am not sure I can choose between the two, as if any of the two are old, you will notice it very much.

The only problem I have now is that the computer is so old that it is starting to fail randomly. I suspect the main board is dying. But hey! It’s a working computer that is mora than 7 years old!

Sure, mobile chips are getting faster. But they aren’t getting that much faster per watt. Some, yeah, but not the numbers you’re quoting there.

That new tablet or phone CPU will be at that speed for about 30 seconds. After that the speed drops a lot while it cools off.

And the real killer with mobile devices is that for the sake of battery life your programs can’t use the CPU. At full burn my phone lasts about 30 minutes and a Nexus 6 has a pretty big battery.

It’s best to use the M.2 connection as a fast boot / system drive.

I’ve used a boot SSD with a data/apps HDD for a few years now, and I don’t feel this is well-supported by Windows and apps, particularly Windows 10.

  • When I tried a few years ago on Win7, I was unsuccessful trying to hard link from, for example, C:\Users to D:\Users
  • As such, I went with softer options, like This PC > Documents > Properties > Location, which then has to be configured for every user, which is a pain
  • It’s too easy to install to the wrong drive, some installers don’t give you an option, others like VS pretend to give the option but install to C: anyway

Could we get some details on how you configured Windows to use the D: drive effectively? Are hard links better supported now?

I feel 256 GB is plenty enough for an OS plus your core applications you use on a regular basis. You can also bump up to 512 GB for not that much more.

What I meant was data, games, media, other large-ish things like that on a different drive. Which could be a SATA SSD as needed! 1 TB SSD drives are becoming somewhat reasonably priced, heck, there are even decent 2 TB SSDs out there for around $700 at the time I am writing this.

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It must depend on stock and location – I had ordered an i5-4690 and while I was waiting for it to show up, the i5-6500 went on a sale (!) and ended up being cheaper. From all the benchmarks I could find, it looked like it’d perform slightly better at a substantially lower TDP. I’m just saying it’s a good idea to shop around.

I think 256GB has been the knee in the price/capacity graph for a few years now. As you say, only keep OS + applications there, and put everything else on your platter drive. If you have more than ~100GB of games installed, move a few off while you’re not using them and put them back when needed – how many can you play at once?

I mean, you’d like to think 100 GB means a lot of games, but Diablo 3 clocks in at nearly 30 GB, Star Citizen is up around (probably over by now) 100 GB, and heck even Visual Studio weighs in at 8 GB. It’s actually pretty shocking how much space applications are taking up these days, and they’re only getting bigger as textures improve and more complexity is baked. I make 256 GB work right now, but I don’t think it will hold up for long.

I don’t think it is the end of the world if you have a second or third drive (even a traditionally connected ssd) to put games on.

Hey Jeff,

I’m new to PC building. Any updated recommendations for a case and power supply to go with the SSD, processor, RAM, and motherboard you just recommended? Thanks, love the blog, been reading it for years.

It’s interesting how SSD as a technology has matured over the past few years. It’s definitely impacted me in terms of observed boot time for my operating system. I see it as one of the most effective upgrades to the overall PC performance experience in recent memory.

The PC might not be dead yet - we might be cycling back to the early times when tech-heavy PC conversations were thick in the air, when PC use was just starting to catch on in the early to mid 90s. I have no clue where we’ll be in another 10 years… it’s been an amazing ride so far.