State of My Workstation in Late 2020

It has been normal for me to upgrade my desktop computer every 5-6 years. Since I stopped buying prebuilt computers in 2004, I was running an Athlon 64 with 1 GB of RAM. In 2009, I was on a Core 2 Q6600 with 4 GB of RAM. ‌

I first built my current workstation in early 2014. I lived in Southern California at the time, and happened to be driving distance from a Microcenter.

The computer didn’t really start out as a “workstation”. At the time, I was in desperate need to build a gaming computer because I wanted to play GTA V. I had gotten by with a Core 2 Q6600/9800GT for quite a while up to that point, but there was no way it was going to be able to play GTA V well!

Instead, I had put together a “budget” build of the following:

  • Intel Pentium G3258 @ 2 cores, 3.2 GHz
  • 8 GB DDR3 RAM
  • 512 GB Crucial SSD
  • 2 GB EVGA GTX 750 Ti
  • ASRock H97M

I can’t really remember the initial cost, but it was pretty cheap. I had did the whole overclocking thing with the G3258, and got it up to 4.0 GHz at one point with air cooling. I had some good gaming sessions with it. It was fun. I had upgraded the CPU, RAM, GPU and an additional SSD. So then the configuration ended up being:

  • Intel Xeon 1231v3 @ 4 cores, 3.4 GHz
  • 32 GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2x 512 GB Crucial SSDs
  • 4 GB Sapphire Radeon R380
  • ASRock H97M

It was a pretty decent configuration. I felt like it would be more more than powerful to do the things I needed to do for the next few years. I also went with the Xeon 1231v3 at the time, because it was essentially a Core i7 4700 without the integrated GPU for lower cost! I felt like I applied financial hacks!

The Radeon 380 eventually died and I had to go back to the old GTX 750 Ti earlier this year. It turns out a 750 Ti is not very pleasant driving a SINGLE 27" 4K display. Who would’ve thought that 2 GB of VRAM would be insufficient for basic tasks!

In the new COVID world of working from home, and all, I have been using my workstation much more often. What has become quite obvious is its age. I now max out the memory regularly during basic compilation of code, and my CPU is fully utilized at times.

The following charts just show my normal everyday utilization. I didn’t even have to do anything fancy to get it to this utilization!

In late 2014, I had met my girlfriend, now wife, and lost a bit of time for video games. It wasn’t until about 2015, that I converted my gaming desktop to be a “workstation”. This meant upgrading it, and getting it powerful enough to code, edit videos, and do some graphics stuff.

I was quite surprised to see that I was using 22 GB of RAM for my everyday work.

Even more disappointing is that my SSDs have become unreliable, giving regular blue screens, and sometimes even refusing to boot up.

I am now accustomed to being a bit more paranoid by saving my work periodically. I also wonder whether or not my computer will still be powered on by the time I start working in the morning.

These problems have started to affect my productivity. Now in late 2020, I am now considering building a new computer.

I need something with lots of CPU, and lots of RAM! What isn’t more fitting than going into the AMD Ryzen platform!?

I know that AMD just announced their Zen 3 architecture with the parts being in market by early November. However, I don’t need the absolute latest and greatest. I think anything will feel much faster at this point.

Also, I am not one to wait for the latest and greatest, because in time, that too will become old. It just puts one into an endless loop of waiting for the next GPU, GPU, or motherboard chipset to come out. It is not worth it, especially when the workstation is something that pays your bills, and keeps food on the table for your family.

Thus, it makes sense to build something that will be very powerful and fast from the get-go. The configuration which I am currently most interested in is:

  • AMD Ryzen 3900XT @ 12 cores, 3.8 GHz
  • 64 GB DDR4 RAM
  • 8 GB RTX 2070 Super

Of course, I am also taking noise very seriously. I hate loud computers, and so having a good power supply, high quality Noctua fans, and acoustic padding are just as important to me as CPU power.

I did decide to splurge on the components. The total cost would cause most to faint, but I think it is justified given my upgrade cadence, and profession.

Arrival (Update)

The Components

The feeling has been amazing being on fast, modern system. My productivity has skyrocketed, and my personal and professional workflows have seen significant performance increase compared to my old Xeon 1231v3 system. To show off again, the specifications of my new system are:

  • AMD Ryzen 3900XT (12c/24t) OC’d to 4.35 GHz all core
  • 64 GB DDR4 RAM
  • 8 GB Nvidia RTX 2070 SUPER GPU

My old Geekbench 5 score for my Xeon was quite measly for modern standards:

Geekbench 5 on Xeon
Geekbench 5 on the old Xeon

But with my new workstation:

Geekbench 5 on Ryzen
Geekbench 5 on Ryzen
CPUSingle CoreMulti Core
Intel Xeon 1231v3 (4c/8t) @ 3.4 GHz7972900
AMD Ryzen 3900XT (12c/24t) @ 4.35 GHz127811771

Wow!!! Aside from the great single core performance (797 vs 1278), do you see the multi-core performance increase (2900 vs 11771)? That’s a massive performance increase! That’s 3.84x!‌

First to address the elephant (maybe?) in the room… I am aware that overclocking my Ryzen results in disabling the boost functionality to its maximum 4.7 GHz single core clock. ‌

For applications such as games, where single core performance may be more important, most of my work is done over multiple threads and cores. Because of that, it makes more sense to have as much multi-core performance as possible.‌

Anyway, what do I do, exactly? Why do I need such massive computing power for non-gaming standards? For my personal uses, I am currently a graduate student working on computer graphics and visualizations. This means that a lot of my projects rely on having a very powerful GPU for rendering, and a pretty powerful CPU for crunching data. In addition to that, I work with a lot of JavaScript code, where its asynchronous nature requires a lot CPU power at the same time. ‌

Keep in mind I am also a gamer… I enjoy emulation and modern PC games. My goal was to also build a PC system capable to emulating almost any system possible, as long an emulator exists for it. What better way to enjoy a nice PC than playing a PlayStation 2 game on 4K resolution? ????‌

Also, at the time, I was pretty hyped about Cyberpunk 2077. I built this PC to be able to play this game competently. Since it was delayed, I have only recently started playing it as of December 11. I must say, it works pretty well on the maximum settings at 4K resolution WITH ray tracing turned on! It turns out, ray tracing in gaming is really what it is all said to be. I am very happy!

Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077

For my professional use, I work on a large enterprise communication tool which has become very popular this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the work I do here relates to memory and performance analysis. So, on a daily basis I am stress testing the application, saving memory dump files and making changes to fix any bugs.

For this type of work, on some occasions, I have to recompile a development environment almost 30 times daily to validate changes for work items!

To put in perspective, on my old Xeon, it took about 8 minutes to do an incremental rebuild of the application. Now, with my new Ryzen PC, I can do an incremental rebuild in a little over 3 minutes!

A full rebuild on my old Xeon would be about 23 minutes, while my Ryzen PC can do it in just about 7 minutes. ????

This has made my workday much more pleasant. Often times, I would use a rebuild on my Xeon as an excuse to go make coffee, or take a break. As you can see, this probably happened way too often. Now with my new Ryzen, my coffee and walking breaks are less but still enough to keep me healthy!

With a little more computing power, I am much more productive!

Cyberpunk 2077

I also have found a new love for Windows 10. Since I spend so much of my work day in front of this computer now, I have now converted to using Windows 10 as my primary operating system. Keep in mind I was a pretty heavy Mac user prior to this. Now, I think I actually prefer using Windows.

Of course now with the M1 chip from Apple, times are exciting again, and now I’m looking for the next thing to improve my workflow. One can never fully switch to a platform. We can only accept that we use what works for us at the moment.