future proof

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psykx
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future proof

Postby psykx » Fri Jan 30, 2009 7:02 pm UTC

Hey all,
I know no hardware can really be future proof, but I'm looking into getting a new PC later on in the year to replace my aging p4 3.06ghz desktop which I bought 6 or 7 years ago (when it was the fastest Intel chip) and I want to buy something as future proof as possible, I don't really play games (I use linux mostly) but something to be able to get the best out of the ever improving graphics effects KDE can offer.

anyway I'm rambling what I really want to know is what do people think is the most future proof hardware current around? and for normal non graphics intensive work where are the current system bottle necks? I seem to remember years ago it was the FSB
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Re: future proof

Postby mosc » Fri Jan 30, 2009 7:12 pm UTC

This entire concept is your problem. 6 or 7 years ago you bought a $500 processor and today, it's just as useless as a $100 process from the same era. Your problem is not some magical understanding of technology that allows you to pick better parts, it's a resistance to making more frequent replacements.

Spend less, buy more often. Your PIV was very fast when it was new but only marginally faster than something half the price. A few years down the road, that difference has all but evaporated. Also, you spent so damn much last time you couldn't stomach doing it again for 6 years! That means you've been dealing with something quite dated for many years now. The solution is to buy something not so expensive now and replace it sooner.

Lets say you spent $1500 last time and you used that system for 6 years lets say. That's $250 a year. Instead, look at spending $800 and replacing it every 4 years. That's $200 a year. It will save you money and be faster over the long term. It will be ~20% slower for those first four year but then 150% faster for the last 2. Also, the LOW point of the cycle will never be as low on the 4 year plan. Again, it's cheaper too.

Your question should not be "what processor out there is going to last me the longest", it should be "what processor out there will deliver the lowest cost of ownership while fulfilling my requirements". New software constantly comes out demanding ever more from your system. If you intend to keep up with software, you should not expect anything to last so many years. Also, the gap between today's fastest parts and ones that cost 1/4 as much is not that substantial. You pay a huge premium for the fastest stuff.

So why do they make such expensive high end stuff? I would argue that it is targetted at people who replace MORE frequently. If you are willing to spend more money per year on your computer, you can replace the computer more frequently to see gains. If you are willing to spend even more than that, you can buy cutting edge stuff but I would expect these people to be replacing yearly if not more frequently. There's plenty of folks that fast is never fast enough but the idea of spending big and then being "set" for 4+ years? I don't buy it at all.
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Re: future proof

Postby psykx » Fri Jan 30, 2009 7:30 pm UTC

I can see that, actually my first system was closer to $2,400 (at the time £1200) I spent that much because I had the money, just been made redundant and walked straight into another job.

I agree with your spend less buy more often but I still think there is a case to be made for buying 'future proof' gear just with not as long term ideals as I implied in my first post.
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Re: future proof

Postby mosc » Fri Jan 30, 2009 7:52 pm UTC

Right, so you're looking for "bang for the buck" like most of us. There's kind of a bell curve of value. Buying ultra cheap, you'll pay a huge premium for new parts but they won't be particularly modern. Buying ultra expensive, you'll get marginally more power but the cost starts to drive the value to nill. However, there is kind of a nice plateau in the middle at various pricepoints. I think an athlon x2 still packs a lot of punch for very little money on the low end. In the middle, the core duo is still very dominant for value. I think on the high end, the i7 is just starting to enter into a more cost effective pricepoint as well. Basically, there is room to play around mattering on your budget and still get a good value.

I think the main bottleneck you're running into is hard drives. Rather than blowing huge bucks on other areas, I think you should consider a cheap 2 or even 4 drive array. RAID0+1 four drive arrays are supported by many onboard controllers these days and can deliver huge throughput.
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Re: future proof

Postby psykx » Fri Jan 30, 2009 9:34 pm UTC

A hardware raid array sounds like a very good idea. In terms of CPU sockets and memory types whats going to last? the reason I'm so stuck on the idea is that spending £20-60 more on a mobo with the right type of tech might last a processor/memory upgrade in the future that and I'm a little out of touch with the hardware
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Re: future proof

Postby mosc » Fri Jan 30, 2009 9:43 pm UTC

None of the memory around now is going to last. DDR3 is just emerging and even if you splurge on it now, you're going to replace it later with higher speed standards. Similarly, you're not going to want to keep the motherboard you have now and re-use it in 3-5 years with some more modern CPU. That's silly. Could you imagine using a 3-5 year old motherboard today? Of course not.

So start with a nice core2 duo with P45 northbridge, 4GB of DDR2, and all the trimmings and see how that hits you. If it's too expensive, you can get an athlon x2, if you're looking for something more, you could go with an i7. Here's a link to get you started:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6813131335
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Re: future proof

Postby Mzyxptlk » Fri Jan 30, 2009 11:55 pm UTC

I've never seen the point of RAID arrays for desktop PCs. HDDs are storage space to me, nothing more. Sure, it would be nice if they weren't slow as fuck, but if it's a choice between waiting 60 seconds for my data to copy, and waiting 40 seconds, I think I'll be able to live with the extra 20 seconds. Let's face it, it's not like moving data in long-term storage is a time critical operation.
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Re: future proof

Postby Axman » Fri Jan 30, 2009 11:58 pm UTC

I like RAID for gaming and photochopping. It's the speed of Raptors or faster, with some useable storage. After setting up my first PC with a RAID, I've never looked back.

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Re: future proof

Postby felixalias » Sat Jan 31, 2009 1:44 am UTC

The synthetic benchmarks I've seen usually show a RAID 0 setup with Velociraptors come close to increasing read performance by 50%, even with software RAID.. Is this at all accurate for realistic benchmarks?

Example here:
http://www.bjorn3d.com/read.php?cID=1437&pageID=5995

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Re: future proof

Postby Carnildo » Sat Jan 31, 2009 2:41 am UTC

mosc wrote:I think the main bottleneck you're running into is hard drives. Rather than blowing huge bucks on other areas, I think you should consider a cheap 2 or even 4 drive array. RAID0+1 four drive arrays are supported by many onboard controllers these days and can deliver huge throughput.


The solution to slow hard drives is not more of them, it's more RAM. With 8GB, I can put the important parts of /usr on a ramdisk if I want, or I can just trust the OS to use the 6+GB of free RAM for intelligent caching. A four-disk RAID array may have incredible throughput, but even the best controller will still give you seek times measured in milliseconds.

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Re: future proof

Postby psykx » Sat Jan 31, 2009 12:33 pm UTC

Ok Cool, it's all food for thought. What would having 8GB of ram imply the rest of your system needing to be? I know windows xp has some problems addressing half that ram but I'm pretty sure I remember there being some hardware limitations too? would it mean I'd have to move to DDR3? also would there be a minimum size of L2 Cache?
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Re: future proof

Postby Mzyxptlk » Sat Jan 31, 2009 1:08 pm UTC

psykx wrote:Ok Cool, it's all food for thought. What would having 8GB of ram imply the rest of your system needing to be? I know windows xp has some problems addressing half that ram

Having hated Vista in the past (to the point of irrationality), since having made the switch to Vista x64, I now see absolutely no reason to stick with 32bit XP. I've not encountered a single program that didn't work (though sometimes you need to perform some magic, I'll admit).

psykx wrote:but I'm pretty sure I remember there being some hardware limitations too? would it mean I'd have to move to DDR3? also would there be a minimum size of L2 Cache?

You need a 64bit processor, which all processors nowadays are. Beyond that, no hardware requirements. RAM and cache don't come into it.
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Re: future proof

Postby Game_boy » Sat Jan 31, 2009 2:23 pm UTC

The main bottleneck for non-graphics work is the CPU clock speed for non-threaded work, and the core count for threaded work. Most CPU-intensive software takes advantage of multiple cores now, so a quad-core is optimal (for games, it tends to be GPU-bound and not take advantage of more than 2 cores, so a dual-core is optimal).

FSB being the bottleneck has largely evaporated; FSB is fast enough for most applications, and for really bandwidth-intensive ones you would get a Phenom or Core i7 with HyperTransport or QPI, whuch are MUCH faster than FSB and will replace it over the next few years.

Don't bother with future-proofing; the fastest CPUs now are ridiculously expensive for the minor improvement over midrange, and in a few years they'll all seem similar like stated above. For pure price/performance for CPU work, the Phenom II 9xx or Core 2 Quad Q9xxx are your best bets. The Core i7 may be faster, but the motherboards and RAM are far more expensive and the CPUs start at high prices making them not good for price:performance ratio.

So, you want a Phenom II 9xx or Core 2 Quad Q9xxx. This leaves the II 920, the II 940, Q9300, Q9400, Q9550 and Q9650. All are priced competitively relative to each other at the moment, and I would probably recommend the II 940 (because I like AMD, however Intel is equally justifiable).

--

As for graphics, if you just want pretty Linux visuals but not intensive 3D work, any ~$80 graphics card will do. The HD4670 or 9600GSO are both good choices. You have to consider Linux drivers with this one: Nvidia's driver is probably faster (for 3D only) but is binary only, but ATI has both a binary and open-source driver and is committed to ongoing open-source support. On Windows the driver support is similar in functionality and speed.

--

RAM doesn't matter. DDR3 might be new but the performance advantages are minimal and the price is often double for the same amount. It's probably best to go with 2-4GB of DDR2 at the moment (if you choose DDR3 and AMD, you will have to wait for AMD's DDR3 CPUs and motherboards in February). If you go with 4GB you'll need a 64-bit CPU (i.e. any of them) and a 64-bit OS.
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Re: future proof

Postby Carnildo » Sun Feb 01, 2009 1:27 am UTC

psykx wrote:Ok Cool, it's all food for thought. What would having 8GB of ram imply the rest of your system needing to be? I know windows xp has some problems addressing half that ram but I'm pretty sure I remember there being some hardware limitations too? would it mean I'd have to move to DDR3? also would there be a minimum size of L2 Cache?


You need a mainboard that supports that much, a 64-bit CPU (all current AMD and Intel CPUs do), and a 64-bit OS (Vista 64 or Linux).

For future-proofing if you're not playing computer games, any PCIe graphics card is fairly future-proof (the fancy 3D desktop effects really aren't that taxing compared to what games require). SATA hard drives are also fairly future-proof (the SATA interface looks like it's going to stick around for a long time). DVD drives are also fairly safe: if the transition from CD-ROM to DVD is anything to go by, it'll be a decade or more before software starts being distributed on Blu-Ray only -- if it ever does. Network and sound cards are also fairly future-proof, but most people just use the mainboard's sound and network hardware instead.

CPUs, memory, and mainboards are an enigma: I'm seeing some signs that the drive for ever-faster parts is faltering (netbooks and other low-power computers are gaining popularity, and computers have been "fast enough" for non-gaming purposes for almost a decade now). On the other hand, faster speeds and newer technologies keep getting announced.

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Re: future proof

Postby mosc » Sun Feb 01, 2009 5:59 am UTC

I totally utterly disagree that you can remove the hard disk bottleneck with more ram. Windows uses the hard drive whither you want it to or not. I had a customer a few years back who had me build him a machine with a 10GB hard drive and 12GB of ram featuring windows XP 64-bit and an athlon64. This was probably 5 years ago at this point. It was more than $1000 in ram. Anyway, long story short, even disabling numerous options in the operating system, it would still go out to the hard drive. Even with more ram than disk space, it simply wouldn't stick everything in ram. Windows refuses to load everything into memory even if it has infinite memory so whither you like it or not, you will still bottleneck on the hard drives.

Also, system memory doesn't help you with games that need to load huge texture maps to the video card. That all gets done through the hard drives. Loading times throughout a game cannot be helped with masses of extra memory. You need enough to keep the OS and the game happy but any more is not going to speed things up.

I really don't think many of you have worked on a lot of systems who are spouting advice out here. Telling a guy he's better off with 8GB of ram over 2 hard drives? Nutsy. Also, these 10k RPM drives make no sense. Why? They cost more than twice as much as 7200rpm drives and they have no storage space. What's faster, has more space, and costs less than a 10k RPM drive? 2x7200rpm drives in RAID1. You also get data redundancy. What's faster, has more space, and costs less than a 2 drive array of 10k RPM drives? 4x7200rpm drives in RAID0+1. Again, buy more cheap drives.
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Re: future proof

Postby Carnildo » Sun Feb 01, 2009 7:40 am UTC

mosc wrote:I totally utterly disagree that you can remove the hard disk bottleneck with more ram. Windows uses the hard drive whither you want it to or not. I had a customer a few years back who had me build him a machine with a 10GB hard drive and 12GB of ram featuring windows XP 64-bit and an athlon64. This was probably 5 years ago at this point. It was more than $1000 in ram. Anyway, long story short, even disabling numerous options in the operating system, it would still go out to the hard drive. Even with more ram than disk space, it simply wouldn't stick everything in ram. Windows refuses to load everything into memory even if it has infinite memory so whither you like it or not, you will still bottleneck on the hard drives.


Linux isn't Windows, and they've got very different philosophies on how to use RAM and hard drives. Linux is very aggressive at caching data read from disk, and the ease with which you can create ramdisks means you can have it pre-cache things if you want. The other thing to keep in mind is the relative sizes of programs on Linux and Windows: on my computer, the size of /usr (roughly the equivalent of C:\Program Files and C:\Windows) is 5.5GB. Precache that in RAM, and you've still got 2.5GB available for programs.

I've got a system with 8GB of RAM, and the only times I'm I/O-bound are during startup (a once-a-month event at most) and when I blow the cache by doing something like decompressing a multi-gigabyte RAR file.


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