Cores cores cores

I’ve been working from home since the pandemic started and it was becoming increasingly clear that my old gen 3 core-i5 processor wasn’t cutting it anymore. So many aspects of the machine were dated that upgrading pieces wasn’t really going to help anymore (8 year old CPU, DDR3 memory, SATA drive, PCIe 2.0, LGA1155). It was particularly problematic when I needed to run VMs.

At Benji’s suggestion, I took a look at Xeon-based workstations and he was, as usual, correct. Xeons are marketed for high end applications: servers and workstations and often cost $1-2K when new (just the CPU). Workstations are feature-rich and easy to maintain because they sell for several thousand dollars to corporate customers. However those customers need to stay on the leading edge, so they upgrade frequently and those machines hit the used market at much lower prices. I try to stay off the bleeding computing edge because gear devalues so quickly. 4-year old high-end gear is often the sweet-spot. So the new home PC consists of:

Dell T7810 Workstation
  • Dell T7810 Workstation
  • Xeon E5-2680 v4 CPU: 14-cores, 28 threads, 2.4GHz base, 3.3GHz Turbo
  • 32GB ECC DDR4 2400 RAM
  • Dell DPWC300 PCIe NVMe storage adapter (2 slots)
  • Silicon Power P34A80 1TB NVMe M.2 PCIe (TLC) yields > 3Gbps real throughput
  • nVidia GT1030 GPU 2GB GDDR5 (note issues below)

The machine cost under $500 and offers a good step up in performance (Passmark 18503 vs. 4645) placing it on par with an i9 9900k but at a much lower price and with a lot more headroom. This machine is well engineered (no screwdrivers required for anything), has a single processor with 14 cores, and I can upgrade to two processors with up to 22 cores each. Memory can upgrade to 256GB, the PCIe storage adapter has an open slot and there are two open SATA bays for bulk storage. The NVMe storage is *way* faster than SATA.

Two issues to be aware of:

1. I was a little worried about fan noise because the system only uses 80mm fans. I’m a fanatic about noise because I work in a very quiet room and any fan noise is noticeable. The system isn’t silent, but it’s not bad either. Although I wish Dell had used 120mm fans, the fan speed is adaptive and in normal use is pretty quiet. The system generally idles with the cores drawing under 15W and temperatures just a few degrees above ambient; as I write this, the cores are at 27C (about 80F)). The CPU gets warm when the cores get busy, but cools down quickly and the fans don’t really kick in unless needed. I replaced the thermal paste with Arctic MX4.

2. I’d planned to move my GTX1060 6GB half-length (single fan) card from my old machine. Unfortunately, the T7810 case has a rubber bar on the cover that comes down over the PCIe boards, perhaps to help keep them seated in shipping and that bar comes down right on top of the GTX’s 6-pin PCIe power connector, preventing the case from closing fully. I have another 1060 in the office that’s a bit longer and will try that at some point, but the GT1030 is silent (fully passive cooling), fits, and is good enough for now; it is no match for a 1060, but I’m not a gamer and Fusion 360 is really the only program I use that needs a good GPU.

Overall, I’m pleased with the system and hope to be able to keep using it for at least 4 years before upgrading again.