Vakkotaur (vakkotaur) wrote,

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Appaloosa's Tale

As mentioned a bit ago, I've spent the last few months slowly building up a fairly impressive machine for scarletcharnel. To satisfy any curiosity, the hardware is this:

Midtower case with three 120mm fans, one with red LED for a power light, there's audio jacks and a pair of USB 3 ports on the front panel
Rosewill HIVE 750 W power supply
A Gigabyte motherboard GA-990FXA-UD3 (AMD 990 chipset, AM3+ socket, USB3.0, 6 Gb/s SATA)
FX-8350 CPU (8-core, 4.0 GHz)
Xigmatek Gaia CPU heatsink/fan
2 TB Western Digital "Black" (5 year warranty) hard drive
DVD-R/W drive (Toshiba? not sure of make, it was simply an inexpensive SATA optical drive)
MSI GTX 660 (nVidia) Video card.

It was tempting to hang on to it longer. It was is a really nice machine. But it did, at long last, get shipped and a few days earlier than predicted arrived safely (whew!) and was soon set up. I am not sure what exactly happened and might well never know, but what work I did to make Linux and Windows co-exist and any further setup was for nought as there was some issue and the disk was wiped for a Windows reinstall. (The only good part of that is that now nobody gets to make any silly claims that I have some stupid spyware or such on that machine. At least they can't make that claim not look both paranoid and idiotic.) Still, even with that setback, things were running with fairly minor delays.

Perhaps you wonder why this machine was built, why it's decidedly more than adequate, and why it took so darn long. I had known scarletcharnel on Second Life for some time but had noticed constant and increasing complaints of limited computing power. She was using a decidedly second-hand laptop that she was lucky to find and was unlikely to be able to replace, and it was aging, at least partly from hideously bad design: Air intake and outflow vents near each other, a 64 bit CPU in hardware that lacked 64-bit drivers, a maximum of 3 GB of RAM. And heat issues of a laptop that meant often an external office fan was needed to keep it just barely within operating specifications. I'm not sure when I started thinking about what it would take to replace that laptop, but I had been thinking of that in a theoretical way for a while. Nothing really came of it as I had been thinking of a replacement laptop and that's one big all-at-once expense.

One night I mentioned this pondering and was told that while a newer laptop would certainly be nice, a desktop machine would be better. Further consideration, over some time, lead to a long term project that was a race of acquiring parts when available at a discount if possible, against the ever-declining overheating laptop. The desktop setup meant I could get things one piece at a time and use some of the things I had around as temporary testing items. I had an idle Sempron, a spare CPU cooler for a Phenom II X6, a couple spare 1 GB DIMMs, and access to a couple older PCIE video cards. It wasn't enough to build a whole machine out of, nor anything for more than a quite basic machine, but it would let me make sure things like a DVD drive, power supply, and motherboard were working. Since this machine would also not be something likely to be replaced any time soon, building it a bit overboard for current needs was a Good Idea, though that meant an increase in cost, which translated to an increase in time.

Over the next several months parts were acquired and a system assembled in bits and pieces, fits and starts. For a while I even ran it off of a USB (2.0) flash drive just to have an operating system beyond a live-CD. The extra bits that were lying about were replaced in time, with the last replaced item being the video card. In the time of building, AMD released a new set of CPUs that was a good step up from what I had been planning and I was informed of a better choice of video card than I had been planning as well.

I had pondered a lower performance, but still quite adequate, machine with an older generation quad-core CPU, 8 GB of RAM, a 1 TB hard drive, and GTX 550ti video card. Aside from the modern hard drive, that would be the equivalent of percheron which is, while my secondary machine, no slouch. But that is today, and it is my secondary, rather than my primary. Thus the changes. The case was more gamer-oriented than I might care for, but the illuminated fan at least wasn't an overly bright annoying blue but a more understated red, the fans are a good idea (I am considering adding the equivalent to my own machines). Between the well ventilated case, the Xigmatek CPU cooler, and the dual fans on a lower temperature video card, the system ran cool. I was used to having to turn a "fan stopped" alarm off, but this had me wondering if maybe the temperature sensors weren't working right. I pushed the system as hard as I could think of, short of running a compile of something, and the highest temperature I ever saw on any of the system was 43 C. Not only does it run cool, it runs rather quiet at the same time, and it displays Second Life at a frame rate so high I tended to leave the viewer's graphics settings at "Ultra" with about everything enabled.

That aging laptop? Well, sure laptops are small and concentrated and things run hotter. But this was in the 80s (Celsius) regularly and once when the external fan had been left off, climbed into the 90s. I'm not sure if it was accumulated problems from high heat, or that there was no operating system disk with all the needed drivers and thus Windows simply had to keep on going without any wipe and reinstall, no matter what might have been done, but the thing was degrading with time, to the point that in the last couple months some things either became impossible or so slow and annoying that they simply were not done. I was even wondering if I'd need to make some quick arrangement to either send the new machine in a lesser state than planned (but at least working) or make some other arrangement. Fortunately such measures were not needed.

That's the technical bits and the reasoned justification. But I will admit to taking great pleasure in witnessing some of the reactions to the new machine. A sample of the reaction over a few days as things were experienced:

I positively adore this machine, I want to pet it.

I'm already spoiled with how fast Appaloosa moves.

0.0 Holy crap
Jesus, I'm on mid with everything but shadows at 157 fps
So bump it up to high... or ultra...
Ultra with shadows, 45 fps O.O
(For the record, Second Life servers only push out 45 frames per second, so nothing faster is really needed there.)

(On Second Life, one thing that will slow rendering is the presence of more avatars in view. The number can be limited to help increase performance.)
There's at least fifteen people here
hardly any lag, and things are loading so FAST

I was telling [REDACTED] I'd never had a lot of these things before, a lot, and was like 'wait, let's just sum this whole thing up, I have NEVER had a machine this powerful before, ever.
I went from a tiny laptop that had literally a .1-.5 FPS on ultra with shadows to a computer that tops out at 67ish with all the same settings.

holy cow
Even friggin ArtRage runs better.

As if that wasn't enough, one thing accidentally got left behind on the old laptop and thus the laptop came out of retirement for a little bit so that item could be copied over. And the reaction was what one might expect, but it's always a jolt when one experiences it: The "Wow, is this ever slow. How did I get by with that for long?! I can't go back to that!" reaction.

Naturally, the initial excitement wears off and things return to normal, eventually. Except it's a new normal. Things that were barely possible have become easy. Things once assumed impossible have become possible. Things that were put aside a few months ago have returned. All the time, frustration, and at times cussing, fade away. I think I can claim that this particular collection of hardware is a success.

Tags: appaloosa, computers
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