Real, objective opinions about hardware

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Pumo
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Real, objective opinions about hardware

Post by Pumo » Fri Jul 18, 2014 7:04 pm

So, this is the deal: I would like to hear some opinions from the tech savy guys around here (specially Krom) about real world, absolute results of speed gain/loss according to my current hardware (specially CPU and Hard Drive), in an objective fashion, far from highly-commercial and fanboyish stuff.

Note I'm not thinking about upgrading (at least not with important upgrades) my rig right now, as I feel happy overall with it as it is right now, and most of the stuff I use on the computer runs perfectly fine, but I have thirst for knowledge and like to be completely sure to form an opinion and for some near-future planning, so...

Let's start:


I have a Sandy Bridge Core i3 3.30GHz 2120 from late 2012: http://ark.intel.com/products/53426/Int ... e-3_30-GHz
My motherboard supports Ivy Bridge CPUs also, and I could install a good Ivy Bridge Core i5 or i7 if I would have to.
The question is, do I really have a substantial gain by installing one of those Ivy Bridge i5/i7 CPUs over the one I have?

I do some video editing from time to time, but I can live with the encoding times as it's now. I don't plan to play any of those famous 'open-world' games anytime soon, and I use mostly my computer to play D2X-XL, some Lego games, Portal 2, and as of recently also some of the new Sonic games (Generations and All-Stars Racing Transformed), Far Cry 3, some emulators, and music making (where I couldn't see any problem even when using LOTS of VSTi Synthesizers simultaneously with lots of Effects and stuff. They work like a charm).
I play my games at 1080p at a steady 60fps framerate most of the time and even with high to ultra settings (I have a GeForce GTX 650 and found no problems so far).

So, does some of those CPUs could really have an impact for my everyday use?

I do have 8GB of ram, and haven't found any problems with it so far. Maybe I could think to upgrade to 16GB just for the sake of the sampler synths I use sometimes.

So, what about Hard Drives? I've heard that an SSD for the OS can make a huge difference in performance.
Could I benefit more on buying an SSD than a new CPU?

And in the case of the SSD, how big is the impact compared to a HDD, in the case of a daily use of Windows 7 with some extra programs loading at start (like the the Winstep Nexus Dock I like to use, Avast Anti-virus, F.lux, OneDrive and some other services around there) ?.
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Krom
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Re: Real, objective opinions about hardware

Post by Krom » Sat Jul 19, 2014 7:46 am

You do not need to upgrade your CPU or memory right now. In terms of your day to day work on the PC, upgrading to an Ivy Bridge quad core variant would not significantly change the performance you would see for most things, with perhaps a few exceptions. The most major one would be video encoding (assuming you are using a good threaded encoder) would see a clean doubling of performance or slightly more since the i5s and i7s typically have higher base clocks and turbo on top of more cores. One way you can tell is to get a secondary monitor, and simply keep the performance tab of task manger open on it all the time, if you see few/zero spikes of CPU utilization, you won't benefit from a faster CPU. Ignore games when doing that though, because for the most part they run 100% CPU utilization regardless of how much performance they actually need.

As far as gaming goes, Far Cry 3 is probably the most CPU demanding game you have listed and with a GTX 650 you are still definitely GPU limited there. An i3-2100 (same as the 2120 but only 3.1 GHz) can peg the GPU limit of a GTX 680 in FC3, so you won't see an improvement there from a quad core upgrade. There are games that benefit from quad cores (and Far Cry 2/3 are among them), but in the absence of a $1200 pair of GTX 780 Ti cards in SLI you probably won't notice.

You should definitely get a SSD though, the difference can be pretty surprising. I recently put SSDs into both of my parents PCs, which are Sandy Bridge i3-2100 (3.1 GHz) systems with 8 GB of RAM. Previously they had 500 GB Western Digital 7200 RPM SATA 6 Gbps drives in them, I replaced those with 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO SSDs. Even though they were well maintained systems with effectively no bloat loading on startup, it still took them a good 30-50 seconds to settle down and actually be useful after power on when they were booting from the hard drives. On the SSDs, blink and you will miss them booting, and you can load up your web browser or pretty much anything else the instant you see the desktop. On hard drives, my parents used to hit the power button and then walk away for a couple minutes, now they hit the power button and sit down.

Note a SSD won't improve your framerate or make video encoding run any faster, or improve anything else that isn't I/O limited. What it will do is make your OS and programs start much faster and act far more immediately responsive. All that mechanical disk thrashing you hear when you boot your system or load a bigger application, simply won't happen. Even loading a smaller application can be noticeably faster. One really good example that just about anyone can try out is opening up add or remove programs ( win key + r: appwiz.cpl ). On a hard drive, with an OS that has been installed for a year or two, opening up add or remove programs takes anywhere from 5-30 seconds. On an SSD, it opens instantly, every time.

For SSD recommendations, on a budget: Samsung 840 EVO is pretty hard to beat (it also helps that it isn't that far off from the top performing drive). Off the budget, the Sandisk Extreme II surprisingly lives up to its name, while the Samsung 850 Pro should be showing up on retail pretty soon and is the fastest consumer SSD period. Comedy expensive option: The Intel 730, basically their data center quality drive but sold to consumers, incredibly consistent performance if not quite as fast peak performance as the Sandisk or Samsung drives.
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Re: Real, objective opinions about hardware

Post by Pumo » Sat Jul 19, 2014 2:20 pm

OK, that makes thinks pretty clear to me. :)

So, if eventually I decide to go for a SSD, a 120GB EVO should be enough for my OS and most used programs? (I usually have a limited budget, so I'm goin' for the smaller drives).
Or at any case (although less probable), what about some Kingston 60GB SSD I've seen? Would Windows 7 SP1 64-bit (plus updates) fit on it with no problems or it's way too small?

Also, I don't have an empty space on my case for an extra drive, as I already have 2 mechanical HDDs installed and I would like to retain them even if I decide to buy a SSD, and I already used all of my SATA slots (although I suppose there may be SATA splitter cables available).

There are any low-cost SSD drive that would fit on a PCI-E slot (like a card), or I must rather find a way to make space for a SATA one like the EVO?
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Re: Real, objective opinions about hardware

Post by Sirius » Sat Jul 19, 2014 3:10 pm

There are PCI-E SATA cards, though they cost a little extra. I've also seen SSDs that use the PCI-E interface, but as far as I recall they are usually high-end (because they're designed to make use of the extra bandwidth), and are also expensive.

Note that SSDs are usually 2.5" rather than 3.5" (3.5 being the standard for mechanical hard drives). Depending on your case, it might have a separate slot for that - I had a server where 2.5" drives were just screwed into the bottom of the case rather than using the typical expansion slots.
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Re: Real, objective opinions about hardware

Post by Krom » Sat Jul 19, 2014 6:11 pm

An important note about the 840 EVO (and pretty much any other recent SSD) is that the performance of the smaller drives drops considerably. They still aren't as bad as a hard drive, but they take a BIG hit in performance compared to the larger models. For the 840 EVO, you don't even hit its full performance potential until the 500 GB model, the 250 is a reasonable compromise, but the 120 is pretty unacceptably weak compared to its larger siblings. And 60 GB SSDs as a rule perform terribly, because being so small means they lack spare area, when they are that small they are typically used only as a caching drive on top of a mechanical larger hard drive.

In order for a SSD to maintain peak performance, it needs to be able to defragment itself, and just like a mechanical hard drive it gets more and more difficult to defragment as it has less free space to work with. This is why it isn't that uncommon for people to take the 250 GB samsung drive and only format it to 200 GB, so the remaining 50 GB never gets filled and the drive can use it as additional spare area (all unoccupied space is automatically included in the spare area pool). And the 250 GB 840 EVO can be had for $140, so it is very reasonable (especially compared to a $300 CPU). So given that it is generally a wise idea to leave ~25% of the drive empty in order to maintain peak performance, and a fairly tightly leashed windows 7 install will rapidly consume 60-80 GB. I would never recommend less than a 250 GB SSD anymore (even my 160 GB SSD only works well for me because I disabled hibernation, limited the size of system restore because I do regular rotating full image backups to a hard drive, and manually adjusted the size of the page file to 1 GB, and kept everything nonessential (games, music, pictures, obviously video) on the 5 TB of available HDD storage in my system). Because of all that, 60 GB SSDs are sometimes dangerously close to being bested by a good USB3 flash drive, especially if you attempt to cram a Windows 7 install on to one.

Like Sirius said, these SSDs are all 2.5" drives and they weigh almost nothing (the 840 EVO/250 GB feels like a big credit card in your hand), plus they aren't particularly shock sensitive (no moving parts) so you can zip tie them down somewhere inside your case if necessary. As for PCIe SSDs, they are high end which means very expensive, and the majority of systems out there cannot boot from them (yet), but they can be up to 4x faster than a SATA SSD (and are priced accordingly).

Also, SATA splitter cables don't exist, SATA is one port for one drive, no exceptions. Any standard Intel chipset for a motherboard with a LGA1155 socket and support for i3s, i5s or i7s should have 6 SATA ports minimum. Even most microATX motherboards in SFF systems still manage to cram 4-6 SATA ports into the tiny available space they have. I can think of only one reason why you'd be out of SATA ports with only two hard drives in a system: OEM PC (Dell/HP/etc)?
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Re: Real, objective opinions about hardware

Post by Pumo » Sat Jul 19, 2014 6:53 pm

Nope, it's not an OEM System. Maybe I've not checked it well enough, I will open it and see if it has any free SATA slot. I'm already using 4 slots (2 HDD and 2 DVD drives). I will check if I have 2 extra free slots, in the case it has 6.

So I better save money to get at least a 250gb one (didn't knew that smaller ones had bad performance), will seriously take that in account.
I will first buy some other things I need (not computer related), and then will contemplate a SSD as a next possible buy.

Thanks both Krom and Sirius, your posts were of great help! :)
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