240hz Aspirational PC gaming/mining/Docker - phase1
This is my first Windows PC build in about a decade, spurred by some job insecurity. As such, while I don’t have to keep the build cheap, I did want to start with a minimum build and prove the value before further spending in a phased approach. At each phase I’m looking to assess and maximize the value before moving on. The motivations for this build as per the title are varied.
My initial inspiration came with the impending release of Quake Champions. Having played and loved both Doom and Quake in all their iterations, the allure of Quake Champions was strong. Console gaming introduced a number of compromises due to tracking limitations of controllers and performance being a lowest-common-denominator calculation. Quake Champions being PC only along with 240hz gaming being a truly unique experience that couldn’t be found on other platforms was the start of this plan, but it wasn’t enough to justify the spend.
With a Nintendo Switch and Sony Playstation 4, I haven’t been starved for gaming, but certainly there were a number of games I hadn’t been able to play at all without Windows. I also wanted to get into cryptocurrency mining and gain ground level experience there. I’m not looking to reap profit so much as master blockchain participation. Finally most relevant to my career, I am seeking to leverage Docker in a Continuous Integration fashion in mining.
Success in phase1 is about establishing a baseline. There is a lot of learning and researching going into the build. Correcting mistakes in the build and calling those out. Light benchmarking to evaluate progress, basic PC engineering necessary to achieve stability when bringing together miscellaneous parts. Personal goals in order to extract/maximize value including game installation and baselining, exercising mining mechanics, Docker basics.
UPDATE0: The most important thing to understand about this build, and any Raven Ridge build today, is that you will face engineering challenges. This engineering is a key value that builders like Dell/Alienware bring to the customer. Critically, you must start your install with Windows 10 1709 or later. As a result it can be quite hard to dicsern driver/software issues against negative results from overclocking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_te-ksbGXE
UPDATE1: This is a fairly difficult build to see both stability and performance. The OOTB auto scaling of the APU both in terms of CPU and GPU can lead to instability. It runs warm after overclocking, but not much different than OOTB because the variable CPU speed will often overclock to 1.45 volts. Here are the settings so far that lead to stability in gaming so far:
UPDATE2: Finished game validation and benchmarking. I think what this shows is that well programmed or highly optimized games run well with an APU. I'm very pleased to see Quake Champions which is every bit as gorgeous as Doom running as smoothly as the decade+ old Counter Strike! I had high hopes that Vulkan enabled games would run well and it held true. I'm dissapointed Star Citizen runs as poorly as it did 3 years ago, but not surprised. Battletech running poorly was also not a surprise as I've read you need a Geforce 1080 to even get 60fps for this turn based game. The really unfortunate thing about the results is that I won't comfortably be able to even exceed 60fps, making the 240hz display unnecessary until I've got a video card that will push it.
UPDATE3: My interpretation here is that although I underclocked the CPU scores were still boosted by two factors. First was that a more stable clock on the CPU gives better performance because the scaling takes time to adjust. Second is that this system is still GPU bound even after overclocking the GPU cores on the APU. There are scores near 1500 on TimeSpy posted online so perhaps even more can be pulled from the APU given aftermarket cooler. In any case, the underclocked CPU and overclocked GPU is a modest change given the stock cooler and shows how much value there is in tuning the 2400G.
Stock build, CPU on variable Mhz/V and GPU defaulted to 1250Mhz
Overclocked per above
With the new Tesla based NVidia GPU around the corner, I didn't want to invest in a dGPU today. However I did want to enable gaming from the start. On of the goals in phase2 is to see how high I can push the fps on CS:GO with this APU. Hopefully beyond 144fps in order to justify the push to phase3 with a 240hz monitor.
The CPU/APU runs hot and the default cooler while decent, isn't really enough that I feel comfortable really hitting it hard for extended periods. Phase2 is to add a cooler and start really hitting it with workloads.
It's important to overclock the GPU portion of the APU before the CPU portion. In fact it's generally best to let the CPU control it's own voltage and speed dynamically and only overclock the GPU. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jK93g0eQTfA
This board is definitely more than I need for a 2400G. However this build is meant to grow as I seek to add a GPU later, and perhaps a 16 core Ryzen at some point. To that end, it seems the VRM performance is the most critical defining factor. Few x470 motherboards today have stable VRM performance when trying to overclock an 8 core CPU.
The motherboard is good, but the BIOS isn't easy to work with in terms of overclocking. For example, finding the APU reserved memory was a challenge.
Update: I've enjoyed ASRock boards in the past but this one is among the worst for RAM compatibility and the QVL list is outdated and lacks detail. I think this is still the best board to buy simply because it's got objectively the best VRM performance of any x470 today. Dropping to 3 stars.
Update: Do not buy any Corsair Vengeance for use with the Raven Ridge APU. The Dominator is on the QVL, this is not. It's great RAM and it's actually Samsung B-Die, but it's not compatible. Moving rating from 5 to 4 stars.
Original: This RAM is also an overkill for the 2400G. While it's possible to get better performance with faster memory. In practice above 3200 RAM, the CAS speeds begin to decline meaning that the combined speed is about the same. Unfortunately, I was not able to find stability clocking this ram to anything greater than 3200 without a BSOD, probably related to the fact that this RAM was not on the official QVL list for the board, or the fact that officially the front side bus for the APU doesn't really support anything above ~2900. However, I was also able to set the CAS down to 14 which speaks again to the idea that overall combination of frequency and CAS are related. From a price perspective, 3200 14 CAS is actually more expensive today.
To really maximize an APU like the 2400G or 2200G though, you really need decently fast ram. Unfortunately with current sky-high RAM prices, this flies in the face of the affordability. However since my longer term goal includes more aggressive CPU and potentially higher workloads, splashing on good RAM makes sense.
APU scaling with faster RAM https://www.anandtech.com/show/12621/memory-scaling-zen-vega-apu-2200g-2400g-ryzen/5
This drive is quite certainly the sweet spot in terms of price versus performance in an NVME option. I almost missed the opportunity here. I didn't realize at first that NVME can present a 10x improvement of performance over current SATA SSD. That said it's about 2x the cost too. However this WD Black, although not as stellar a performer as the Samsung options, is only 50% more expensive today than the SSD equivalent. With my plans to leverage some virtualization, this was definitely worth the spend. I haven't benchmarked the drive, but SR has https://www.storagereview.com/western_digital_black_nvme_ssd_sandisk_extreme_pro_review
I started this spec looking at the Fractal Design C. After tons of looking, it came down to the Meshify C vs the Silverstone R06. I realized that the R06 performance was simply a matter of coming stock with 3 intake fans. Meaning that if you added fans to the Meshify you could achieve very similar performance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqoGsaYJIzU
I'm generally chasing a completely quiet build. Highly efficient processors and GPU and fanless PSU. However with this build I can't ignore the practical demands of mining so I've opted for airflow.
I'm currently mulling a Threadripper build using the amazing NSG-S0 but I'll wait until they actually deliver one before giving them $1000. http://fanlessfan.com/
This is a great deal on a SeaSonic modular PSU. SeaSonic has long been one of the best. I could have gone smaller today, but with the potential GPU add later and potential for 8 or 16 core Ryzen upgrade, I think this 620W will last.
Update: After working with Hyper-v, I'm very impressed with this operating system. Especially impressed with Microsofts efforts to embrace Ubuntu. Moving rating from 4 to 5 stars.
Original: Buying Windows!??! My career launched a decade ago working as an admin of FreeBSD systems. I moved to OS X for my desktop OS about a decade ago with no regrets. However if I wanted to run Quake Champions, there was no choice. Also I wanted to have plenty of virtualization options available. I'm quite happy with the OS, but it's not perfect. However the QR code on the BSOD is awesome!