Building the ultimate workstation with the Ryzen Threadripper
Ok so what if you want the ultimate machine. To our things into perspective. When the IBM PC first launched, the hot rod computer was the IBM PC XT. It had a 5MB hard disk. The first of its kind. And it cost $5-6K if you can believe that. And that was in 1985 or 30 years ago. So I was wondering what $6K could buy today. Of course, $5K back then would be $11K today, so that makes the $600 desktop PC seem pretty incredible. It is literally 1,000 times faster and 10x cheaper.
We know that it could buy you that much money. Well, it would be the entry-level Mac Pro for $6K. That gets you an 8-core processor and an incredible chassis with a single cooling system and a decent card. But I wonder what you could do with that today if you went all out and built your own homebrew computer.
Well, I’ve been keeping a history of machines I’ve built and recommended at PC Part Picker, so check out https://pcpartpicker.com/user/richtong/saved/ for that list, but the latest is an ultimate desktop machine. I guess you would these days call it either a workstation or a HEDT (high-end desktop). Regardless, no one needs a machine like this, but it is something that you definitely want.
So what does this dream machine that costs $7,650 have in it, let’s take a look and also note that if you just want to buy it, you can click on buy from Amazon and it is there for you! As noted below effective for 11 January 2020. If you want the latest prices, then look at the URL:
So let’s take a look at each part and the reason they were chosen.
Processor: AMD 3970X Threadripper
AMD has really been working hard at the high end. Right now, the new Zen 2 architecture is 7nm. And with their new chiplet design, they can put lots of 8-core’s on a single chip. In this case, they have three choices in the high-end desktop range, the 3960X is 24-cores and costs $1,500. The 3970X is 32 cores for $2,000. And the 3990X is 64 cores and will be $4,000. So the pricing definitely is linear for the number of cores.
Now, does anyone really need 32 cores? Well, the use scenarios are pretty limited. For computer gaming, you really want as fast a single processor as possible. So, Intel still holds the lead there. The place where these cores really matter are on workloads like video processing or photos where you can each core work on a different part of the datastream.
When you move up into AMD’s Epyx line or Intel Xeon, then the reason changes. At that point with a server, you want lots of cores to run different virtual machines since a single physical server is going to host thousands of virtual ones.
So this is mainly for bragging rights. On the other hand, I’ve got to say anything named Threadripper is just too cool for words. Pricing-wise, saving $500 gets you to 24-cores and no discernable difference in performance in most cases, but at this level, might as well get the bragging rights.
Cooler: Noctua NH-14US
Now, this processor uses a lot of power. Over 280 watts worth, so you want a great cooler. While most folks say water-cooled is best, the reality is that a well-designed air cooler is just as quiet and much simpler to install.
I’ve been using Noctua for years now and this cooler is large but is designed specifically for the new chip.
Motherboard: ASUS ROG Strix TRX-40e
OK there are a whole host of motherboards that use the new TRX-40e socket. They are definitely expensive at $500 each. But the main reasons are the relatively low volume. On the other hand, they have pretty much identical performance, so it is good to just look at the features.
This is a good mid-range board that has a few things going for it. First, it is Wifi 6 and Bluetooth 5. It also has a 2.5GBps Ethernet (802.11bz-2016)which is a handy upgrade with Wifi 6 running at 1.3Gbps. This new technology allows Cat 5e to run at 2.5GHz and Cat 6 at 5GHz. This means you don’t have to re-cable your whole house, but just do a slight upgrade to this. If you are greenfield, then you want Cat 6e.
Side note: Moving to 2.5Gb Ethernet
As a short note, this addition of 2.5Gb Ethernet reminded me that it’s time to look at home wiring. The basic problem is that 1Gbps is looking a little slow now in the era of 1.3Gbpz 802.11ac. So, the motherboard
So as an example, the Netgear XS512M is $600 and has 12 ports of 1/2.5/5/10Gb Ethernet that autosenses. It is perfect to connect this monster machine with 10Gbps Cat 6e and then have it work with new 802.11ac access points in your house running at 2.5Gb. Then, you need some sort of NAS as well as running at 10Gbps. Older devices like the Synology 2413+ have a pair of gigabit ethernet ports that you can bond to get to 2Gbps, so it is pretty well matched. But if you get a newer Synology 2419+, then this has a 10Gbps port and works well with everything.
So the net if you are power nerd, you probably want to upgrade your home switch with an XS512M. You can leave all your old devices on the 1Gbps switch, but new access points and this tower can be put in the office or wherever and you can get 2.5Gb. Then, get a fast NAS and connect in the basement at 10Gbps.
If you really are going to stream lots of data for video editing, then you might put the noisy NAS into your home office and put a 10Gbps switch right there. In that case, you might want to upgrade the Ethernet in this box to 10Gbps. Personally, I don’t like all the noise of a NAS, so just put a big disk in this box and then use a NAS as a backing store.
Memory: 256GB DDR4-3600 non-ECC
OK, this is one of the big decision points, if you are using this for long-running jobs like video encoding or machine learning, then you want to use ECC instead. To get the density, you want 256GB DDR4-2666 ECC. It will be slower but more reliable.
Alternatively, if you don’t want “big memory” bragging rights, then you can push up to very fast and expensive 128GB DDR4-4400 memory. We instead, took the tradeoff to get lots of memory. Most jobs will actually run completely in memory, so almost everything will be very fast.
Fast Storage: 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4.0
This is an expensive decision, but this is one of the few cards out there right now that support PCI Express 4.0. ‘this is double the bandwidth of PCI Express 3.0. The net is that you should be able to get 4-5GBps read/write. That is really screaming. It’s the perfect drive to act as your Boot drive and your swap storage.
This is the minimal storage. If you are doing lots of video encoding, then you can get up to three of these cards, so you can have two more drives like this for a 4TB of fast data storage.
The ultimate configuration for reliability would be to run this in RAID5, so you put in three drives, get 4TB of very reliable storage. You would want this for very long running jobs and let’s face it for the coolness factor.
Backing Storage: 16TB Seagate EXOS
OK, this is a massive system and it can handle lots of drives. For backing storage, the most convenient is just to use SATA3. Yes it is slow, but rotating storage isn’t going to be much faster at 7200 rpm so that’s a good compromise. As an aside, SATA3 maximum bandwidth is about 600MBps.
The Seagate drive has a maximum throughput of 261MBps.
A single 16TB drive is a minimum and at $400, it really does make sense to just get a single drive. Now, if you are doing lots of video and you are exceeding the SSD storage, then you have two choices, go to a NAS over a 10Gb Ethernet (effective throughput will be of 1Gb Ethernet is 124MBps as an aside) and about 300-400MBps given the other overhead.
So at these speeds, a local RAID10 array is going to be running at the same kind of speed. That is RAID0 striping means 261×2 or about 520MBps. That’s not a bad choice fast backing storage. With drives this big, you will want to run RAID10 most of time, so you will need 4 of these drives to deliver 32TB of reliable storage.
Video: nVidia RTX2080 Ti
These are the fastest video cards right now running at 1.7GHz overclocked. These have a whopping 11GB of video memory. Now even one card like this will run a 4K display at 60fps which is remarkable. But two of them in SLI are truly incredible.
Even with full ray tracing and processing, you can do this, but you will want a larger display.
Monitor: 4K 43″ Display
Well, there are lots of choices of monitors depending on your needs. If you are a gaming type, then the best these days are very fast 144Hz or even faster monitors for fast-twitch games. If you are doing development, then it is really nice to have a big monitor that is 43″ so you can lay things out.
Case: Fractal Designs Define XL R2
This is a large ATX case with loads of storage. It can store a whopping 16 3.5″ drives in two cages plus a huge number of 5.25″ drives. So you can take this and just load it up. Having a big case is nice as it allows for great cooling.