One of the least enjoyable things I do every few years is to update the machines I use for work and the various ones I have here at home. While I don't enjoy the basic IT stuff and all the software installations that typically come with new computer builds, it's a good way to get updated on the machines out there, practice reasonable parts selection, and appreciate the price of the technology. Back in 2017, I updated my workstation here at home to an AMD Ryzen 7 1700 CPU which still is a very impressive processor for general use. But time marches on and my office workstation is really itching for an upgrade which hasn't happened since around 2014 and feels even slower than my laptop.
The idea then is to transition the Ryzen 7 over to the office and let's build an even more powerful workstation here at home where I do most of my writings and media encoding. Furthermore, let's try out one of the newer generation M.2 SSD drives that promise even higher transfer speed...
So, the result of a bit of online shopping:
So, the result of a bit of online shopping:
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X 12-core CPU (MSRP US$500, current scarcity higher price)
MSI X570-A Pro motherboard (~US$150)
EVGA Supernova 750 G3 80+ Gold 750W power supply (~US$130)
Corsair LPX 32GB (2x16GB) 3200MHz DDR4 RAM (~US$160)
ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro 1TB M.2 Solid State Drive (~US$150)
Corsair Carbide 100R Silent mid-tower case (~US$70)
Throw in an inexpensive video card - maybe something like an nVidia GTX 1050 for workstation purposes, or if you do some gaming, one of the newer nVidia GTX RTX 2060 cards would really create quite a formidable machine.
We can see in the computing world the competition going on here between Intel and AMD! We can see the companies vying to be the best in speed, price, and overall feature set. AMD this year has really rocked the market with its latest 3000-series 7nm Zen 2 architecture of which the Ryzen 9 3900X, 12-core, 24-threads, 3.8GHz base, 4.6GHz max boost, TDP 105W sits as the top mainstream CPU (for now). While the power-user computer geeks might want their own CPU heatsink, fan, maybe water cooling solution for overclocking, I'm very happy that this CPU comes with the stock chunk of metal and fan in the box to keep the budget lower :-).
While this CPU can be used with previous Socket AM4 chipsets, the latest is the AM4 X570 which is the first mainstream solution to feature PCIe 4.0 which basically means it offers twice the speed of the previous PCIe 3.0 specification; we're looking now at about 2GB/s transfer speed per single PCIe 4.0 "lane".
Here she is, the Ryzen 9 3900X:
After doing it a few times, it's not hard to put all the components together on the motherboard, all ready to stick in the case with the power supply - done in a few hours...
Notice that the X570 motherboards commonly have small cooling fans these days. I assume this is a reflection of the chipset (PCIe 4.0) having greater power demands. By default, the fan control doesn't spin the chipset fan until the temperature goes quite high (like around 50°C). Therefore, it's silent most of the time.
For audio output, this MSI motherboard features the Realtek ALC1220 Codec. The chip apparently has a claimed 120dB SNR and one of the motherboards that featured this chipset back in 2017 got a measurements at 24/48 of ~108dB dynamic range and 0.0034% THD using RightMark in loopback. I'll make sure to measure this with my RME ADI-2 Pro FS ADC when I have time and report on the results on this CPU/MoBo combination. (Will be interesting comparing with the results of the ASRock Z77 Extreme 4's ALC898 as previously published.)
Apart from the CPU offering a speed upgrade, what should also be noticeable is the NVMe M.2 SSD which interfaces directly to the PCIe interface making it much faster than through typical SATA interfaces. Typically, a SATA III drive can give us ~600MB/s. With an NVMe M.2 SSD, we're looking at up to 3500MB/s!
Good to see that terabyte SSDs are now very reasonably priced:
|ADATA XPG M.2 1TB SSD with heatsink metal sheet to stick on top over the chips.|
The previous Ryzen 1700 motherboard and CPU, with an older non-modular Seasonic power supply now transplanted to the new Corsair case which I'll bring into the office. As a low priced computer case, the Corsair Carbide 100R Silent is easy to work with and looks quite clean when all is said and done:
|Corsair Carbide 100R Silent Edition: Notice the padded side panel for sound/vibration reduction.|
So how fast is the Ryzen 9 3900X compared to my previous Ryzen 7 1700?
That's the CPU-Z benchmark comparing the Ryzen 9 3900X with the 16-core Threadripper 1950X. As you can see, this processor gets us to 95% of the speed of the 16-core CPU with ~30% increase in single-core performance. Compared to the Ryzen 1700's score of 3905 multi-threaded, the new CPU more than doubles that score, and >45% faster single threaded performance. All of this at stock speed of course.
Remember that although synthetic benchmarks like this are useful, real-life use will feel different. In fact, for most tasks like MS Office or surfing the web, one is unlikely to significantly notice these differences between the 8 and 12-core machines given how fast computers have become these days.
And as for the NVMe M.2 drive performance, there's a very substantial increase compared to the Western Digital Gold 6TB 7200rpm hard drive and Samsung 850 EVO SATA-III 500GB SSD:
As expected, massive increase in the sequential read and write speed with M.2. Significant reductions in speed across the board once you start doing lots of little 4KB random access but the M.2 being still significantly faster. Hard drive performance these days compared to solid state devices really looks unimpressive! In real life, we can certainly feel the difference in speed whether it's a faster boot time, instantaneous opening of programs like Firefox or Chrome, and much faster starting of large applications like Photoshop.
Power use and undervolting...
Unlike a few years ago wanting to get a bit more performance from the Ryzen 7 1700 by overclocking, I'm thinking that for the most part, this 12-core 3900X CPU provides more speed than I really need in day-to-day work. It's actually nice to feel that I can actually slow the thing down a little, save some energy, reduce fan noise, and know that there's a bit more power under the hood if needed in the future... And this is even without doing any kind of overclocking.
The interesting thing about the Zen 2 is that the CPU does a very good job with remaining stable even with lower voltages. For example, I can undervolt it by -0.15V in BIOS (typically the CPU uses 1.2-1.25V, quite variable) and the machine still runs stably:
I can also drop the CPU SmartFan settings since power use / heat production is lessened:
|Notice the control points for fan speed % and temperature on the right. 95% fan speed by 80°C. I've also changed the fan "step up time" at 0.2s and "step down time" at 0.7s to reduce the "hunting" when the fan changes speed.|
Using my trusty Kill-A-Watt meter, at stock voltage and speed, the computer sucked up 85W when idle and this dropped a little to 80W with undervolting. What was more noticeable was that when we ran the CPU-Z "Stress CPU" task, power usage with stock setting was 214W which dropped substantially to only 176W undervolted - this is a reduction of 17%.
The price we pay is of course with lower processing speed. The CPU manages the lower power "budget" that's available by throttling performance:
One of the best ways to test for memory and CPU stability is with IntelBurnTest. Here are the results using 20GB RAM comparing stock speed with the -0.15V undervolt:
There is some GFlops variability as I was using the computer at times during the tests. Basically what we see is that at stock speed we get ~146GFlops, and undervolted down to ~140GFlops, about a -4% drop. When I look at power utilization, at stock speed, IntelBurnTest uses 236W peak while with undervolting, this goes down to 210W. In this instance, we see a drop in power use of 10% without as much speed penalty.
Considering I'm not feeling speed-constrained for now, the 4-8% loss in speed is IMO a good tradeoff by gaining a quieter experience with 10-17% reduction in power with all cores in use.
BTW: The overclocked Ryzen 7 1700 scored ~76 GFlops a few years back. Remember that this version of Linpack was optimized for Intel processors and they tend to score higher than AMD machines.
The new series of AMD Ryzen 3000 "Zen 2" 7nm CPUs is impressive at the MSRP price. As I look around, the price for the 3900X is currently a bit higher due to parts shortage.
This 12-core CPU is fast and I suspect should last me quite a number of years - I think :-). Of course this is contingent on no "killer apps" coming down the pipeline that requires even more processing power!
Where I have very noticeably seen an improvement in speed has been multi-core 4K video encoding such as using Handbrake for 4K HEVC encoding in software. Around 1.75-2x the speed of my Ryzen 7 1700. Another doubling of speed and it'll be realtime software encoding for what I do. Also, the M.2 SSD substantially increased data copying/reading speed, and program start-up speed; I'll certainly be using these for future machine builds!
Let's consider other CPUs in this performance class. The current Ryzen Threadripper 2950X (16-core, 32-threads) processor is priced ~US$650. This is about 30% more expensive than the Ryzen 9 3900X's MSRP. Plus the TR4 motherboards (currently least expensive I can find on Amazon is the Gigabyte X399 AORUS Pro) starts around US$280, also significantly more expensive than the PCIe 4.0 X570 motherboards. Performance-wise, the TR 2950X is about 10% faster than the first generation 1950X which means that at stock speed, the Ryzen 9 3900X is at most 16% slower for multithreaded performance, yet still ~15% faster single-core performance, and uses significantly less power (TR 2950X TDP of 180W vs. 3900X of 105W).
As for the Intel offerings, the closest processor in price (also around US$500) is the Intel i9-9900K 8-cores, 16-threads. Notice that Intel does not include a stock heatsink/fan with their CPU, so add a few more dollars for that. I seriously entertained getting this processor since it does also incorporate a GPU (Iris Plus Graphics 650, excellent for hardware accelerated QuickSync HEVC encoding/decoding), plus the single-core performance on Intel chips remain top notch at ~5% faster than the AMD. This i9-9900K is especially good for Intel-optimized intensive gaming. However, for workstation multi-threaded performance which will be much more important for me going forward, the 3900X ultimately outperforms by something like 40% when all the cores are utilized!
GigaFLOPS per dollar as a workstation, the Ryzen 9 3900X is excellent value if you need/want this kind of processing speed.
In other news, as you've probably heard, Amazon Music is going into "HD" (a misnomer, HD is just lossless 16/44.1, see Dr. AIX's comment) and "UHD" (>16/44.1 lossless "hi-res") streaming. This is a big deal for the audio streaming world.
The interesting thing is that compared to others, they're undercutting the monthly price to around US$15 for a standard subscription. If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, then the cost is down further to US$13. For those who are satisfied with the status quo, their standard lossy Amazon Music Unlimited MP3 320kbps tier of US$10/month remains intact.
We've known for awhile now that internet bandwidth can rather comfortably support lossless music streaming (just look at the fact that we've had 1080P and 4K movies for years now). Half-measures like the hybrid lossy MQA codec had always been a "solution in need of a problem". Clearly, Amazon's move is going to shake things up for all streaming services including the big names like Spotify and Apple. But I believe much more so the little guys like Qobuz and Tidal.
For years, I have said that the value of "hi-res" should not be high for all kinds of reasons including the fact that the majority of "hi-res" is nothing more than old analogue-sourced material or modern dynamically compressed digital. For example, in this article back in 2015, I thought that compared to a regular CD of say $10, a good high-resolution album might find reasonable value at $13. Well, it looks like Amazon's price structure got it right. Regular "CD-quality" MP3 320kbps at $10/m and lossless plus hi-res at $13/m certainly fits with what I thought those years ago. Tidal and Qobuz subscriptions, both currently at US$20/m for lossless 16/44.1 (with or without MQA) are in jeopardy once Amazon competes in that country.
For consumers, this is a big win since price is the bottom line for services like this where there is ultimately no ownership of the music. It's even in line with the Netflix HD/UHD price of US$13-$16. So long as Amazon's streaming software/app is good enough (hopefully output bitperfect to ASIO/WASAPI devices in Windows soon), the service is stable (no reason why not as AWS is already the infrastructure for many cloud, including music services), and the sound quality reflects the advertised claims, this will be a big win for Amazon Music.
From a business perspective, I think this is a smart move. Amazon is currently the 3rd largest subscription service at ~32M subscribers (behind Apple with ~56M and Spotify with ~100M paid subscribers) but growing fast and this maneuver suggests they want to really shake things up at the top.
Despite all the potential benefits to consumers, I do appreciate the nuances of having small players like Qobuz (200,000 subscribers) and Tidal (~4M subscribers if numbers are to be believed due to previous questionable claims) around to serve audiophiles with perhaps deeper catalogues in certain genres. The other thing I think we need to be mindful of is that the artists get a fair share of the proceeds; Amazon is not known to be generous.
Only a few months ago I wondered when lossless streaming will become a "standard". It looks like the time is soon.
I hope Amazon gets the HD/UHD tier up and running for us in Canada soon. And Roon, please adapt and make sure to incorporate Amazon HD/UHD streaming into your software - this will be very important for audiophiles and obviously for Roon's success in the years ahead - I suspect especially as the Tidal users decline. I just hope Amazon is also playing ball to open up their API to allow as many 3rd party devices and apps access as possible.
I think the consumer's winning as these changes happen.
Hope you're all enjoying the music!