PC Update 2018 – for Lightroom and occasional gaming

For years I have been the satisfied owner of a well-running PC that is based on a vintage 2011 Intel i5-2500K CPU. While there are situations where a higher performance could be desirable (photo editing, that is), the main reason for updating at this time would be Windows 10 compatibility issues. Of course, the performance dip following the meltdown patches also motivates looking for a newer, less impacted CPU.

Down Memory Lane

As an IT enthusiast of a certain age it is strange to think back at the pace in which things developed through the 1990ies.

My first computer was a Commodore 64 bought in 1986 (financed  by delivering Sunday newspapers), followed by an Amiga 500 in 1990 (supermarket, sorting empty bottles and pushing trolleys). I moved to the checkout line a few years later and could buy my first PC in 1993 (i386). Things moved fast from there, with major upgrades at a regular pace: i486 in 1995, Pentium in 1996 and an AMD K6 in 1997. The K6 was good enough for a quite a while. I remember playing StarCraft, XCOM Terror from the Deep and Baldur’s Gate II on it in 2000-2002. I also remember using it with a dial-up modem, but don’t think I ever used it with LAN, which I only got in 2002, the same year that I replaced the incrementally upgraded box from 1993 with a new Athlon XP-based system. That one I kept until 2009, but from 2007 it was de facto replaced by various laptops I had. Next was another full replacement to a Core2 Duo based system, which, however, seemed to have a motherboard issue (could be a compatibility issue with Windows XP – the system has been running Win 7 and Win 10 for several years after I passed it to my farther in law and there have been no complaints) – so I replaced Motherboard and CPU with the i5-2500K system in 2011 and have been evolving that one ever since, with various upgrades along the way.

Seven years later it holds the record (the Athlon was bought in fall 2002 and replaced just after new years 2009, so I only had it a little more than 6 years), and it still works nicely, as is the case with many systems of similar age and part of the reason the PC market dipped, and as mentioned in recent posts, my gaming is far away from the bleeding edge – case in point, I am making another attempt at Pillars of Eternity and will hopefully be able to complete it before Deadfire the Sequel is launched in April.

However, we are seeing compatibility issues now, with some trouble with network card and  the Windows 10 1709 Fall Creators upgrade gave us serious problems. On top of that, our work with photo-editing has repeatedly inspired us to upgrade to something faster. But then, checking how little CPU performance has actually increased since the 2500K came out, we have never gone through with it. Then Spectre/Meltdown happened, and while the industry is still working on patching the issues, it is likely both degrade performance of current systems, and require a CPU generation or two to fix, so on one side we are extra motivated to upgrade, on the other hand would rather wait a year or two.

Situation the Present

Last year 2017 things started getting interesting, with AMD CPUs rising from their grave with the aptly named Ryzen CPUs. As sch 2017 was a great year not to replace a PC, with the first generation Ryzens having a few issues to sort out (which they appear to have been) and then Intel getting time to respond with price/performance. Waiting a year for 2nd generation Ryzen and an Intel generation incorporating a response on Ryzen (if nothing else, then on price), makes sense. Of course, with the Spectre/Meltdown issues, it may make sense to wait another year, until CPUs incorporate better fixes for the vulnerabilities.

My requirements

As described, the issue isn’t burning red and hot, but knowing that a driver update could break the system, it is time to design the replacement system, so here comes, my PC Upgrade 2018.

Some initial thoughts: Focus on replacing CPU and Motherboard. The video card is good enough for the kind of games I play at the moment and Lightroom isn’t utilizing it. Also, since GPUs are now used more for cryptocurrency mining instead of rendering virtual worlds, now isn’t a good time time for that upgrade.

Some use full loínks related to optimizing a PC for Lightroom:

Adobe: Optimize Performance

The Lightroom Queen: Lightroom Performance – What Computer Hardware Do I Need?

PC Design 2018

What is the best CPU?

Thanks to AMD getting back in the game there are now several options to choose from in the mid-to-high end CPU market:

  • AMD: Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7
  • Intel: i5 and i7

where Ryzen 5 has 4 or 6 cores and twice as many threads, Ryzen 7 has 8 cores/16 threads (link); whereas in the latest generation (8th) the i5 has 6 cores/6 threads and i7 has 6 cores/12 threads (->here for an explanation if Intel’s i3/5/7 designation)

With Lightroom being the primary choicedriver choosing the best chips is really just a Google search away, which may find ->this. Still, doing some research feels right and makes the final buy decision more informed, so here comes a comparison between candidate CPUs, with benchmarks from the PassMark Software:

Since single thread performance is most important for Lightroom, the best option is indeed the i7-8700K (although both the 8700 and 2016’s 7700K comes close. However, the i5-8600 is close behind on the single thread performance, and since I don’t really need hyper threading for anything, I may save the money and stick to i5.

Motherboard

The motherboard must have the right CPU socket, which for the latest Intel generation means LGA1151 which must support the 8th Coffee Lake generation. USB support is wort considering (but will require a new case)

RAM

These days, RAM must be DDR4 with 288 Pins, speed 2400 MHz (or whatever fits the MoBo). 16 GB seems like the right amount, especially for my occasional adventures into virtualization. I haven’t seen any good arguments for going beyond 16 GB RAM for a consumer desktop.

GPU

I am not in urgent need to replace my current ATI Radeon HD 7850, but checking the net , it looks like Nvidia GeForce GT 1050 or 1060 is the right thing at the moment.

Harddisks etc

I will keep a setup like today, with an SDD system disk, data disk and one for backups. Adding a second second SDD for Lightroom catalogues could make sense, but that can wait as long as CPU is the limiting factor.

This week (month):

  • Watching the Falcon Heavy launch on Feb 6 was amazing in so many ways, with the tandem landing of the two boosters being a great finale. It was also great to watch something live again. In a time where most TV I watch is from streaming services, it was fun to wait for a program to be one and then watch events live as they happened (but I do remember that’s how TV used to eb not so long time ago). Thanks to SpaceX for making their launches into a good show too (I realize this is part of running SpaceX on commercial terms and I am OK with that).
  • Having listened through most of what Enigma has to offer I have moved on to a tour of Mike Oldfield’s catalogue (liek a do every couple of years), starting with The Songs of Distant Earth from 1994 which was a natural place to go after the early Enigma. I continued to the first opus, and may take it chronologically from there – perhaps even realizing my idea of doing a series of reviews. We shall see.
  • Am also trying to do something about my gaming: Another attempt at Pillars of Eternity.
  • Got a Wacom Intuos Art pad for my birthday – interesting bit of gear, that I wanted to try ever since seeing too much fan art at deviantart.com. Not that I believe I have any particular talent – just thought it could be fun to try and learn a bit about digital art. Not surprisingly it turns out to be difficult, starting with the hand-eye-screen coordination being a whole new motor-skill that I need to train. Great to get an opportunity to try something like that.