Archive for the 'Skulltrail' Category

Building a PC: Tall or Wide?

September 6, 2008

As I see it, anyone who wants to build a computer today needs to make a choice:  should it be built to be as fast as possible without regard to the number of cores or should it have as many cores as possible without clockspeed being a priority?  In other words, should it be tall or wide?

If you want to go tall, it seems to me that you should buy the most expensive dual core chip you can find and then overclock it as far as it will go.  If you could get a dual core up to 4.6 GHz you would have a fast machine indeed.  Couple this with fast memory and a Raptor RAID 0 set up or even a flash drive and you have raw speed.  Of course with only 2 cores, it’s not wide.  But do you need it to be wide?

On the other hand, if you buy a Skulltrail motherboard and put 2 quadcore chips on it, then you’ve got something that’s wide.  You have 8 cores!  Even with overclocking, you probably won’t be able to get to the same speed as the overclocked dual cores.  However, if the software you’re using can handle multicore processing, this computer with smoke the dual core system using that application.

But there aren’t that many programs that can use quadcore chips effectively.  Today, it would seem that you’re better off with a fast dual core than spending crazy money on a quad or dual quad system.  This won’t always be the case, but for probably the next 6 months.  It’s true.

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Expensive PC chrome.

September 1, 2008

I like reading both CPU and Maximum PC because I’m very much into computer hardware.  Some people like messing with cars; I like messing with computers.  Some people will pay more for chrome, I’ll pay more for GHz!

In its September 2008 issue, CPU featured some tricked out computers that sell for around $15,000.  That’s the price of a car.  If I were rich, would I buy such a thing?  Because I like building PCs, I probably would never buy a PC like this because I’d rather have the fun putting it together.

Let’s look at one of these.  The Biohazard Rapture impresses me because it uses “multiple evaporator phase-change cooling systems.”  This system allows Biohazard to overclock two QX9775 systems to 4.6GHz on a Skulltrail motherboard.  Whoa.  I mean, daaaaaaamn.  The cooling system brings the processors down to – 20 degrees F.  It’s very difficult for a hobbyist to do something like that.  So here, you’re getting something for your $15k that you can’t really do yourself.

Of course by studying these supercomputers, a hobbyist can see how the big boys do their tricks.  I picked up how to set up Raptor drives in RAID zero from reading about these machines.  I  also got into water cooling this way.  If I bought a Skulltrail mobo and some high end cooling equipment, I could probably create something faster than anything a person could buy at Microcenter.  But there’s no question I could not equal what Biohazard has done.

Could it be done more cheaply?  Relatively speaking, yes.  In this neighborhood of performance the mobo and the chips alone come close to $4,000.  Thus, even if you do it yourself, you’re talking about spending 5 grand.  Now that’s a third of the price of a Rapture, but the performance would be closer than that.  I’m confident that I could get it up to 4 GHz.  I’ve done that with lesser chips.  So while I’ll stipulate that I can’t match the Rapture for $5,000, I can get to 87% for 1/3rd the price.  Moreover, considering the level of diminishing returns right now on using an 8 core box, what difference would it really make day to day?

Sadly, that cuts both ways to me as a computer enthusiast.  You could say to me, “but Thaed, I can buy a Dell for $1000.00 that gives me comparable performance for 1/5 of your $5000.00 price that will be great for Office, Firefox and maybe a little Photoshop.”  And what do I have to say to that?  Well, yeah, but look at the chrome!

Skulltrail

February 9, 2008

Intel released its Skulltrail motherboard to the media for testing.  I’ve been following this on Tom’s Hardware (a most excellent British tech site).  TH found that 1) the test machine didn’t beat single core machines in performance and 2) the board Intel sent TH was rushed and shoddy.  TH didn’t understand why Intel would ship something like that when they have no competition right now.

I feel that Tom’s hardware missed something on the second point, to a degree.  Look at the new Mac Pro.  It is an 8 core machine with a dual quad core motherboard.  The quad cores are Intel, of course, but I have no idea who makes the mother board.  Skulltrail, as bad as Tom’s says it is, give PC enthusiasts something to turn to besides the Mac Pro.

We’re in a strange time in modern computing where hardware manufacturers are producing chips that are considerably ahead of anything that programmers can use.  Increasing speed by adding multiple cores doesn’t help programmers.  Increasing clock speed is great for programmers because they don’t have to do anything to take advantage of the increased speed.  Adding cores presents a real challenge. It’s too bad there isn’t a chip or a piece of software available that automatically allocates cores to processes.  Then programmers wouldn’t have to worry.  We need to make things as easy as possible for programmers.

Tom’s said Skulltrail is 2 years ahead of its time.  I disagree with that.  I think it just needs a few refinements to make it work.  The biggest bottleneck with Skulltrail as it stands is the memory.  Make the memory DDR3 and everything changes.  While that’s probably not brain dead easy, it’s certainly not impossible.  With a little refinement, I would buy a Skulltrail motherboard.