And… we’re back (again)

It’s been quite a long while since there was a build update here at ComplaintsHQ because, well life moves fast. That doesn’t mean there has been nothing to report though!

To catch readers up, the last we reported on build activity was the RTX2080Ti era, pre-pandemic believe it or not, when the gaming beast was rocking a 9900K and a 4K panel.  So how did the lab fare during the “GPU wars” of the pandemic era?

Well… pretty well honestly.  Reasonable proximity to Microcenter means you’ve always got a chance, and the 2080Ti made way for an Asus TUF 3090 right at launch.  More importantly though, Team Red re-entered the chat, with the main gaming PC shifting back to AMD, in the form of a 3900XT (shifted out to a 5950X once one was attainable) and X570 Crosshair Hero VIII WiFi, for the first time since the venerable FX-60 / X1900XTX pairing (yes this is both “more red” and also ancient). Along with the shift to X570 came a shift to PCIe 4 for bulk storage with the Corsair MP600.  The EVGA P2 1000, the Corsair 570X chassis, and the H115i Pro RGB soldiered on.  And this was good. 

From here started a two year period of stability as various gaming laptops came and went (more on that in other entries) that has now officially ended as of Halloween 2022!  Without further ado, meet the new kids:

So… yeah, that’s a thing. The elephant in the room here is cost.  There’s no getting around just how expensive parts have gotten this generation. As an example, the Asus X570 Crosshair VIII Hero WiFi (enough with these names Asus!) was roughly $400. The X670 equivalent? $700. Yep. Asus X670 Crosshair Hero is $700.  The Strix meanwhile moved somewhat upmarket in features but very upmarket in price at a Crosshair level $499.  And for that you get no USB4, no ESS DAC (I mean… really?!) and fewer power phases. So yeah.  That said, $500 is a psychological barrier on motherboard pricing, so Strix it is!

On the GPU front things are somewhat less grim, but that’s really because they were already so bad, then made worse by the mining crisis, and the 4090 delivers just a sledgehammer of performance.  Still, $1600 is a lot of money for a GPU. 

Adding insult to financial injury, this generation is also the shift to DDR5 which is hypothetically faster (although hard to say on real world impact) but objectively more expensive.

The one bright spot is CPU. The 7950x is actually cheaper than the 5950x was, despite delivering higher performance and efficiency, so this is a great story upgrade wise.

The last piece of the upgrade was the Corsair MP600 Pro.  This was a tough one because the standard MP600 was certainly more than fine, and the gains from shifting to a better controller are really mainly benchmark gains, but with DirectStorage looming (in theory), hitting that 7GB/s level of was tempting.

So how did the build go? Overall very well. Of course a full motherboard swap is never a picnic, but being able to preserve the case (as can be seen in the pics the MSI just barely fits in the 570X and is the absolutely largest GPU this case can take with a front mounted rad push/pull fan setup.  This is also the reason I broke the “Asus and Corsair only” rule (I know… RGB driving part selection isn’t something to be proud of) since all of the Asus 4090 offerings are simply too long to fit.  It was a pleasant surprise to see that the front mounted H115i (old Asetek version) is actually managing to keep the hot and power hungry (relative to the 5950x) 7950x cool enough that it is able to sustain solid performance.

On the less great side were a couple of growing pains type issues worth noting, and one thing to keep in mind when migrating an existing OS drive to a new motherboard and CPU.  The growing pains were centered on the BIOS.  As it turns out, current X670 boards need a BIOS update to properly support the 4090.  And in this case, “properly support” means “at PCIe 4”.  The problem manifests in a tricky way.  You’ll notice that your shiny 4090 is performing a bit slower than a 3090.  If you check around into CPUZ, GPUZ, etc then you’ll find they report the car is running at PCIe 1.1.  In a case like this its tempting to assume that the software simply needs an update, but in actuality its actually reporting accurately.  Updating to the latest BIOS is a good practice anyway, but on a brand new “extreme” HEDT platform, it’s unfortunate to need an immediate update to support the premium GPU that the premium motherboard is almost guaranteed to be paired with.  While on the topic of the BIOS, and this is likely unique to the Asus Strix to be clear, another quirk was that to enable WiFi the “Intel Adapter” must be enabled, despite the fact that there is a discrete setting for WiFi.  So it seems it’s either WiFi and 2.5G LAN, or neither.  Not a big deal as most leave both enabled, but something to be aware of and potentially a bug (if nothing else poor UX in the BIOS UI).  The bit to keep in mind is the fTPM status.  For those who don’t know, “TPM” or “Trusted Platform Module”, is a bit of firmware on modern PCs that stores authentication configuration securely.  It is similar to other “hardware key storage” approaches including “Secure Enclave” on the iPhone.  Unlike those approaches, however, things can change a lot on desktop PCs. Fundamental things like… the entire system.  When this happens Windows recognizes it, if you’re porting over your previous OS drive, but gives a pretty seamless path to adapt the OS install.  The thing to be aware of is you’ll need a working network connection on first login, and will need to walk through a connected authentication and authorization flow.

Overall it took about 4 hours to pull the old motherboard and CPU, install the new one, and get the software updated and running well.  The old system was running the 5950X in “auto overclock, curve optimizer” mode, with PTT at 250, EDC at 190 and TDC at 165, with a negative 22 offset and +200Mhz. and a (very) mild over factory overclock of 6% on the 450W, 3 power connector, 4090.  Speaking of which, on pulling the 4090, there were no issues at all to be found with the cable.  So no, they are not “all failing”

Being able to preserve the 570X, its PSU, the entire cooling system, and by extension all of the cable routing and wiring for the huge stack of fans, RGB, control nodes, and the like, was a significant time saver.  This is a definite advantage of Zen 4 over 13900K, which is too power hungry for a 1000W CPU when paired with a 4090 for my liking, and also demands an updated cooler for that same reason (per Corsair anyway).  At that point basically everything needs to come out, which is a ton more work.

The patient on the table,  pre surgery…

The new build is running 64GB DDR5 at 6000 36-36-36-76, vs 64GB DDR4 at 3600 19-18-18-36. The 7950x is currently set at standard PBO, with no additional optimizations and the 4090 is running the same mild OC.  To be clear, while its that the 4090 is somewhat held back by the 5950x even at 3440, as is nearly always the case, the extent of it is massively exaggerated online.  For reference…

Here we’re seeing that at 3440 Ultra Preset in Cyberpunk 1.6 the 7950x is good for another 7fps or so vs the 5950x, which is a couple of frames short of the 12900k and 13900k. Honestly we’re probably hitting the limits of Cyberpunk itself at this point.

In Cinebench R23 the 7950x rockets to 95C and happily just stays there. This is working as intended, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. As Vince Vaughn said “it’s scary because it’s new”.

It's scary because it's new.

The end result is ~36000 for the PBO 7950x, which is solid but a bit off the 38000 or so folks are getting with current AIOs. Looks like the old Asetek H115i is showing its limits, but not too bad really. For its part the curve optimized 5950x was managing 28k in this test, pulling a bit less wattage and staying around 89C

This entry is getting overly long, but the last bit worth mentioning is, of course, the NVMe upgrade. To be clear, this is the most synthetic of the returns, but with DirectStorage looming who knows. The results speak for themselves here. The move to the better controller made a huge difference, proving once again that the OEM doesn’t matter, but the controller does (true since SSD day 1). The lesson for when PCIe 5 storage comes out is resist the first entries and wait for parts built on the more optimized controllers. It’s hard to argue that PCIe 5 storage even matters for even the 1% of the 1% though given the almost cartoonish speed of the MP600 Pro class parts. This performance exceeds what the PS5 does compressed (of course the texture compression on PS5 is basically free though). Really crazy.

Ok, if you’ve made it this far without falling asleep huge thanks and…. Happy Halloween 2022!