Posted by Deliverator on March 27th, 2009
I finally decided to bite the bullet and do a significant upgrade on my main computer. It has been over two years since the system’s last processing power upgrade. At that time, I did a drop in upgrade of the processor from a AMD X2 3800+ to a dual core Opteron clocked at 2.6 ghz and upgraded the video card to a Nvidia 8800GTX with 768 MB. The Opteron wasn’t performance competitive with the Intel Core 2 processors available even then, but I was looking to avoid a motherboard swap and OS reinstall at all costs. These days, Intel’s Core i7 processors have the performance market neatly wrapped up and AMD is only nominally competitive on a price/performance bases with Intel’s lower end quad offerings. I usually buy a few offerings back from the bleeding edge to spare my wallet, but felt the need for a little more future proofing this time around.
The last time around I purchased a motherboard, AMD’s socket 939 was a mature platform and socket AM2 boards were just coming onto the market. If I had went with an AM2 board, it is possible I could have upgraded with yet another drop in processor upgrade without having to swap boards. To me, both AM2 and Intel’s LGA 775 sockets are on their last legs and I just wasn’t interested in upgrading to something with no future this time around.
Currently, the cost of putting together a Core i7 isn’t really in the processor. The lower end 920 processor is only around $300. The cost really comes from the lack of availability of cheap motherboard and ram options. DDR 3 ram currently commands a price premium over DDR 2 ram and motherboards tend to be of the “Deluxe” variety.
Anyways, I picked up a Core i7 920 retail boxed processor, an MSI X58 motherboard and 6 GB of Kingston DDR 3 ram and went to work nuking my system. This time around I went with Vista 64 to support the additional ram. 32 bit operating systems unfortunately limit one to a little over 3 GB of addressable memory, so that wasn’t really an option in this case. I may actually upgrade to 12 GB when the price on DDR 3 drops a bit. The motherboard has 6 available slots and I’ve only used 3 of them.
Performance increases from the upgrade have been quite remarkable, especially in 64 bit enabled applications. Working with large images in Lightroom is now a fluid joy and I am able to sprint through work flows that previously took me 2-3 times as long. Since the upgrade, I’ve noticed that a lot of tasks which were previously processor or ram limited are now hardly straining the proc, but are instead constrained by disk IO. My guess is an upgrade to a SSD is next on my list.
I’ve seen mind blowing performance increases in video encoding, file compression / archiving and not least of all in my priorities, games. Upgrading to a Core i7 over cheaper available options in today’s economy is a tough decision, but I am very happy with the results and hope to remain so over a longer time horizon.