Computing Longevity – Upgrading CPUs and Assessing Alternatives

For a while now I have been tempted to replace my desktop computer with new hardware. I originally built my current desktop back in the middle of 2009 with the following specifications:

  • Intel Core i7 920,
  • 12GB DDR3 RAM,
  • 128GB Solid State Drive + 1TB Hard Disk Drive,
  • 2 x nVidia GTX 295 video cards.

Those specs have changed slightly with the twin GTX 295 video cards being replaced with a single EVGA GTX 780 Ti SC ACX video card and an extra SSD in the form of a 256GB OCZ RevoDrive 3 x2. The original CPU, motherboard and RAM have still been going strong since the original build.

So, I had my eye on the X99 platform given that the Haswell-E i7 CPUs had at least six cores on them (and twelve threads thanks to Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology). Given that I use multiple virtual machines on a regular basis having a quad core CPU has become somewhat limiting with its eight threads. However, as much as I love new hardware, spending up to $3000 on a new system still needs to be justified particularly when there is still a bit of headroom left on my existing rig.

Core i7 920 CPU

Core i7 920 CPU

Fortunately for me, the i7 920 was the entry level CPU for the X58 platform when I built my system. The top end CPU eventually released was the sole six core i7 CPU for X58, the 990X (the 995X never saw the light of day aside from some rare engineering samples). I searched on eBay for a second hand 990X and these mostly came in around AU$500 which is about half the price of what they were brand new.

Still, $500 for a CPU which would see me through another year or two seemed a bit of an ask.

Then I remembered that there are server CPUs with the Intel Xeon branding that are largely identical to their consumer counterparts. The 990X in this instance had a Xeon equivalent of the W3690 (same number of cores, same clock speed, same cache, etc). The main difference is the reportedly locked multiplier on the Xeon W3690 but I thought with the step up from 2.66GHz to 3.46GHz and two extra cores (four extra threads) that would be such a big deal.

Long story short, I found a W3690 on eBay for $300 – bargain!

Xeon W3690 CPU

Xeon W3690 CPU

Swapping out the CPU was fairly straightforward (save for some minor quibbles getting the heatsink and fan reattached to the motherboard) and some issues with sleep mode after the upgrade which were fixed by flashing the latest version of the BIOS for my motherboard. This ended up being version F13s for the Gigabyte EX-58-EXTREME and has worked a charm ever since.

I would look to get another year or two at least out of my existing system but it won’t preclude me from upgrading peripherals such as my monitor (I do have my eyes on a couple and will share details once I have made my final decision) and keyboard.

Task Manager - 12 Threads of Processing Power

Task Manager – 12 Threads of Processing Power

Until then, I shall enjoy 12 threads of processing power!

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