Desktop computer v2

I’ve been wanting to build a new PC for a while. My current PC was originally built back in 2012, and upgraded in 2018. There’s still a lot of life left in this PC, so it will definitely be repurposed. However, for desktop use, it has fallen short in being unable to run a few modern applications (ok, also games) that I’ve been interested in, namely: DaVinci Resolve, the 2020 version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Call of Duty: Warzone.

Spending a lot more time at home due to the pandemic also drove my decision to upgrade the PC. But everyone else also has had the same idea over the past year, so demand was (and still continues to be) crazy high, and supply super low. I couldn’t be too picky about the parts.

I wanted to build something based on the AMD Ryzen 5 3600. For the most part, AMD still has the edge on better price to performance ratio, although with the current economic state of supply chain issues and shortages, that could be somewhat varied. One tradeoff though is that the AM4 socket is nearing the end of its lifecycle, which means significant future upgrades may be limited. On the GPU side of things, I was looking at the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 series. Both of my CPU and GPU choices are popular mid-range options that are last year’s generation, which means the prices shouldn’t be as high as the latest/upcoming generation freshly released.

Over the past month (from Black Friday through Boxing day deals), I managed to get the following components:

Type Item Price
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 3600 3.6 GHz 6-Core Processor $287.67
Motherboard MSI B550-A PRO ATX AM4 Motherboard $164.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200 CL16 Memory $154.99
Storage Western Digital Blue SN550 1 TB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive $119.99
Video Card Asus GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER 6 GB TUF GAMING OC Video Card $309.99
Case Corsair 100R ATX Mid Tower Case $54.99
Power Supply EVGA B5 550 W 80+ Bronze Certified Fully Modular ATX Power Supply $84.99
Total $1177.61

I don’t think anything in particular was significantly discounted at this time, however the name of the game was snagging the items before they went out of stock.

And here’s a comparison of the new CPU compared to my current PC’s past and current processors:

So far, I’m really happy with the build. It performs well for all the productive as well as entertainment purposes I had planned. I feel it’s going to be a great PC for the next few years, at least.

Desktop Computer Upgrade

I last posted about my computer specs six years ago when I first built my VMWare ESXi Whitebox server.  Here’s an update to what happened to it:

From the software point of view, it was all and well for the first 2-3 years.  I had FreeNAS, Windows 7 and Windows 8 virtual machines running on it, and some lesser used Ubuntu virtual machines for playing around.  With the IOMMU capabilities of the motherboard, I even was able to get the GPU accessible by the Windows virtual machines to use it as a desktop and even play some games on it.

But there were some problems with the setup:  Although PCI passthrough through IOMMU allowed my Windows virtual machines to access the hardware, the reliability wasn’t perfect.  The main annoyance was that restarting the virtual machine would put the GPU in an unusable state, requiring a full restart of the physical machine.  Other than that certain hardware components virtualized together sometimes caused random issues.

The breaking point was in mid-2015 when one of the drives corrupted and I wasn’t able to boot my virtual machines.  Due to a couple factors including not having disk redundancy, the proprietary nature of VMFS (the filesystem used by VMWare on the disk) and the VMDK (the filesystem of the virtual disk), recovering data was difficult, if not impossible (I technically still haven’t completed the recovery process).  Luckily I had some data backups so I didn’t lose all my data.  Later that year I bought a Synology NAS which has taken care of my data storage since then, and I took backing up more seriously following the 3-2-1 backup strategy.  The incredible usefulness and utility of the Synology I’ve found over the past few years can be a whole other article!

Anyway. VMWare ESXi was a fun experiment when I had the time to fiddle and troubleshoot it.  Upon the rebuild I also tried KVM and Xen hypervisors to see if they had any better hardware virtualization with Windows guests, but couldn’t get anything working or stable.  Since the Synology NAS took care of my storage needs, I decided the way to go was just to rebuild the computer as a Windows desktop.

Over the years I’ve upgraded parts of the hardware, but up until last week the core of the system (CPU, motherboard, memory) has stayed exactly the same over the last 6 years.  Here’s the original spec list, with the upgraded hardware in bold, and removed hardware stricken out.

  • AMD Phenom II X6 1055T Thuban 6-Core 2.8GHz Processor @ $122.17
    • AMD FX-8350 8-Core 4.0GHz Processor @ $153.90 (2018)
  • ASRock 990FX EXTREME3 Motherboard (ATX, AM3+, DDR3, SATA3) @ $156.60 (2012)
  • Mushkin Enhanced Blackline Frostbyte PC3-12800 8GB 2x4GB Memory Kit @ $44.99 (2012)
  • Gigabyte Radeon HD 5450 Low Profile Video Card @ $14.99 (2012)
    • ASUS Radeon HD 7790 (2013)
  • Coolermaster Elite 350 Black ATX Case with 500W PSU @ $49.69 (2012)
    • Seasonic Gold 550W PSU @ $112 (2016)
  • Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB WD20EARS
    • Samsung 840 EVO 250GB SSD (2014)
  • Trendnet Gigabit Network Adapter TEG-PCITXR

I was and still am very happy with this build, considering the core of the build has lasted me thus far.  I think AMD provides a great performance and value to price ratio.  I hope the motherboard lasts just as long for the new processor!

Thanks for reading!


VMWare ESXi 5 Whitebox

I have 2 old computers (Pentium III and Celeron computers circa early 2000’s) that I currently use as servers for file storage, backups, and testing.  I thought it was about time to consolidate these servers I had, up the performance, and set up a flexible test environment for my coding endeavours.

VMWare’s free ESXi hypervisor piqued my interests earlier last year.  It’s comparable to XenServer but apparently has better support for Windows virtual machines.  Being a bare-metal hypervisor, it should give better performance than a usual virtual machine sitting on top of a full-blown operating system.  So I set my eyes on building an inexpensive but powerful ESXi whitebox that would take over the roles of my old computers.

I did a lot of research on ESXi and compatible components from various sites, blogs and forums.  I learned that ESXi was quite picky in what hardware it would run on.  I definitely wanted to buy the correct components that would work with ESXi 5, aiming to get everything under $500.

This is what I came up with (prices after price matching/rebates):

  • AMD Phenom II X6 1055T Thuban 6-Core 2.8GHz Processor @ $122.17
  • ASRock 990FX EXTREME3 Motherboard (ATX, AM3+, DDR3, SATA3) @ $156.60
  • Mushkin Enhanced Blackline Frostbyte PC3-12800 8GB 2x4GB Memory Kit @ $44.99
  • Gigabyte Radeon HD 5450 Low Profile Video Card @ $14.99
  • Coolermaster Elite 350 Black ATX Case with 500W PSU @ $49.69
  • Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB WD20EARS
  • Trendnet Gigabit Network Adapter TEG-PCITXR

This selection got me well within my $500 budget even after taxes.  The hard disk and network adapter were components I already had.

Continue Reading