Upgrading my old desktop
2021/08/09 (1082 words)

I used to be really into gaming and even more so building computers, reading CPU reviews, video card reviews, learning about water cooling, what is the best hard disk, psu and such. That was a rather long time ago now. In fact the last time I put any effort into this was the Athlon XP days where I think I had a 2700+ with a Radeon 9700, which was a pretty sick build at the time.

Work, being married and then children changed priorities and as such I drifted out of the scene for over 10 years. As such the last time I built a PC I relied on someone else to do most of the part selection. It was back in what I found was the Intel Haswell era and so I ended up with a Asus Z97 Pro Wifi Motherboard, i5 4690 CPU and a Geforce 970, which was respectable at the time for someone who wanted to game but not overclock.

Due to the Covid-19 situation recently with the Sydney, and working from home I realized that while I could use my desktop I am not. I started thinking why this was the case? It didn’t feel slow and certainly worked well enough that I could use it day to day. I started looking into what it would take to upgrade. Because my PC was so old this would mean replacing the CPU, Motherboard, RAM, PSU, SSD (to M.2 probably) and then either buying Windows or moving to Linux. If I did this I wanted to have more CPU cores because while single threaded performance is not that much faster having 10+ cores with HT (since the i5 4690 does not have it) would be a major step up. However this was also going to cost in excess of $2,000 and this was more than I was willing to spend. That does not even include replacing the video card, and the market for those is insane right now.

So assuming an upgrade was off the table, why was I not using it?

One day I had a task I needed to run for several hours, so I pushed it onto my desktop and let it churn over it while I was working one day and I realised that it was the noise that was the real problem for me. Ah ha! That is something I should be able to fix without spending a stupid amount of money.

The world has really moved on since I last looked, but it seems that these days making a mostly passive PC is actually possible. Pick the right PSU and it won’t spin its fans unless its over some power draw level, and even then you can get ones with fans that run at < 20 dB.

When I setup my desktop I ended up using the stock intel CPU cooler and some old power supply I had been using forever. Those two components were the ones I guessed made the most noise. Some quick searching indicated that I was probably correct on that assessment and so I went looking for replacements.

For cooler I just went for overkill, on the assumption if I did so I could reuse it later on another build. As such I went for a Noctua D15 on the basis its the best possible air cooler on the market. Noctua are also some of the quietest fans on the market, and so I also bought a NF-S12A fan to replace the case fan.

For the PSU thankfully ozbargin.com.au came though and I was able to get a deal on a Corsair 750x PSU. I picked it because firstly it was on special, most mostly because it is partly passive and as such silent below 300 watts of power draw.

I also decided that since I was swapping out the cooler, I should do something I have never done before and do an in place CPU upgrade. The best possible Haswell CPU at the time was the Devils Canyon i7 4790k, and thankfully being 8 years old second hand ones on ebay were inexpensive. I promptly ordered one and waited for all the parts to arrive.

Swapping things out was easier than expected. The D15 is indeed massive and fills the case and honestly the hardest part to install, because I had to remove the motherboard in order to install the back mount. Otherwise the CPU was as simple swap, and with the cooler removed trivial to do. The power supply needed to come out anyway to help with the motherboard removal, so putting in a new one after the fact was simple.

After doing all of the above, the result was sadly still noisy. Turns out the next noisy thing was the 970. Due to the blower design it has, it turns out to be extremely noisy, and even with software tweaks I couldn’t lower the fan profile to less than 1000 RPM.

So I did what I didn’t want to do and bought a new video card. Since I have a 4K monitor I wanted something that could drive Sea of Thieves at that resolution, and some older games. Since I am using an older CPU and it turns out that AMD cards are less limited on older CPU’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLEIJhunaW8 and that nVidia cards are impossible to buy I went for a AMD 6700 xt, which turned out to be actually available and not too overpriced. I figure I can always crypto mine for a month or two to make up the difference in cost.

The result? Well I doubled the number of threads, and as such my Cinebench score increased by over double. Because I had have such a large cooler I was also able to slightly overclock which the 4790k is pretty good at to get a base clock of 4.5 Ghz. I did get to 4.7 stable but the fans were starting to spin up and I want it quiet by default. I might try pushing it again one of these days and see what it maxes out at. Without load it’s almost inaudible, and Sea of Thieves runs at 4k with everything maxed out at 60+ FPS. The total cost was a little more than I hoped, but less than a full upgrade, and I am hoping to get another 5 years out of the machine as it is now. By then the eldest child can inherit this and I can start again.