Monday, July 9, 2012

The desktop revolution has started...

... at least for me as I'm finally upgrading my Athon XP desktop from circa 2003!

It sure is about time ;)

These days my web surfing and administration of local network computers is performed on my Dell D620. It's quite a nice machine specially after being upgraded with Intel Core 2 Duo (15€ !!), 4GB, 128GB SSD and HDD drive caddy. It does however lack the graphics card to power Enemy Territory.

For my gaming needs I kept using the old desktop, however the bastard is noisy and has been overheating, so much that I had to drop from 2200 to 2000Mhz so that I can actually compile anything without segmentation faults errors.

But if it were only because of ET I'd keep the bastard. However I long for full blown virtualization, the kind that let's me run 4 machines without sweating, the kind that will let me passthrough PCI devices, the kind that leads me into spending hard earned money :(

The old Athon XP crawled under GNOME3. YouTube movies and Flash websites were choppy. Compiling world in Gentoo took ages (LibreOffice and Firefox have long been the bin kind). On FreeBSD I had to start using packages instead of ports due to the time (and electricity) needed to compile ports. On top of that it meant x86 and no x86_64 and KVM fun.

Also, in the past months I'm getting more and more interested in XEN and KVM namely their VGA and PCI passthrough abilities with proper virtualization instructions from the CPU. Both Intel and AMD have solutions for this however this time I've elected Intel.

I ended up with Intel due to lower power consumption, overall better performance, GPU with more-than-enough-for-ET performance and opensource graphics driver. Funny enough what tipped the scale was the power consumption and opensource graphics driver.

The selected weapons of choice were i7-3770 (non-K), Intel DQ77MK motherboard and 32GB DDR1600. I've placed online orders for all except the i7 but I'll take care of that until the end of the week. To ease the expense I've already started selling all the computer parts I have laying around (DIMMs, SO-DIMMs, graphics cards, NICs, etc), so far I've already scored 50€ with more in the pipeline - not bad.

I'll move my laptop SSD to the machine and re-use my old case and PSU for the time being - though those SeaSonic fanless PSU are damn appealing!

The decision for the non-K 3770 was rather simple: I wanted a fast, energy efficient and muticore processor and this version has that and VT-d support. Combined with XEN and KVM, VT-d means device passthrough to be used directly and natively in the virtual machines.

To guarantee that VT-d is supported I've chosen the Q77 chipset as it has100% guaranteed VT-d support. Some Z77 motherboards have VT-d support however it is un-official as Intel pulled VT-d support from Z77. I didn't want to take any chances so I went for Q77.

Why Intel's own board instead of ASRock or ASUS? For a few reasons: documentation on the Intel board is simply superior, 2x DVI, mSATA and mini-PCIe. Though I wanted the 2x PCI slots from ASRock and ASUS offerings I wanted to keep an eye on the future and for that the extra PCIe slot is better (though that eSATA port should really have been another normal SATA port Intel!).

Now let's just wait for the parts and assemble the machine ;)

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