It has been a while since I last posted on this blog; and the more this goes on, the more I feel that the post to break this prolonged absence must be “special”, and hence, harder for me to write. I’ve decided to break the cycle by writing a post that is special in the sense that it deviates from my usual habit of offering my thoughts on various developments in the Bitcoin world (which, incidentally, has celebrated its 6th birthday this week), and instead share my experiences from an important life event. Don’t worry, the word “Bitcoin” will still be mentioned several times.
I am talking, of course, about the new computer I have purchased. I’ll give you a moment to mock how uneventful my life must be if the purchase of a new computer is important, and move on to describe some of my design considerations.
- When I say “computer”, I mean a desktop PC, none of that laptop nonsense. I don’t like working on laptops or carrying them around, and there’s no way I could pack the performance I want into a portable computer, definitely not at any sane price. I also have a laptop for those cases that it is handy, but that’s hardly anything to be excited about.
- I usually assemble my own computers, and like it. This time, though, I just don’t have the time to allocate to messing with it. So while I meticulously selected the components used, I bought it assembled.
- I travel heavy. On my current computer (not the new one), I have 294 software pieces installed, and a total of 1,627,473 files, 129,099 folders and 6TB of data. Buying a computer is the easy part – setting it up so that I can work on it as productively as with my current computer, is an ongoing process.
- To me, the computer is much more than a tool. It is a companion, one with which I am strongly bound in a symbiotic relationship. The way it is set up speaks to me at an emotional level, and every upgrade presents a dilemma of where to preserve what I know and love, and where to start fresh.
- I can’t stand noises. SPCR was at some point my best friend in my quest for a silent computer. But even that wasn’t enough, and the only solution I have found is to physically separate the location of my computer from wherever I am staying. The specifics vary according to my residence. While building a quiet computer is still important, it’s not something I have to obsess with anymore.
This new acquirement was long overdue, and I took the opportunity of having a computer shop that accepts Bitcoin to purchase a machine with the following specs:
- Corsair Graphite 730T
- ASUS Maximus VII Hero
- Intel i7-4790K
- Kingston 32GB DDR3 2400MHz CL11
- EVGA GeForce GTX970 SC
- Seasonic X-650
- Noctua NH-U14S
- Samsung 840 Evo 1TB
- 2 x Western Digital WD50EZRX
- Western Digital WD40EZRX
- An optical disc drive
- An internal docking station
The chassis is possibly the most personal component in the computer, and in this case (pun unintended) was a cause of a fair amount of stress. After some research, I have scouted the Thermaltake Urban as the case that fits all my needs: An elegant, demure design, tool-less handling features, routing arrangements, pre-applied noise-reduction foams, an internal hard drive docking station to use with my elaborate backup system – and all that for a very modest price.
It so happens that after I ordered all of the components, the model I needed was out of stock in Israel… So I settled for the combination of the Corsair Graphite and a Unitek Y-3907 docking station; which were not quite what I wanted, and significantly more expensive.
It turned out alright though. The docking station is a better solution than those I’ve used in the past; and the Graphite has a rare feature of hinged side panels, which can be easily opened at any time to view or work on the computer’s interior. I love it.
Speaking of interior, it’s quite nice to look at. The case is big, intended in fact for extended ATX motherboards; with a standard ATX board and not a lot of components, there is much empty space. However this makes it easy to work with, much better than my previous case – which has no routing features or spare room, resulting in a mess.
Noctua makes amazingly-performing cooling products, but their fans are so ugly. I don’t know what they’re thinking. The CPU fan completely messes up the computer’s otherwise pleasing black-and-red color scheme. I knew this in advance, but hoped it wouldn’t bother me as much as it does. I guess I could always replace the fan with a prettier one, at the cost of some performance.
All that said, a nicer interior is not the reason I bought a new PC… And while the performance improvement of the CPU/RAM/GPU trinity is nice, it also wasn’t a cause for upgrading by itself.
What really prompted the change is storage. When I bought my current computer 3.6 years ago, I thought a 160GB SSD + 2TB HDD ought to be enough for everybody. When the SSD became full, I cloned it into a new 256 GB SSD. When the HDD was filled to the brim with videos from our Bitcoin meetups, I jury-rigged an additional 4TB HDD. When that one became 97% full… I decided it’s time for an upgrade.
So in my new computer, I have a total of 15TB of space, made up of:
- A 1TB SSD, for the OS, program files, and documents;
- Two 5TB disks in RAID 0, for large, sequentially accessed files;
- A 4TB disk for backups.
This is the first time I’m using RAID. With my ever-growing storage capacity needs, I figured I need several disks anyway, so why not double the performance while I’m at it. The reliability is reduced, but this is mitigated by the extra backups drive, as well as the other components of my backup method.
HDD sequential performance scales, roughly, with the square root of its capacity; even knowing so, I was still surprised that my new disks reach a performance of 160 MB/s on the outer tracks. This gives a whopping 320 MB/s for the maximum performance of the RAID – putting up a fair fight with the SSD.
One thing I’ve spent some time thinking about is optimizing the speed of installing programs. To the best of my knowledge, installation consists in reading the file sequentially, processing the data, and writing to the installation folder in an essentially random access. So it is to our advantage to have the disk to which I download the installation file separate from the installation target (so the same disk wouldn’t have to split its time between reading and writing), and to maximize the sequential read performance of the downloads folder.
This screams downloading to the HDD, and and installing to the SSD; Which is what I’ve always done. Except this time, the RAID gives me an extra boost to the read speed. But even this wasn’t enough – out of the 10 TB RAID, the only part where I really care about speed is the downloaded installation files. So I figured, why not make sure these files go to the beginning of the disk, physically located on the outer tracks which are faster. But I didn’t want to create a partition with a separate drive letter, since I am used to having downloaded files in “E:\2 – Downloads”, where E is the HDD.
So I did one more thing I’ve never tried before – mounting a partition in a folder. 2TB ought to be enough for everyone (my current downloads folder is 157 GB), so I created a 2TB partition on the RAID, to be mounted as “E:\2 – Downloads”; followed by a 8TB partition, assigned the letter E, for everything else. I might just go crazy and mount the extra 4TB drive as “E:\4 – Backups”.
Of course, designing an elaborate storage solution is no fun without measuring the performance I obtain. I like using HD Tune – it is the only software I know of that measures the performance as a function of location on the disk, so it really gives you an understanding of how your disk works. Alas, their free version is 9 years old, and it doesn’t work well with newer drives of more than 2TB capacity. The paid version is more up-to-date, and I fired them an email asking if I can pay for it with Bitcoin.
I’ll probably buy it even if the answer is negative. Don’t tell them that.