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February 12th, 2008, 09:25 AM   #1
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 232
Processors, sockets, chipsets

I was trying to compare processors for a computer that I might get/make eventually, and I determined that I don't know enough about the various chipsets to make an informed choice. To begin, I want to be able to compare processor prices including motherboards, since if a motherboard has a new/uncommon socket that's compatible only with a few expensive motherboards, that's an effective increase in the price of the chip. Further, insofar as I have a choice in buying a motherboard (several that all work with a given processor) I'm not sure how to compare them. RAM expandability is one clear difference, but what else is there and how much does it matter?
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February 12th, 2008, 02:27 PM   #2
 
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Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

You should have asked me this about 3 years ago when I knew this stuff...

I know Gigabyte makes solid motherboards, but talking to someone recently, they told me something along the lines of "Gigabyte is good. Asus is great" So if you're looking for a top-end gaming computer, get an ASUS board; otherwise, Gigabyte makes solid boards for cheap. I can't remember anymore what exactly about the board causes this.
I also know, the Gigabyte (K-8 Triton) board I have now was having some SATA compatibility issues when IDE drives were still attached, requiring some people to put drivers on a bootable disc, and... problems, problems, problems. Since then, I think the problem has been fixed, but it's a DDR1 board anyway.

Umm... If you're getting an AMD processor, make sure there's an NVidia Chipset on your board, other than that... I've forgotten everything I once knew.

In general, check speeds. You want things going the same speed. With a good BIOS, you can play with these later, but if you're getting a decent board, you'll have a good BIOS, and fumbling around in the BIOS is annoying enough to want to avoid it.

In my experience (you can confirm this elsewhere) MSI is to be avoided... I had my PCI stop working, and it stopped reading everything except 2 IDE drives, and even then, certain drives meant it wouldn't read any drives... Not to mention other performance problems and... yeah. I'm not the only one I know who has had serious troubles with MSI boards.
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February 13th, 2008, 06:46 AM   #3
 
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Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
So if you're looking for a top-end gaming computer, get an ASUS board; otherwise, Gigabyte makes solid boards for cheap.
If I play any games they'll be at least 20 years old, so that's not an issue. Graphics cards and sound cards likewise mean nothing to me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
In general, check speeds. You want things going the same speed. With a good BIOS, you can play with these later, but if you're getting a decent board, you'll have a good BIOS, and fumbling around in the BIOS is annoying enough to want to avoid it.
What speeds are there, and to what do I match them? The processor's bus speed? Sorry, I'm quite new to this.
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February 13th, 2008, 03:09 PM   #4
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 138
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Bus speed, ram speed, chipset speed on motherboard... I can't think of what else at the moment... Since graphics and sound are not very important, you won't have to worry about too much else in terms of speed.

There are 4 or 5 "current" standards at any time; typically you're looking at mid cost of everything should be running at the same speed.
Also, it seems you're not terribly worried about "high performance" (although with what seems to be your background, I may be wrong...) which means speeds aren't a large concern. Things of different speeds will work together, it'll just slow the system down... not considerably, but if you're doing anything that takes a lot of power and/or time, you'll notice.

That being said, it seems you're most concerned about making sure everything fits together... so:

Newegg.com is a great place to see what's the "standard" right now. It seems Intel is still using the LGA 775 socket... which they've been using for... Well, my first system 4(?) years ago was an LGA 775, and it had been standard for a while then. So, if you go Intel, it's unlikely you'll find an incompatible MoBo -- or come across a chip that won't work with your board-- for quite some time. AMD is a little more volatile with their socket choice. 754 was just replacing 939 (and something else...). When I built my first system, when I chucked my MSI board and switched from Intel to AMD 2 years later, they were using 754, and the system I half-assedly threw together for my parents last month was using AM2 (that seems to be the current standard.)

If you go with Gigabyte (given what you've told me so far, this seems to be the most reasonable choice), all of their AMD boards should have an NVidia chipset. Also, most of them now come with a built in GeForce 6 series graphics card, which means any game 5+ years old will run beautifully on them. (I'm using games as a comparison, because they're the most common consumer level graphics-intensive programs.)

The only system I've built since the Core 2 Duo took the "crown" from AMD 64 was specifically requested to be AMD, so I haven't looked to heavily into what's happening with Intel boards/chipsets... I think the standard chipsets are all Intel, although I could be completely wrong there.

As far as RAM; get DDR2. DDR3 performance (from what I've read) isn't too much better, and both AMD and Intel CPUs run just fine on DDR2. It'll still be around for a while, so don't worry too much about it.


Other than that... I don't know what else to say. I know; it's a friggin essay...

Cheers
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February 13th, 2008, 04:42 PM   #5
 
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Posts: 232
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
Bus speed, ram speed, chipset speed on motherboard... I can't think of what else at the moment... Since graphics and sound are not very important, you won't have to worry about too much else in terms of speed.
Okay, I'll keep those in mind. How important are those three speeds in comparison to the others? Bus speed I understand quite well, but how much does chipset speed matter? What's the difference between the best and worst reasonable speeds for RAM?

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
Also, it seems you're not terribly worried about "high performance" (although with what seems to be your background, I may be wrong...) which means speeds aren't a large concern.
Well, your parenthetical guessed it better than the rest of the sentence. What I'm looking at here (very early stages!) is building a supercomputer of sorts -- 8-24 cores with RAM to match. I'm actually thinking about integer performance rather than the more traditional floating point operations. The (hypothetical future) machine would be a collection of not-too-expensive parts, hopefully less than $3000 in total. I'm inspired here by Microwulf.
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February 13th, 2008, 04:56 PM   #6
 
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Posts: 138
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Quote:
What I'm looking at here (very early stages!) is building a supercomputer of sorts -- 8-24 cores with RAM to match. I'm actually thinking about integer performance rather than the more traditional floating point operations.
Yeah, I had thought something of the sort might be the case.
Integers... you silly number theorists, and your "integers"

As far as speeds... It's been too long since I've really put together a system for me to know these things anymore...

Ok... so could you remind me to check some things for you this weekend? Either post here some time Friday, or send me an email (cknapp2 "at" iit "dot" edu). I really should be doing other stuff right now, and Thursdays and Fridays are days where I don't have a lot of free time, but I'm open all afternoon/evening Saturday. I'll do some searching and give you some ideas.
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February 15th, 2008, 08:03 PM   #7
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 138
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Ok... So. preliminaries:

Talked to my roommate, asked him "Would you recommend an AMD or Intel system?"
His response (after I told him what it's for): "AMD; it's cheaper and just as efficient."
Anyway, I know a bit more about AMD, so I'll try and give you as much info as possible about AMD.

Chipsets:
It seems the North Bridge is what you'll be most interested. Basically, North Bridge controls interaction between Ram/CPU and "auxiliary" processors (Graphics, etc), while the South Bridge is I/O. You're going to be looking at the "North Side Bus" speed on any motherboard you're looking at, but I'll give some pointers on a few different board manufactures, as well as the chipsets in them.

First: AMD compatible boards:
There are 3 main :modern" chipsets (it seems):
1 (and 2) AMD 770 (790) Northbridge, and AMD 660SB Southbridge. The 790 is essentially a 770 with extra graphics and PCI capabilities, so it won't be worth the extra money for you ($50-$100 on a Gigabyte board). AMD 7-series seems to be the "cutting edge" in AMD-board chipsets. It's got an increased Bus speed (2600MHz vs 100MHz), which means NB bottlenecking is a smaller concern. The southbridge is pretty standard, and more or less equivalent to the following chipset (difference listed below).

The converse, NVIDIA nForce 570. There is only Gigabyte board using this chipset. It was cutting edge a year and a half ago, but it's now standard. Industry standard is still nForce, but that seems to be slowly slipping toward the previously mentioned chip (last clause may change with future chips from NVIDIA, but I haven't looked into those). The chipset is actually both the NB and SB, and the South Bridge sticks out in one key place (which may be of use to someone in your position): It has greater SATA support (6 drives vs 4); It allows the same type of RAID, but you can fit more drives onto it. Of course, if you're going to be building a multi-board system, 4 Terabyte drives per board will surely be plenty.

As far as board manufacturers, I was surprised to see Gigabyte outranking Asus with AMD boards; not only are they only (sort of...) using the chipsets mentioned above, they have a higher RAM capacity, and are better rated on Newegg, and the few reviews I actually paid attention to seem to contain a fair bit of knowledge. But follow advice from the internet with caution. I personally know that Gigabyte boards are solid. I couldn't say top of the line, as I'm not enough of an enthusiast to have testing these sorts of things, but you won't be disappointed. On the other hand, most people I personally know who I've talked to

Processor comparison:
AMD, despite being less common was really the industry standard for most of the time the P4 was in its prime. P4 was suffering from actually being too fast for its pipelines. Empty pipes means unused potential. AMD pumped up to 64 bit sooner and better, and with the 64FX stepped it up even more. Then Intel released hyper-threading technologies, so AMD turned around and added hyper-transport (form a consumer perspective, they're the same thing.) AMD then released the 64/X2s, solidifying their dominance in high performance desktops, while still having cheaper processors, and cheaper compatible motherboards. The one place they were behind, is that they were really late in updating to DDR2. But it's not like that mattered, since Intel wasn't using DDR2 to its capacity at the time anyway... Oh, also, Intel had better stock cooling; but if you're worried about top performance, you aren't using stock cooling anyway.

Then I fall out of the computer hardware scene, and...

Intel releases the Core 2 Duo. People are skeptical at first, but we naysayers had to eat our words... sort of. The Core 2 Duo really is better than the 64/X2... but only a little bit. And AMD is still cheaper (in fact, way more-so now), and AMD boards are still cheaper, and AMD boards are a tiny bit better.
You could get an Intel Core 2 Extreme... or you could put together 2 or 3 AMD systems for the same price. You could put together a system with an Intel Core 2 Quad, or you could put together 2 AMD Systems for only about 33% more... You see where I'm going with this.
If you've got ~$2k to put into a single gaming rig, by all means, put in a top of the line Intel, but since you're putting together some sort of parallel-computing super computer, you don't need to have the lord of all chips-- you need a bunch of chips that give you a lot for your money. That's what AMD does.

So, considering what you're doing, it looks like either Opteron or Phenom is what you want (if going AMD). It looks like a good portion of super-computers are Opteron-based, but Phenoms seem to be a little bit better as single processors (although you may be running into the problem mentioned above about too much power in one place). The one thing to watch out for are there are a few Opterons that are Socket 939, and 939 boards are a little harder to come by.

lastly (sort of). RAM: You're probably going to want to get DDR2 PC 800 (Runs at 1000MHz, so you may want to stick with something that's at the same speed*). For every system, get 2 sticks of the same capacity and speed. This will allow dual-channel (auto detect on any remotely-civilized board these days), which will give you a fun little boost of performance... I've thrown an extra stick into a system just to test before, and it was noticeably slower. As far as brand, I've always had good luck with Rosewill, but they're apparently completely hit or miss. Corsair is standard, albeit on the pricey side. Kingston is normally dependable, but I'm feeling sort of iffy on what I saw on newegg... solely based on instinct-- no rational basis.

*Asynchronous speeds will work together, but you'll experience bottlenecking. Sort of think of traffic jams: If traffic is light, things will move (total) at the speed of the slowest speed-zone road. However, if traffic picks up, that slow area will be a congested mess. With computers, the "congested mess" won't be nearly as noticeable as in a car, but you get the picture. There are also chips (mostly just certain RAM standards) that are compatible with slower speeds.

Finally, if you're going Intel (or just want to consider your options a bit more), let me know, and I'll look into it further. At the moment, I'm getting a bit tired of hardware research.

Oh, and as far as retailers. I've always, always had good luck with Newegg. Their prices are cheaper, their warehouses ship in ridiculously low amounts of time (I've never had an order ship more than 7 hours after I ordered it... and I bought it "after hours".) They also have great service in general. The one time I had to wait more than a day for a response (an RMA on a case) the response I got was something like "Sorry about the delay, your email must have gotten over-looked. There's no use in an RMA; your new case has already shipped. Expect it within 3 business days."

Tigerdirect used to have better CPU prices, whcih would make a difference if you were buying a hu-bajillion of them, but they now seem to be (very, very slightly) more expensive than Newegg.

Hope that's a solid starting place. Remember, feel free to ask more questions, and if you want some more Intel info, I can dig around. Also, if you start looking at parts, go ahead and post them here, I'll tell you what I think, and if they're compatible, etc.
cknapp is offline  
February 17th, 2008, 09:28 PM   #8
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 232
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Wow, thanks for the huge post! I'm reading it all over a second time to make sure I didn't miss anything. This really helps a lot.

I'll intersperse some questions/comments into your post.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
Chipsets:
It seems the North Bridge is what you'll be most interested. Basically, North Bridge controls interaction between Ram/CPU and "auxiliary" processors (Graphics, etc), while the South Bridge is I/O. You're going to be looking at the "North Side Bus" speed on any motherboard you're looking at, but I'll give some pointers on a few different board manufactures, as well as the chipsets in them.
Yes, absolutely: chip speed and Northbridge bus speed are the two biggest features for me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
First: AMD compatible boards:
There are 3 main :modern" chipsets (it seems):
1 (and 2) AMD 770 (790) Northbridge, and AMD 660SB Southbridge. The 790 is essentially a 770 with extra graphics and PCI capabilities, so it won't be worth the extra money for you ($50-$100 on a Gigabyte board). AMD 7-series seems to be the "cutting edge" in AMD-board chipsets. It's got an increased Bus speed (2600MHz vs 100MHz), which means NB bottlenecking is a smaller concern. The southbridge is pretty standard, and more or less equivalent to the following chipset (difference listed below).

The converse, NVIDIA nForce 570. There is only Gigabyte board using this chipset. It was cutting edge a year and a half ago, but it's now standard. Industry standard is still nForce, but that seems to be slowly slipping toward the previously mentioned chip (last clause may change with future chips from NVIDIA, but I haven't looked into those). The chipset is actually both the NB and SB, and the South Bridge sticks out in one key place (which may be of use to someone in your position): It has greater SATA support (6 drives vs 4); It allows the same type of RAID, but you can fit more drives onto it. Of course, if you're going to be building a multi-board system, 4 Terabyte drives per board will surely be plenty.
OK, the AMD 770 sounds good.

Quote:
So, considering what you're doing, it looks like either Opteron or Phenom is what you want (if going AMD). It looks like a good portion of super-computers are Opteron-based, but Phenoms seem to be a little bit better as single processors (although you may be running into the problem mentioned above about too much power in one place). The one thing to watch out for are there are a few Opterons that are Socket 939, and 939 boards are a little harder to come by.
When I ran the numbers on different chips, speeds, # of cores, and prices an older (low-priced) Core 2 was looking like the best, but it was followed by something like four different Phenoms, so those are looking pretty strong right now. The gamer chips (Intel * Extreme, etc.) were always bad buys for my needs.

(Sorry, it's really late here now; I'll comment on the rest tomorrow. Which is really today.)
CRGreathouse is offline  
February 17th, 2008, 10:46 PM   #9
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 138
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

I'll look into Intel things later this week. I would assume Tuesday evening, although I might do some quick research tomorrow... I did just a quick look over things, and it seemed it would be cheaper to go with AMD, but then again, I don't know quite what you're doing, so things vary greatly.


Actually that's a lie... maybe some tomorrow and maybe some on Tuesday, don't know if I'll have time, but I'll have time Wednesday night.
cknapp is offline  
February 18th, 2008, 07:54 AM   #10
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 232
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
AMD pumped up to 64 bit sooner and better, and with the 64FX stepped it up even more. Then Intel released hyper-threading technologies, so AMD turned around and added hyper-transport (form a consumer perspective, they're the same thing.)
I do many calculations which require 64- or 128-bit numbers, but I don't see any programming language support for this. In that light, how much would it help to have a 64-bit processor? 64-bit integer ops would take fewer cycles -- right?

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
Oh, and as far as retailers. I've always, always had good luck with Newegg. Their prices are cheaper, their warehouses ship in ridiculously low amounts of time (I've never had an order ship more than 7 hours after I ordered it... and I bought it "after hours".) They also have great service in general. The one time I had to wait more than a day for a response (an RMA on a case) the response I got was something like "Sorry about the delay, your email must have gotten over-looked. There's no use in an RMA; your new case has already shipped. Expect it within 3 business days."
I've also heard good things about newegg, so I'll probably use that when/if I start buying parts.
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February 18th, 2008, 08:37 AM   #11
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 232
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

For perspective, here's information on a few chips I put into my spreadsheet:

AMD Athlon 64 FX-74
Price: ~$280
Speed: 3 GHz -- 11.1 GHz*
Power consumption: 125 W ($103)**
Lifetime cost: $789
MHz/$: 14.1

Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Price: ~$255
Speed: 2.4 GHz -- 8.9 GHz*
Power consumption: 95 W ($78)**
Lifetime cost: $690
MHz/$: 12.9

AMD Phenom 9500
Price: ~$200
Speed: 2.2 GHz -- 8.1 GHz*
Power consumption: 95 W ($78)**
Lifetime cost: $635
MHz/$: 12.8


* Total speed: base speed for the first core, plus 90% of the base speed for each additional core. I usually see core utilization figures closer to 70%, but I do mostly tasks which parallelize well so I used this larger figure.
** Since I intend to run at full load all the time, I used the TDP as a proxy for processor power consumption. The dollar figure is the cost for that wattage running continually for the assumed lifetime (3 years) at $0.10 per kW/hr.
Lifetime cost is the cost of the processor, plus the cost of electricity, plus the cost for the motherboard. If I couldn't find motherboard prices I assumed $200 for quad cores and $150 for dual cores, just for the purpose of having numbers.


I'd love it if you could pick apart the implicit assumptions and omissions here. As for the assumption that processor frequency tracks performance:
I wanted to use a benchmark (I was thinking SPECint_base2006, the integer portion of the SPEC CPU2006 benchmark), but the coverage just isn't there: most of the processors on my list don't show up. Thoughts?
CRGreathouse is offline  
February 18th, 2008, 08:57 AM   #12
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 138
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Oh, geez... this is where I throw in the towel and admit that I'm no expert on the subject.

On another note, I'm not sure, but you may want to look at other architectures outside of the x86. Some are designed for arithmetic, and I guarantee there's a linux distro for them (God bless computer nerds).
However, you'll be looking at things that are either very hard to find, expensive or both.
This is just an idea.

As far as MHz=Speed...
I'm not sure the best way to explain this, you'll have to find something online, but:
Looking at late P4 vs Athlon.
The P4 was consistently running at about 50% more cycles per second. Athlons were outperforming P4. Why? AMDs were using few clock cycles to perform the same base operations, and they were better and [something something something] prediction. So a P4 would have to run the same operation a few times every once in a while, the AMD would have to perform it repeatedly much less often.

There are other reasons, but I've forgotten, or never quite understood.
Anyway, I've really given what expertise I can on the subject.
cknapp is offline  
February 18th, 2008, 11:59 AM   #13
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 232
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
Oh, geez... this is where I throw in the towel and admit that I'm no expert on the subject.
Please don't tell me that, because you clearly know more than I do. on the subject

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
On another note, I'm not sure, but you may want to look at other architectures outside of the x86. Some are designed for arithmetic, and I guarantee there's a linux distro for them (God bless computer nerds).
However, you'll be looking at things that are either very hard to find, expensive or both.
This is just an idea.
Well, the idea is to get the best performance for my dollar, so if the high price of the (really any) other architecture is more than made up for by its superior speed, great; otherwise, there's no point. Also, of course, my limited knowledge tends to push me toward what I already know, x86. Even the IA-64 scares me a little bit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
Looking at late P4 vs Athlon.
The P4 was consistently running at about 50% more cycles per second. Athlons were outperforming P4. Why? AMDs were using few clock cycles to perform the same base operations, and they were better and [something something something] prediction. So a P4 would have to run the same operation a few times every once in a while, the AMD would have to perform it repeatedly much less often.
On this point, I understand fairly well the problems with assuming frequency = speed, but I'm not willing to accept a generic "AMD does more per cycle than Intel". Instructions take a certain number of clock cycles to finish, and different architectures take various amounts of time for this.

An Athlon takes 40 cycles to complete a 32-bit divide, for example, and 18 cycles for a 32-bit multiply. (Both of these are subject to lots of caveats, but the general idea remains.) Intel processors might take 10 cycles for a multiply but 66-80 for a divide -- in this case the multiply is better but the divide worse.
CRGreathouse is offline  
February 18th, 2008, 02:49 PM   #14
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 138
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Quote:
Originally Posted by CRGreathouse
Please don't tell me that, because you clearly know more than I do. on the subject
I was mostly referring to:
Quote:
I wanted to use a benchmark (I was thinking SPECint_base2006, the integer portion of the SPEC CPU2006 benchmark), but the coverage just isn't there: most of the processors on my list don't show up. Thoughts?
Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
On this point, I understand fairly well the problems with assuming frequency = speed, but I'm not willing to accept a generic "AMD does more per cycle than Intel". Instructions take a certain number of clock cycles to finish, and different architectures take various amounts of time for this.
Obviously, the Athlon doesn't always outperform the P4, but it normally does. I have a friend with an MS in CPE, whose going into logic design; he explained to me once what it was that AMD was doing better, but I've since forgotten.

Anyway, I shall return to this later.
cknapp is offline  
February 19th, 2008, 08:12 AM   #15
 
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 232
Re: Processors, sockets, chipsets

Quote:
Originally Posted by cknapp
Obviously, the Athlon doesn't always outperform the P4, but it normally does.
I've found this to have changed many times over the years since AMD first pushed ahead of Intel. You're saying that the pendulum is now back on AMD's side?
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