April 01, 2023 - Computer build done

As said about two weeks ago, I'm going to build and install a new computer for chess engine development. After some effort and searching through stores in the Netherlands I've been able to find all parts I wanted for relatively decent prices. They're still expensive enough, mind you, but they were within expectation. The only two parts that were more expensive than the counterparts in my old computer were the CPU and the motherboard, but both are much more powerful and feature-rich than those in the old system, so it was expected.

What I did not expect whas the massive weight of the motherboard compared to the old one. Also, each time I build a new computer, I go like: "Wow. That graphics card is big. And the CPU cooler is massive." That was no different this time: the graphics card and CPU-cooler are the biggest ones I've ever installed into a computer. Mind you: I only build a computer once every 7-8 years. The "lets upgrade the hardware after two years" time is over for me; first, it's not required anymore and second, I don't have the time to tinker with my system. So these days, I buy the parts, build the computer, install the OS (Debian Linux in my case) and then I forget about it and just use it until it can't do anymore what I want it to do. My previous computer (the i7-6700K) hit that wall when it comes to chess programming. Testing just takes too long. (I cannot even imagine how people wrote chess engines between 1975 and 2005... exhaustive testing would have been almost impossible in the old days.)

As said in the previous post, testing will not only save me time, but also power. This realization did not save me from the shock of seeing the number of power cables having to be connected for a current-day system. I remember the times of the Pentium 4, a bit over 20 years ago from this time of writing, where the internet broke out in a rage because Intel added an extra 4-pin connector to the motherboard to power the Pentium 4 CPU. The MONSTERS! How could they do such a devious thing, drawing SO MUCH POWER?!

Note that these where the days where you had quite a big power supply if you were running 300+ Watts. Current mid-range systems run AT LEAST a 600W power supply. Mine runs 850W; even though I don't actually need that much, I don't like ever having to run the PSU at full capacity.

In my new computer, I connected the following power cables:

  • 24-pin ATX
  • 6-pin for the USB-C and USB4 ports
  • 8-pin (2x) for the CPU
  • 8-pin (2x) for the graphics card

That is 46 pins of power, where a P4 back then only required a 20-pin ATX connector and a 4-pin CPU connector. Having a dedicated PSU cage with a PSU shroud and good cable management behind the case's right hand panel was non-existent in 2003, a nice to have in 2013, but now in 2023, it's absolutely essential. The power cables I've run to the mainboard feel absolutely monstrous, and this isn't even the most power-hungry prosumer system that can be built.

The amount of fans in a current system is also massive compared to the old days. In the Pentium II and Pentium III days you just had the CPU fan on the slot-cartridge. Later you had a tower cooler (especially with the super-hot AMD chips in the early 2000's) and a smallish fan on the graphics card if you had a powerful model. Maybe an 80mm case fan. That was it.

My i7-6700K that is about to be replaced (built in 2016) has a few 80mm fans: one for the CPU, one intake, one exhaust, and 2 built into the graphics card. That was a lot already compared to any earlier system I owned.

The new computer, which these ramblings are about, has 120mm fans: two for the CPU, two intakes, one exhaust, and three 80mm's on the graphics card. (I could have used the 140mm case fans that came with the case, but they were too loud for my liking. These Noctua 120mm's have the same airflow as many 140mm's, at a lower volume. A cooler running a 140mm fan would have clashed with the graphics card backplate.) All this to make sure a system doesn't explode when in use. For even more powerful systems than mine, some have 9 case fans without even counting those for the CPU and GPU.

Sometimes I wonder where we'll end up with this. Assuming the desktop computer will still exist in 2043, wiill we then be building a computer running 94 pins of power to the motherboard, on a 1400W power supplay, with 16 fans of about 180mm, just for an enthusiast / somewhat high-end system?

Maybe we will have to mount a extra few solar panels to the top of the roof just to power our desktop computer or something.