System upgrade

11 August 2019
Today I upgraded my desktop's hardware, the most notable part was replacing the on-board Intel HD Graphics with an NVidia GeForce GT710. This had been planned for some considerable time, but it was only today I finally got round to actual installation. The underlying motive was reliability of the Intel graphics.

Some history

I have long-forgotten what the original purpose of building this system was, but it started life running Windows Server using a licence I obtained via Microsoft's educational software scheme shortly before my university login was culled. I suspect I was not supposed to install such a licence after leaving, but in practice i hardly ever used it. It used a motherboard & CPU form-factor combination I had become very familiar with due to the number of custom-built servers I had built at my then-company.

Pile of PC components

Although not quite top of the range — most notably I went for an i5 rather than an i7 because I thought hyper-threading was not worth the extra — the specs were certainly towards the upper-end of what money could buy, and in practice for most of what I do the CPU is most likely not the bottle-neck. It became my primary desktop purely because it was small enough to ship out to New Zealand when I emigrated, and apart from two software rebuilds on replaced drives it has remained unchanged until now.

The upgrades

The motherboard has an on-board Intel graphics chip that I know to be troublesome, with a combination of personal experience and information from professional contacts making me conclude that they should be avoided at all costs. The last straw was a crash while using KiCad, which if it was not for the backup-on-save it does I would have lost an entire PCB rather than just an hour or so of work. I ordered in an NVidia card which for all its faults at least I knew it would be stable, but for various reasons including shipping delays I never got round to installing it. I keep my desktop on 24/7 so any power-down is actually disruptive, and it was waiting on my desk for the very next crash. I chose the GeForce GT710 purely for its small size and passive cooling. Even though my desktop's case is compact — I had intended to install my GTX-580 while in New Zealand but never got round to it — I no longer keep up with the latest games so anything that is not legacy will be more than enough for my purposes. The desktop hardware is probably not powerful enough to actually max out a modern high-end GPU anyway.

Later on I decided that while I had the case open I may as well fill out the remaining memory slots, in addition to also taking the opportunity to install a dual-port Ethernet card. That latter is because I had previously worked on the DPDK project in a professional capacity and planned to keep up to speed with it, although admittedly I am not sure if DPDK still support Sandy Bridge chipsets. I am going along to the next developers' conference, but at the moment I am not honestly sure if I will actually get back into the project. As an aside I had completely forgotten that my desktop was old enough to have classical PCI slots as well as PCI-Express, but this did not affect me installation plans.

Still going strong

I use the same Slackware 14.2 on three systems — my personal desktop, my laptop, and my company workstation — and of the three it is only my laptop that seems to strain a bit. Then again this laptop was underpowered when I bought it, which shows how little people actually need the processing power available on systems today. I might just about make a decade without buying a new personal computer system.