Why you shouldn’t build the computers I make for myself, or how to spend a lot of money you don’t have to
In my previous Talking Tech articles, I suggested hardware you should look at and simple reasons why they are suitable for gaming. I did broach streaming a little bit in my recommendations because a lot of people do want to get into streaming, but I didn’t make a streaming PC setup guide.
One thing I continually refer to are ‘heavy workloads’, but that is a job that is very hard to quantify. What makes up a heavy workload? Surely gaming taxes your CPU and is intensive?
Not as much as you think, and new CPUs definitely have the grunt that older CPUs only dreamed of. That said, there are still workloads that push whatever system you have to their limit, and they are the type of things the top tier CPUs are sold for.
My current setup
The computer I have now was drool-worthy 18 months ago for many, but almost ‘mainstream’ today. Here is the thing – I have a workstation that I can game on, rather than a gaming computer.
Let me walk you through my current system. I have an 8 core/16 thread i9-9900KF CPU with 32GB of 3000MHz RAM. Storage-wise I have a 1TB C: (Windows) Drive, 3 2TB SSDs and a 4TB HDD. I also recently upgraded my 1080 Ti to an RTX 3080.
Cooling wise I am using a 240mm AIO. Many would say that this is borderline not large enough, but as I also undervolted my CPU even with large loads as long as my room isn’t too warm, it keeps things nicely cooled.
Sounds like the upper end of what I recommended as a gaming computer, doesn’t it?
And yet, I am in the middle of upgrading my system
For gaming, my computer is a dream. I would happily keep gaming on it for another couple of years before looking at another upgrade. I gave serious thought to migrating it into an ITX case and running both a gaming and work computer. I just couldn’t justify it to myself.
What am I upgrading to? Most of the computer is being reused, but I am upgrading to a 16 core/32 thread Ryzen 5950x with 32GB of 3600MHz RAM. Everything else is being reused.
As soon as the 5950x becomes available, I can upgrade my system. Just waiting in the queue for stock to catch up with demand.
But you said you don’t need that sort of CPU for gaming!
Yes, I did, and I stand by that recommendation. However remember what I said at the start – I have a workstation that I can game on, not a gaming computer.
The reasoning for my upgrade has nothing to do with my gaming requirements, and everything to do with my day to day work.
My ‘heavy workload’ and why such an expensive CPU makes sense for me
My day to day work is in IT. I am a system architect that also does programming. I use a lot of different equipment and software in my workday. Still, no one has room for multiple computers and separate drives for many operating systems at once.
To make my life easier for testing and making sure different things work together, I make heavy use of something called Virtual Machines. Basically, I can start up one or two (if I am pushing things) virtual machines on my system. Effectively I am running two or three computers at the same time.
This makes sense for my workflow, but there is a catch. All of those 8 cores need to run multiple systems, so at the moment I regularly run a single 4 core CPU with 8GB-16GB of RAM, while using my ‘normal’ desktop at the same time. This means my heavy-hitting computer behaves like a much lower specced machine, which means it runs slowly when I am trying to get work done.
So how does the 5950x help with this?
Simply, if I am running a single virtual machine as I do most of my working day, I can have an 8 core virtual PC and have my computer running on 8 cores.
This means instead of running two relatively low powered machines and waiting for things to run, I can have two high powered devices running at the same time.
In a ‘quiet’ week, this means I can save 4-6 hours a week. I can do the exact same amount of work, but I can have an extra half-day to myself every week. On a busy week, this means I can test and deploy exponentially faster, making my clients happy. Everyone wins.
And 4-6 hours a week is the extra time I have been looking for to keep the site regularly updated. This is where the additional cost of such a high powered CPU will pay for itself. It gives me extra time for me to do what I want. The value of that is always up to the individual.
How much better will the new computer play games?
Compared to my current CPU? At best about the same as they run now. Games aren’t designed to take advantage of that much CPU power, and even if they can my GPU isn’t enough to keep up with it. This is what is known as bottlenecking, and high core count CPUs don’t have a gaming GPU that can keep up.
Some games will actually perform slightly worse from what I understand. This has to do with having that many cores and the Ryzen architecture. Not severely worse by any means, but if you test FPS, the reduction will be there. Honestly, I don’t think I will see a difference in gameplay.
This is why I say don’t go higher than an 8 core processor for gaming – you pay a lot extra for no real return for your money. Many gaming benchmarks show higher FPS with the 5800X than the 5900 series.
At least the RTX 3090 does run games faster than the RTX 3080, even if the cost for the extra performance makes it a terrible financial decision. There is a measurable increase. The higher core count CPUs cost you a small number of frames, so more money for less performance? Doesn’t sound wise to me.
But that’s virtual machines. I want to stream and make YouTube videos. Don’t I need better parts for that?
At some point, possibly. While you are starting out? If you have the money go for it, but the Ryzen 5800X and RTX 3080 are a potent content creation combination. Don’t spend the money on the higher core CPU, spend it on the better GPU. It’s all about making the most of your purchase.
The difference in price between the 5800X and 5950X is almost AUD$600. Depending on the cards you are looking at, the difference between an RTX 3070 and RTX 3080 is about AUD$400-500. This still gives you change when upgrading the GPU and not buying the 5950x CPU.
You will definitely get more performance out of the RTX 3080 with the extra video RAM for video production than you would with the higher core count CPU and an RTX 3070. Added bonus you will also get better gaming performance, which I am not getting with the ‘better’ CPU. This is what I mean by spending your money where you see the benefits.
How do I know when I need the higher tier equipment?
When you are making money from your video content, put that money towards a ‘better’ computer. Weigh it up as I did with the time saving for more work. If it costs you X now but lets you save Y over time, the math works out.
If you can’t get out a video every day because of waiting for videos to render, then yes, look at a faster video production system. But if you are doing a video or two a week, waiting an extra 30-40 minutes for the video to encode should be an inconvenience at most. To me, it isn’t a justification to spend thousands on computer equipment.
Streaming is even easier. Because the NVENC encoder does a lot of the heavy lifting real-time, just having a card with that chip is all you need. You get no real benefit from higher core count CPUs. Get more RAM for your overlays and such – that will help more.
That said, it’s your money. If you can buy a ‘better’ computer and you want to, go for it. I am not trying to put down anyone that wants higher-end computers. You know how much money you have to spend, and you have to justify your spending. I can only advise what I would spend my money on, and why.
So hopefully now that you have some real examples of workloads, you can use this information to get your dream PC.