Computer Upgrade Time!

Back in 2012, in an early post on this blog, I documented the process of building my desktop computer, “Luna”. I have to say, back then I never expected it to be nearly 9 years before I did another major rebuild. The components I bought back then, which weren’t even high end ones at the time, have served me surprisingly well.

I have added and changed quite a lot since then, mind you. The original 2TB hard drive has been replaced by a 4TB drive plus a 500GB SSD. I’ve upgraded the graphics card several times, most recently to a GTX 1050Ti, and upped the RAM from 8GB to 16GB. I’ve replaced the TV I was originally using with two matching 21 inch LED monitors. And a few years ago I replaced the case, power supply and CPU cooler in the hope of making the system run cooler and quieter (which it did). But the core of the system, the motherboard and CPU, were until now still the same ones I put in in 2012. This felt like the right time to upgrade them, for several reasons:

  1. Most of the other stuff I enjoy is still off-limits for at least another few months due to covid restrictions, so having something fun to occupy me in the house seemed an appealing prospect.
  2. I inherited a bit of money from my dad and decided to set aside some of it to buy myself a treat.
  3. I decided it was time to switch from Linux Mint to Windows 10, and thought it would be easier to do a CPU upgrade at the same rather than upgrading the OS now and then making major hardware changes after a few months.

On that last point, Linux (like the original hardware) has served me well over the years, but just recently I’ve started to feel like it was holding me back a bit. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with Unreal Engine 4 lately, and although Linux is a fully supported platform for running the Unreal Editor, it’s not without its problems. It runs much more slowly than on Windows and seems to crash more often as well. Plus, although the editor itself runs on Linux, some of the supporting software such as the asset marketplace doesn’t, so you have to jump through some hoops if you want to download content from there. I’ve also got more into playing games again, something else that’s way easier and better supported on Windows.

The CPU, RAM and Windows DVD waiting eagerly to be installed

In terms of the CPU, I decided to go for something quite high end this time, in the hope that it’ll speed up my 3D work, so I went for a 10th generation Intel i7. Only 16GB of RAM to start with, the same as I had before, but while the old board was maxed out with 16GB, the new one can take up to 128GB, so plenty of headroom for future expansion when it’s required. No new graphics card just yet for reasons that are probably obvious! For the moment I’m just using the stock Intel cooler (most of the “premium” models seem to be too big for my case even though it’s a reasonably spacious tower) and the 450W power supply I put in a few years ago, but I suspect those might turn out to be the weak points of the system and need to be upgraded before too long.

Installing the new motherboard

I was a little nervous about installing the hardware – having just spent the best part of £300 on a CPU I didn’t want to end up destroying it before I even got the chance to use it – but in fact that all went smoothly, and the only stumbling block was getting my files off the old system in a form that the new one would be able to read. My initial plan was to copy everything to a large NTFS-formatted external hard drive, but I hadn’t realised quite how bad the Linux NTFS driver was; it took literally days to copy less than 2 terabytes of data. Then when it was finally done and I plugged the drive into my Windows laptop to make sure it was readable, all kinds of errors came up. I’m sure it wasn’t this slow and flaky the last time I used it. In the end I gave up, reformatted the drive in Windows and SCPed all the files from Linux over the network, which was much faster and less painful.

Time to breathe a sigh of relief as the Windows installer runs

Setting up Windows 10 Professional also went smoothly. It took me a week or so to get everything installed and working as I wanted, but it was well worth it. Unreal Engine, the app I was mostly doing this for, is blazingly fast now! On the old system I would be sitting waiting several minutes for it to start up, or for shaders to compile or lighting to build. It’s now a matter of seconds in most cases. There are other advantages too. It’s nice to have my entire Steam library installed, and “real” Microsoft Office for work, and to know that if I see a game or application that appeals to me I won’t have to be looking anxiously to see if there’s a Linux version or a convoluted way to run it under emulation. (For things that are better done the Linux way I’ve got a choice of MSYS2, a Linux Mint virtual machine, and even a Raspberry Pi 4 for the handful of tasks I need an actual “bare metal” Linux machine for, so I won’t be missing out there).

It’s definitely been a worthwhile upgrade. I look forward to hopefully creating some cool stuff with it, and improving it further with a nice shiny new RTX GPU when the bloody Bitcoin mining bubble finally bursts.

(Oh, and it’s still called Luna, or rather “Luna-2021”. I tried to think of another name, partly because we’ve had another Luna* in the house for several years now, but I couldn’t think of anything I liked. Anyway I quite like the idea that it’s still the same machine in spirit, even if every component has now been replaced in a Trigger’s Broom-esque way).

*The other Luna