New Year Technology Maintenance

With the start of a new year, this seems like a good time to do some maintenance and updates on the computers and related technology items and devices in your home. If possible, you should also do this in the homes of your immediate relatives and friends.

New Year Technology Maintenance

Many devices do a pretty decent job of automatically pulling down and installing updates by themselves (or they can be configured to do so). Despite this, you probably have a number of devices that need some attention and help.

These might include your various computers, wireless router, NAS, printers, home automation and AV gear, etc..

Windows Computers

For Windows-based computers that are owned/managed by individuals, you should manually check for updates by clicking the “Check for Updates” button. You should also make sure that the “Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows” option is enabled, under Advanced options. This will give you updates for things like Microsoft Office. This is important to do even if the machine is supposed to automatically check for updates, since many people (especially non-computer savvy people) don’t ever manually check for updates.  Many people do not leave their machines running for extended periods, so it is very common to find them woefully out of date.

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Figure 1: Windows Update Dialog

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Figure 2: Windows Update Advanced Options

 Windows Disk Cleanup

It is also a good idea to run Windows Disk Cleanup, and click on the “Clean up system files” button. This will give you the option of cleaning up Windows Update files and even removing previous versions of Windows (in Windows 10), meaning previous semi-annual update versions. Removing those old versions can often free up 20-40GB of disk space, although you won’t be able to rollback to the old versions anymore. Be warned that running disk cleanup can take quite a bit of time, even with a fast SSD.

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Figure 3: Disk Cleanup Default Dialog

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Figure 4: Disk Cleanup System Files Dialog

After getting Windows updated and running Disk Cleanup, you should make an effort to see if there are any BIOS/firmware or driver updates for each device. Most large hardware vendors have utilities that you can use to automatically look for any updates, and then download and install the updates. You may have to go to the vendor’s support site to download and install the utility (or update an old version of the utility), but once you have done that, getting the latest updates is usually pretty easy.

Updating White Box Machines

If the machine was built from parts or is not from a major vendor, you will probably need to do some research and manual updating, once you figure out what you are dealing with. A couple of good tools to identify the components in a strange computer are CPU-Z and HWiNFO64, which you can have on a USB thumb drive. These will let you identify the motherboard model and BIOS version, along with many other components, such as video cards and storage devices. Most motherboard vendors also have utilities that can be used to check for and install the latest updates for that motherboard.

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Figure 5: CPU-Z Mainboard Tab

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Figure 6: HWiNFO64 System Summary

Many individual components in a system may require updates, such as video cards and storage devices. Once you know what components you are dealing with, you should be able to go to the vendor’s support site and either use a utility to check for and install updates, or simply manually do it yourself. For example, Samsung and Intel have utilities to maintain and update their storage devices and NVidia and AMD have utilities to maintain and update their video cards.

Other Devices

After you have updated all of your computers, you should try to update all your other updateable devices as much as you can. I’m talking about things like routers, managed network switches, printers, home automation gear, AV components and the like. Many devices will have a web interface or downloadable utility program that you can use to check for and install firmware and software updates. Often they will have a built-in method for checking for updates, buried somewhere in the setup or configuration interface. You should make the effort to find whatever method is necessary, and then check for and install updates.

Here are some links for some of the more common brands and devices you may run into.

Firmware Updates

NETGEAR Download Center

Marantz Updates and Upgrades

HP Customer Support

Brother Support and Downloads

Software Updates

Samsung Magician

Intel Solid State Drive Toolbox

Synology Download Center

Sonos Support

Driver Updates

NVidia GeForce Drivers

AMD Radeon Drivers

ASUS Download Center

ASRock Download Center

Gigabyte Download Center

MSI Download Center

Conclusion

Perhaps you are wondering why you should go to this trouble, for yourself and for your family and friends? The main reason is that it will make their devices be more secure and work better.  It will also make it a little more difficult for bad things like viruses, trojans, and worms to spread so quickly in the wild. Since you are likely in the technology field if you are reading this, your friends and family probably rely on you (at least to a certain extent) for their computer and technology support. For example, if you are a DBA, that means you are “in computers”. That means you must know everything there is to know about desktop and network support, right?

CPU Upgrade to AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X

About a year ago, I built a high-end desktop (HEDT) workstation based on the then, top-of-the-line 14nm AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X processor. This is the machine that I use for most of my daily work. I have been quite happy with it over the past year.  Here are the main components that I used to build this system:

By design, the system used 100% PCIe 3.0 NVMe NAND flash or Intel Optane storage. All AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors support 64 PCIe 3.0 lanes (with 4 reserved for the chipset), so I wanted to take advantage of that to get excellent total storage performance. This system has 16 physical cores (32 threads), 96GB of RAM, about 3.7TB of storage, and 10 Gbps Ethernet connectivity. It has two empty memory slots, so I can easily go to 128GB of RAM.

New CPU is Released

On August 31, 2018, AMD released the second generation 12nm AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X processor (AnandTech has a great review here). This processor uses the improved Zen+ microarchitecture that offers the Precision Boost 2 and XFR2 features to more aggressively boost more processor cores more quickly, based on available voltage and operating temperature. There is about a 3% IPC improvement and some minor base and boost clock speed increases.

Finding an Open Box CPU

After waiting a bit, I managed to find an “open-box” special for an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X for $765.00 at my local Micro Center, where it looked like someone had purchased the processor, opened the box, but they had not actually installed the processor (since it had no thermal grease residue or even any fingerprints on the heat spreader). Normally, Micro Center sells that processor for $849.99, which is $50.00 less than Newegg or Amazon.

While I was at it, I swapped out the original NZXT Kraken X62 CPU cooler for a Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3 CPU cooler, that was actually made for the huge Threadripper CPU size. This Noctua cooler is quieter than the old cooler, and it keeps the CPU roughly 20 degrees Celsius cooler, both at idle and under a full load. The temperature difference is important for the XFR2 feature, which boosts the clock speed of more cores more aggressively if you have a high-end CPU cooler.

The CPU-swap went even more smoothly than I expected. The hardest part was removing the old NZXT CPU cooler and its associated wiring. I was expecting to have to go into the BIOS setup during the first boot and confirm a CPU change, and then I expected that Windows would also want a reboot. I also thought I might even have to re-activate Windows 10 because of the new CPU, but none of this was required. The system booted right into Windows 10 Pro for Workstations with no complaints at all.

Benchmark Scores After the Upgrade

Here are the old and new CPU-Z and Geekbench 4 scores for this system.

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Figure 1: Comparative Benchmark Scores

Subjectively, the system seems noticeably quicker for everyday common tasks. It’s hard to say how much of that is because I want the system to be faster after the upgrade…

Economically, its hard to make the case for this particular upgrade. If I sell the old Threadripper 1950X, that would make it much easier to justify. Another argument is that AMD is planning on maintaining full backwards compatibility with existing AMD X399 motherboards when the 7nm Zen 2 Threadripper processors are released in mid-2019.

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Figure 2: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X

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Figure 3: HWiNFO64 System Summary

Here is an AMD diagram of the architecture of the processor.

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Figure 4: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X Architecture

 Conclusion

I really think that an AMD Threadripper system is the best choice for a general purpose, HEDT workstation, especially from a performance/dollar perspective. Intel still has a small single-threaded performance advantage with some of their processors, but the gap is pretty close now. You will have to spend quite a bit more money to get a comparable Intel-based system.

AMD EPYC 7371 Processor in Q1 2019

At the Supercomputing 2018 Conference, AMD announced a special high-frequency SKU in their first-generation 14nm AMD EPYC “Naples” line of server processors.  This SKU will be the AMD EPYC 7371 processor. This upcoming processor will have 16C/32T, with a base clock speed of 3.1 GHz. It will boost up to 3.6 GHz on all 16 cores and up to 3.8 GHz on eight cores. It also has a 64MB L3 cache.

This is a significant clock speed increase over the existing AMD EPYC 7351  processor. The EPYC 7351 has a base clock speed of 2.4 GHz, with a max boost speed of 2.9 GHz. This is especially relevant for SQL Server 2017 usage. This is because SQL Server 2017 licensing is based on core counts, not clock speeds or actual performance.

Because of this, you want to get the most performance and capacity possible for each licensed CPU core. A base clock speed increase of 29.2% is going to be quite noticeable on a typical SQL Server instance.

I hope that mainstream vendors like Dell offer this SKU in their existing systems. For example, the Dell PowerEdge R7415 and R7425 would be great choices.

Anandtech has some more details here. ServeTheHome calls this SKU “the fastest 16-core processor” here.