From Team Blue and Green to Team Red

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It’s finally happened. I bought a brand new desktop computer on August 2014, almost 9 years ago. It had an Intel Haswell processor (i5-4690s), 8 GiB of RAM and a GeForce GTX 760. I later doubled the amount of RAM to 16 GiB (precise date unknown), replaced the GPU with a GTX 1070 in November 2016 and upgraded the CPU to an i7-4770K in October 2017. Since then, no more upgrades. It’s been my main personal (non-work) computer for the last few years.

But now I’m typing this from a different box. Yet the physical box and the OS installation is actually the same.

             .',;::::;,'.                [email protected]
         .';:cccccccccccc:;,.            -----------
      .;cccccccccccccccccccccc;.         OS: Fedora Linux 37 (Thirty Seven) x86_64
    .:cccccccccccccccccccccccccc:.       Host: B650M DS3H
  .;ccccccccccccc;.:dddl:.;ccccccc;.     Kernel: 6.1.18-200.fc37.x86_64
 .:ccccccccccccc;OWMKOOXMWd;ccccccc:.    Uptime: 15 mins
.:ccccccccccccc;KMMc;cc;xMMc:ccccccc:.   Packages: 3136 (rpm)
,cccccccccccccc;MMM.;cc;;WW::cccccccc,   Shell: bash 5.2.15
:cccccccccccccc;MMM.;cccccccccccccccc:   Resolution: 2560x1440
:ccccccc;oxOOOo;MMM0OOk.;cccccccccccc:   DE: GNOME 43.3
cccccc:0MMKxdd:;MMMkddc.;cccccccccccc;   WM: Mutter
ccccc:XM0';cccc;MMM.;cccccccccccccccc'   WM Theme: Clearlooks-Phenix
ccccc;MMo;ccccc;MMW.;ccccccccccccccc;    Theme: Adwaita-dark [GTK2/3]
ccccc;0MNc.ccc.xMMd:ccccccccccccccc;     Icons: Adwaita [GTK2/3]
cccccc;dNMWXXXWM0::cccccccccccccc:,      Terminal: tmux
cccccccc;.:odl:.;cccccccccccccc:,.       CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 7600X (12) @ 4.700GHz
:cccccccccccccccccccccccccccc:'.         GPU: AMD ATI Radeon RX 6700/6700 XT/6750 XT / 6800M/6850M XT
.:cccccccccccccccccccccc:;,..            Memory: 2574MiB / 15717MiB

A couple of weeks ago I grabbed an AMD Ryzen 5 7600X that was on sale together with a basic AM5 motherboard and a hard-to-find 2x8 GiB DDR5 6000 MHz CL36 kit. I decided to save some money this time and kept the case, power supply and drives. Surprisingly for me, the process was actually almost plug-and-play. The pessimistic side of me was expecting boot problems due to missing chipset drivers or something like that, but no. I replaced the components in the case for the new ones, plugged my drives in and Fedora booted without issues. The only small detail I needed to fix was firing up nm-connection-editor and replacing the old interface name with the new one in the default DHCP connection. Windows had no issues either, but it did require reactivating the license. The one I had from 9 years ago was retail, so no problems with that.

My choice of a Ryzen 5 7600X was actually simple: these days, compared to Intel, Ryzen has a slight advantage on performance-per-watt even in mid-range CPUs, with Intel now slowly catching up. The equivalent Intel competitor, i5-13400F, while a very good CPU, features a mix of efficiency and performance cores. Its design is more complex than the one from AMD and probably harder to handle in software, maybe more prone to scheduling mistakes by the OS. I run the 7600X in “Eco” mode which, for the record, means setting up the PBO limits to manual mode and using the following values: PPT limit 88000, TDC limit 75000 and EDC limit 150000. These values are documented in several sources. Other motherboards have an easier way to toggle this with a simple switch for Eco mode but, in the one I have, values need to be entered manually. Why did I get a 7600X only to run it in Eco mode instead of grabbing a plain 7600? Because the 7600X was on sale and significantly cheaper (240 vs 270 euros, final price).

A few days later I decided to replace the GPU too. I chose a Radeon RX 6700 (non-XT). Two reasons for the choice: Linux support with open-source drivers (including RADV, which is being worked on by an amazing group of developers hired by Valve and with whom I have the pleasure of interacting frequently while working on CTS) and the stellar price/performance ratio of that particular model. It’s frequently on sale for a bit over 300 euros where I live (I grabbed it for 330).

I’ve said in the past I’m not a fan of any brand, and I still say so. It’s a coincidence, favored by the market situation, that my CPU/GPU combo is now all made by AMD. I’m pretty sure in the future things may change again.

Replacing the GPU required more attention to detail, despite the replacement being conceptually and physically much easier than replacing the other components. On Windows, I ran DDU and removed all GPU drivers, leaving the computer ready for a GPU replacement. On Linux, I followed these steps:

  • Uninstalled the NVIDIA drivers from RPM Fusion following their super-clear instructions.

  • Edited /etc/default/grub to remove legacy kernel parameters used by NVIDIA, making sure nouveau was not blacklisted either on the command line or from /etc/modprobe.d.

  • Regenerated /boot/grub2/grub.conf using grub2-mkconfig to apply the new boot parameters.

  • Rebooted and verified everything continued to work and I was running GNOME on Wayland on Nouveau.

  • Also ran dracut -f for good measure (probably not needed but better safe than sorry).

Then I turned the computer off, replaced the GPU, turned it back on and, voilĂ , plug-and-play on Linux. On Windows I had to download and install the official AMD drivers, and that was it.

All in all, I was surprised by how simple the whole process was, and glad that I didn’t have to reinstall or boot from installation media to fix stuff. There is, however, a stark contrast in terms of what it meant, performance-wise, to upgrade the CPU compared to the GPU. That deserves a rant I will leave for another blog post in the coming days.

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