Hardware upgrade or what’s holding me back?

More than a year has passed since I’ve posted about building a new PC. So what is holding me back from the upgrade? Time and money are considerations, but not the reason.

On paper, the AMD Ryzen 9 has outperformed Intel in most if not all tasks. The Ryzen 9 3900X beats the Intel i9 9900K as well as the Intel i9 10900X in multi-threaded workloads. The Intel i9 9900K can barely hold its ground on single-threaded tasks. Numerous benchmarks have shown that AMD is a clear winner.

However, this picture is rather naive. VGA passthrough or VFIO has its own set of requirements. Unfortunately the AMD Ryzen platform is marred with issues, making VGA passthrough difficult at best. There are a few success stories with the Ryzen 3900X and other AMD CPUs, but one BIOS upgrade and everything can fall to pieces.

Testers often compare the AMD Ryzen 3900X with the Intel i9 9900K. The Ryzen 3900X offers more cores and generally better multi-threaded performance. But what about PCIe channels? Both CPUs lack the high PCIe count of their workstation siblings Intel i9-10900X and AMD Threadripper. While the Intel i9-9900K has its internal GPU, the AMD 3900X requires a second GPU (no, I’m not considering single GPU passthrough). For Ryzen, this cuts the effective PCIe speed into half.

As much as the AMD Ryzen 3900X specs are impressive, special VFIO considerations can easily turn the scale towards other options. For example, X299-based Intel motherboards often come with multiple USB and SATA controllers, offering better IOMMU grouping for easier passthrough of PCIe devices. So even if the AMD 3900X is an upgrade from my current Intel 6-core 3930K processor, it’s a downgrade to a consumer-level chipset and motherboard. Similar can be said about Z390-based Intel motherboards.

The newest AMD Threadripper offerings may be an option, but a very expensive one and mostly overkill for my needs.

Another objection that is holding me back is this mess with AMD graphics cards. Most of the newer models have a reset bug. So far, AMD and the card vendors have done nothing to fix it. They simply keep churning out cards with the same bug. The GPU reset bug has absolutely nothing to do with the AMD CPUs, but it reflects negatively on the company’s dealing with bugs.

Of course you can counter with Intel’s Spectre and Meltdown fiasco. Protecting against these vulnerabilities has taken its toll off the CPU performance.

Here are the options I consider right now:

  • AMD Ryzen 9 3900X on a X570 motherboard
  • Intel i9-9900K on a Z390 motherboard
  • Intel i9-10900X on a X299 motherboard
  • Wait and see what the next generation of CPUs and motherboards bring to the table.

All I can say is that my investment in the Intel i7-3930K was a damn good one, considering its age and (VFIO) performance.

For the latest on VFIO and hardware support, search the VFIO Reddit.

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