Goodbye Intel, Hello AMD

I built my gaming PC in September 2017. In the past two years, I upgraded the case as well as many peripherals a couple of times but the core of the system – CPU and motherboard – remained the same. Well, not quite, I delidded my i7-7700K in August 2018. Initially the delidding was for better overclocking but after dipping my tiptoe in the water a bit I soon realized that 1) OC is simply not worth the time and effort and 2) noise control is more important to me than extreme performance, since I literally put the PC on my desktop, 1 feet from my ears. So at the end I undervolted my CPU for better thermals (and hence less noise). The result was better than with regular voltage but was still louder than I’d like during gaming. But there was no motivation to change CPU just for even better thermals, as long as it does the job.

Sadly, the 7700K stopped doing the job recently. It all started in early November, when I was watching some stream on Twitch. When people talked, I could hear a high-pitched, distorted sound. Some quick test revealed that this issue happens on all live streams regardless of website (I could reproduce it on Facebook Live too but regular YouTube videos didn’t have the issue). And it only happens with Chrome. So I thought I must be a Chrome bug and decided to use Edge until the issue is fixed in Chrome. I waited for 2 Chrome updates and there was no fix. I couldn’t find any bug report either. Then, when reviewing a game clip, MPC had the exact same issue. Was it a sound card issue? No. The issue reproed with on-board sound card and external USB sound cards. It was that moment when I realized the issue must be either OS or hardware. I was hoping it’s the former since hardware failure means replacing parts and it would take a lot of time to pinpoint the issue.

So I waited for the Windows 10 fix, which never came. In mid November, my game started to randomly crash. I thought it was the game’s problem since Apex Legends had been having crash issues since the release. In the meantime, watching Twitch started to crash tabs on both Chrome and Firefox. I failed to connect the dots but that was when the issue started to escalate quickly. When the game crashed, the whole PC froze – the display stopped at the last frame, the only sound left was a jarring sound like an electric saw and I could not alt-tab or ctrl-shift-del. The only thing I could do is hard reset the PC. If I was lucky, the game crash would lead to a BSOD, every time with slightly different error code. And later BSOD came more and more often until booting would straight go to a BSOD before I could even see the log in screen. Still, I didn’t connect the dots.

I suspected there was a RAM problem and started to run memtest. Bingo. It failed. I was relieved since if anyone has to replace a piece of hardware, RAM is the easiest part. I bought the exact same RAM and swapped old ones out. I even spent some time researching how to RMA a RAM with Corsair since they offer lifetime warranty. But I didn’t need to do that, because memtest still failed with the new RAM. It wasn’t the RAM. Then I tried resetting CMOS. No luck.

At this point I knew it had to be either the motherboard or CPU. I swapped in a 6700K and guess what, everything went back to normal! No BSOD any more. Twitch loads without any sound distortion. And the game never crashes. It was the CPU.

I had 2 options: keep the motherboard and buy a replacement CPU of 3 generations away, or buy a latest CPU model and a compatible motherboard. Since I had enough trouble with the Intel CPU and ASUS motherboard already, I decided to go with the latter option.

One big regret I had when I built my PC was not knowing the market timing. September 2017 was a bad time building a new PC because the Intel was about to release the 8th generation Core i7 CPUs. Had I waited 3 more months I would buy 8700K instead of 7700K. The sad part though, is that my Z270 motherboard isn’t compatible with the 8th gen, despite no change in socket or chipset functionality. One has to pair the 8th gen CPU with a Z370 motherboard, not for technical reasons but for market reasons. And Intel did it again with the 9th gen and Z390 chipset. At least my Z270 is compatible with both 6th gen and 7th gen. Poor Z370 only supports 8th gen.

If you follow the PC industry you know Intel is in a terrible position in the consumer desktop CPU segment. For one their 10nm process has been long overdue and there’s little chance they hit mass production in 2020. For two AMD has been killing it with the new Ryzen architecture, especially the 3rd gen Ryzen with TSMC’s 7nm process. The first gen Ryzen had some compatibility issues but the latest generation is shitting on Intel on all fronts, from entry level to HEDT. It’s very funny to me that Intel’s latest top HEDT offering, i9-10980XE (a 18-core CPU sells at $1100) cannot beat AMD’s non-HEDT 3950X (a 16-core CPU sells at $1000). The most surprising part is that 10980XE is basically the same as the previous gen i9-9980XE – both on 14nm process and only minor difference in clock speed but 9980XE was priced at $2200. Imagine how many people paid $1100 more for nothing.

This time, I voted with money and joined the AMD YES! Train. And I stayed reasonable with a humble $200 3600X with $180 X570 motherboard, which costs less than an i9-9900K alone. And you know what? There’s literally no perceptual difference from my 7700K setup. I maybe lose 5fps on average during gaming Apex. So 5% fps loss for 33% less money ($220 vs $330)? I would take it any day. You know what more I get? PCIE 4.0 support. 2 more cores and 4 more threads. Lower temperature and far less noise: my 7700K runs 40+°C idle and 70+°C load with 100% fan cycle AFTER delidding and my 3600X runs 35°C idle and 65°C load with 70% fan cycle. Guaranteed forward compatibility with next gen Ryzen CPUs. And most importantly, a peace of mind.