New Colossus

In August last year I wrote about a new workstation I was building, called Colossus. Named appropriately because it was to be a big and powerful system and would use some of the very latest technology to do what I wanted it to do. I was breathless in my enthusiasm that the next step was, and I quote, “component buying in October!”.

And so by not being clear which October, I’m still correct at the time of writing. DDR4 prices really put a downer on my enthusiasm to build the system and I ended up shelving the plans. Every now and again I’d fire up my browser, have a look, sigh, and go back to wondering if I’d ever bother. I had the processor by virtue of my employer making them, but the rest was on me to acquire.

X399 is an expensive platform in a couple of key ways, compared to most other PC types you can put together. The first is the processor choice, the second is memory, and the processor choice defines the variant and amount of memory you really want to use. Threadripper supports ECC RAM, but performs (marginally in some cases, appreciably more in others) better with faster non-ECC modules. And for some of the key workstation-class workloads I have in mind, you really want a decent amount of memory per thread, and ideally 2 GiB.

So for the Threadripper 1950X, with its 16 cores and 32 threads — AMD Zen processors employ SMT to run 2 threads per processor core — I wanted 64 GiB. Not much has changed since last August: 64 GiB of good DDR4, either the fastest ECC you can buy, or 3200 MHz or so non-ECC, is at least £150 per 16 GiB module. ECC is closer to £190 for 16 GiB.

Then, as time went by, parts became available at work for free, until very recently it was time to pull the trigger and buy the final couple of parts to get started building it for real. Today it booted FreeBSD 12.0-BETA2 very briefly, before bugs took me back to 11.2-RELEASE-p4 and a stable software platform to build the system on top of.

The spec at the time of writing:

  • AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX (32C/64T)
  • Gigabyte X399 Designare EX
  • 48 GiB non-ECC DDR4 (PC4-24000, 6 x 8 GiB)
  • Samsung 970 Pro 512 GB M.2 NVMe
  • Radeon RX Vega 64
  • Noctua U14S TR4-SP3

I’ll start to blog a bit more about the system as I bring up the software side. The plan is still the same as in last August: run FreeBSD as the hypervisor for the VMs that will do the real work or play. Windows 10 for games with the Vega using PCIe passthrough. Various Linux and FreeBSD VMs for my build system and test labs, plus staging systems for my production websites. Backups will still be sent to my FreeNAS using ZFS snapshots.

Over time I’ll also send AMD their loaner hardware back and get my own parts in there, something which will be made easier by virtue of the backup system. Now that it does something useful, I’m very much looking forward to implementing the ideas I had last year, and waiting has let other, newer parts come along that I hadn’t reckoned on getting. The machine is all the nicer for it.