Living with the 6800k + rx 480 (still waiting for Vega)

If you've been reading the other posts in this series, you'll know I was waiting for the AMD Ryzen and the AMD Vega GPU. The Ryzen came out, but it had (the usual) teething problems, and as the new desktop is supposed to be my work machine, I eventually decided to go with the 2 year old X99 platform and a 6800k CPU. It was (on paper) slower that the equivalent Ryzen 1700, and a bit more expensive (as a platform). So how is it?

Utterly amazing! I'm comparing it to a 5 year old MacBook Pro. So, it's not exactly a fair comparison. But, really, modern (high end) desktops are utterly amazing in terms of performance. The 6800k handles all desktop tasks with ease, and work activities (compilation, testing, running containers -- think light-weight virtual machines) and all handled quickly with very little lag or waiting time.

Some of this is due to careful component choice; overclocked 32GB RAM at 3200Mhz and an NVME SSD drive which simply flies. The rest is just sheer grunt. Modern desktops are fast.

The system

The Intel 6800K system on partpicker - the site has lots of nice photos too!:

  • Intel 6800k CPU
  • ASRock X99 Taichi motherboard
  • 32GB RAM
  • 500GB NVME SSD
  • PowerColor Devil RX 480 Graphics card
  • LG 34UW98-W 3440x1440 monitor
  • Linux and Windows 10 Home

Specific issues

So, whilst it's a storming machine for development, handles Google Hangouts with ease, there are a few problems, but it's not due to hardware faults. Mostly, it's choices.

Linux Audio, The RX 480 and the monitor

My job largely demands that I work in Linux. On this machine, I could do that in a VM and I wouldn't notice any particular slow down. However, I actually really like Linux; it's definitely my preferred environment, and my laptop (the ageing 13" MacBook Pro) also runs Ubuntu Linux. I also run a tiling window manager, with i3 being my favourite. I like controlling all of my windowing activity using the keyboard. I rarely use the mouse, except when interacting with Chrome/Firefox.

However, on Linux, with an RX480 and the version of Ubuntu I'm using 16.10 (and very shortly to be 17.04), there is no amdgpu driver that supports HDMI audio. This is because the open source amdgpu driver doesn't have support for HDMI audio, ad the (proprietary) amdgpu pro driver doesn't support the kernel in 16.10 or 17.04. Thus, no audio. Note, that this is a choice that I made; I could easily run 16.04 LTS and use the amdgpu pro driver, but that wouldn't be as good from a work perspective. I may have to have a go a building a custom kernel to support the audio. And I can still use headphones!

RX 480 Graphics card and the monitor

The RX 480 is a brilliant, if somewhat noisy, mid range graphics card. I solved the noise problem by undervolting the card to 1075mv for the GPU and 950mv for the memory, which knocked about 50 watts off the power consumption. I also eased up on the power budget (a few percent) and lowered the maximum fan speed to 2000Hz. The temperature target is 80C. This results in a much quieter card; but it's still fairly audible under full load. Full load only occurs during gaming, and luckily, I wear a headset for that, so I can't hear the card.

The rest of the time the card is mostly idle, which means silent. The fans don't spin and thus, the only noise is from the 4 fans from the AIO cooler (an Arctic Liquid Freezer 240) which keeps the CPU at no more than 55C even under full load. And those fans are pretty silent; I don't notice them when I'm using the computer, and it's just behind me.

However, I have a big monitor. An LG 34UW98 ultrawidescreen 1440p monitor. That's 3400 x 1440 pixels, which is 4,953,601 pixels. That's a lot of pixels, and almost too many for the RX 480 (at 1330Hz) to drive. The RX 480 is a mid range graphics card and the ultrawide 1440p monitor really requires a high end graphics card if you want to play any AAA games from the last couple of years at ultra quality and still achieve 70 frames per second.

I have a big monitor because that real estate comes in very, very useful for my job, and for just web browsing, doing hangouts, writing code, the RX 480 is absolutely fine. It's just when it comes to 3D games.

I've just finished Tomb Raider (the 2013 reboot) and played that at 1440p with an average frame rate of 60+ per second. Which made it very playable, and as the monitor has FreeSync, also no tearing. Once I'd sorted out the black screening issue (which is due to a setting being wrong), I really enjoyed the game. I did, however, have to turn the graphics quality down from ultra to high to get that frame rate. Otherwise, in 'busy' sections of the game, the frame rate dropped into the low 40s which came with lots of tearing and jerkiness.

Tomb Raider is a 2013 game; it's four years old. The newer Rise of the Tomb Raider is a 2015 game and looks stunning. Sadly, for a 1440p ultrawide, you need something with the horse power of a GTX 1070, or better yet, at GTX 1080. For really modern games, nothing less that a GTX1080 or GTX1080ti is needed. And, as those are all nVidia, no FreeSync support, so lots of tearing.

So, I won't be playing Rise of the Tomb Raider any time soon, because the graphics card, my graphics card, simply isn't up to the job because of a choice I made around screen real estate for my work. It's a reasonable choice, I think. Sucks for gaming, though!

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. I think the Vega 10 graphics card, as yet unreleased, will be somewhere between the 1070 and the 1080ti. Where, nobody (yet) seems to know, but it should be much faster than my current card. Thus, if it is, I will probably buy one. But then there will be the problem of amdgpu support (probably) and thus, I'll probably have to keep both cards for a while; one for Linux, and the other for Windows 10 and gaming.

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