What does the next desktop computer upgrade look like?

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, March 7, 2023, 11:48 PM | comments: 0

It's hard to believe, but the computer that I built is almost four-years-old. For development workloads, it has been everything that I hoped for, never being particularly over-taxed. It was easy to overclock. I haven't done a ton of gaming on it, but what I have done has been great. Planet Coaster, Planet Zoo, Control, Halo, Forza, LEGO Star Wars, have all run at pretty solid frame rates. Video editing is not quite what I would like, but to be fair, I didn't have a 4K camera when I built the computer. Export times aren't really a concern, but being able to smoothly move around color-corrected video, meh, that's not quite what it should be. I didn't appreciate it until I got the new M2 Mac.

There isn't a clear upgrade path though, because of cost and the new found performance of the M2 machines. In the Intel world, the logical next step is a 13th-generation i7 or i9, which is a significant upgrade from my current 9th-generation i7. The newer CPU's have more cores, more cache and faster access to memory. The individual cores are a little over 50% faster, and the new CPU's have two or three times as many, in a mix of efficiency and performance cores. So if you're throwing computing tasks at all of them, the i9 benchmarks 4x my current set up, the i7 3x. So if the software can use all the cores, that's a crazy difference.

To get to that point though, I would have to replace my motherboard and memory as well, and that would close in on $850 to $1,000. It would also consume a whole lot more power. Then there's the question of whether or not I buy a new GPU, and that really throws the cost into new territory. Remember that the GPU (and "neural" cores in Apple silicon) play a big part in video editing. I currently have an RTX 2070. An "affordable" replacement would be an RTX 3060, under $400, but it would largely be a lateral move. To do 25% better, add $50 for a 3060Ti. To do about 45% better, add at least $200 more for a 3070. The cost of these things is nuts.

The alternative is to get an M2 Pro Mac Mini, which would cost $1,600 to match the innards of my laptop, and another $400 if I want to match the 32 gigs of memory I would have in the Intel computer. The side benefit here is that it results in a tiny little aluminum block on my desk (with an SSD in an external enclosure dangling from it), that uses a fraction of the power. Then Simon gets my existing desktop. Single core performance is similar to the newer Intel CPU's, but multicore benchmarks at 2x what I have now, so compare that to the 3x for i7 and 4x for i9.

The difference is complicated when you look at mobile versus desktop. In a laptop, you can spend about the same thing for Apple and Intel with equivalent performance, but the power draw on the Intel side will be nuts. On a desktop, you can get more computing cycles for your dollar on the Intel side. There is another nuanced discussion because raw CPU benchmarks don't tell the entire story. The Apple silicon is a system-on-a-chip (SoC), meaning that the CPU, GPU and memory are all physically on the same chip. When they're that close, everything is faster and more efficient. Is Apple better than Intel? It's not an apples to, er, Apple comparison.

This isn't something that I need to act on any time in the near future. At least, not until I find myself editing my big project. If I were replacing another laptop, I'd probably stick with Apple, but on the desktop, the sheer power of the Intel hardware whilst plugged in is pretty crazy.


No comments yet.

Post your comment: