Build plan & explanation: 9900k monster!

zircon_st

Lead Developer
My current workstation is 4 years old, build around the mighty Intel 5820k processor. This thing was overclockable from 3.3ghz to 4.3ghz without issue, but given the ever-increasing demands of music, video, and development work, I'm planning an upgrade.

Here is the part list with US pricing. Under each one, I'll explain the reasoning for its selection.

CPU:
Intel 9900k Intel - Core i9-9900K 3.6GHz 8-Core Processor ($500 at Provantage)

Though Intel is a year away (theoretically) from launching a more dramatically-improved CPU, I'm skeptical that this one will be made obsolete anytime soon. Without overclocking it is capable of 4.7ghz on all 8 cores using Intel's inherent Turbo Boost, and up to 5.0ghz on a single core. Overclocked it should be able to hit 5.0ghz or higher on all cores. This is pretty much the best balance of single-core speed, core count, and power draw that you can possibly get right now.

Why not Skylake-X? (7900x, 7920x, etc.) Intel is refreshing this lineup as well, and these 10+ core processors will have better heat/power efficiency, too. If I were just concerned with Kontakt work, Skylake-X would be better. But I use more than just Kontakt - I usually lean heavily on very CPU-expensive synth plugins. Also, for other non-music work that I do (such as compiling massive code bases), single threaded speed is still king.

CPU COOLER: Macho Le Grand RT ($80 at Amazon)

Previously I had selected a Noctua NH-D15, which is still an incredible air cooler. However, this obscure cooler is somehow even better, which I didn't think was possible. It matches the Noctua's cooling performance (beats every other air cooler and nearly every "AIO" all-in-one liquid cooler), but it's a little cheaper, AND it has lower noise levels.

Also, this cooler has no issues with RAM clearance - meaning you can use any RAM without worrying about it being jammed-in by the cooler. The NH-D15 unfortunately has a lot of issues there.

The only type of cooler that offers consistently better cooling performance is a custom watercooling loop, which is not only MUCH more expensive, but also makes maintaining your computer MUCH harder. (The loop itself has to be maintained, can develop leaks, makes accessing components more difficult, etc.)

As with the Noctua though, these massive "tower" style air coolers are large & heavy, requiring a large case to support them.

MOTHERBOARD: ASRock - Z390 Taichi ATX LGA1151 Motherboard ($239 at Micro Center, Newegg)

Not the cheapest motherboard out there, but it has strong overclocking capability and - more importantly - three M.2 slots and 8 SATA3 ports. As I'll explain, M.2 drives are substantially faster than normal solid state drives, so I want as many slots for them as possible. Not to mention, room for all my existing drives.

RAM: Corsair - Vengeance LPX 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3333 Memory ($309 at Newegg)

This one is probably the most tenuous choice I've made and it might still change in the coming weeks. I'll explain:
  • For my templates, 32GB is plenty and with M.2 drives you can use a tiny RAM buffer and still enjoy huge performance. I can always expand to 64GB later.

  • LPX (low profile) RAM of 32mm or less is necessary for full compatibility with the NH-D15. You CAN get the NH-D15S, which is a single-fan version of the same cooler, but it runs just a wee bit hotter.

  • Fast memory is not just for gamers. There is a measurable (sometimes large) increase in CPU performance as you increase frequency. The difference is sometimes only a few % depending on what you're doing, but sometimes it's quite a bit larger. Common wisdom seems to be that around 3000 to 3600mhz is the sweet spot for price/performance, where higher will rarely yield substantially better gains.

OS/APPS STORAGE: Intel Optane 900p (480gb) AIC/PCIe ($454 @ Newegg)

Though the Samsung 970 Pro is *slightly* faster in "sequential" read/write (more relevant for things like sample streaming), Optane is much faster at "random" reads (more relevant for getting random bits of data throughout normal usage, as you would with an OS and applications).

You could easily do with a 240gb version of this and still be comfy for your OS, but I also plan on using it for certain development work that has sprawling folders of assets likely to be read randomly as opposed to sequentially.

SECONDARY STORAGE: Samsung - 970 Evo 2.0TB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive 2x ($577 at Amazon)

Samsung has been making some of the best SSDs for awhile now. These are M.2 drives which are capable of much higher speeds (on the order of 4-5x faster) than even the fastest normal SSDs. Sample load times are ridiculously fast on these.

The price on the 2TB 970 Evo definitely hurts a bit, but if you consider their extreme 'durability' (lifespan) and long warranty that goes with their high performance, it makes things a bit better. The 1TB versions are substantially cheaper, of course (less than 50% the price).

There is a "Pro" version as well, but it really only has better Write performance, which is not that meaningful for our purposes.

TERTIARY STORAGE: 4 older, traditional SSDs from my current build (4.5 TB total)

Nothing wrong with having more solid state storage, of course :)

GRAPHICS CARD: NVidia GTX 1080 (Totally Unnecessary)

OK, you really don't need a great graphics card for a DAW-only machine, and an AMD card like an RX560 would have better DPC latency. Buuuut since I also do some gaming and quite a bit of video editing/rendering, the GTX1080 fits the bill.

POWER SUPPLY: Corsair - RMx (2018) 850W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply ($119 at Newegg)

You can calculate how much power your build needs on a site like this. 850w is a bit overkill for what I have here, and for most DAWs that don't have a honking GPU you could almost definitely do more like 650w. I just happened to get a good price on this, and I might overclock the 9900k pretty hard (requiring more power delivery). Keep in mind a few things regarding PSU selection:

  • Noise. On my current machine, my not-particularly-quiet EVGA PSU is now emitting a subtle 'coil whine'. Corsair's RMx series is apparently really quiet in comparison to just about anything else.

  • PSUs lose about 4% of their capacity each year, so it usually pays to have at least a +100w buffer above what you actually need.

  • If your computer is in use for quite a few hours a day, you probably want at least Gold efficiency. This will save you on energy costs.

CASE: Rosewill - THOR V2 ATX Full Tower Case ($109 at Amazon)

Admittedly, I'm just getting the same case I used for my current build. It's absolutely enormous and weighs something like 30 pounds empty... but in exchange, you get basically unlimited space for whatever components you want. More importantly, it has the perfect combination of airflow AND relatively low noise.

The performance of this thing is great because it comes standard with 3x 230mm fans. I don't understand why more cases don't use these. If a fan is much bigger, it can run at a much lower RPM while moving the same amount of air. Lower RPM = less noise. While it's not a 100%-silent case as it lacks acoustic treatment, for my usage in the studio it's great. Combined with the NH-D15 and the 850x, I expect virtually no noise.

----

And that's the build! I plan on taking it to my local Micro Center for assembly once the 9900k arrives. Micro Center (or Fry's, on the West Coast) is a great option for getting a PC built as the fee is quite reasonable compared to custom DAW PC makers (~$150 for the build process). There are many advantages to having your PC professionally assembled locally:

  • No chance of a part being damaged in shipping. If a component is DOA, they can simply replace it from their own shelves as needed.

  • They will fully test the system to make sure everything is working and stable, with OS installed.

  • If problems do develop, you can take the machine back for them to diagnose and fix the problem, if you don't have the tools to do so yourself.

Hope this explanation was helpful to those of you considering a new DAW soon!
 
Last edited:

funnybear

Member
Thanks a lot for this! Great write up. Let us know once you have it up and running and have done some tests.
 

Damarus

Active Member
Looks good! You've done your homework.

I don't know if anyone has had this experience, but I feel like my DAW ran faster on a SATA SSD, compared to my M.2 960 PRO.
 

EvilDragon

KSP Wizard
three M.2 slots and 8 SATA3 ports.
Do note that M.2 slots will disable most of those SATA3 ports unless they put them on their own controller - and they didn't, reading the specs on the website they say:

*M2_1, SATA3_0 and SATA3_1 share lanes. If either one of them is in use, the others will be disabled.
If M2_2 is occupied by a SATA-type M.2 device, SATA3_3 will be disabled.
M2_3, SATA3_4 and SATA3_5 share lanes. If either one of them is in use, the others will be disabled.

So effectively you're left with 3 SATA ports if you use up all M.2 slots on the mobo. Just so you know!


There's always a solution in having additional PCIe to M.2 cards if you need more M.2 slots. Or in case of SATA slots, you can go the way I did and get a LSI controller for attaching additional drives by using a SATA-over-SAS cable.
 
OP
zircon_st

zircon_st

Lead Developer
Yeah I did see that; but also note that the M2_2 slot only disables SATA3_3 if its a "SATA-type" M.2 device (as opposed to NVMe). So I should still have 4 SATA3 ports to use, plus as you said, can always do the PCIe to M.2 card!
 

heisenberg

Senior Member
One thing to note is this processor only has 16 PCIe lanes. That is a deal killer for me. Otherwise this processor is remarkable for users who don't require a lot of throughput with cards. Highly unfortunate.

Regardless, the info in this thread is excellent. Thanks Andrew.
 

Damarus

Active Member
One thing to note is this processor only has 16 PCIe lanes. That is a deal killer for me. Otherwise this processor is remarkable for users who don't require a lot of throughput with cards. Highly unfortunate.

Regardless, the info in this thread is excellent. Thanks Andrew.
Can you explain further what you need the throughput for? The non-extreme processors have had 16 PCIe lanes for awhile now.
 
OP
zircon_st

zircon_st

Lead Developer
16 PCIe lanes + the chipset lanes is enough to run a high-end graphics card, Optane SSD and 3 M2 drives. What else do you need the lanes for?

Also, I have made some slight adjustments to the build recently, namely returning the Noctua NH-D15 in favor of the Macho Le Grand RT. This is a ridiculously-named CPU air cooler that matches the Noctua on temperatures, but actually beats it w/ lower noise levels even under load. It also has no problems with RAM clearance, so to me it was a no-brainer choice.
 

chimuelo

Star Of Stage & Screen
Do note that M.2 slots will disable most of those SATA3 ports unless they put them on their own controller - and they didn't, reading the specs on the website they say:

*M2_1, SATA3_0 and SATA3_1 share lanes. If either one of them is in use, the others will be disabled.
If M2_2 is occupied by a SATA-type M.2 device, SATA3_3 will be disabled.
M2_3, SATA3_4 and SATA3_5 share lanes. If either one of them is in use, the others will be disabled.

So effectively you're left with 3 SATA ports if you use up all M.2 slots on the mobo. Just so you know!


There's always a solution in having additional PCIe to M.2 cards if you need more M.2 slots. Or in case of SATA slots, you can go the way I did and get a LSI controller for attaching additional drives by using a SATA-over-SAS cable.

I learned this the hard way before Motherboard manufacturers decided to inform us in their manuals.
Reviewers even failed to mention this, only telling us how fast they were.
The XP941 was only 128 GBs and knocked out 4 x SATA 3 ports.

I want a Micro ATX w/ 3 x NVMe slots.
And nice somebody else confirms that Sample Loading gets a nice boost.
Streaming, maybe hard to tell on my rigs.
But Omnisphere and Audacity Love NVMe.

I think 3 x 2TB NVMe devices should do it.

Nice build Zirc..
 

synthnut1

Active Member
I’m seeing a lot of these later/faster processor builds running pretty hot, and some folks mentioning the need for water cooling....I’m watching this thread close to see how you make out with the Macho Le Grand RT....I can get away with 2- 1gb M2’s.....The price on the 2 gb M2’s scares me !!....Brings me back to SCSI days prices....I’m wishing you good luck on this build as I will be doing the same build once I know yours works out....Thanks for posting....It looks like a screamer !!!.....Jim
 

heisenberg

Senior Member
16 PCIe lanes + the chipset lanes is enough to run a high-end graphics card, Optane SSD and 3 M2 drives. What else do you need the lanes for
My machine is used for a lot more than just an audio workstation and also I want the flexibility to move my freelance business into other areas over time. Presently I use my machine to do a lot of heavy lifting in the video world. DaVinci Resolve requires you to have an unfettered pipe(s) to the GPU. If the motherboard PCIe slots are sharing buses to other PCIe slots and the number of lanes of two cards utilize an unequal amount of lanes the slots drop down to the lower card's lane requirement, at least in the case of Resolve and how it utilizes the GPU. It is possible, that has changed over the last few years... don't know.

I do Event Video Production and will be building a box that can do fairly complex video switching inside the computer rather than a dedicated hardware switcher which is what I am doing now. I need to stick a robust video input/output card in the machine...

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/prod...sign_bdlkdvqd2_decklink_quad_2_8_channel.html

I also want to be able to stick as many drives in this machine as possible for capture and storage of video for along with the whackload of sample libraries I have.

I am sure I will be installing additional PCIe cards in the machine or maybe other stuff down the road. This has always happened the past and I don't expect the future to be any different.

I see the gyrations that Mr. Evil Dragon has gone through to over come the lack of lanes in one of his machines.

https://vi-control.net/community/threads/anybody-using-a-pcie-nvme-ssd.48048/page-3#post-4095551

Although clever & notches up the geek cred, I don't want to needlessly go down that route if I can avoid it. Unless I am missing something due to the advance of CPU/Motherboard technology, it seems to me that unless I am truly backed into a corner and need to build a machine now, I should wait for a CPU as powerful as this but has more lanes. I want to have the potential to expand the utility of the PC over its lifetime. This approach has served me well in the past.

Please feel free to convince me otherwise, if you are so inclined :)
 

Bill the Lesser

Active Member
My own non-quantitative experience with a superfast M2 and mere Sata SSDs is that I can't detect any difference at all on my largest sample-heavy template.

Many of my Kontakt instruments seem to do processing during the loading phase that goes beyond just loading samples, that limits the speed for both types of drives. Maybe EvilDragon can comment on that, what's going on there? Blakus Cello is the extreme example. Otherwise, the superfast lookup abilities of both kinds of drives are more than adequate for grabbing samples in the ~200+ megabytes per second range which is way faster than I need. I'm kinda glad I spent the money on RAM.

But OTOH there may be combinations of instruments where gigabyte+ speed is more important.

I've got a i9-7900X on the biggest Noctua cooler with just one fan installed, base speed at 3.3gHz gives 35-40C in a warmish room, turbo on the cores to either 4.3 or 4.6gHz. Total overkill for DAWs, but wildly amazing with video editors. Nothing I do even with Premiere and Resolve and Photoshop pushes it over 65C for more than a few seconds.

If I'd known about the 9900 I might have waited, that cooler is a beast and might not fit every case or mobo. I actually built an internal support for the top ends of the cooler so it would torque the mobo, was easy with a couple 1/2 x 1/16 inch aluminum strips for the home supply store.
 
Last edited:

tack

Damned Dirty Ape
9900k should be fine temp-wise, it's a 95W TDP CPU.
The reviews coming in right now are showing the 9900k running quite hot compared to the 8700k. This video from der8auer goes into some more technical detail but ultimately it looks like die thickness is over double the 8700k which is impeding thermal transfer. (Could be they needed to make a thicker die for the soldering process to be more reliable in manufacturing. Double edged sword?)

Many of my Kontakt instruments seem to do processing during the loading phase that goes beyond just loading samples, that limits the speed for both types of drives. Maybe EvilDragon can comment on that, what's going on there?
I did some patch load time benchmarking and made some inferences on that issue (see the Thread Processing section).
 
OP
zircon_st

zircon_st

Lead Developer
In my own testing of an 840 EVO vs. XP941 (an older M2 drive, nowhere near as fast as modern ones), large 10gb+ libraries load almost 2x faster on the XP941.

Regarding 9900k's temperatures, I'm not concerned. Keep in mind when you see temps of 90+ that is typically an all-core 5ghz+ overclock on an extreme synthetic workload. Nothing we as composers do come anywhere close to that, I guarantee it. Stuff like AIDA64, Prime95, POV-RAY (etc) are useful synthetic benchmarks but are not a good indication of temps during normal usage.

I also want to be able to stick as many drives in this machine as possible for capture and storage of video for along with the whackload of sample libraries I have.

I am sure I will be installing additional PCIe cards in the machine or maybe other stuff down the road. This has always happened the past and I don't expect the future to be any different.
Ah, for those kinds of GPU & storage needs then I agree you would definitely want to go the HEDT route.
 

EvilDragon

KSP Wizard
I see the gyrations that Mr. Evil Dragon has gone through to over come the lack of lanes in one of his machines.
Hehe. "Gyrations". You have all those PCIe slots - use them! This is the best way to add more SSDs to your system without waiting for a mythical CPU that will have more PCIe lanes but have 5 GHz and xyz cores...