PCs

PC Upgrade

Back in the day, I used to be a PC build enthusiast, but as you can imagine things like starting a family can cause you to put hobbies like that on the back burner. So over the last 10 years or so, I’ve only minimally kept up with what has been going on in the PC world, and also have not put a lot of effort into my own PC setup here. But the old bug recently decided to bite me again, so I’ve been ramping back into the world of PC building and upgrading (especially budget acquisitions).

Before I go further let me give you a quick description of my current office PC setup. As some of you probably know, I’m primarily a Linux aficionado, so my main work PC is a Linux Mint 18.3 box based on an Intel Core i3-3240 with 16 GB of DDR3 RAM, which is getting a bit long in the tooth. Sometimes, I still need to run Windows programs (and I occasionally like to game on my PC), so I also fairly recently built a budget Win 10 PC from a Xeon X5460 (a decade-old quad core CPU) that I modded to work in a consumer-grade LGA775 motherboard, along with 8 GB of DDR3. That system was decent, but being based on a 10-year old processor, was also prone to showing its age at times.

I’d say that the rekindling of my interest in PC building as a hobby coincided with the release of AMD’s Zen architecture processors about a year ago, which is the first time that AMD has been competitive with Intel in performance for quite a few years. So as I have been watching how the first-generation Ryzen CPUs stack up against Intel’s offering, I have been more and more curious to try one. I used to be a pretty big AMD fan back in the Athlon 64 days, but I won’t deny that their later stumbles made me lose a lot of interest in them.

What really put me over the top was the more recent release of the two new Raven Ridge APUs (CPU plus integrated GPU): the Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G. The former being a 4 core/4 thread CPU for $99 and the latter 4C/8T for $169. Each has a Vega graphics core on the die; the 2200G having 8 compute units and the 2400G with 11 compute units. From looking at reviews of these APUs, it seemed that the processors in them were quite capable, and that for the first time ever, the integrated graphics could play quite a few modern games at 1080p with modest graphical settings and easily play almost any game at 720p. The real value sweet spot of the two seems to be the 2200G, which has a lot of performance for a $99 part.

So I decided that I wanted to build a Ryzen 3 2200G system to replace my X5460 Win10 box. And I wasn’t even going to use the integrated graphics at this point, since I also recently picked up a R9 270X for the amazing price of $40 on OfferUp. After selling off some spare gear on OfferUp and my For Sale page, I made enough money to get the parts that I needed. I used Camel Camel Camel to snag the ASRock AB350 Pro4 for $75, took advantage of an eBay sitewide 20% off coupon to grab an 8 GB kit of G.Skill F4-2800C16-4GVR DDR4 RAM for about $75, the 2200G for the MSRP of $99, and a Deep Cool GAMMAX 300 CPU cooler for $13 since I intended to overclock.

The build was very smooth, although I didn’t take a photo of the final result because I ended up using the only ATX case that I had on hand, which is kind of old and doesn’t have any cable management features, so it looks like a bit of a mess inside. Although I heard that the stock cooler that comes with the Ryzen isn’t bad, I wanted to have something better on hand so I could overclock without worry. I can say that while the GAMMAX 300 isn’t a total beast it does a pretty good job for the price. With the AB350 Pro4, I was able to overclock the CPU to 3.9 GHz (from stock 3.5 GHz) with no problems at all; as easily as tweaking the CPU core voltage and setting the frequency to 3.9 GHz in the UEFI. My CPU temperatures never got above 60°C in Cinebench, and maxed out at 70°C in Prime95. I also was able to easily overclock my kit of 2800 MHz DDR4 RAM to 3200 MHz by bumping up the RAM voltage just a little bit, which is really nice because the performance of these APUs are highly tied to the RAM speed. Without a doubt the easiest overclocking I’ve ever tried. The only minor hiccup that I encountered was that the Raven Ridge APUs take a special driver package that is different from the standard AMD unified drivers, so be aware of that if you ever build your own.

Next, I curious to see how the new rig would compare performance-wise with my old PC. After getting my overclock dialed in, I ran Cinebench R15 and got a score of 611, which is a fair bit better than the 550 score of the stock 2200G clock and nearly double the score of my old system, which was about 330.

I also noticed that the CPU-Z utility also has a benchmarking tool built into it, so I decided to give that a try as well. It gave my rig a single-thread score of 447 and a multi-thread score of 1783. You can see in the graph above that this score puts it near the top of the list of 4-core CPUs in their database, putting it on par with the last (7th) generation Intel Core i5s. It also whips the stock Ryzen 3 1200, which now looks to be a totally obsolete part since the Ryzen 3 2200G is $15 MSRP cheaper! (Yes, I know that most likely the R3 1200 in that chart is not overclocked, but I doubt it could get to my R3 2200G score even if it were.)

Overall I’ve been very impressed with my new system, and happy with my modest investment in it. It’s great to see a competitive AMD once again forcing Intel to compete instead of sandbagging like it has done for the last few years. I do plan to eventually convert my main Linux rig to a Ryzen system as well, hopefully in the near future. A hearty thumbs up all around from me.

Meta

Dang

A huge thank you to everyone who made the effort to try the Brave browser via my referral link. I ended up getting significantly more BAT than I expected from it. Given the current exchange rate of about $0.22, that’s a nice bit of funding for my work. I very much appreciate all of you who gave it a try. Hopefully you’ll continue to find it useful and will like the entirely new funding paradigm it brings to the Internet.

An extra shout-out to those who are funding the blog in an ongoing basis through Brave Payments. You’re awesome! I feel a lot better about this than using Patreon.

On a side note, OpenBeacon Mini firmware is just about in a state where I can send some initial units out for testing. I’ll have more on that soon. My next blog post will be about some interesting PC upgrades. That should be dropping quite soon. Cheers!

Meta

I Failed To Take My Own Advice

It’s easy enough to give other people directives, but not so much to live up to them. I thought I had managed to dodge the latest round of the upper respiratory viral infection that settled into our house, but I was wrong. The last five days have been riddled with a lot of coughing and congestion. Ugh.

At least now I seem to be on the rebound again, so I can get back to doing some productive work now that I’m back to getting some semblance of a full night of sleep and some of the mental cloudiness is starting to lift. I know I’ve failed to do so the last few times I’ve mentioned a Twitch stream, but I think there’s a good chance I’ll actually be able to do it this Saturday, even if with a scratchy voice. Stay tuned for further info.

Microcontrollers

Si5351 Library Mbed Port

A quick note to let you know that courtesy of David Mills, G7UVW, the Etherkit Si5351 Arduino library has now been ported to the Mbed platform. He reports that it seems to be behaving the same as the Arduino library, so if you’re an Mbed user, definitely go check it out. I was giving some consideration to making this port, but I’ve got so much other stuff on my plate at the moment that I just hadn’t got around to it yet.

Three cheers to David for this! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Etherkit, Meta

Another Shack Cleaning!

Guess what? I realized that I had a bunch of microcontroller dev boards and such that I was probably never going to use, so I figured it would be time to put them up for sale, along with some other miscellaneous electronics stuff as well.

Please peruse my listing on my For Sale page!

Also, for a limited time, I’ve decided to bring back my old EtherProg AVR programmer, this time as an assembled product, lovingly built and tested by me. Only $9 plus shipping! Cheap!

Meta

Be Brave

As previously mentioned, I’ve been experimenting with using the combination of the Brave browser and its advertising partner program to bring in some extra funding for my work (and replace what I was getting from Patreon). You can see from my last blog post on the topic that the results have already been positive.

Now comes word of a new referral program to try to convince more folks to use the Brave browser. If you download and use the Brave browser via my referral link, I can score some BAT from Brave, which helps to fund my work here.

The thing is, I do think using Brave is quite beneficial to you as a user. It’s based on the Chromium engine and is quite snappy. Ad and tracker blocking is baked into the cake by default. It also has a nice feature of upgrading many non-encrypted connections to HTTPS. And I do believe that the Basic Attention Token model of funding is a much more sane and honest way to do things compared to the current model of ads, trackers, spyware, hidden cryptocoin miners, and general trickery that a lot of sites use. So I like supporting a paradigm shift in this field.

The caveat is that Brave is still in what I would consider a beta state; which I would define to mean that it mostly works as it should but you might run into an odd bug here or there. But in my experience it is pretty stable and mature enough to use regularly. If you have even a bit of computer savvy, I think you’ll be fine.

I don’t know if this will be the wave of the future, but I think if it’s not than something similar will be. Give it a try and see what you think.

Meta

Stay Healthy, My Friends

Feh.

This has been a nasty cold and flu season. After having it hit our house twice already this winter, we were struck again this week, with everyone in the house getting pretty ill with the exception of myself. That meant that I had to attend to the family’s needs, and therefore didn’t get much work done on OpenBeacon Mini this week. Fortunately, everyone is now healing and I can devote more time to work again.

I’ve previously mentioned how I upgraded the office/shack network infrastructure by running Ethernet cable from the living room router and by upgrading our internet package. Now, I’ve completed phase 2 of the upgrade by getting a new Asus AC-1900 router to replace the cheap old TP-Link TL-WR841N that we were previously using. The difference between the two are like night and day. Not to mention that the old router didn’t even have Gb Ethernet support, so all around the networking situation is much better now. Good times.

My dog’s fur gets everywhere, as you can see.

Back to OpenBeacon Mini for a moment. I’ve completed about 80% of the menu system at this point. This menu system is almost entirely new code, which is why it is taking a significant amount of time for me to get it complete. A significant portion of it is being implemented as an Arduino library, so once I’m satisfied that it’s working correctly, I’ll publish the library in the Library Manager and let you know about it. The rest of the coding needed to get OpenBeacon Mini in a state where it’s suitable for broader testing should proceed at more of a brisk pace, since I can leverage a lot of the pre-existing OpenBeacon 2 code. More updates to follow soon!

Coding

Si5351 Programming Flowchart

I recently received this nice flowchart in email from Joe Marin, CO7RR which documents a method for programming the Si5351. It looks slightly different from the way I do it in the Si5351 Arduino library and I haven’t personally tried it, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but I wanted to pass it along in the spirit in which it was offered. I have seen different algorithms used by different projects, so I know that there is definitely more than one way to do it successfully.

This reminds me that I get inundated with requests for help and bug reports/feature requests for the various open source code that I maintain, and it’s kind of difficult for me to stay on top of all of that, plus work on developing new products, as I’m mostly a one-man operation. I do try my best and thank you for your patience, as I know I don’t answer a lot of you as quickly as would be ideal.

Anyway, hopefully this will be helpful to others. Thanks Joe!

Meta

Many Thanks

Today I received a pleasant surprise in my inbox:

That’s a bit more than $8 at the current exchange rate.

I didn’t know that someone (or multiple someones) was already using the Brave browser and allocating Basic Attention Tokens to me, so that was a really awesome surprise for me today. Thank you very kindly to the person or people who have taken the effort and funds to contribute to me in this way. Since abandoning Patreon, I still haven’t found a good strategy for on-going funding, but it would be great if this method picks up steam. It was a little bit painful to give up the monthly Patreon funds, but I still feel quite good about the decision from a moral standpoint. I’m looking forward to seeing if this model can actually become a thing. From the sound of this, the idea is picking up some steam. The token giveaway mentioned in that article is over, but they say there will be another soon, so watch for it.