Death of my battlestation

After years of loyal service, my battlestation died recently a glorious death with all honors 🫡

I left the computer to do some heavy lifting (multi-core based compression and encryption of multiple large files) and when I returned the screen was black, with no further signs of life. The computer didn’t replied to pings either, it was just dead. A forceful reset was unsuccessful and I noticed that the CPU led was red. Uh oh …

CPU Led (red) is on. That’s typically not a good sign

After some attempts to re-fit the CPU, swap and replace memory DIMS, replace the onboard battery and praying to the three gods of desktop computers, there was a sudden realization.
The machine died in service while doing what it always did best. It was a honorable death and the machine shall be remembered for all eternity.

While disassembling the computer, I notice signs of increased heat stress on the mainboard:

The color change around those integrated circuits on the mainboard are signs of increased heat stress

The sudden death while under heavy load is also consistent with this type of hardware failure.
But I also guess it was one time for the old fella.

Early overclocking experiments

This mainboard/CPU/RAM combination is now more than 7 years old. It is based on the old AMD FX-8350 (Piledriver architecture) that I bought at the time to learn how to overclock a system. Back then it was an affordable 8-core CPU, which fitted my needs perfectly. I bought it with an expected lifespan of about a year, giving that I was doing heavy overclocking experiments. It lasted for 7 years, but I stopped overclocking after about half of a year.

Many people disliked the Piledriver architecture, because it was power-hungry and compared to Intel CPUs had crappy single-thread performance. For me it was a nice platform, because already back then, most of my workloads were perfectly parallelized. 8 CPU cores at 2/3 of the speed instead was in total a performance win for most of the stuff, I was doing. It was right for my needs, and I was very happy with this architecture for years to come.

For me, this was a good playing ground for overclocking and getting a more realistic expectation of how system should and should not behave. In the first year I was able to squeeze about 10-20% of performance out of the system, but depending on the outside temperature (it was early fall, and very mild I remember) the system stability was questionable on hotter days. I soon realized that those performance gains are not noticeable for me. System stability on the other hand very much is. Unexpected system freezes or weirdness sucks big time. A single system reboot destroys those 10% performance increase easily and leads to a lot of frustration.

Also: How much is a 10% time saving e.g. while compiling a Linux Kernel if you risk that the whole system frags itself and you have to reinstall your Linux system? 5 minutes time saved vs. a whole day of re-installing and re-configuring your system sounds like a risk I don’t want to have.

I concluded that system stability and predictable workloads are more important for me that a rather negligible and (at least to me) not noticeable performance increase. I much rather wait those 5 minutes longer than risking a whole day wasted, because the filesystem is broken due to a CPU lockup. Not worth risking the struggle on a production machine. No thank you.

So, after a year of performance experiments I reset the mainboard/CPU settings to default and left them there ever since. It remains a loyal machine for 6 more years to come.

The battlestation is dead. Long live the battlestation!

I need this computer for some of the work we do. It’s my virtualization lab and mothership for work and personal tasks. Stuff that I can’t or don’t want to do on a Laptop. Peripherals matter. Having a system that can run for hours uninterrupted matters. Hard disk space matters. At least to me.

So, following my old tradition of constantly upgrading parts of my computer, I decided to move to a Ryzen 5 CPU with a suitable mainboard and new RAM.

I can keep the rest of the system, including the power supply, storage devices, the GPU and the rest of the peripherals. For about 500 bucks I can get a decent upgrade to a modern workstation, which is much more power efficient and hopefully will last for another decade.

Goodbye old Piledriver. Many hated you, I loved you and can only say that we had a good time together. You were loyal and worked nicely for all of the things, that we did together. Couldn’t have wished for more.

Last look on the inside of my battlestation with the Piledriver CPU/Mainboard