3 Jan 2012

The New NS2HD Rig

What the hell has NS2HD been up to for the past two weeks? Why are the videos so inconsistent? Read on. And brace yourself to cringe.

In these new-fangled modern times, buying powerful computers is easy. Jump on to Dell's site,  or whatever your preferred brand is, and you can have some decent hardware at a decent price. But what if you've got a bit of a PC building itch? Or you need a workstation to do serious, uptime-sensitive and time-critical work on, but don't want to pay workstation prices? What if you want to combine both? Well, then you can start browsing Newegg, or here in Australia, MSY, or whatever it is in your country. Ignore your wallet's screams, load up on the latest and greatest, and build it all yourself. Good fun. Except when it isn't.

Prepare your wallet for abuse
If you've built a couple of PC's, you'll know how this story is about to unfold. You've taken one look at the arrangement of hardware above and thought, 'You've overcomplicated, over-specced, and f***ed yourself.' Not far wrong.

For me, NS2 is not just a passion, or a hobby, it is a serious effort. It is about supporting a game that represents openness in development, encouragement of community creativity, and pushing the boundaries of independent game quality. If I am to support it in all the ways I want to, I need horsepower. Lots of it. High-definition gaming video production is one of the most demanding workflows a PC can be asked to perform. If you are serious about it, you need to be able to do six things:
  1. Record hundreds of gigabytes of gameplay footage at high frame rates
  2. Archive and organise that footage
  3. Edit the footage at speed
  4. Apply special effects and post-processing at speed
  5. Render a project in a reasonable amount of time
  6. Upload the rendered project in a reasonable amount of time
All but number six are dependent on the power of your PC. If you produce the occasional amateur video, you can probably put up with rendering overnight. If you are trying to produce regular gameplay commentaries, you need to measure your render times in minutes, not hours.

This is where the bleeding edge appears. For almost every single gamer and amateur video producer, a CPU like the the i5-2500k paired with a GPU like the AMD 6950 will never leave you frustrated at frame rates or render times. But if you're looking to regularly post gameplay, you might want to move beyond that level of performance. Suddenly, if you are trying to post three videos in one night, a 30 minute render sounds meaningfully better than a 45 minute render.

The Intel X79 with some recalcitrant OEM thermal paste 
Platforms like Intel's LGA2011/X79 cater to people for whom that 30 minute render is meaningful. Expense? easily twice that of LGA1155/Z68. Value? Well, sometimes value is not measured in $/FPS. Sometimes a marginal speed increase in serious, data-intensive workflows is valuable.

An i7-3930k and its' future loving home

So the new NS2HD rig uses an i7-3930k. Six cores, twelve threads of 32nm Sandy Bridge architecture. It brings serious speed when applied to a serious worflow, like rendering out a video of me being owned by pewpew, or De Para. Moving from an AMD 1090T was not night and day, but the difference is welcome and noticeable.

1866mhz only really works in matte black
And RAM? What of it. It seems like only yesterday that I got excited about moving from 128mb to 256mb. Deus Ex (The original, mind) got a great FPS boost. Now I see After Effects chewing up 26 of my 32 gigabytes and think: 64 is looking mighty attractive...

Twins to play with... CPU's have never had it so good
Back to reality, and in early 2012 32Gb is a large amount of RAM, by any measure. And do not let anyone tell you it is excessive if you are looking at serious video production. Render to 8mbps H.264 from raw FRAPs, at 1080p30, and Premiere Pro will slice through 16Gb like butter. Add some After Effects compositions over the top, and you will rapidly close in on 32Gb.

While we're on the topic of twins...

Before you even get a chance to sacrifice your RAM on CS5's altar of rendering-greediness, you need to render your frames. When it comes to reliable, high FPS for recording, a single very powerful GPU is always preferable. SLI GTX 560's might give you higher FPS on the edge, but a GTX 580 or 6970 will give you more consistent FPS. When recording, consistency is crucial.

Said twins, now clothed

Of course, SLI or CrossFire is perfectly fine if the individual GPUs are so powerful that the inconsistent framerate is sitting up in the stratosphere. For example, the GTX 590 above.
As the card renders the frames, you need somewhere to put them. Recording at 1080p30 will eat one gigabyte in less than a minute. Recording a long game, or sequence of games, requires hundreds of gigabytes. A few nights worth and you are breaking one terabyte without sweat.
HDDs are boring to look at, so here's a chipset waterblock instead

A single decent quality 7200rpm HDD will sustain a 70-110mbps write, provided the write is close to the centre of the platter. That is easily enough to write 1080p30 in FRAPs, but won't sustain 1080p60 close to the outside of the platter. So to be sure, I whacked 3 Samsung F3 1Tb's in RAID 0. And yes, I bought them before Thailand! In total, the new rig uses ten separate SATA disks.

That about sums up the guts of the new NS2HD editing rig. If there's enough interest in what else went into it, and why I chose certain components, disk arrays etc, I will make another post.
Pumps turn out to be posers for the camera

Oh - And the blocks, pumps, reservoirs? Why watercool this thing? Well now... Why not! Ambient +15C load temperatures on a GTX 590 is truly something to behold.

So what was the problem? Why did I say it nearly killed me? Let's see... How about:
  • Spilling one whole litre of water on the motherboard
  • BSOD after BSOD after BSOD
  • Marvell RAID drivers not installing in Windows
  • Memtest86 showing defective RAM (When it turned out not to be defective!)
  • GTX 590 deciding to take a siesta and give me no POST
  • Hard crashes during gameplay recording
  • BIOS corruption
  • Reservoir imbalances
Now, it's all sweet. But it was a painful, painful journey. Would I do it again? No. Call me a traitor, but next time I would seriously entertain Dell.com.

On second thoughts... Bugger that, I'd take the challenge any day.


  1. really interesting read as I am into these stuff, I understand the frustration behind building your own rig but its definitely worth the effort when everything wroks flawlessly.

    It is just one of those things that you have to put up with when you crave a PC tailored to you and your needs.

    I wanted to point out a typo, I think you meant the I5-2500K.

    "This is where the bleeding edge appears. For almost every single gamer and amateur video producer, a CPU like the the i7-2500k paired with a GPU like..."


  2. I liked everything, great photos love the explanation except.. your choice of HDD. I agree that SATA Raid is a must, but I'm surprised you did not go with Solid State. With near instant Read and Write times, its essential for getting the HDD to keep up with the amount of data the card is throwing on there. I'm jealous :-) Keep up the great work

  3. Great read. Out of curiosity; what was the main culprit?
    As in, what solved your issue?

    I had similar issues myself a year back or so.
    Memtest said the ram was fried, new ram did not help(or rather, it said that too was "fried").
    Burnin test found no particular error.
    After a lot of "hmmm", "maby if" some unmentionable words, and a GPU, CPU and motherboard later it was all running smooth again.

    An educated(all though wildly random) guess of my problem was the capacitors around the CPU.
    Alternately some BUS transfer errors on the motherboard, but what caused it all to start ... No clue.

  4. 1. I'm very interested in what RAM you got that could be connected to a watercooling block like that.

    2. And congrats on the effing watercooling!^^
    What radiator(s) have you got?

    3. Post more freakin pictures in general, show how the final thing turned out with the WC connected and all! :)

    4. Some misses...

    There's a differense between
    mbps, Mbps and MBps;
    milli-bit/s vs. mega-bit/s vs. mega-byte/s.
    Being "too cool to bother with case" doesn't work when talking technology.

    And it goes faster the further AWAY from the HDD center you are. Hint: radial velocity.

  5. I was hoping to make a joke about how your HDDs probably cost you more than the rest but then i read about when you bought them :D Anyway, it's a nice machine you've got there. Congratulations.

    So... what case is it all going into, which can hold 10 Hdds and 1 ssd? How many radiators do you use and where do you keep them (Inside or outside of the case)? Why are you using Ram-Coolers? Afaik they're pretty much useless - although i admit I'm not familiar with the lg 2011 platform.
    Also I would have taken an Enermax or Seasonic PSU over the Corsair but anyway...

    Looking forward to more NS2HD videos :D

    [was my first comment deleted or am I having problems with noscript?]

  6. So, now that you've built it... how much can I pay you to build another? :) I've built all my PCs (for more than 20 years), but it's still such a pain in the ass. I would totally go the dell.com custom PC way if they (or some competitor) had more options, especially on the high-end side of things. And I don't want to pay for stupid shit like custom cases. I want to pay the cheapest amount possible for fast, reliable hardware, all OEM parts etc., and THEN pay someone to put it together. Dell and those places put those service prices directly into the prices of the items, so everything seems too pricey and you don't know exactly where your money is going, or why things cost 1.5x what they do elsewhere. I'd pay 10%, maybe 15% to the person putting the computer together, not 50%.

  7. Nice setup mate! Sucks about the water spill haha :D I went with an enclosed water block for my cpu... I'll just move to Alaska if the GPUs get to hot :P

  8. Hey hugh can you put up what kinda OC uve got running on your new rig.



  9. What, we don't get any pictures of the finished build in the case?

  10. awesomesauce, can we get some benchmark results of some games... or some framerates when rendering 1080p footage? I get about 12fps when rendering at 16mbps 1080p.