BricsCAD on AMD AM4 hardware

Just Another Workstation

This is a development page for a workstation. A workstation for general purposes and running BricsCAD in particular.

Our smallest workstation is the size of an A4 and is ~70 mm thick. That, combined with an A10-7890K is nice but needs much cooling under full load, realized by relative small PWM fans (60 mm). It means you can hear the computer from time to time. A power supply unit is in the case, which is a good thing. However, the model has simply no space for a large (spinning) hard disk.

So this page is about an AMD APU system, as small is possible, but without the drawbacks of our smallest system. Let’s consider some basics.

  • Fan size can be 60, 70, 80 or 90mm, PWM, two in the front. This defines minimum height.
  • Just an mini-ITX board, no riser cards.
  • Low profile CPU cooler, if necessary.
  • Storage is a bit complex:
    • A M.2 SSD for operating system and programs – no SATA speed bottleneck
    • Data disk:
      • Use a part of the M.2 SSD, optionally buy (expensive) extra space.
      • Using M.2 means an extra 2.5″ data drive can be positioned at the current main drive location.
        • Accept relative slow speeds for less used data although some 2.5″ drives are pretty fast in a relative way, like HGST Travelstar 7k1000 and high performance hybrids like Seagate FireCuda.

      • Optionally a data disk 3.5″, increasing height, unless used with the standard Wraith cooler. In a network it is tempting to get rid of 3.5″ block devices.
  • Front USB 3.0 and sound.
  • More depth, just a little, creates considerable more possibilities for layouts. It is nice to say: “My workstation is smaller than an A4”. But just a bit bigger with even better performance is justified.
  • 12V AUX output (for panel monitor)

As Don Strimbu explains in https://blog.bricsys.com/choosing-bricscad-hardware/, Single Thread Performance is important when working with CAD. But other programs like Blender can benefit from multiple cores. A compromise is not per definition bad. And that makes AMD a nice partner with not the highest STP but with very reasonable values and proper MTP values if you use for example an A12-9800 processor, you don’t have to wait for your CAD program in general. It is a very competitive CPU range and the only possibility to build a case this small. Considering the “rise of Ryzen”, it can be expected that this line is continued, Ryzen APU’s, with RX Vega graphics, are available today.

About two “disks”: Imaging the M.2 to drive number 2 is no luxury under Windows.

AMD’s sockets are AM4 now. That means a complete range of new motherboards as well and for us a challenge to get it all fitting. ASRock Fatal1ty AB350 Gaming-ITX/ac is such a board. This is going to be fun. But we’ll start with one prototype, too many things can go wrong when designing from theory only.

Enough talking, to the drawing board!

First System

First system is based on existing 2 mm stainless steel case, cut here: http://www.wettersnijer.nl/. It gives a good picture when trying to downsize volume…

Ingredients

Conclusions

  • Height of a standard AMD cooler (a huge Wraith Stealth) is a bit disappointing. However Noctua NH-L9i AM4 actually seams to work fine with a TDP of 95 Watt. Height is 37 mm.
  • There were some serious problems when building. AMD Ryzen 5 2400G is of the Raven Ridge generation and was just dumped on the market. As a result we were hit by bugs and motherboards that were not prepared. Quite annoying but ASRock and our supplier (azerty.nl) were very helpful. BIOS version 4.43 solved critical problems and Feb 21, 2018 we were up and running, probably one of the first worldwide with this configuration. If you’re interested, see: http://forum.asrock.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=7637&PN=2&title=ab350-raven-ridge-bios. ASRock proved again to be more than just a producer of quality motherboards. As of March 6 2018, I dare to say it performs very well!