PC desktop build, Intel, spectre issues etc.

This is and would be a longish one.

I have been using desktop computers for around couple of decades now. My first two systems were an Intel Pentium III and then a Pentium Dual-core, the first one on kobian/mercury motherboard. The motherboards were actually called Mercury and was a brand which was later sold to Kobian which kept the brand-name. The motherboards and the CPU/processor used to be cheap. One could set up a decentish low-end system with display for around INR 40k/- which seemed to be decent as a country we had just come out of non-alignment movement and also chose to come out of isolationist tendencies (technology and otherwise as well). Most middle-class income families got their first taste of computers after y2k. There were quite a few y2k incomes which prompted the Government to lose duties further.

One of the highlights during 1991 when satellite TV came was shown by CNN (probably CNN International) was the coming down of the Berlin Wall. There were many of us who were completely ignorant of world politics or what is/was happening in other parts of the world.

Computer systems at those times were considered a luxury item and duties were sky-high ( between 1992-2001). The launch of Mars Pathfinder, its subsequent successful landing on the Martian surface also catapulted people’s imagination about PCs and micro-processors.

I can still recall the excitement that was among young people of my age first seeing the liftoff from Cape Canaveral and then later the processed images of Spirits cameras showing images of a desolate desert-type land. We also witnessed the beginnings of ‘International Space Station‘ (ISS) .

Me and few of my friends had drunk lot of Carl Sagan and many other sci-fi coolaids/stories. Star Trek, the movies and the universal values held/shared by them was a major influence to all our lives.

People came to know about citizen based science or projects/distributed science projects, y2k fear appeared to be unfounded all these factors and probably a few more prompted the Government of India to reduce duties on motherboards, processors, components as well as taking Computers out of the restricted list which lead to competition and finally the common man being able to dream of a system sooner than later. Y2K also kick-started the beginnings of Indian software industry which is the bread and butter of many a middle class men-women who are in the service industry using technology directly or indirectly.

In 2002 I bought my first system, an Intel Pentium III, i810 chipset (integrated graphics) with 256 MB of SDRAM which was supposed to be sufficient for the tasks it was being used for, Some light gaming, some web-mails, seeing movies,etc running on a mercury board. I don’t remember the code-name partly because the code-names are/were really weird and partly because it is just too long ago. I remember using Windows ’98 and trying to install one of the early GNU/Linux variants on that machine. Ir memory serves right, you had to flick a jumper (like a switch) to use the extended memory.

I do not know/remember what happened but I think somewhere in a year or two in that time-frame Mercury India filed for bankruptcy and the name, manufacturing was sold to Kobian. After Kobian took over the ownership, it said it would neither honor the 3/5 year warranty or even repairs on the motherboards Mercury had sold, it created a lot of bad will against the company and relegated itself to the bottom of the pile for both experienced and new system-builders. Also mercury motherboards weren’t reputed/known to have a long life although the one I had gave me quite a decent life.

The next machine I purchased was a Pentium Dual-core, (around 2009/2010) LGA a Williamnette which had out-of-order execution, the bug meltdown which is making news nowadays has history this far back. I think I bought it in 45nm which was a huge jump from the previous version although still secure in the mATX package. Again the board was from mercury. (Intel 845 chipset, DDR2 2 GB RAM and SATA came to stay).

So meltdown has been in existence for 10-12 odd years and is in everything which either uses Intel or ARM processors.

As you can probably make-out most systems came stretched out 2-3 years later than when they were launched in American or/and European markets. Also business or tourism travel was neither so easy, smooth or transparent as is today. All of which added to delay in getting new products in India.

Sadly, the Indian market is similar to other countries where Intel is used in more than 90% machines. I know of few institutions (though pretty much rare) who insisted and got AMD solutions.

That was the time when gigabyte came onto the scene which formed the basis of the Wolfdale-3M 45nm system which was in the same price range as the earlier models, and offered a weeny tiny bit of additional graphics performance.To the best of my knowledge, it was perhaps the first motherboard which had solid state capacitors being offered/put in a budget motherboard. The mobo-processor bundle used to be in the range of INR 7/8k excluding RAM. cabinet etc, I had a Philips 17″ CRT display which ran a good decade or so, so just had to get the new cabinet, motherboard, CPU, RAM and was good to go.

Few months later at a hardware exhibition held in the city I was invited to an Asus party which was just putting a toe-hold in the Indian market. I went to the do, enjoyed myself. They had a small competition where they asked some questions and asked if people had queries. To my surprise, I found that most people who were there were hardware vendors and for one reason or the other they chose to remain silent. Hence I got an AMD Asus board. This is different from winning another Gigabyte motherboard which I also won in the same year in another competition as well in the same time-frame. Both were mid-range motherboards (ATX build).

As I had just bought a Gigabyte (mATX) motherboard and had made the build, I had to give both the motherboards away, one to a friend and one to my uncle and both were pleased with the AMD-based mobos which they somehow paired with AMD processors. At that time AMD had one-upped Intel in both graphics and even bare computing especially at the middle level and they were striving to push into new markets.

Apart from the initial system bought, most of my systems when being changed were in the INR 20-25k/- budget including all and any accessories I bought later.

The only real expensive parts I purchased have been external hdd ( 1 TB WD passport) and then a Viewsonic 17″ LCD which together sent me back by around INR 10k/- but both seem to give me adequate performance (both have outlived the warranty years) with the monitor being used almost 24×7 over 6 years or so, of course over GNU/Linux specifically Debian. Both have been extremely well value for the money.

As I had been exposed to both the motherboards I had been following those and other motherboards as well. What was and has been interesting to observe what Asus did later was to focus more on the high-end gaming market while Gigabyte continued to dilute it energy both in the mid and high-end motherboards.

Cut to 2017 and had seen quite a few reports –




All of which points to the fact that Asus had cornered a large percentage of the market and specifically the gaming market . While there are no formal numbers as both Asus and Gigabyte choose to releases only APAC numbers rather than a country-wide split which would have made for some interesting reading.

Just so that people do not presume anything, there are about 4-5 motherboard vendors in the Indian market. There is Asus at the top (I believe) followed by Gigabyte, Intel at a distant 3rd place (because it’s too expensive). There are also pockets of Asrock and MSI and I know of people who follow them religiously although their mobos are supposed to be somewhat pensive than the two above. Asus and Gigabyte do try to fight out with each other but each has its core competency I believe with Asus being used by heavy gamers, overclockers more than Gigabyte.

Anyway come October 2017 and my main desktop died and am left as they say up the creek without the paddle. I didn’t even have Net access for about 3 weeks due to BSNL or PMC’s foolishness and then later small riots breaking out due to Koregaon Bhima conflict.

This led to a situation where I had to buy/build a system with oldish/half knowledge. I was open to having an AMD system but both datacare and even Rashi peripherals, Pune both of whom used to deal in AMD systems shared they had stopped dealing in AMD stuff sometime back. While datacare had AMD mobos, getting processors were an issue. Both the vendors are near to my home so if I buy from them getting support becomes an non-issue. I could have gone out of my way to get an AMD processor but getting support could have been an issue as would have had to travel and I do not know the vendors enough. Hence fell back to the Intel platform.

I asked around quite a few PC retailers and distributors around and found the Asus Prime Z270-P was the only mid-range motherboard available at that time. I did come to know a bit later of other motherboards in the z270 series but most vendors didn’t/don’t stock them as there is capital, interest and stock cost.

History – Historically, there has also been huge time lag in getting motherboards, processors etc. between worldwide announcements, and then announcements of sale in India and actually getting hands-on to the newest motherboards and processors as seen above. This had led to quite a bit of frustration to many a users. I have known of many a soul visiting Lamington Road, Mumbai to get the latest motherboard, processor. Even to-date this system flourishes as Mumbai has an International Airport and there is always a demand and people willing to pay a premium for the newest processor/motherboard even before any reviews are in.

I was highly surprised to know recently that Prime Z370-P motherboards are already selling (just 3 months late) with the Intel 8th generation processors although these are still as samples rather than a torrent some of the other motherboard-combo might be.

At the end I bought an Intel I7400 chip and an Asus Prime Z270-P motherboard with 2400 mhz Corsair 8 GB and a 4 TB WD Green (5400) HDD with a Circle 545 cabinet and (with the almost criminal 400 Watts SMPS). Later came to know that it’s not really even 400 Watts, but around 20-25% less . The whole package costed me north of INR 50k/- with still need to spend on a better SMPS (probably a Cosair or Coolermaster 80 600/650 SMPS) with a few accessories I still need to complete the system.

I will be changing the PSU most probably next week.

Circle SMPS Picture

Asus motherboard, i7400 and RAM

Disclosure – The neatness you see is not me. I was unsure if I would be able to put the heatsink on the CPU properly as that is the most sensitive part while building a system. A bent pin on the CPU could play havoc as well as void the warranty on the CPU or motherboard or both. The new thing I saw were the knobs that can be seen on the heatsink fan is something which I hadn’t seen before. The vendor did the fixing of the processor on the mobo for me as well as tied up the remaining power cables without asking for which I am and was grateful and would definitely provide him with more business as and when I need components.

Future – While it’s ok for now, I’m still using a pretty old 2 speaker setup which I hope to upgrade to either a 2.1/3.1 speaker setup, have full 64 GB 2400 Mhz Kingston Razor/G.Skill/Corsair memory, an M.2 512 MB SSD .

If I do get the Taiwan Debconf bursary I do hope to buy some or all of the above plus a Samsung or some other Android/Replicant/Librem smartphone. I have been also looking for a vastly simplified smartphone for my mum with big letters and everything but that has been a failure to find in the Indian market. Of course this all depends if I do get the bursary and even after the bursary if Global warranty and currency exchange works out in my favor vis-a-vis what I would have to pay in India.

Apart from above, Taiwan is supposed to be a pretty good source to get graphic novels, manga comics, lots of RPG games for very cheap prices with covers and hand-drawn material etc. All of this is based upon few friend’s anecdotal experiences so dunno if all of that would still hold true if I manage to be there.

There are also quite a few chip foundries and maybe during debconf could have visit to one of them if possible. It would be rewarding if the visit was to any 45nm or lower chip foundry as India is still stuck at 65nm range till date.

I would be sharing about my experience about the board, the CPU, the expectations I had from the Intel chip and the somewhat disappointing experience of using Debian on the new board in the next post, not necessarily Debian’s fault but the free software ecosystem being at fault here.

Feel free to point out any mistakes you find, grammatically or even otherwise. The blog post has been in the works for over couple of weeks so its possible for mistakes to creep in.