Not too slow, not too expensive, just right - my quest for a goldilocks PC

I know I said I should use the computers I already have for processing my magazine scans, but I can’t resist the allure of a new computer. This blog post is me trying to salvage something out of all the research I pissed away most of the week on to try find my goldilocks computer.

The goal is to get as much CPU performance as possible for a dollar. Simple as that. Power consumption and noise are important, but secondary factors for me. I want to spend the least amount of money for the beefiest set of CPUs.

Comparing the performance of an old CPU is tricky. Most modern CPUs are on the useful Open Benchmark site with more relevant tests like video compression and so on, but older and more niche CPUs (like the four socket Xeons) aren’t on there, making it difficult to compare directly. Even then, some of the CPUs don’t have all the same tests, making it even harder to compare. As much as I loathe it, GeekBench has a massive database of CPUs and they’re all using the same test to get their score, so it’s useful as some sort of baseline for comparing CPUs to CPUs.

I’ve ended up making a mini database of all the 6 core+ LGA2011, LGA2011-3 and AMD Ryzen CPUs, along with 4-core “consumer” CPUs with the LGA 1150, 1151 and 1155 sockets, along with their Geekbench and the cheapest price I can find the CPU or a system using those CPUs.

Rackmount Servers
1RU servers are too noisy with their little fans, so I don’t want one of those. I’d love a blade chassis, but they’re extremley noisy, even when shoved in my garage and running idle. That means 2RU and 4RU servers are the go here.

Intel CPUs older than Sandy Bridge are just too power hungry and run too hot for little gain. AMD’s Opterons of the same era don’t seem worth the effort. There’s not many benchmarks around and the ones that are (i.e: Passmark) have them so much weaker than the comparable Intel CPUs.

Any AMD EPYC or Intel Xeon Silver/Gold/Platinum CPUs are just way too expensive, so there’s no point even looking. It’s insane how much those servers still sell for. Multiple thousands of dollars!

This leaves the following servers for me to pick from: Dell R720 (2RU, 2x CPU), Dell R820 (2RU, 4x CPU), Dell R920 (4RU, 4x CPU), Dell R530 (2RU, 1x/2x CPU), Dell R730 (2RU, 2x CPU), Dell R830 (2RU, 4x CPU), Dell R930 (4RU, 4x CPU), HP DL380 G8/G9 (2RU 2x CPU), HP DL560 G8/G9 (2RU 4x CPU).

The cheapest of those seems to be the DL380 G8. There’s one on eBay for $304. If I replace the CPUs with 2x E5-2680 v2 for $180 and get 8x DDR3-1866 sticks of RAM (the RAM that comes with the server is slower than the max this CPU can handle) for ~$100, the total price comes to $578 for 11550 Geekbench points. A very nice 20 points per dollar.

Tower Servers
Not as common as rackmount servers, but tower servers (usually shoved in some office and left to gather dust for years running Windows Server, then sold when the IT guy comes and says “hey that’s a piece of shit” and sells them a new one or migrates everything to the cloud) are still a thing and have dual CPUs. This means they’re sometimes sold off by people with no idea about tech - which can work both ways. If they want it gone you get a bargain, if they think their $5,000 server is still worth $5,000 almost 10 years later, well good luck buddy.

The models of interest here are the dual-CPU HP ML350e Gen8, ML350p Gen8, ML150 Gen9, ML350 Gen9 and Dell T620, T630, T420 and T430.

There’s plenty of these around, but I’m only interested in the dual CPU ones. These are the Lenovo P700/P710/P900/P910 (2x LGA2011-3), Dell Precision T5600, T5610, T7610, T7600 (2x LGA2011) or 7810 7910 (2x LGA2011-3) and the HP Z620 (2x LGA2011) & Z640 (2x LGA2011-3).

AMD Threadripper 1920X CPUs are a performance to dollar bargain AliExpress ($250 for 12 modern cores!), but the total system cost blows out due to the high cost of TR4 socket mainboards. They aren’t sold new anymore and the used ones I can find go for around $1,000. Then I’ve gotta buy all the other bits (case, PSU, RAM, etc) and the price easily hits $2,000. What a shame.

There’s a plethora of cheap X79 and X99 Chinese mainboards and the CPUs that go with em. But like the Threadripper, once you buy a case (needs to be a big E-ATX unit, two CPU coolers, and a beefy PSU), the price gets up there compared to a Dell or HP server. X299 boards go cheap too, but the LGA2066 CPUs to match are far more rare and expensive.

Intel-based SFF & Used PCs
These are basically the consumer rigs using the LGA1150, 1151 and 1155 sockets. Anything more modern costs too much for not much more performance gain (thanks Intel) and anything older isn’t worth the electricity.

I like SFF PCs as they’re small, cheap and easy to find 2nd hand - but they’re always so poorly specified due to corporate use. Lots of i3 and i5 CPUs which lack HyperThreading. Upgrading the CPUs to an i7 isn’t cheap as they were rare in the first place and eople are looking to give these cheap PCs a boost making it a supply and demand issue.

SFF PCs sporting LGA1151 CPU sockets and Q-series chipsets (e.g: Dell Optiplex 7040 and HP ProDesk 600 G2) can technically support 6 and 8 core CPUs like the i7-8700 and i9-9900 - but lack BIOS support from the manufacturer. Very annoying as I could buy an i5-6500 and then chuck in a i9-9900, but can’t because the OEMs are lazy. There’s people doing BIOS hacks to update the microcode, but looks like a lot of fucking around.

That said, if I can get some SFFs PCs at the right price they can be competitive. There’s no remote management like a server, but once I install Linux on them, there’s nothing else to really do.

DIY Ryzen PC
The AM4 platform is cheap as hell for a modern PC. Everything I need except the CPU will set me back $380 brand new (I have a couple of old 1GB Quadro GPUs that’ll work fine here). Then I can slide in any Ryzen CPU I can find at a good price.

Apple Mac Mini with M1 CPU
These little guys are Apple’s best value computers, but in this context they’re not as good value for money in comparison to Intel/AMD units. I could pick up an M1 Mini for $750, but the Geekbench score is low at 7422, resulting in only 9.8 points per dollar.


  • Dell R720 (2x E5-2667 v2, 64GB RAM, no HDDs), 11,600 points - $550 (21.09/dollar)
  • HP DL380e G8 (2x E5-2680 v2, 80GB RAM, no HDDs), 11,900 points - $475 (25.05/dollar)
  • HP ML350e G8 (2x E5-2680 v2, 32GB RAM, 3x 600GB SAS), 11,900 points - $713 (16.69/dollar)
  • Lenovo P700 (2x E5-2683 v3, 64GB RAM, 256GB SSD), 15,800 points - $915 (17.2/dollar)
  • DIY X99 rig (2x E5-2683 v3, 64GB RAM, 500GB SSD, E-ATX case, PSU, 2x HSF, X99 mobo), 15,800 points - $1263 (12.51/dollar)
  • HP EliteDesk 800 G1 (i5-4590, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD), 2720 points - $100 (27.2/dollar)
  • HP ProDesk 600 G1 (i7-4770, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD), 3372 points - $120 (33.72/dollar)
  • HP Z230 (i7-4790, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD), 3464 points - $170 (20.38/dollar)
  • DIY Ryzen rig (Ryzen 9 5900X, A520M mobo, 16GB RAM, 500GB SSD, case, HSF, 450W PSU), 4906 points - $1030 (13.6/dollar)