Can You Upgrade a Processor on a Server? You Bet Your System Board. The Basics and Considerations
For those more familiar with the world of consumer or "end-user" devices such as laptops and small form factor desktops, upgrading the system's CPU is a likely foreign concept. While you can easily upgrade RAM and hard drives, most CPUs for laptops are fused to the system board, making such an upgrade not feasible (if not downright impossible!). And once you get into having to replace a whole system board on a laptop – the cost-benefit analysis usually shows that it makes more sense just to get a new machine.
This is not the case in the world of Enterprise servers. Rack servers are designed to have their processors removed and upgraded. While the process isn't as easy as upgrading RAM or swapping hard drives, there are situations where upgrading a server's processor makes sense.
But what are the scenarios where upgrading a server's processor is the best route? In this post, we'll cover the steps you can take to confirm a CPU upgrade is the way to go.
What's Causing the System to Slow Down?
The number one reason customers seek processor upgrades for their server is decreased performance. Often, we have customers that have added virtual machines to their server, or the system is hosting additional clients. In those situations, it is generally obvious that the server could benefit from a CPU upgrade.
However, in situations where the system performance has degraded for no discernible reason, it's critical to determine if this slowdown is caused by another issue before committing to a processor upgrade.
Make Sure Your Server is Clean!
Silicon – the primary element in processors – has minimal degradation in an optimal environment. What really can impact processor performance is heat. The dust in a computer chassis can severely impact the airflow and rotation speed of the internal fans. If you notice a decrease in performance on a server stationed in a dusty corner, that machine may be due for a proper cleaning.
You can check out our YouTube Channel video, TechMike Cleans a Server, for a step-by-step tutorial; at 2:24, we show you how to apply fresh thermal paste to a processor's Integrated Heat Sink. Degraded Thermal Paste can cause significant performance issues with Heat Sinks and processors.
Check the System to See Your Processor Usage
CPU usage varies on what the system is doing. Generally, CPU usage should be between 2-5% when idle, between 5-30% while running standard applications, and over 70% when performing heavy lifting such as rendering. If you find that the CPU usage is higher than those thresholds, it's probably an issue that needs addressing – either through a thorough cleaning or upgrading the CPU.
HOW DO I CHECK WHAT MY CPU USAGE IS ANYWAY? On Windows, Task Manager is the go-to integrated app that allows you to check CPU and RAM resources, as well as system vitals. In addition to the CPU usage, check the Logical Processor usage – this shows what the usage is within the processor's Cores. Certain applications aren't optimized to utilize all of the processor's cores, causing the bottleneck. Here is Microsoft's guide on using Task Manager to determine and troubleshoot high CPU usage.
Here is a general guideline for processors and tasks:
- For database servers – go with higher speed but lower core count.
- For virtualization servers – go with lower speed but a higher core count.
Lastly, are you upgrading a single server or several servers? The total cost of ownership on multiple server upgrades can be excessive. It's not just the hardware cost but the time to pull each server, upgrade the parts, and test that everything is up and running. A wholesale server refresh may be a better option.
If you are new to Enterprise rack servers and intimidated by the idea of upgrading a processor, worry not! The key is to confirm that a processor upgrade is what ails a slow system. In our next blog post, we’ll tackle processor compatibility so you can have a helpful guide on how to confirm you are procuring a compatible processor for your system.
And if you ever have any questions – on processors or anything else tech-related! – don't hesitate to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.