Overclocking an AMD L110-based Netbook

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Here I document how I overclocked my netbook from 1.2 GHz to 1.43 GHz using a simple software program and some trial and error. Performance was improved, with only a modest increase in load temperatures and no increase in Vcore.

The Victim

Recently my laptop (HP DV8372EA) suffered a rather high-speed encounter with a floor, which resulted in a broken screen, DVDRW drive and a twisted chassis. While the laptop is away for repair (or, for them to decide it can’t be repaired and send me vouchers for a replacement) I had to resort to the netbook, a Packard Bell Dot M/A, for my studies. As a postgraduate student I spend a lot of time processing and fitting data and often run multiple applications. The unit is pictured below next to my girlfriend’s Studio 15.

Packard Bell Netbook

Packard Bell Netbook

Small, but overclockable?

Small, but overclockable?

Specifications:

  • 11.6″ 1366×768 screen
  • AMD Athlon 64 L110 CPU (1.2 GHz)
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 320 GB HDD
  • ATi X1270 graphics
  • Windows 7 Home Premium

It’s a pretty standard specification for a netbook: a low-powered, single-core CPU with a small yet decent screen and an average-sized hard disk drive. However, I am used to heavily multitasking. I typically have Spotify, Excel and/or Word and/or Powerpoint, Chrome, PuTTY and Outlook all open at once. I also frequently use apps such as Bruker Topspin  and Berkeley Madonna as well, both of which can lean heavily on system resources. The machine copes admirably with the thrashing, but there was potentially something to gain from overclocking.

Stock Performance

Performance was gauged at stock using two tests. SuperPI Mod 1.5 XS tests the CPU power and 3DMark2001SE gauges the gaming ability of the laptop. An older version of 3DMark was chosen deliberately; the graphics card isn’t particularly strong and so using a newer benchmark would potentially result in low scores, overclocked or not. 3DMark2001SE is most likely to show improvement with higher clock frequencies. In terms of games you would play on a netbook, a lot of these are from around the early 2000s.

Each benchmark was run twice; 3DMark2001SE scores were 2554 and 2601 and SuperPi (1 million digits) times were 1 min 37.641s and 1 min 23.632 s.

3DMark2001SE Score

3DMark2001SE score at stock: 2601

SuperPI 1M time at stock: 1 min 23.632 s

SuperPI 1M time at stock: 1 min 23.632 s

Overclocking Using SetFSB

I managed to overclock the netbook using SetFSB, but not without crashing the machine a few times. Packard Bell and Gateway are both owned by Acer, and my netbook shows striking similarity to the Gateway LT3103. A thread on a Gateway Netbook forum suggested how SetFSB could be used to overclock the machine, however the instructions would not work for me.

Instead I experimented; the ICS9248BF-102 profile in SetFSB, pictured below, has thirty possible settings. Settings 1, 3, and 10 crashed the netbook. Settings 9, 10, 19 and 20 increased the FSB from 200 MHz to 240 MHz (and hence clockspeed from 1.2 GHz to 1.43 GHz). The remaining settings did nothing. CoreTemp was used to double check the CPU frequency and to monitor temperatures. I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t reach the 1.6 GHz claimed elsewhere to be achievable, but resorted to testing out my new found extra speed.

A painless 20% overclock?

A painless 20% overclock?

Overclocked Performance

The same two tests were run, again in duplicate. 3DMark2001SE scores were 3155 and 3134 3DMarks and SuperPI (1 M) times were 1 min 8.796 s and 1 min 5.333 s. This corresponds to a 21% increase in 3DMarks and a 22% decrease in SuperPI times. Of course, there’s only one overclocked data point here (I couldn’t get an intermediate overclock) but performance seems to increase by the same proportion as the overclock.

Overclocked score: 3155

Overclocked score: 3155

Overclocked time: 1 min 5.333 s

Overclocked time: 1 min 5.333 s

Temperatures Under Load

There was a modest increase in temperatures. Under load (Rosetta at Home), temperatures are 58 – 59 °C while overclocked. This is a modest increase from 52 – 54 °C when at stock. The laptop is used at a desk for now anyway, so a few degrees doesn’t make a difference. For the same reason I haven’t assessed the impact on battery life. I always put it into ‘Power Saver’ mode when it’s on the battery; performance is less of a concern if I can get extra time away from the mains power.

Running happily under load; crunching for Overclockers.com Rosetta at Home team.

Running happily under load; crunching for Overclockers.com Rosetta at Home team.

A Subjective View on Performance

Of course, not all performance can be measured entirely objectively and quantitatively. The laptop in general feels faster although there is opportunity for a “Placebo effect” of sorts to creep in here, knowing that the machine is overclocked. Watching high-definition video is one of the most challenging things a netbook might be asked to do, and with this in mind I tested a few videos out.

I downloaded some sample 720p and 1080p videos in WMV format from Microsoft (“Robotica”). These videos played smoothly at both at stock and overclocked, so don’t represent a great test of the increased clock speed.

Microsoft's "Robotica" 720p and 1080p videos played smoothly even at stock.

Microsoft's "Robotica" 720p and 1080p videos played smoothly even at stock.

I sought a couple of tests that would perhaps be very difficult at stock, but easier overclocked. I came up with two tests.

  • Watching HD video on YouTube: I picked a Kings of Leon music video that was available in both 480p and 720p formats.
  • Watching HD video in VLC: I happened to have an episode of “Bones” in 720p on a pen drive, courtesy of my better half.

Watching the 480p YouTube video in Firefox was fine; the playback was smooth. The 720p version of the same was a different story: very choppy with most frames dropping. Likewise, the 720p TV episode wasn’t watchable as the netbook could not keep up. Once overclocked the results were variable. The 720p YouTube video still wasn’t smooth, with occasional dropped frames. It was, however, a noticeable improvement compared with stock performance. The TV episode was far better – it was smooth enough and very rarely stuttered. I’d be quite happy to watch a whole 720p TV episode on this machine. I suspect that even overclocked the netbook cannot handle the processing overhead of Flash and a web browser but the extra speed allows it to play HD content in VLC.

720p in VLC was too much for it ...

720p in VLC was too much for it ...

"Whoooaaah... this chip is on fiiiiiiire!"

"Whoooaaah... this chip is on fiiiiiiire!"

Conclusions

It took less than half an hour to sort out a decent boost in performance on what is viewed as typically a low-power machine, without any increase in VCore. The only trade off is a small increase in CPU temperature, which should make any (inevitable) decrease in CPU lifetime modest at worst.

David

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Discussion
  1. I went from 2.0 to 2.4 plus i lowered the volts also.It wont pass p95 for to long but it's just for internet or an occasional movie. Otherwise it's pretty snappy. Ram is running at 800 now so thats cool. Beats spending $120.00 for a TL-62 chip.
    That sounds right. What version of flash were you using again? 10.1 and up have some hardware acceleration in them.

    BTW, any recommendations for HD and SD video testing and measuring actual rendered framerate? (Say in VLC, WMP, KMplayer, etc.)

    Parcelforce just delivered my BCM970015 this morning. :-)
    So, I've finally got around to replying after ... uhh... 3 weeks. Sorry!

    The WMV may well be being handled by the graphics, wheras Flash is likely all CPU. I'm not sure about VLC. Chrome didn't perform any better than Firefox (I tried both).
    This is nice, David.

    I suspect the WMV / robotica result is due to the HD being handled in your separate graphics chip.

    Interestingly, newer flash versions also support some hardware-accelerated video (notably via the BCM970012 and BCM970015 that I've been eying for my ATOM-based netbook). If your card were supported, you might see similar results.

    What version of Flash do you have installed now? Out of curiosity, does Chrome perform any better on YouTube on those HD videos?