Step-by-Step: How to Build a Cheap and Quiet AMD Dually

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Very detailed How-To – Chris McQuistion

This article is an attempt at explaining, once and for all, how to build a cheap and quiet AMD dually. I am, by nature, a very cheap guy. I’m also very, very picky about computer noise. It has been a serious mission, for me, to build an AMD dually that was both cheap and very quiet.

I have built five AMD duallies in the past two years and I have learned a lot. Many times, I learned by doing research. Many times, I learned by messing up, the first time (and the second time, and the third time…)

Hopefully, this guide will help you to build a very fast AMD dually without making the mistakes I made, or making bad decisions on hardware. This is not an Intel-vs-AMD discussion – it is simply the instructions for building a cheap, quiet and very, very fast dual AMD computer.

This article is targeted mainly to people building their system completely from scratch (i.e. no case, no nothing), although the information can also be just as useful to upgraders and system modders.

PURCHASES

*MOTHERBOARD*

MSI K7D Master – $182

Search Pricewatch for “MSI K7D Master, but do not get the K7 Master, which is a single CPU board.

MSI K7D Master-L (has onboard LAN) – $195

Search Pricewatch for “MSI K7D Master-L”.

The MSI K7D Master is considered the best dual AMD motherboard for overclocking. The Asus A7M-266D holds second place.

Whenever using Pricewatch to find resellers, make sure to run every reseller’s name through Reseller Ratings. Most of the resellers listed on Pricewatch are not very good. Reseller Ratings is a good way to find out who is worth ordering from and who isn’t. Personally, I don’t order from any reseller who doesn’t have a score of at least 8 out of 10.

*PROCESSORS*

Two XP1700’s, preferably T-bred B’s – $50 each.

These are great overclockers, often reaching 2.0 – 2.3 GHz on air.

*MEMORY*

512 MB Samsung Registered ECC PC2700 – $111.

Search Pricewatch for “Samsung Registered ECC PC2700.

You can use regular, unbuffered DDR, but AMD duals REQUIRE Registered DDR if you want to use more than two sticks. I prefer the Samsung Registered ECC PC2700 because it is capable of overclocking to 150 FSB, the limit of the motherboard, at fast memory settings. This is why I suggest the Samsung over Crucial Registered ECC PC2100. If you already have some unbuffered DDR, you can use that.

*HEATSINKS AND FANS*

Two SK-7’s – $20 each.

SVC is a good reseller for these.

See this thread for a list of heatsinks verified to fit on the K7D. I believe the SLK-800 and SK-7 are the best heatsinks because their performance is fantastic, even with low speed, low noise fans. I suggest the SK-7 for the budget-minded, because the SLK-800 costs 50% more yet only cools about 1 degree C better than the SK-7 with the same fan.

Two Panaflo L1A fans – $10 each.

These are great fans – they are very quiet and perform well on the SK-7 or SLK-800. Don’t forget when ordering to order tails for the fans. Stock, they only come with bare leads. These also make good case fans and replacement power supply fans. If you would like more flexible heatsink cooling, consider the Enermax Manually Adjustable 80mm fan. It has its own rheostat built in on a long cord, so you can manually change the fan speed. At low speed it is fairly quiet. At high speed it pushes a mountain of air.
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Chris McQuistion

*POWER SUPPLY*

500-550 Watt Power Supply – $20-75.

AMD duallies require a LOT of juice from their power supply. Most won’t run or will be quite unstable on a power supply less than 450 watts. There are a few exceptions, such as the Antec True 430, but these are VERY few. I have used cheap “Power Magic” Brand PSU’s between 500 and 550 watts. They have worked just fine, for me.

They are VERY, VERY cheap, but I have used them on two AMD duallies and haven’t had any trouble with them. Other well respected power supplies include Antec, TTGI, and Fortron. I have used Enermax and Vantec too, but they, like almost every other PSU, are too loud for my tastes. The Fortron P530XF530W 530 Watt PSU is supposed to be very good and is only $75.

*CASE*

Antec SLK3700AMB Case – $68.

Search HERE for “SLK3700AMB”.

One additional 120mm fan for intake – $10.

Duallies require a case with good airflow. A case with a single 80mm exhaust isn’t good enough. The Antec SLK3700AMB case has one 120mm intake and one 120mm exhaust. It also comes with one Antec 120mm fan and a 350 watt Antec Power Supply. This power supply isn’t enough juice for an AMD dually, but it is a great freebie that you can use on a single CPU system.

There is a great review of this case, with some good pictures, HERE. If you have a different case (using 80mm fans) you would like to use, make sure it has AT LEAST two 80mm exhausts and two 80mm intakes.

MODIFICATIONS

*CASE MODS*

The Antec SLK3700AMB case is a great choice for quiet computing for two reasons. First, it comes with rubber grommets for mounting up to five hard drives which really lowers the amount of transferred vibration from the hard drives. This transferred vibration is a major cause of system noise. Second, it comes with mounts for 120mm intake and exhaust fans. 120mm fans, at low speed, move more air and produce less noise than a couple 80mm fans.

Here’s a shot of my SLK3700AMB (forgive the picture quality):

Case

The only thing this case needs is a mod to the intake and exhaust fan grills. The intake and exhaust ports, unfortunately, are just little holes drilled into the metal chassis for airflow. This greatly restricts airflow and causes cavitation noise.

The ports, ideally, need to just be just one, big 120mm hole in the chassis. I suggest either a Dremel (the slow, clean way) or a jigsaw with a metal cutting blade (the quick, dirty way). Cut the port completely open. Make it one, big 120mm hole, instead of that swiss-cheese look they give you at the factory.

When you’re doing the cutting, make sure the case sides are on because they give the case strength and stability while you’re hacking away at it. Also, it is a good idea to set the case on a towel or something to keep it from getting marred. Put tape all around the hole where you are cutting, to keep the chassis from getting scratched up.

The 120mm fans don’t attach to the case. They actually attach to a plastic housing which is then attached to the case. This housing also needs some work. It has cross braces all over the place – there are too many of them and they restrict airflow a bit, too. Grab a pair of angle-cutters and cut some of those out.

This is what the rear should look like after you cut out the hole and trim those cross braces:

Case Exhaust

I know the picture quality is bad, but you get the idea.

The case comes with one 120mm fan located at the exhaust – it is an Antec and is pretty good. I suggest getting one more 120mm fan for the intake too, preferably one with a Molex connector. The last case mod is really a fan mod. For lower system noise, mod both fans for 5V or 7V. They will still move a good amount of air, keeping the system supplied with fresh, cold air for those soon-to-be-overclocked CPUs.
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Chris McQuistion

*MOTHERBOARD MODS*

There is one main mod to do. The K7D comes with a fan on the Northbridge heatsink that is noisy and unnecessary. I have three K7D systems – I have removed the Northbridge heatsink fan from all of them and haven’t had one problem.

No other mods are required – yet. The MSI K7D Master allows multiplier changes in the BIOS, up to 12.5, with CPUs that are unlocked by default. Those T-bred B XP1700s can reach up to 2 GHz, or higher though, so 12.5 won’t be high enough. Higher multipliers can be used. I will address this below.

*CPU MODS*

Athlon XPs can be modded to run as MPs. For all the information on this, including instructions on how to do the “L5 mod”, see this sticky. The first reply includes links to articles explaining the mod, with pictures! Note: If you bridge the L5s, you will need to scrape the bridges a little bit first to expose the copper – there is a thin coating over them. You can use a thumb tack or needle or similar to give those a little scrape first.

For the answer to almost any non-SMP-specific question you could ever have about AMD CPUs, please see this excellent FAQ.

If you want to overclock, you can overclock up to 12.5 x 150 = 1875 MHz just using the BIOS, no mods to the chips other than the L5 mod. If you want to overclock higher than that, then you will have to mod the multiplier.

There are two main popular methods that I have used. One is called “bridge blowing” and involves popping some of the L3 bridges using electricity. Sounds dangerous, but it isn’t. See this thread to find out more about this method. Please read the ENTIRE THREAD. Personally, I prefer the 5V method – it has worked consistently for me.

The other multiplier mod, called the “pin-mod”, involves modding the CPU socket on the motherboard to change multipliers. You just use little pieces of U-shaped wire, dropped into the appropriate socket holes, to achieve the desired multiplier. HERE is the interactive diagram for the method and HERE are the instructions. This method has three main benefits:

First, it is somewhat less nerve-wracking then blowing bridges;

Second, it is easily undone, or changed. In the bridge-blowing method, if you blow bridges and don’t like your results, you may have to re-mod the chip. Sometimes this involves re-bridging a bridge you have previously blown (not too difficult, but still.) In the pin-mod method, if you change the multiplier and don’t like your results, you can just remove the CPU and remove the mod or change it;

Third, this method may be better because of a new chip design from AMD. Some of the newest T-bred Bs now have a thick coating over all of the bridges. This can make it very difficult to get to them. For the L5 mod, it’s not a problem. You can just put some conductive paint in the pit of the appropriate L5 bridge and that will connect the bridges. For bridge-blowing multiplier modification, however, this is a problem because it is hard to get contact with the L3 bridges.

There is a third way to modify your multipliers, but I haven’t personally used it yet. I recently found it HERE, about a product that is a new version of the classic Golden Sockets adapter. This product claims to let you change the multiplier on any AMD CPU to anything from 5X-24X. Looks really promising. HERE is a link to the manufacturer’s spec page about the product.

The manufacturer does admit that you have to use CPUs that are unlocked (the L1s are not cut) to be able to use this product. Fortunately, that includes all T-breds and Bartons, as far as I know. This would be a good thing to have to test the overclockability of your CPU’s. Once you know, you can blow the bridges (or do the pin-mod), set the multiplier and be done. That way, you don’t have to blow bridges more than once or screw around with reconnecting bridges and such.

There is a review of this product HERE.
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Chris McQuistion

*POWER SUPPLY MODS*

Every 500+ watt PSU I have ever used has been too noisy, in my opinion. I always take them apart and replace the stock fans with Panaflo L1As. You can find a few articles that explain the process of replacing fans HERE, HERE, and HERE..

INSTALLATION AND TESTING

*CPU SMP AND MULTIPLIER TESTING*

First things first. The hardest thing about building an AMD dually with modded processors is modding the CPU’s and making sure that they really do show up as MPs… consistently. There is one sure-fire method, in my opinion, for getting this right and making your life easier.

First, do the L5 mod and let the conductive paint dry for a few hours;

Second, set up a stipped-down system outside the case. Set the motherboard on top of a non-conductive surface, such as a wooden table or FedEx box ;). Connect the system with ONLY the following components… Power Supply, Motherboard, one stick of RAM, and one video card. Do not plug in the PSU yet;

Third, put your first modded CPU in the primary CPU socket – this is the one in the middle of the board. Put on its heatsink and fan. Set the FSB jumper to 100 (this is useful for initial testing, because it removes a few variables);

Fourth, hook up your monitor and keyboard, then plug in the power supply. Boot up the system and make sure, when it shows the CPU, that is shows up as an “MP”. If it shows up as an XP, then your L5 mod is bad and you need to shut down, unplug the PSU, remove the CPU and redo the mod.

If it shows up as an MP, verify that it is showing the right multiplier. Your FSB is 100, so your XP1700, at stock, should be showing up as 1100 MHz (its default multiplier is 11x.) If you already modded the CPU for a higher multiplier, then verify that it is showing up properly. If you modded for 15x, then it should show up as 1500 MHz, etc. (If you plan on doing the pin-mod, wait until you have finished testing both CPU’s.);

Fifth, now that you’re done with the first CPU, you know that the L5 mod is good and you know that the multiplier mod is good (if applicable.) Shut down the computer, unplug the PSU, remove that CPU and put in the other one, again, in the Primary CPU socket. Test this one, individually, as you did the other.

Note: The reason for checking each CPU individually is that if you don’t, and you have a problem, then you don’t know where your problem is. Finding and fixing this can more time consuming and frustrating than just doing it right the first time. I have built five AMD duallies and I have learned these lessons the hard way. There is a smart way to do things, and there is a dumb/fast way to do things. Save yourself some headaches and learn from my mistakes;

Sixth, now you’re done with both CPUs and you have verified that they both, indeed, show up as MPs. Now, shut down the computer, unplug the PSU, do your pin-mod to both sockets (if applicable), then put in both CPU’s and their heatsinks and fans.

Boot up the system, still at 100 FSB, and verify that both CPU’s are showing as MPs and the multiplier is right. Now is a good time to check to see what BIOS version you are running. The latest (as of 8/4/03) is version 1.82. You should see the BIOS version on the top of the screen, above and to the left of the CPU speed during bootup. I suggest running BIOS 1.5, or later.

Now, go into the BIOS, because there is one important thing to change before you start upping the FSB.

The memory settings on this board sometimes have problems with certain kinds of memory. The Auto settings for some kinds of memory are too aggressive for the system to boot at 133 FSB. This affects several kinds of memory, but most notably Corsair brand PC2700 or higher. Set the memory settings to Manual. The best memory settings for this board are: 16,16,6,2,2,2,3. Use those settings if possible. If you’re running PC2700, those settings should be fine all the way up to 150 FSB (the FSB limit of the board.)

Note, if you are going to run a multiplier higher than 12.5x, then you need to leave the multiplier set to Auto in the BIOS. If you change it, the system won’t boot.
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Chris McQuistion

*INSTALLING THE OPERATING SYSTEM*

Now that you’ve verified that the CPUs are showing up as MPs and their multipliers are correct, it would be a good time to install an Operating System. Keep in mind that the only Microsoft Operating Systems that support dual processors are: NT, 2000, and XP Professional. You want to install the OS when the system isn’t really overclocked so you won’t possibly corrupt system files, during installation. I suggest just leaving your FSB jumper at 100; this will let the CPU run slower and more stable during the OS installation.

Your system should still be running outside the case. There is a reason for this – I will get to it later. Go ahead and hook up your hard drive, CD drive, and other PCI peripherals and install the OS.

Download and install your chipset drivers – you can get them HERE. (Ignore the five LAN drivers on the top of that page – they are for other motherboards.)

Download and install Motherboard Monitor. Set the sensors as follows:

  • CPU1: Winbond 2 2N3904
  • CPU2: Winbond 3 2N3904
  • Case Temp: Winbond 1

For testing purposes, configure it to start when the computer starts and to open the dashboard as well.

*CPU STABILITY TESTING*

Once the OS is installed and your drivers are up to date, download and install Prime95 HERE. This is an excellent CPU testing program. For instructions on how to install and run this program on TWO processors, see my post in the thread HERE..

Once that is installed, shut down, move the FSB jumper to 133 and boot up.

If the system won’t POST, then move the FSB jumper back to 100. Boot up, go into the BIOS and set the Vcore to a manual value higher than the default value. T-bred B XP1700’s have a default Vcore of 1.65. Try 1.675, then shut down, move the FSB jumper and try again. Repeat as necessary.

If the system does POST but Windows won’t load or you get a error message during bootup, then restart, go into the BIOS and give the CPUs a little more Vcore. Just take it up one notch at a time until Windows loads.

Once Windows loads correctly, run two instances of Prime95 for at least 30 minutes to check for initial stability. If Prime95 fails, reboot, up the Vcore a notch and try again. If you can run two instances of Prime95, overnight without errors, then your system is solid. An additional test is to run overnight two instances of Prime95 and loop 3D Mark 2001. If that can run overnight, then you should be pretty darn stable.

The steps below are optional. Burning in the system can help you overclock higher and require less Vcore to get there: Less Vcore = Lower temps.

After checking for initial stability (and making sure your temps aren’t too high), start increasing Vcore and running two instances of Prime95. Watch your temps and make sure they don’t go too high (50-60C is OK). Let the computer chew on Prime95 for a few days to burn the CPUs in (keep increasing Vcore until your full-load temps are too high.)

After a few days of this, start jacking up the FSB all the way to 150 (you’ll probably need PC2700 to get this high, with the aggressive memory timings I listed above.) If you can get up to 15 x 150 with stability (tested and verified with Prime95), then start lowering the Vcore and re-testing.

Keep lowering until the system fails at Prime95 or can’t boot. Keep in mind that there are two primary reason for CPU instability: CPU Overheating and Insufficient Vcore. These are opposite extremes. If your temps are too high, your CPU’s could be unstable. Adding more Vcore will only make this situation worse. If your CPU needs so much Vcore to be stable that it overheats, then you shoot yourself in the foot with Vcore.

Now you will have a good idea of your CPU’s MHz potential at a certain Vcore (and temp.) It is a good idea to record your stable speeds at different Vcores. If your temps are good and you have some room to play with, then consider upping the multiplier again or lowering your multiplier so you can raise your FSB (higher FSBs generally yield higher overall system performance than a higher multiplier.)

At this point you know your system is stable, you know that your modifications are done and you shouldn’t need to mess around with the CPUs anymore.
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Chris McQuistion

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

It is finally time to put this thing in the case! I refrained from telling you to put the system in the case before for a couple reasons. For one, it is pretty hard to install the heatsink on CPU2 when the motherboard is in the case.

If you decided to remove the CPUs to further mod them sometime during the installation and testing phases, then you would have a really hard time getting the heatsink back on CPU2 (I killed a processor because of this.) Also, the sockets wouldn’t be as easy to get to if you wanted to re-mod them. Another reason is that the systems temps should remain fairly stable when the system is run open air. This is useful when you’re doing burn-in and running high temps on purpose.

Anyway, now you can take all your PCI and AGP cards out and unhook everything from the motherboard. Leave the CPUs, heatsinks and memory on it, though. It is SO MUCH EASIER to mount those before you put the motherboard into the case.

Put it all together again. Boot up and enjoy. Remember to keep an eye on your temps- they will likely be a little higher with the motherboard and CPUs inside a close case. This depends, largely, on the amount of case airflow.

OTHER QUIET COMPUTER PARTS I RECOMMEND

*HARD DRIVES*

Hard Drives are a major contributor to system noise. Over the years, I have discovered three hard drives that I just love. Each is quiet and is suitable for different needs.

The Western Digital JB series is just great. They are one of the few IDE drives that are still sold with a 3-year warranty. They have an 8MB cache, their performance is great and they are quieter than most other IDE drives. The only exception is their drives below 80GB. For some reason, those below 80GB, such as the 400JB, are designed slightly differently and are VERY loud. 800JB and up are very good.

The Seagate Barracuda V is the quietest IDE drive you can get, I believe. It too is 7200 RPM and features a 2MB cache. Its performance is not quite as good as the Western Digital JB drives, but it is still very good and it is quieter than the WDs. If you want the absolute, quietest computer you can get, get a Seagate Barracuda V.

The Seagate Cheetah 15K.3 is the quietest 15K SCSI drive available. It is also one of the highest performance drives anywhere. If you can afford to go with 15K SCSI, I highly recommend it. I think that my upgrade to 15K SCSI gave me more of a performance increase than any other upgrade I have EVER made.

For a SCSI controller, I highly recommend the LSI U160 – it is a great SCSI controller and only costs about $45. SVC is a good place to get cheap, round SCSI cables. On my Primary machine, I have a Seagate 15K.3 for my Operating Systems and Games partitions. I have a Seagate Barracuda V for my Files partition where I keep backups and stuff I need permanent storage for.

A great resource for good hard drive data, including performance and noise, is Storage Review.com. You can access their Benchmark Database HERE. Change the drop down menu and click “Sort” to see how drives compare in a variety of real benchmarks and measurements. They have one especially useful database just for Drive Idle Noise.

*INSULATION*

I have used a product called “Akasa Pax Mate” on many of my computers. It is available from SVC It is a thin foam insulation that you put on the sides, top and bottom of your case. It is supposed to absorb some sound and make your computer quieter. I don’t know if it really works or not. I do know that it makes your temperatures higher, since some of the heat inside your case can’t radiate through the metal sides.

This should be considered a luxury item for the truly noise-picky who aren’t afraid to have slightly higher temperatures.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. I will write a follow-up article soon, called “How to Build a Cheap and Quiet Computer.” It will be the instructions to build a cheap and quiet single processor machine, again, geared toward new system builders.

Chris McQuistion

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