You May Be Ready for a Coppermine, but Is Your System?

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The purpose of this is to give you a checklist of what you should consider when you buy or upgrade your computer system to overclock a Coppermine.

I wrote this because a lot of people write me and believe that all they have to do is buy a new processor, stick it in their current machine and they’ll be running at 800Mhz or more. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. This is like the old FRAM oil filter commercial – you can learn about this now, or you can learn about it later.

A big problem with this upgrade is that there are more possible bottlenecks than usual in overclocking. You can’t just buy a new processor and not consider anything else. You can have a processor that will run at the speed you want, but the RAM won’t let you. You can replace the RAM, but then the video card gets in the way. You can replace the video card, and it still won’t work, so you replace your motherboard. Then sometimes, you could find out that in your case, the old RAM and video work fine with the new motherboard. You can find yourself getting sucked into spending a lot more money than you had initially intended.

Before you start, you should ask yourself, “How much else besides the processor am I willing to replace to get this to work?” If you are ready and willing to replace your RAM and motherboard and/or video card, then you can skip most of this. If you are not, keep reading.

How fast is your memory?

Unless you have a VIA board that lets you play games with your memory speed, you need to know how good your memory is. Don’t assume because it is “good” PC100 RAM that it will run at 150Mhz. It probably won’t. Most “good” recently manufactured PC100 RAM will get you to 133Mhz or a little more.
If you have older PC100, don’t even assume that.

If you don’t currently have or plan to buy quality PC133 RAM, you probably should be prepared to replace your memory (or buy a VIA motherboard that MAY let you overclock the processor a lot while running your memory slower) if what you have now isn’t fast enough. If you aren’t willing to do either, then maybe you should wait for a Celeron.

Video cards

It doesn’t seem to much matter what video card you use. They should work on a VIA board; on a BX board, they’ll either work or not, without much rhyme or reason. Some people can play Quake III all day long at 150Mhz. Others can’t do the same thing with the same video card at 120Mhz with all the tweaks. Some people get helped by certain tweaks, some don’t.

If you find yourself in the situation where you are trying to overclock a BX board, and the video card clearly is the culprit (i.e., you know the RAM is good, and it runs Windows applications fine, but it chokes on 3D benchmarks or games) ; you probably shouldn’t replace that, because there is no guarantee the new one is going to do any better, and you’ll probably replace that one shortly (see next paragraph) anyway. The safest approach is to replace the motherboard. If you don’t want to be in a position where you have to replace either, then maybe you should wait for a Celeron.

If you are upgrading your system to play games better, you probably should also consider the purchase of the next generation of video cards coming soon to take advantage of the increased speed. You may see little or no improvement if you don’t.

Motherboards

You have three choices right now: use your BX board and overclock it a lot, buy a VIA board, or wait for a Solano2 board.

BX board

Pros

  1. If it works, you’ll get a bit better performance than with a VIA board.
  2. You don’t have to buy a new motherboard.

Cons

  1. You probably won’t be able to overclock the CPU as much on a BX board as you can with a VIA board.
  2. Overclocking the AGP transfer rate by 33% or more could be hazardous to the health of your computer.
  3. You are more likely to hit a memory bottleneck.

This all assumes you have a pretty current motherboard handy. If you don’t:

  1. Don’t even think about doing this if your motherboard doesn’t support a PCI divisor of /4 at 124Mhz and above
  2. If your current motherboard doesn’t support Coppermines, you might be able to get it to work with a slotket with a voltage regulator, but don’t try it unless you’re ready to buy a new motherboard, too, if it doesn’t work or work satisfactorily.

VIA Apollo Pro 133+

Pros

  1. With a 1/2 AGP speed, you don’t have to worry about your video card or motherboard blowing up, and you’ll probably overclock more than with a BX board.
  2. You are less likely to run into problems due to memory speed with the VIA board, since you can set the memory speed to CPU-33Mhz.

Cons

  1. The VIA boards don’t perform as well, clock for clock as BX boards. They may trail Solano2 boards by even more.
  2. You’ll have to buy a new motherboard.

Solano2

Pros:

  1. Probably will be better than a VIA board, maybe a lot better.
  2. Will have an AGP divisor of 1/2, so you won’t have to massively overclock the board.

Cons

  1. They aren’t around, and may not be for quite a while, April at earliest, June at latest.
  2. We don’t know for sure if they’ll be better than what we have right now. If Intel is hell-bent on selling RAMBUS, they may not want Solano to be as good or better than current 820 boards.

Should I buy now?

Pros

  1. You can buy a 550E for about $230 and a 600E for about $270 now, which means you should realistically expect (see below) 733/800Mhz now.

Cons

  1. AMD has been slashing Athlon prices. Intel will either have to accelerate their price cuts or lose market share. I expect Intel to move their late April price cut to late March.
  2. If you can wait until price cuts and new steppings kick in, instead of buying a 550E or 600E, you can buy a 650E or maybe 700E. The 700E may give you the first decent crack at 1Ghz.
  3. Celerons will begin to come out at the end of this month. They may be a much cheaper upgrade than a Coppermine since you’re less likely to have to upgrade other components.

CPU

What kind?

E or EB?

If you want to overclock, you buy the E because you can overclock a lot more with the E than you can with the EB

Let’s show why the E is a better choice for overclocking:

Assume you can run your system at 150Mhz.

If you buy a 600E, and run it at 150Mhz, the chip could run at 6X150, or 900Mhz.
If you buy a 600EB, and run at 150Mhz, the chip could run at 4.5X150, or 675Mhz

It’s probably too much to expect the average 600E to run at 900Mhz, but it’s very realistic to expect one to run at 6X133, or 800Mhz, which is still a lot more than you can do with the 600EB.

SECC2 or FC-PGA

SECC2 (Slot 1)

Pros

  1. You won’t have to buy a slotket.
  2. If you are buying right now, they are probably easier to find.
  3. You will wait less time for the improved cB0 stepping; they should be available a few weeks sooner than with FC-PGA. See INTEL for details on which s-specs have the new stepping.

Cons

  1. If Intel’s heatsink/fan isn’t good enough, you’ll have to do things like remove the casing.
  2. Future motherboards are likely to come in FC-PGA (though slot1 motherboards should be around for quite a while).

FC-PGA

Pros

  1. You’ll buy and attach the best heatsink/fan without having to strip the casing.
  2. Intel plans to convert most Coppermine production over to FC-PGA shortly, so new motherboards will likely come in FC-PGA.

Cons

  1. You’ll have to pay extra for a slotket right now
  2. Might be harder to find/more expensive right now.

What speed?

The question you should ask yourself is “What is the minimum speed at which I won’t be disappointed?
Don’t assume you’re going to hit 155Mhz just because somebody else did. It’s probably best to aim for a 133Mhz target, and consider anything above that a bonus. So don’t buy a 550E if 733Mhz would be a gross disappointment to you; buy a 600E. Again, if you can wait a bit, you’ll be able to hit a higher target; I expect to see 900+Mhz scores approaching 1Ghz within two months.

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