Peering Through The Fog Machines: What You Should Expect From Duron and Solano and What You Deserve From Hardware Websites

(If you just want to read about Duron and Solano; it starts around the middle.)

We Need Less Fog, Not More

We are starting to see reviews of these products. Unfortunately, it seemed to me looking over the reviews that ideology is playing more and more of a role in what you hear about a product from a particular place, which makes it harder and harder for all of us to figure out what’s good and what isn’t. Not all, not most, but more than before.

You go to one place, and all you get is how wonderful Solano is against RDRAM boards (while ignoring as much as possible performance against the BX). You go to another, and you get told how wonderful RDRAM boards are against Solano (while ignoring the Via competition).
You see Duron pummeling a Celeron 566 running at 566Mhz, with no comparison at 850Mhz.

Why load the deck?

Blinders are for horses. It is a disservice to the buying audience to view products through ideological blinkers, if you claim to be otherwise. People need honest reviews, not computer crusades. People get too much hype and one-sided views already.

Fight that monster; don’t feed it.

If your side is so good, why do you have to help it?

We owe the audience honesty and as much impartiality as we can muster. Perfect impartiality may be impossible, but we should at least try. Lack of perfection does not excuse its opposite. At the least, one should be honest about one’s biases and values and beliefs.

There’s nothing wrong with calling yourself and being a fan club or cheer leading section, but it does limit your audience, and even there, your audience won’t like you calling black white.

It’s hard being honest and impartial. There are a lot of temptations out there, the biggest one being that it’s easier to put the blinders on. You don’t have to look around as much. You get a fan base. You don’t get your fans or sponsors mad by saying what they don’t want to hear. But how useful is that to those who come to you to get away from all that?

Giving in may be easier and more popular in the short term, but the computer media road is strewn with the skeletons of those who never saw a product they didn’t like. Always remember that if people stop believing what you say, it’s the end of the road.

Pygmy power

No one doing this can make or break a technology. An individual product like a certain type of motherboard, maybe, but not anything most computer users buy.

We should all be very careful not to exaggerate our importance or influence.
Even the most popular computer hardware website is only read by a tiny, tiny fraction of overall computer buyers.

At best, this can give you an audience of hundreds of thousands of regular readers. It does not make you Mighty Mouse.

Somewhere between 125 to 150 million computers will be sold this year. Most users will never visit, hear about, or know these websites even exist. While the influence of these sites extends beyond the immediate readership, it is delusional to think any or all of us combined can control or heavily influence the buying decisions of scores of millions of people. You can’t.

Sure, some can say they get more hits or are more influential than other places, including this one, and I would wholeheartedly agree, but this is still pygmy power in a little niche of the whole computer market.

Just don’t think your place is a major influence in the computer world until you start getting a half-billion or billion hits a month. You can start thinking your site is powerful when you start getting added to the board of directors for major computer companies.

Until then, though, don’t confuse being a geek god with being a Master of the Universe.

Taking credit for a price tag

If every computer hardware website in the world had said last year, or last month, “Buy RDRAM. Pay anything for it,” how many of you would have listened? Not too many, I would bet.

Why? Because it cost too much then, and costs too much now.

Power is the ability to get people to do things they otherwise would not do. For most of you, the price tag did all the talking, and nobody, no matter how persuasive or powerful or influential, would have changed your mind.

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling some are positioning themselves to take credit for the success or failure of certain products. To me, this is silly. Saying “Don’t buy RDRAM” and claiming major credit for people not buying is like saying you saved billions of lives by saying, “Don’t take cyanide.”

Let’s say tomorrow we woke up and found out RDRAM was suddenly available for $80 a 128Mb stick.

Do you really think anything anybody would say, no matter how detailed, no matter how passionate, would keep most buyers from buying RDRAM systems?


A relative few, yes, but most buyers would not know or care, and they have more money than those who do.

Let’s not get too full of ourselves. We perform a valuable service. We help a lot of people.

None of us rule.

That doesn’t make us worthless, any more than a good guy in a hardware store is worthless because not everybody in the world buys or even knows what he recommends.

Benchmarks are not everything

Another problem I’m seeing is that people test Product A, then Product B, and if they see product B is 3% slower, this is a horrible, terrible product.

You should not stop there. Other factors play a role, too: reliability, stability, ability to do what one wants to do with the product, cost.


The Duron is an awfully good cheap chip. The Duron at 700Mhz is pretty much dead even with an overclocked Celeron 850. If we can get a decent degree of overclocking out of it, it should be significantly better than even an O/Cd Celeron.

There are three current issues with the Duron:

  • How to overclock it
  • Motherboard availability
  • Power requirements

How Do We Pump It Up?

I am sure the Duron (and socket A Thunderbird) can be overclocked. Thanks to some good work by Armand Hirt, I outlined one possible method HERE. If it proves necessary, we will do some surgery to verify that.

However, we know most of you will not risk destroying your CPU, just as most of you did not solder resistors on the original Athlon.

We hope our connecting and un-connecting the dots won’t be quite as bad as that, but unless this is easier than we think, we doubt that method would become wildly popular.

Tom’s Hardware is hinting at a methodology for overclocking. Hopefully, it will be much easier than what we described. Even more hopefully, they just found a motherboard that does it for you.

We’re at a bit of a disadvantage in any races. We don’t generally get pre-release models since we haven’t been primarily a review site.

We’re going to work on that in the future, and do more platform reviews, but for now, we’re pretty much in the same boat as you are when it comes to CPUs and motherboards. (I have a slot A Thunderbird on order, and will have Durons shortly for instance).

We do promise to give the Duron and Thunderbird some
very prolonged hard looks to reveal all its strengths and weaknesses, so hopefully that will make up for not being first.:)

What Do We Plug It Into?

This is why I haven’t ordered the Durons yet. Socket A motherboards aren’t around yet. Go to Pricewatch, and there’s only one even being advertised: the FIC AZ-11. I’m not knocking the board, but I’d like to have a little more choice than that, and I bet you would, too.

They will surely come, just not yet. May take a month or so to start seeing a variety of them. For instance, I’ve seen one mention of the Asus A7V, and the website essentially said, “Someday.”

How Much Juice?

Like other Athlons, the Duron chews up more power than its Intel equivalents. IF these can get pushed to around 1Ghz, we’re looking at around 50W.

No big deal if you have a 300W power supply, maybe a problem if you have 235W or less.

If you eventually end up doing this, and start getting spontaneous reboots, or other odd random problems, it may be your power supply.

Is it worth the cost of a new motherboard?

In a month or so, presuming that the boards come in, and overclocking the Duron is not too difficult; it’s going to be tough to make a case for the Celeron in a new system. I suspect an O/Cd Duron may be the budget back-to-school system of choice.

However, many of you are not in that boat. A lot of you have BX systems, and figure you’re going to upgrade to a Celeron when it gets cheap enough.

For you, going to a Duron will mean the additional cost of a new motherboard. For some, that alone answers the question, you won’t pay the extra $100-120 or so.

However, many of you might find your motherboard may not handle a Celeron. At the least, you should certainly first go here and type in something like “{your motherboard} Celeron 566” to see if anyone has gotten it to work. If so, great. If not, maybe you need a new motherboard anyway, and you should consider the Duron.

For those of you who are willing to spend another hundred or so for better performance, how much more will you get?

As I said before, at 700Mhz, the Duron is pretty even with an 850Mhz Celeron. We don’t know yet how far you can push the Duron. IF it can be pushed to 850 or 900Mhz, we are probably looking at roughly a 15% advantage over the Celeron. Would that be worth an extra $100? Only you can determine that.



It can be a little tough to peer through the ideological haze, but it looks like the Solano motherboards will be a little worse than the BX boards and a little faster than the Via boards.

How a slower board can be faster for you

Knowing that a BX board is faster at 150Mhz than a Via or even Solano board is nice, but it’s kind of useless if you don’t know how likely it is you’re going to reach 150Mhz.

Most people are having problems reaching 150Mhz, no matter what board you are using. For many, older memory is holding you up. For others, it’s the video card; some of you can’t get over 125Mhz because of it. No, you can’t just buy a video card that will work all the time at 150Mhz. The same model will do one thing on one machine, and something else on another.

It seems that on the whole, the BX folks are having more problems than the Via folks, but most Via users with proper equipment usually max out somewhere in the 140s.

So a BX board may be “faster” than a Via board, but if you can only reach 124Mhz with your BX board, but can reach 142 with a Via board, the Via board is “faster” for you.

One of the real tests for Solano will be if it can sustain high FSB speeds better than the BX boards and at least as well as the Via boards. If it can (and we don’t know that yet), then it will be the “fastest” board for many.

Another test will be how stable Solano is. You have to tinker with Via boards; many people have had problems. If Solano proves to be more stable and less funky, I think that’s important.

I’m not saying it’s going to be better; I’m going to get one and find out, plus check the newsgroups and forums to see how others are doing. I’ll tell you now, though, I’m not going to be too concerned about it being a few percentage points slower than a BX board if it’s reliable and dependable at high speed.

There’s nothing wrong with trying out your BX board first to see if it makes the grade, and if it does, great. This is not “toss out your BX board and buy a Solano,” this is “what you should do if your BX board doesn’t work out for you.”

Solano could be unstable and funky, and I’ll tell you that, too.

Just remember, I am biased. Very biased. I discriminate heavily in favor of good products. 🙂

Email Ed

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