Silencing a P4-1.6A oc'd to 2GHz

Do-It-Yourself Systems
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System Performance

There were no problems installing everything into the case. Once all the components were wired up and running, I made some basic adjustments to the BIOS, then did a fresh install of Window 98 SE, along with the usual laundry list of updates & fixes. After all this tedious work was done, the boot-up time of less than 20 seconds made me quite excited.

The AMI BIOS on the MSI 645 Ultra motherboard allows the system clock to be changed in 1 MHz increments from 100 to 200 MHz. I systematically increased the system clock by 5 MHz, starting at 100 MHz, running Sandra 2002 Burn-in for just 10 cycles at each new speed as a quick check on stability.

One frustration I experienced with the motherboard is that the temperature monitoring does not work. In Motherboard Monitor 5, the gauge stayed stuck at 50C. In the BIOS, the temperature reading began at 30C, but the system would get unstable when it read only 40-42C, which is far too low. MSI's own forums are full of complaints about this problem.

The system actually booted and ran at 2.4 GHz (150 MHz clock), but not stably nor long enough to get any benchmarks. At 2.32 GHz (145 MHz clock), it did a little better but still remained a bit unstable. Backing off to 2.25 MHz (140 MHz clock) made it all more stable. At this clock speed, I increased the memory timing from Normal to Fast, then Turbo. The system remained stable enough to run some SiSoft Sandra 2000 benchmarks, screenshots of which are shown below.

CPU core voltage was set to 1.6V, which both the BIOS and Sandra reported as 1.55V. This is 0.05V higher than the default of 1.5V. I have seen reports in forums that this motherboard does provided slightly low Vcore. Whether the CPU speed limit is due to limitations in the the memory, the motherboard or the CPU, I have no way of telling without at least trying different memory.

I offer no interpretation of the above, only a summary: This is a fast, powerful yet inexpensive system.

One sharp-eyed reader pointed out that the memory bandwidth benchmark results seem poor. I did get much better reading later, in the 1900 MB/s, close to 2000. These were early benchmark efforts with the memory clock set too low - probably at 200 MHz instead of the standard 266MHz.

No Game Benchmarks

I don't wish to tell you how Quake or Unreal or whatever other shooter games do on this machine, because I don't play these games. The only game I play from time to time is the real-time strategy game Red Alert 2 & its follow-up, Yuri's Revenge. On my other systems, these games play fast with excellent graphics & movement. But one area where things get bogged down is in missions with very large maps, where the scroll function would sometimes crawl. This slowdown does not happen the P4 system, and at the fast setting in skirmish missions, the computer became far to fast for me to win.

My main work-related programs all benefitted somewhat in comparison to my main PC, a 1-Ghz AMD T-Bird with similar components and PC-150 ADRAM. The Adobe programs Photoshop, FramaeMaker, Acrobat and InDesign as well as AutoCad, Visio, and Word all ran a little more smoothly. Some of Photoshop's more specialized CPU-intensive functions did seem dramatically improved.

If anyone wants to see benchmarks, there are enough reviews of the P4 Northwood on the web that offer pages and pages of such info.

After the initial excitement of a 2+ GHz computer, I realized there were some subtle misbehaviors that I could not explain. One example was with PDF files. I build them using Acrobat. The build process would go fine, and the PDF file would work perfectly fine on the system. But the PDF file would cause errors on my other system, regardless of how it was accessed. I attributed this anomaly to the overclocking, and backed the clock speed down to 2 GHz (125 mHz x 16) where the system performed impeccably.

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