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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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