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DYNAMIC CLOCKING AND SOFTWARE CONTROL
Dynamic speed and voltage adjustments based on work load is fully
implemented in Pentium M notebooks.Called SpeedStep, it works very well, and would be beneficial
for desktop users interested in running their system as cool and quietly as possible, much like AMD A64's Cool 'n' Quiet.
Apparently, AOpen and DFI aren't so sold on the SpeedStep
as neither company provided a fully functional version of this software.
Buried on AOPen's Utilities Download page for the 855GME is a utility called
the Series Tool. This undocumented software contains AOpen's version
of a SpeedStep utility. It also includes some rudimentary,
Windows-based fan control and overclocking software, and a system monitor
for temps and voltages. The software works, but it is pretty unstable and not really "ready for prime time". DFI has no SpeedStep type of utility that I can find.
We played around with a few
experimental third-party, Windows based clockspeed utilities. RightMark CPU Clock Utility (RMClock)
essentially replicates the Intel SpeedStep software.
It functions on both motherboards, but like many other software-based clockspeed
utilities, it's not very stable. It gives a tantalizing
taste of the power management possibilities on the Pentium
M platform. Here's hoping the motherboard makers will release desktop software that works as well as the notebook
Eenie meenie minie mo
Both of these motherboards would be a fine choice for a quiet Pentium
M system. Is one better than the other? In terms of performance and stability,
they're both excellent. The AOpen board is a bit more versatile, due to its standard P4 heatsink mounting bracket.
The DFI is a bit handicapped with its oddball heatsink, but it has better
BIOS options for the overclocker.
If I were forced to choose one board, it would be the AOpen by
a narrow margin, with the AOpen's P4 heatsink bracket being the tie-breaker.
If the DFI board came with a P4 style heatsink mount, the nod would probably
go to it, based on its slightly better BIOS settings.
So Pentium M finally comes to the desktop.
Is it viable for
Is it an improvement over existing technologies?
Is it the
"be-all, end-all" for silent computing?
Having lived with these Pentium M boards and the 2.0GHz
Pentium M Dothan chip for the past eight weeks, I'm very impressed and will continue to
use it as my day-to-day system. The Pentium M CPU seems subjectively just
as fast as my 2.4GHz and 3.0GHz Pentium 4 systems, truly is silent from
more than 8" away and only uses 40-50W during normal use. Each board
has been 100% stable and very easy to work with. Both boards sport the normal
complement of I/O, including SATA, onboard LAN, USB 2.0 and Firewire. Each
board is micro-ATX form factor, so they can easily be integrated into HTPC,
SFF and other small "Digital Home" computing setups.
Both boards could benefit tremendously from fully functional, stable
In notebooks, SpeedStep extends battery life and helps the system run cooler; both traits
are certainly desirable in the silent desktop. SpeedStep can operate seamlessly in the
background, with the CPU running at very low power during most normal
computing activities, yet it instantly ramps up when CPU usage calls for it.
Even at full speed, ithe P-M 2.0 only puts out 21W, but stepped down to 600MHz, it
runs at a paltry 7W.
Is the Pentium M ground breaking? No, not really.
a powerful, low power consumption CPU, but with a little tweaking, the AMD A64
platform can cover similar ground, and costs less money. Some of us at SPCR have
been begging, pleading and cajoling Intel to release a Pentium M desktop board
for over a year now, and Intel still has not produced one. A year ago these P-M boards would
have been compelling, but now the A64 with Cool 'n' Quiet is a serious lower cost alternative.
Still, these AOpen and DFI boards have shown themselves
to be 100% bulletproof. Perhaps for those who value the "legendary
stability" of the Intel platform, the Pentium M may be the silent platform of choice. Others may vote with their wallets.
M systems are the the quietest system I've built, yet
they're powerful enough for me to use as my main system. My test bench puts the
system 2-3 feet away at ear level, and with this platform I don't hear any noise. The CPU isn't
100% responsible for this as I'm using a passively cooled video card and an
ultra-silent Samsung notebook HDD, but the sum really is greater than the
parts. Building a quiet system starts with choosing the right parts, and I
don't think you can go wrong with the Pentium M and either of these
motherboards as the foundation.
As it stands today, if money is no object to assemble the quietest PC possible, a
Pentium M based system is my first recommendation.
* Socket 478 heatsink retention bracket
* Onboard USB 2.0 and Firewire headers
* Dual GigE NICs
* Color-coded front I/O header
* BIOS adjustable thermal fan controls
* Stable, stable, stable
* No rear Firewire I/O port
* Unstable "SpeedStep" software
* Full featured BIOS
* Firewire port on rear I/O panel + two headers on the board
* Very stable
* 533MHz FSB support
* Non-standard heatsink mounting
* Not much clearance around CPU socket
* No onboard USB 2.0 headers
* No "SpeedStep" software
* * *
Much thanks to AOpen
for the opportunity to review their respective motherboards.
Many thanks also to our buddies at Newegg
for the loan of the Pentium
M 755 processor that was used in this review!
And on the software side, thanks to Futuremark
and Sisoftware for the opportunity
to use their benchmarking applications.
And finally, thanks to Mom and Dad, I couldn't have done it
* * *
Discuss this this article in the SPCR Forums.
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