Stop Press - Last of the Pentiums

Just before Christmas 2001 I finally took the plunge and upgraded my CPUs to a pair of Coppermine 1GHz PIIIs. The price has been dropping slowly as they become less current, but I'd been worrying that their scarcity and niche-appeal would start to drive the price up again before long. An offer of a pair for a ridiculously cheap price turned out to be vapour, but by that time I'd done all the research and preparation and decided to take the plunge anyway.

This chip is the final and fastest release of the classic Slot-1 Pentium II/III design, re-engineered to Intel's 0.17 micron process and with the 2nd level cache moved from half speed on the carrier to full speed on the die. Much fretting was involved in the preparations for this, checking the voltage regulators on the motherboard to ensure support for the 1.7v Coppermine processors, flashing the BIOS to handle the new microcode, and checking Thermaltake's power dissipation specs for the Golden Orb coolers. The latter was a pleasant surprise, as the die-shrink and core voltage reduction will allow the chips to run cooler than the old Klamath steppings, and the power ratings are well within the Orbs' design spec.

Removing the stock Intel heat sinks from the new CPUs was an anxious process, as usual, even with reassurance from the excellent article at CoolerGuys - an unsettling amount of force has to be applied to release each retention clip, and the cracking noise when they detach is nerve-racking to say the least…

The BIOS upgrade was also a little traumatic, thanks to an over-zealous auto-restore utility that ran automatically from the boot disk right after the successful flash and without any prompting returned my BIOS neatly to the original version! That boot was the last my venerable old floppy drive would ever make, apparently failing moments after the second flash. This was a source of some confusion, as my first thought was that I'd lost BIOS support for bootable floppies ("Hah!", I could hear it saying… "Get out of that!") and I wasted a while fiddling and checking before I finally swapped out the drive. I don't use floppies very often, these days, and the unaccustomed activity had evidently stopped it's little silicon heart. It's had a good life, though - I can trace it back to a PC I built in 1994, and it wasn't new then, having been salvaged from an old AST server when I realised that I'd forgotten to buy one for the new system!

After this fun and games, though, the CPU upgrade itself was relatively painless. The Orbs mount and demount easily, and the PIII's multiplier lock means that the motherboard jumpers can be safely ignored… Both chips were recognised instantly, and a barrage of interrogation from SiSoft Sandra, H.Oda's WCPUID, and Intel's own Processor ID Utility showed that I had exactly what I paid for. The synthetic CPU benchmarks and my Distributed.Net performance have almost exactly doubled, 3DMark 2001 has jumped from 1890 to 2779 (a 50% increase, and it's likely that the CPUs are now feeding coordinates to the Radeon as fast as it can render them) and system performance right across the board has definitely improved.

The shell feels noticeably faster and snappier, certainly, and 3DMark seemed to run smoothly even at the highest detail levels, which promises much for my occasional sessions with Unreal or Black & White. Having such lavish quantities of processing power lying around also tempted me to look for a new version of Drempels, a wonderful little application that swirls beautiful colours and textures around the desktop - with the new CPUs this is actually a practical proposition (although it takes 50% of the spare CPU cycles to do it!) and is certainly waaaayyy cool.


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