|Duh Voodoo Man's PowerLeap PL-iP3/T Performance Review|
|A NEW CPU UPGRADE OPTION FOR OWNERS OF BX MOTHERBOARD SYSTEMS|
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Initial installation & startup info Go to the PL-iP3/T installation photos Skip directly to the benchmarking info Overclocking the PL-iP3/T!! Celeron 1.4GHz Update More PowerLeap product reviews....
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INTRODUCTION / BACKGROUND:
With the cost of a decent all-purpose PC still upwards of $1000 (significantly upwards, if you want a really good gaming machine), many PC owners are looking for cost-effective upgrade routes to extend the lives of their older machines. If you have multiple PC's in a family, as more and more of us do, the motivation becomes even stronger. With a huge "installed base" of PC's built upon the venerable BX motherboard technology now hitting the onset of obsolescence at about 2 to 3 years of age, many owners have been performing CPU upgrades to squeeze another couple of years out of these machines. For Dell Dimension owners, the XPS-R, XPS-T and V-series machines fall squarely into this category, but obviously there are many, many other BX-based machines out there that also fit this description. In addition to an XPS-R400, I also happen to own two "homebuilt" units based upon the AOpen AX6BC motherboard, which originally contained Celeron 433MHz processors. So cost-effective BX system processor upgrades are a subject near and dear to me personally!
Until recently, the CPU upgrade path for this class of PC generally took one of two routes, both based upon the Intel Coppermine core processor technology:
- Pop in a Coppermine Pentium III CPU with a 100MHz front-side bus speed, usually in the Slot-1 configuration. Cheaper FC-PGA (a.k.a."flip chip") P3 processors were also an option, but required the use of a compatible "slocket" adapter that brought the total cost to approximate parity with the Slot-1 CPU's, and introduced an additional layer of complexity that most upgraders chose to avoid. The most popular upgrades have been the 800MHz, 850MHz, and 1GHz P3's.
The beauty of this upgrade route was the simplicity--other than upgrading your BIOS version and maybe your Sound Blaster audio drivers, the upgrade was basically a matter of pulling the old processor, plugging the new one into the CPU slot, attaching the fan lead to a connector on the mobo, and hitting the power button. The physical upgrade process could literally be done in less than 5 minutes. The downside? Cost. These processors were typically in excess of $200, though the 800 and 850 are well below that level now. But they are also getting tougher and tougher to find, as Intel phases out production and existing inventories dry up.
- For the more adventurous and/or cost-constrained, there was the Coppermine Celeron "Do you feel lucky?" overclocking upgrade. Basically, this consisted of buying a Coppermine Celeron 533A, 566 or 600MHz processor and an FSB speed- and voltage-adjustable slocket adapter, like the IWill Slocket II. Designed to run at 66MHz FSB speed by default, you could often force these processors to run stably at 100MHz, resulting in a 50% overclocked condition. Thus a 533A would operate at 800MHz, a 566 at 850MHz, etc. This almost always meant increasing the core voltage by anywhere from 0.1 to 0.4 volts to achieve stable operation, and required good cooling to handle the increased heat generation. But the low-end Coppermine Cely's generally handled this overclocking with ease--the 533A was a virtual lock to overclock to 800MHz, the vast majority of 566's would do 850, and most 600's would run at 900. Above the Celeron 600, however, the chances of running at 100MHz began to fall off rapidly. (Overclocks of less than 50% were possible for motherboards that allowed incremental FSB speed adjustments, but this wasn't possible for many OEM systems, with the Dells being a typical example.) I performed this upgrade on my R400 and one of the AX6BC's (one a 566 and the other a 533A), and they ran trouble-free for several months, until I went to P3's.
More recently, the advent of the higher-end 100MHz FSB Coppermine Celeron's has made this upgrade route significantly easier, if a little less of a cheap thrill. You still need a slocket, but now the settings can all be at default, with no need to boost the FSB speed and core voltages.
The major benefit of this route was cost--the Celeron processors involved were about $100 at first, and considerably less later on. For an upgrader on a tight budget, this was hard to beat, costing about half or less of what a comparable P3 upgrade would set you back. The disadvantages were twofold. First, the slocket added a layer of complexity, and could be temperamental to get working initially. Secondly, the performance was significantly lower than that of a P3 of the same clockspeed. For example, a Celeron running at 850MHZ showed overall performance about on a par with a P3-700. Not bad for the money, but far from stellar.
Up until very recently, the P3-1GHz pretty much looked like the "end of the line" for BX upgraders. While there is a 1.1GHz 100MHz FSB version of the P3 available in the FC-PGA form, this processor does not appear to be widely available and really hasn't "caught on" with BX upgraders. Also, after bottoming out at $200, the P3-1GHz price has actually started to edge back UP, presumably reflecting supply vs. demand.
So, with all indications that the party was pretty much over for the BX processor upgrade crowd, it was with GREAT interest that many of us viewed the announcement by PowerLeap that they had developed a slocket adapter, the PL-iP3/T, that would allow the use of the new Tualatin Celeron processors in a BX-based system. With the Tualatin Celeron 1.2GHz processor already available and higher clockspeed versions planned by Intel for the future, this product announcement held the promise of extending the useful life of existing BX motherboard systems even farther. Plus, the cost of the entire rig (adapter, Celeron 1.2GHz and heatsink/fan) was advertised at $169, considerably less than the best available price of the P3-1Gig. For many of us PC hardware geeks, wholesale drooling and upgrade-induced lust ensued....
But key questions remained to be answered. Would it really work? Would any special tricks, workarounds, or other weird gyrations be required to get this beast to run? How stable would it be? And, assuming that all these questions could be answered positively, one all-important question remained: HOW FAST WOULD IT BE?? The Coppermine Celerons were about 20% slower than their P3 counterparts, so how would the Tualatin Celeron stack up? There was only one reasonable course of action--GET ONE OF THESE BAD BOYS AND FIND OUT!! And, so....