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30 Hardware and Windows Tips in 30 Days Tip 7: Processor Upgrades Are a Numbers Game ? Part 2

Once you determine the essential facts about the processor, motherboard, and BIOS version in your computer, you can decide whether a processor upgrade is worthwhile, and which one you should install.

1. Start by recording the essential facts about your system's processor-related features:

the motherboard name and model number _____________________,

the processor socket type ________________

the processor brand and model number _______________________, 

the processor core (codename) _____________________________,

the BIOS manufacturer and version  _________________________

These five factors control the available processor upgrades for any particular motherboard or system. For example, my office PC uses a Micro-Star International (MSI) MS-7250 motherboard that uses Socket AM2. The processor is an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 'Windsor' running at 2GHz clock speed with 512KB L2 cache. The system BIOS is an American Megatrends (AMI) BIOS version 8.14 dated March 16, 2007.

 

To determine processor upgrade options, use the following methods:

2a. Check the motherboard or system manufacturer's website. You might need to download an updated version of product documentation or you might consult a CPU or processor support page.

 

2b. Check the processor vendor website to see what processors are recommended for a particular motherboard and BIOS revision.

 

Intel's Desktop Processors website

 

AMD's Processor Product Information website

 

 

When I visited the MSI website, the CPU selection page was not working properly, so I used a Google search to find the AMD Athlon 64 Processor Family Recommended Motherboards page for the MS-7250 motherboard. By upgrading to a BIOS dated July 26, 2007 or later, I can use Athlon 64 X2 processors up to 6400+  with a processor stepping of F2, G1, or F3.

 

All current Athlon 64 X2 processors in Socket AM2 feature 1MB or 2MB of L2 cache, compared to 512KB of L2 cache in my current processor, so I can significantly increase my clock speed and my L2 cache with a processor upgrade, making for better system performance.

 

By sticking with a processor that uses the same 'Windsor' core design as my current processor, I avoid any risk of compatibility problems that might result if I tried a different processor. The Windsor core is available in models up to 3.2GHz.

 

3. Upgrade the BIOS if necessary.

A BIOS upgrade can enable a motherboard to support a wider range of processors. To determine if BIOS upgrades are available for your system or motherboard, visit the vendor's website.

 

MSI's website lists several BIOS versions more recent than the one installed, and AMD's processor compatibility page recommends using a BIOS dated July 26, 2007 or later. So, before upgrading to a faster processor, I need to install a BIOS upgrade.

 

4. Selecting the best processor upgrade.

Before you choose a processor upgrade, check websites such as Tom's Hardware (www.tomshardware.com) and AnandTech (www.anandtech.com) for processor reviews. You may find a review that pits your current processor against the model you're considering. Keep in mind that an upgrade that produces less than 10% improvement in performance is probably not perceptible.

 

Your best bets for processor upgrades are those that provide faster core clock speeds (in the same processor design family), larger L2 memory caches, and dual or quad-core designs (if your motherboard is compatible with them). In my case, I decided that a 2.8GHz Athlon 64 X2 processor 5200+ was a good upgrade, as it offered 2MB of L2 cache along with significantly faster clock speed.

 

However, if you are upgrading from a single-core to a dual-core processor, you will see an immediate upturn in performance if you multitask, even with no change in clock speed.

 

Happy upgrading!

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