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Faster AMD and Intel Processors Are Coming, Can You Upgrade?

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Faster AMD and Intel Processors Are Coming, Can You Upgrade?

As AMD and Intel continue to introduce faster processors, leaving the once-daunting 1GHz barrier behind, users who want to upgrade to the fastest processors have a simple question:

Can I drop in the new CPU into my existing motherboard, or will I need a new motherboard as well?

The answer to this question isn't always clear, as it depends mostly on the board you have now. Let me go on record saying that in most cases I recommend that any processor upgrade includes a new motherboard and new memory as well. Installing a new CPU, motherboard and RAM together is the best way to get the most out of any new processor.easy. While the newest Pentium III/Celeron and Athlon/Duron processors use the same sockets as their predecessors, chipset, voltage and memory performance issues can affect which processors you can (or would want to) use without also swapping motherboards and memory.

Intel Pentium III/Celeron Tualatin - Lower Voltage, Cooler, Faster Chip

While the Pentium 4 has been getting most of the attention lately, Intel hasn't yet abandoned the Pentium III or Celeron. The next version of the Pentium III and Celeron, a new die-shrink version code-named Tualatin, will be introduced by the end of July, and brings new features to the desktop processor table.

New Technology and a New Package

The Tualatin chip is what the industry refers to as a "die-shrink". That is when they take an existing processor design (the physical chip inside the processor package is called a die) and photographically shrink the circuits, moving components closer together. The circuit design may also be refined, but the changes are usually minor. Often additional on-die cache can be added as well. The "closeness" of the components in a chip die is expressed in microns, which are millionths of a meter (or thousandths of a millimeter if that makes more sense). The existing Coppermine core Pentium III and Celeron chips use a 0.18 micron process while the new Tualatin core versions use a smaller 0.13 micron process, which results in chips that can run faster, use less power (lower voltage) and generate less heat. . The new processors will be available in versions starting at 1.13GHz and up to 1.4GHz by the first quarter of '02.

To improve cooling and to prevent problems with excessive forces cracking the die during the heat sink installation, the Tualatin core chip packages have a metal plate on top of the chip called the IHS or Integrated Heat Spreader. This heat spreader covers the die and offers a wider and more stable platform for the heat sink to sit on, and also helps to transfer heat more evenly to the heat sink. The previous Coppermine core chips had the raw silicon die exposed on top of the chip package, and the heat sink would sit directly on the die. There were some problems with improper heat sink installation (tilting the heat sink while securing the clip) causing the die to crack. The new Tualatin version will be immune to that problem..

Some Tualatin samples available to the press have the same 256KB on-die L2 cache found on the Coppermine Pentium III processors, but sources indicate that a 512KB on-die L2 cache version of Tualatin will also be available (and would, of course, run faster for memory-intensive operations).

Identifying the Tualatin

Tualatin processors can be identified several ways. One is by speed. Any Pentium III or Celeron chips rated faster than 1.13GHz would definitely have a Tualatin core, as Coppermine chips were only offered up to that speed. If the chip in question is 1.13GHz, then the Tualatin version can be identified by an "A" in the model number. For example, a 1.13GHz Pentium III is a "Coppermine" chip, while a 1.13AGHz Pentium III is a Tualatin chip. Visually you can identify the Tualatin chips by the metal heat spreader plate on top of the chip, while the Coppermine chips have only the raw exposed die sitting on top (which appears as a small bluish grey square in the center of the chip package). The Tualatin core will be used for both Pentium III and Celeron chips. Just as the current versions of the Celeron are based on the Coppermine Pentium III core, Celeron versions starting at 1.2GHz and faster coming in the first quarter of '02 will be based on the Tualatin core. Since motherboard and chipset compatibility will be an issue for existing Pentium III or Celeron users (see the next sections), you will want to keep a careful eye on the type of processor you purchase if you are upgrading.

Can You Use the New Tualatin?

Can current Pentium III/Celeron users merely install a Tualatin chip in their existing motherboards? Unfortunately, probably not. The Tualatin core runs at just 1.475 volts, which is a voltage that's not supported by all of the previous existing Pentium III motherboards. Intel's 815 EP chipset, a popular choice for Pentium III and Celeron systems, is now available in a B-stepping version to handle the new processor. If you're shopping for a new motherboard which can handle the Tualatin processors when they hit the market, one of the first motherboards which uses the B-stepping 815 EP chipset is from MicroStar International, the 815EPT Pro (www.msi.com.tw).

Other third-party chipset makers are also bringing lots of support to market. VIA <www.viatech.com or www.via.com.tw> has revised its entire line of Socket 370 chipsets to work with Tualatin processors: look for Apollo Pro 266T, Apollo Pro 133T, ProSavage PL133T, and Apollo PL133T if you want to use a Tualatin with a VIA chipset. Acer Labs <www.acerlabs.com> offers the ALADDIN-Pro 5T (M1651T )and CyberALADDIN-T (M1644T - for integrated graphics fans). Silicon Integrated System (SiS) <www.sis.com>offers the SiS635T as a single-chip chipset solution for Tualatin users. Watch for these new chipsets to appear on motherboards from major boardmakers in the next few months.

Time to Swap Your Heatsink?

Even if your motherboard can handle the lower voltage a Tualatin-based processor, you may need to swap heatsinks. The integral heat spreader is 1.5mm thick, meaning that some third-party heatsinks won't work, or they may need a modified clip. So long as you purchase a boxed processor (rather than an OEM version) the new processor will include a heat sink, so re-using your existing one won't be necessary.

Should You Switch to a Tualatin?

Early tests of Tualatin-based Pentium III processors show little difference from Coppermine chips of the same speeds. However, Tualatin processors will be available in speeds above 1.13GHz, enabling you to reach higher speeds in a Pentium III platform that you previously could. The versions coming with 512KB of L2 cache will further improve performance as compared to the earlier Coppermine chips. All of this however, could be made moot by anticipated Fall price cuts across the entire line of Intel's Pentium 4 processors. Price-wise, if all things are equal then you're better off getting a Pentium 4, which are available in even higher clock speeds and can take advantage of the generous bandwidth the use of RDRAM offers.

You Might Be Ready for AMD's Newest Athlon 4 - But You'd Better Make Sure

AMD's Athlon 4 (the latest version of the AMD Athlon CPU), already available on the notebook and server markets and coming at summer's end in the desktop arena, will reach initial speeds of up to 1.4GHz. The desktop version of the Athlon 4 will come in two different versions, one for the traditional 200MHz FSB (part numbers ending in S3B) and the faster 266MHz FSB (part numbers ending in S3C). FSB refers to the front side bus of your motherboard's chipset, which is the bus connecting your processor and system memory to the motherboard's Northbridge chip. If your processor runs on the 266MHz bus, make sure your motherboard and memory support that speed. Most of these faster processors work only in more recent Socket A motherboards, particularly those which use DDR (double data rate) SDRAM. Before you decide to replace your slower Socket A Athlon or Duron processor with a 1.4GHz screamer, you should check the motherboard manufacturer's Web site just to be on the safe side. You can also check AMD's official listing of Athlon-compatible motherboards at <http://www1.amd.com/athlon/mbl>.

If you're still running an older Slot A-based Athlon, you will definitely need a motherboard swap as well as a new processor, and new RAM as well. If you're running PC133 SDRAM, you might still be able to use the 1.4GHz processor, although most of the motherboards supporting the 266MHz processor bus will require PC-2100 DDR SDRAM instead of the PC-100 or PC-133 SDRAM you may be using now.

Faster Pentium 4s Now - and a New Socket Later

The Pentium 4 has only been around since November 2000, but its speed continues to increase. Now at 1.8GHz, the fastest Pentium 4 has a 38% faster clock speed than the slowest Pentium 4 (the 1.3GHz model), and works in the same motherboards.

However, the situation will change by early fall. Intel's new i845 chipset (code-named "Brookdale") will be Intel's first to break up the current Pentium 4+RDRAM (Rambus RIMM) teaming. The i845 replaces support for the more expensive RDRAM with the dirt-cheap PC133 SDRAM , and will eventually provide support for the faster, but not more expensive DDR SDRAM in early 2002. This will be a breakthrough for the P4, allowing people to use the much less expensive PC-133 SDRAM or PC-2100 DDR SDRAM instead of the high priced RDRAM in existing P4 systems. However, if visions of cost savings are dancing in your head, do be aware of the fact that the SDRAM's lower bandwidth will likely be a significant performance bottleneck in Pentium 4 systems.

To go with the new memory support, a new CPU design for the Pentium 4 (code-named Northwood) is also coming. Northwood, although it fits into a 478-pin socket, is much smaller than the original (and current) Socket 423 Pentium 4 processors. What happened? To reduce the size, Northwood-core Pentium 4 processors are built on Intel's new 0.13 micron process, which reduces the die size and enables a smaller chip size. Socket 478 uses an evenly-spaced micro pin grid array pinout rather than the bulkier staggered pin-grid array designs that Intel has used for years on various chips from the Pentium 75 onwards. Socket 478-compatible processors also have a heat spreader plate across most of the chip surface to better transfer heat from the CPU core to the active heatsink.

The end result? Socket 478/i845 chipset-based systems will be cheaper than the current Pentium 4/Intel 850 chipset-based systems, and should perform better with the DDR SDRAM as well. Systems using PC-1600 or PC-2100 DDR SDRAM will be faster than systems using PC-133 memory, as the Pentium 4 processor craves the extra bandwidth DDR SDRAM can provide. Essentially, systems based on Socket 478/i845 with PC133 SDRAM will enable Intel and other vendors to offer an economy line of Pentium 4-based motherboards and systems. Only socket 478 will be used with faster DDR SDRAM; Socket 423 versions will soon be obsolete.

For More Information

Tom's Hardware (www.tomshardware.com) offers several pictures of the new Tualatin-based Pentium III and Socket 478 Pentium 4 as well as benchmark results. Anandtech (www.anandtech.com) has details about the first motherboards that will support Socket 478-based Pentium 4 processors. Also you can check (www.theinquirer.net) or (http://www.theregister.co.uk) for the latest Intel and AMD roadmaps (along with a good bit of sarcastic humor and wit and some unique jargon) detailing when the new chips are arriving. As soon as the Tualatin-core Pentium III/Celeron and Northwood-core Pentium 4 processors are officially available, Intel's Developer Web site will have technical details (http://developer.intel.com).

© Copyright 2002 Pearson Technology Group. All rights reserved.

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