Seems like a better place for something like this than Facebook. I’m rusty, but here goes.
I upgraded my computer recently, in anticipation of the upcoming release of Diablo 3. This proved most timely in that I finally got an invite to the public beta. That’s another story though. Upgrade; new CPU, video card, and a power supply to handle the extra load.
I had been running a high efficiency Phenom 9150e, a 65w quad-core chip clocked at 1.8GHz. This chip I got on a holiday sale in winter 2009, and I was mostly happy with it, but it was a pure sidegrade from the 4850e that it replaced; 4 cores instead of two, but clocked 700MHz slower, and in many games, it showed. It was probably a bad choice. What I wanted originally, and this has been the case since I built this beast in 2007, was a Phenom II 905e – same 65w efficiency, but a quad core with 2.5GHz clock – enough to handle gaming without making a lot of noise or heat. Problem was, they were always super expensive for what you get. It amounts to spending dollars to save dimes.
So, one of these finally went on clearance sale from tigerdirect.ca, at 119. This was an OEM unit – no box, no heatsink/fan, nothing, but it was 100$ less than I’d ever seen them. It got me thinking that it was time to upgrade. TL;DR version – I did, but not with that chip. My more preferred online computer retailer, NCIX, also had a sale.
NCIX’s offering was a Phenom II also, but the 960T model; one of the 6-core Thuban (hence the T) chips with two cores disabled (my board doesn’t have the core-unlock feature). This one clocks at 3GHz with 3.4GHz Turbo Core (power-on-demand, basically). Sounded ideal, other than that it was a 95W chip, but, I figured, I could always underclock for the same efficiency as my old one, especially since this one was the multiplier-unlocked “Black Edition.” Also an OEM unit with no extras, it was the same price as the 905e from TD, but NCIX threw in an aftermarket Coolermaster Hyper 101A to sweeten the deal. At 117mm tall, it’s the largest heatpipe cooler that will fit in my case.
That was the deciding factor. I pulled the trigger and bought. Probably the biggest difference is in the video card – I went from a Radeon HD 3450 – a 5-generations-old low-end card, Hybrid Crossfired with my motherboard’s Radeon HD3200 IGP – to a Radeon HD 6850. This new card is only recently one generation obsolete (the 7000-series just launched) and is a mid-to-high-end card, so the difference in gaming performance is stunning. I bought a Gigabyte Windforce model with 1GB GDDR5 and a factory overclock from 775MHz to 820MHz. And it was cheap. To power this new beast, along with my new CPU, I grabbed an Antec Earthwatts 500, which was also on sale and the same series I’ve been using since I first built this machine. My case is kind of wonky and requires a PSU with the rear-exhausting 80mm fan, which is kind of a rarity these days, except in server and high-power applications.
Everything arrived within the week, no problems there. Unboxing day came, and I was excited to dig in.
The CPU swap, while it sounds relatively simple, was the most intense part, by far. Unlike with the 905e, I had to flash my mobo’s BIOS to the latest version to run this one, so once that always-harrowing process was complete, I swapped in my new chip, GPU, and power supply. I had to fiddle with the heatsink mounting a little, rotating it 90 degrees from standard to take advantage of the airflow in my case (I initially tried running fanless, but that didn’t pan out – more on that later). I also had to re-route most of the cables inside the case in order to make room for the new video card. It just barely fits inside. My case, an Antec NSK2400, is a desktop-style case designed for HTPCs, good airflow, and low noise, but interior space is at a premium.
Everything was fine on first boot. Whew, I didn’t bork it! Time to configure BIOS for my new beast.
I left all settings stock, except the clock speed, which I set down to 2.5GHz, as I was trying to run fanless, and wanted similar power efficiency to the e-series chips. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. I kind of knew that, but these new chips are supposed to handle most of that on their own. Even downclocked to 2500MHz, I noticed the thermal diode of the CPU was reporting temps in the 50s, and that was just sitting in BIOS, so scratch that fanless thing for now. Then I tried to set the option for C1e (a power-saving technology). It was disabled by default, and even trying to access the option was hanging the system. Hm.
I ended up just leaving it off, there being nothing else I could do. I’d just submit a ticket to Gigabyte tech support, perhaps there was something I was “missing.” Turns out there was something missing – C1e support on this processor. Bummer. Cool’n'Quiet would have to suffice on its own, in conjunction with Turbo Core.
I left it like this for a few days, and everything seemed stable. My games never looked better. It was awesome. Then I noticed something odd. I have a sidebar gadget that reports my CPU speed and core load, RAM use, and a bunch of other nerdy things, and this gadget was telling me that this chip was almost always running in its highest two p-states: p0 – the high performance state (2500MHz, due to my BIOS underclock), and p1 (2300MHz), the next step down. Odd. I grabbed CPU-Z and checked. Sure enough, it was only rarely dipping into its lower (p2 @1600MHz and p3 @800MHz) p-states, and not staying there long. This, I knew from experience, should not be the case.
Even my gutless old 9150e spent most of its time in it’s 900MHz low state most of the time. Initially, I blamed lack of C1e support, but there was more – it was supposed to dynamically adjust the voltage as well, between .9v and 1.425 along with the clocks, but it wasn’t doing that either – it was constantly applying full voltage to the chip, even in the brief moments of using lower p-states. That would explain why it was running so hot in BIOS, even underclocked. Gigabyte said it wasn’t a motherboard issue, nor a BIOS one. I don’t buy that. I think that this newer chip is just not fully compatible with this board, despite their claims to the contrary. This BIOS version is a beta, and feels like they just made some hacks so it would run new CPUs. That, however, is neither here nor there. Without their help, I’d just have to figure out how to get it working as intended on my own. Enter K10STAT (<– I’ll finish the post there; click to keep reading).