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A Lust for Power:
In the Fast Lane with Thoroughbred B and nForce2

The most important thing here is to be very patient during the whole procedure/process. Take your time, do lots of research on your specific parts and what others were able to achieve, and you will be rewarded handsomely in the end. It took me about a full week straight in order to stabilize this machine.

Going in to this article, I wanted to give an account of my journey in to the fast lane of computing. On many occasions, I have people asking for help in this area, and I felt that giving such a detailed How-To/Tutorial will please many readers, give insight that I have gained where it’s due and also to give everyone the confidence to charge forward, and not be afraid of the unknown.

A Lust for Power: In the Fast Lane with Thoroughbred B and nForce2

  • After owning an nForce420 based board from ASUS and a Palomino based core from AMD for quite some time (1 ˝ years), I was (then) in computing heaven, so to speak. On a Front Side Bus of DDR 266, and a clock speed of 1.6 GHZ (1900+), this set up had performed flawlessly time and time again for me in various application suites. Towards the end of that machine’s run, I had been getting very interested in over clocking, or shall we say, the art of taking your machine to the edge. Unfortunately, the Palomino core and the particular board I was on (A7N266) weren’t very scalable. Any attempts at doing so proved futile. This was no matter to me, as I had never tasted the forbidden fruit before, and was happy with stock speeds. A mishap (human error), had led to the demise of that set up. It was at this time that I needed to upgrade.

    An upgrade took place, and I replaced that nForce board with a VIA KT400 based board (ASUS) and that Palomino with an Athlon XP 2600+ Thoroughbred B based core. After being the proud owner of a new AMD based machine for a few days, I soon realized that I wasn’t experiencing the type of performance and flawless operation as I once did with my nForce420 based setup. After extensive testing and troubleshooting, it was uncovered that I had a faulty board. This needed to be remedied as soon as possible, so I went back to what I had known to be a performer, time and time again. The board was swapped with an nForce2 based board.

    Computing bliss was attained once again at this point, as I immediately regained the performance I once had. But, I still had not tasted the forbidden fruit of bringing your machine to the edge as I had read about countless others doing. I not only needed to, but lusted to delve in to this mystery of running hardware well past specification. I was ready, able and willing at this point to see just how far I could take this chipset on air cooling.


    The System is as follows:

    Athlon XP 2600+ Thoroughbred B (DDR 333 – 2.083 GHZ) – Core Voltage 1.65
    Asus A7N8X Deluxe Revision 2
    Corsair PC3200 LLPT TWINX 1024 Revision 1.2 (DDR 400) – DIMM Voltage 2.6
    Thermaltake 420 Watt
    Volcano 11+ Xaser Heatsink with a Vantec Tornado 92mm

    Tools:

    Motherboard Monitor 5

    Prime95 v. 235

    Sisoft Sandra

    The first thing to do, is to become acquainted with the internals of your machine. How it operates, various noises it may make, various smells, etc. The next step is to learn your BIOS (Basic Input Output System) inside and out. Then, look the board over, following with your manual, and get acquainted with various jumpers and their settings, where the battery is located that stores BIOS values is, and where the reset jumper (RTC/CMOS) to restore default BIOS values is located.

    Set yourself up with Motherboard Monitor 5 and configure it for your motherboard. It will take some time and patience, but you will soon have it configured to correctly read your CPU temperature and voltages. It must be noted here that the wizard that comes with the new MBM5 did not configure the application correctly for my particular board. You should configure it manually, using the sensor values located on the motherboard list at the livewire site. Make sure not to run any other sensor monitoring software while you run MBM5.

    Install and launch Prime 95. Select Options->CPU, and set it to ˝ or 1/3 of your physical ram. Run the torture test. Observe your temperatures and voltage readings. If your temperature jumps up about 4-5 Degrees Celsius and then climbs, you have correctly configured MBM to read off the CPU Diode. If it jumps up about 2-3 degrees and then holds, you have incorrectly configured MBM to read off the Diode.

    Run Prime95 for about 10 minutes and observe your +12V rail and CPU Diode temperature. You want to make sure that you don’t go over 55 degrees Celsius on the Diode and your +12V rail doesn’t dip too low (5-10% from 12). It should be noted here that you should not attempt to over clock with the stock heatsink and fan that comes with your CPU and you should have an adequate Power Supply Unit which supplies around 18 amps on 12V. If the temperatures get too high, take the covers off of your machine, add more fans, tie up cables, etc. If all is well, then you may proceed.

    The calculation of clock speed is as follows. Multiplier x FSB (Front Side Bus) = Clock Speed. For the 2600+ 333, the stock formula is 12.5x166 ~ 2.083. We will take a two step approach while over clocking. First we will work on our Front Side Bus and then we will work on our multiplier. It should be noted here that most midrange AMD CPU’s will top out at around 2.35 GHZ or so with moderate voltage. To go any further, one must heavily juice the CPU. Your probably thinking to yourself, well that’s not much of an increase. Not so. You gain the most performance increase from system wide bandwidth, than you do from raw CPU power. This is what we will be concentrating on. You will want to maximize the bandwidth going in to and out of the CPU, and not necessarily pay too much attention to the actual clock speed/ raw CPU power.

    All Thoroughbred and Barton users that own pre week 39 CPU’s have a processor that can be unlocked by an nForce2 board. What does that mean exactly? That means that you are able to adjust your multiplier. This is vital, because it means that we will not hit the CPU’s wall before we hit the wall of the motherboard and or memory. For example, 12.5x200 is very hard to attain on air cooling, because as I said earlier, the wall of the CPU will have been hit, and heavily juicing the CPU is required to stabilize the clock speed of 2.5 GHZ. If we bump that multiplier down to say 11 (3200+), then our clock speed becomes 2.2 GHZ which will be easily attainable on stock to moderate voltages.

    We will be working with DDR (Dual/Double Data Rate) Memory. The double comes from the memory being accessed on the rise and fall of a clock cycle. For example, if we have a Front Side Bus of 166, our DDR rate becomes 333 MHZ from the double pumped action against the CPU.

    Before we proceed, Sisoft Sandra should be installed and launched. Run the Memory Bandwith Benchmarking Module. Take note of your Int. and Float numbers, so as to get an idea of where you stand at stock. After doing so, turn off your machine, and place your RAM accordingly, like so. If you have one stick of memory, place it in slot 3 (furthest from the CPU). If you have a matched pair (ex: 2x512, 2x256 or 2x1024), then place them in slots 1 (closest to CPU) and 3 (furthest from the CPU). If you have an unmatched pair (ex: 1x512 and 1x256), place them in slots 2 and 3. The A7N8X board supports Dual Channel. The performance increase is about 3-5% while running in this configuration. We will be using this configuration. Turn on your machine; we are now ready to make your FSB climb.

    Lock your AGP to 66MHZ (normal operating frequency), disable all Spread Spectrums, and “manualize” all settings. On the a7n8x deluxe, the PCI bus is constantly locked at 33MHZ (normal operating frequency). This is vital to our over clocking run, because if these frequencies are run out of specification, it will kill our chances at attaining and holding a high stable clock. We will start out on 1.65 Core Voltage. The ASUS board over volts by .50, so we are at 1.7 from the start. We will start out with a DIMM Voltage of 2.6. Set your RAM to SPD for a moment, and take note of your CAS latency. After doing so, switch back to manual, and set your RAS Precharge (tRP) to 3, RAS-to-CAS Delay (tRCD) to 3, and Bank Cycle Time (tRAS) to 10. Leave your CAS Latency at the SPD (stock) setting. These settings allow the RAM to be loose enough (but not too loose as to hurt performance) so we don’t hit the wall of the RAM prematurely. I will give links to further reading of timings later on. Set your memory to 100% Synchronous with your FSB. On nForce2 and AMD, the best performance is yielded when this is done.

    Before you start, always be prepared to clear your CMOS/RTC if you cannot POST after making changes. The procedure is as follows. Turn off your system with the power button in front. Never, I repeat never hit the reset button. Switch off your PSU, and unplug. Wait for a minute, plug back in, switch on PSU. If you still cannot POST, power off, switch off PSU, unplug, jump the clear CMOS jumper and wait 1 minute. Put the jumper back, plug in, switch on, power on. If you still cannot POST, power off, switch off, unplug, jump the jumper, and take out the CMOS battery. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Put the battery back in, put the jumper back, plug in, switch on, power up.

    As I stated earlier, nForce2 boards unlock Tbred. and Barton Cores (pre-week 39 soft lock), so drop your multiplier to 9.5, and up your FSB 2-3 MHZ. Save your settings and reboot. Run the torture test in Prime 95 for about 15 minutes (1024k FFT; 400 Lucas-Lehmer Iterations). Monitor your temperatures and voltage readings carefully. Remember to keep a MAX zone of 55c and watch your +12V rail. If you are able to complete the aforementioned test of 1024k FFT, then stop the test, and go back in to BIOS and up your FSB by another 2-3. Re-test with Prime 95. Follow this same procedure until you fail the first Iterations test. After failing, bring your DIMM voltage to 2.7. Then re-test. If you still fail, up your CPU Core voltage by .25. Test again. If you still fail, up your core by .25 more. Test again. Keep an eye on your temperatures. If you still fail, up your DIMM voltage to 2.8. Test again. Do not go over 2.8 VDIMM, even with Heat Spreaders. The RAM may not fail in the immediate future, but its life will be decreased if excess voltage is held on them. The goal here is to go as far as you can on FSB on the least amount of voltage to the ram needed to operate stable. If you still fail, up your RAS-to-CAS Delay (tRCD) to 4 and your Bank Cycle Time (tRAS) to 11. Re-test. If you pass from where you failed the last time, drop your VDIMM voltage down .1. Re-test. If you pass, drop your core by .25. Re-test. If you fail, bring your core back up .25 and DIMM voltage back to where it was. Re-test. If you pass, continue on with your FSB climb. Follow this same procedure/concept till the end of your FSB climb. Once you hit the wall of the motherboard/memory, clock down by 2-3 MHZ in FSB to give some leeway. You are now ready for your multiplier climb, the other half of the equation.

    Up your multiplier by .5 and your core by .50, then test. If you pass, up your multiplier again and re-test. If you fail, bring your core voltage up by .25 and re-test. If you fail, up your core once more and re-test. As you can see, we are using the same concept/procedure as with the FSB climb. You will notice that with each multiplier climb, you will need to add more and more core. I want to stress again, keep a close eye on your temperatures. It is also a good idea not to go over 1.825 or so, on air cooling, even if you have a little bit of temperature room left. You want some leeway to preserve the life of the CPU and keep the bare minimum of voltage necessary to operate stable. When you have no more temperature room left/ have hit the wall, your goal now is to run Prime95 for 16+ hours straight. If you can pass that, then you can declare the machine stable. If you fail at any point, make adjustments here and there and re-test until you are able to complete 16+ hours. Experiment with tighter timings on your RAM and even different BIOS revisions. Use SiSoft Sandra to ensure that you are helping and not hurting performance, while you are finishing up your over clock. Make sure you always flash BIOS from a DOS utility as flashing from a Win32 based utility will leave residual traces of old BIOS’ around.

    So how far were the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe Revision 2 board and Corsair PC3200 Revision 1.2 RAM able to make it? I want to first point out that this specific RAM has a voltage regulator on its chips. What does that mean? That means that the RAM regulates voltage all on its own and doesn’t require any further voltage to operate. This is good and bad. It is good, because the RAM will go far on stock voltages. It is bad, because if one were to increase the voltage to the RAM, it would perform horribly and work against the cause. Thus, reaching for a possibly higher FSB and tighter timings is out of the question.

    This ram and board was able to reach an FSB of 221 or DDR 442 in Dual Channel Mode at 2.6 Vdimm. The CPU was able to hit a multiplier of 10.5 while keeping under 55c at 1.8 Vcore. The final clock is: 10.5x221 ~ 2.32 GHZ. Is this the end of the rope for this board? I have a feeling it can go a bit further. It is the RAM that is the bottleneck in this machine at this point, because of the voltage regulator contained inside the chips (and the inability to operate stable at anything other then stock ram voltages). I have new RAM coming soon (Corsair 3500C2), that doesn’t contain a VR, so I will update this article when that happens.

    The most important thing here is to be very patient during the whole procedure/process. Take your time, do lots of research on your specific parts and what others were able to achieve, and you will be rewarded handsomely in the end. It took me about a full week straight in order to stabilize this machine.

    Going in to this article, I wanted to give an account of my journey in to the fast lane of computing. On many occasions, I have people asking for help in this area, and I felt that giving such a detailed How-To/Tutorial will please many readers, give insight that I have gained where it’s due and also to give everyone the confidence to charge forward, and not be afraid of the unknown.

    I want to thank everyone over at the nForcersHQ.com forums for providing a mass amount of information when I first purchased my board and especially Nerbil, for his very insightful Articles. A special thanks as well goes out to Tomas and Bruce for putting up with me and making me see avenues of thought which I wasn't aware of in the learning process.

    Further Reading:

    Nerbil’s Memory Timings

    Nerbil’s Over clocking Guide for Beginner's

    Memory Bandwith Explained

    Your PC's Bios Explained

    Bios Tweaks

    Author: Pershoot (pershoot @ bigbluehost . com)