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PowerLeap PL-iP3/T 1.4GHz CPU Upgrade

14 Nov 2002

By: Agitator!!

Overview

As computers age, applications take longer to open and games run slower - it's a given. If you want to address this sluggishness, there are two main paths to take: either buy a new PC or upgrade your existing PC. While buying a new computer is relatively easy (except on your wallet), upgrading your existing one can present many challenges.

If you decide to go the upgrade path, what component(s) should you replace? Videocard? CPU? Memory? Hard drive? The choices can be daunting.

If you decide to upgrade your CPU, your motherboard/chipset will play a major role in determining what options are available to you. For those motherboards that contain an AMD Athlon or Duron processor, there is a good chance it contains a Socket A interface. In that case, you should be able to choose an off the shelf processor as an upgrade (though your motherboard may require a BIOS upgrade). However, if your motherboard contains an Intel processor, things get a little more complicated because Intel has gone through a few CPU interfaces in recent years.

A company called PowerLeap aims to make the CPU upgrading path a bit easier with their line of CPU adapters. Their latest and greatest offering is the PL-iP3/T CPU Upgrade which provides modern Intel upgrades for older Slot 1 motherboards. The PL-iP3/T supports the latest .13 micron Intel "Tualatin" processors, including the 1.0, 1.2, and 1.4 GHz Celeron with 256K L2 cache and 1.2, 1.26, and 1.4 GHz Pentium-III with up to 512K L2 cache. For this review, the Slot 1/1.4GHz version was tested.

(shown with copper heatsink; review unit had aluminum heatsink).

Installation

The first thing I noticed was the size of the Aluminum heatsink/fan combo. Usually large heatsinks are welcomed, but in my case it barely fit. In fact, as seen in the picture below, the CPU fan blew directly into my memory modules. More than half the fan was blocked by the memory.

While placing the PowerLeap CPU into the Slot was difficult, it didn't match the trouble I had getting the system to properly recognize the processor. The older the motherboard, the more opportunity there is for problems. PowerLeap recommends that you have the latest motherboard BIOS installed before attempting to install their CPU. It took a lot of BIOS tinkering and a few emails to their tech support before getting the system stable. Even after that, PowerLeap's own software said it was a 1.3GHz processor utilizing a 14X multiplier and a 100MHz FSB! How's that for math?

Benchmarks

Test Bed:

Abit BE6-II (v1.1)
256MB Crucial PC133 (CAS 3)
32MB GeForce2 GTS
15GB Maxtor ATA/66 (5400RPM)

The first set of benchmarks were run with SiSoftware's Sandra 2002, which uses synthetic tests to determine performance. Though not a "real world" application, Sandra is still a very useful tool because it can isolate individual subsystems - in this case the CPU and memory.

The theoretical performance increase of the PowerLeap adapter over the P3-600 is 1400/600=233%.

SiSoft Sandra 2002
Test P-3 600E Celeron 1.4GHz % Change
MHz 600E 1400 233%
CPU Arith (Dhrystone ALU) 1618 3866 239%
CPU Arith (Whetstone FPU) 810 1883 232%
CPU Multi-Media (Integer) 3269 7658 234%
CPU Multi-Media (Floating-Point) 4000 9506 238%
Memory (RAM Int) 643 713 11%
Memory (RAM Float) 429 719 68%

From the results above, it is clear that the CPU is performing as advertised. All the CPU test results show that the 1.4GHz PowerLeap upgrade is approximately 233% faster than the P3-600. However, the memory tests didn't fare so well. For example, the Integer memory tests only showed a 11% improvement.

Mad Onion
Test P-3 600E Celeron 1.4GHz % Change
MHz 600E 1400 233%
3d Mark 2001 SE 2440 3527 45%
PC Mark 2002 CPU 1637 3414 209%
PC Mark 2002 Mem 1137 1441 127%
PC Mark 2002 HD 316 316 0%

 

The results above further confirm the SiSoft analysis - the CPU itself scales nicely, but the gains don't necessarily carry over to the other subsystems. The 3D Mark score only showed a 45% increase and there was no difference in hard drive performance.

Analysis

The SiSoft and Mad Onion results highlight a caveat with this kind of upgrade - a PC is only as good as its weakest link. Placing a supercharged engine in an aging PC may not give you the intended results. With the exception of the configuration difficulties, the CPU ran as expected. However, the CPU is just one component of the system. A CPU upgrade won't improve the Hard Drive performance. Also, memory performance does not scale with the increase in CPU speed.

Conclusion

So who might buy this kind of upgrade? Given the current pricing of RAM, if you have a lot of RAM with a fairly new motherboard and hard drive, then a CPU upgrade like the PowerLeap adapter may be an relatively inexpensive way ($170 from PowerLeap) to extend the live of your system. With Hyper-Threading CPU's from Intel and Hammer CPU's from AMD on the way, getting another 6-8 months out of your current PC may be all you need. However, if you have an older system with aging components, it is probably better to save your money until you have enough for a new machine (or a barebones system if you want to do things yourself!).

The ironic thing with this upgrade is that it might not be for the casual PC hobbyist because of the configuration issues. However, those who know the most about PC's probably wouldn't bother with this upgrade path.

PROS
Fast
Large Heatsink/Fan
 
CONS
Can be quite difficult to configure
Large Heatsink/Fan
Won't necessarily improve performance of older components

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