13 May 2007

As well as building robots, I also like to build and upgrade my computers. In fact, I like generally tinkering with all sorts of machines. My main desktop was once specified and built as a hard core gaming rig. It was a little past that now. But it had a bit of a wopping specification, with all the noise and power usage problems that come with it.

My Specs

  • Case: Cooler Master Centurion, Aluminium Case with blue power and HDD LED’s. Slick, and cool.
  • Geforce 6600 AGP Graphics Card - With extra power connection and large fan/heatsink rig.
  • AMD Sempron 2800+ without CnQ - this had a fairly loud fan, and ran between 45C and 60C. It got hot enough that I sometimes worried. It has a TDP of 62W according to Wikipedia (April 2007).
  • 1Gb Kingston DDR Ram.
  • 1x80Gb (Windows XP) + 1x160Gb (Ubuntu Feisty) IDE Hard Disk Drives - Noisy, power hungry and hot.
  • Gigabyte Triton K8NS (Not the Pro) motherboard, with NForce Chipset - including on board AC-97 sound, Ethernet etc.
  • Belkin Wireless-N 802.11(a/b/g/n) card.
  • Internal DVD+/-RW Drive.
  • 3 Additional Case fans to keep this cool.
  • 600W Gold Plated Triple Fan Power Supply.

I suspect you begin to imagine what kind of monster this was. It ran hot, it hogged power, and it sounded like an jet taking off when started up.

It was time for an upgrade. Now most applications I run, run smoothly enough on this rig, for me not to be too worried yet about going Duo Core or some other next generation architecture (at least for now), but I had a goal to reduce power usage, noise and heat generated by this machine. To turn it from a hard core rig, to a super silent (or as close as can) kind of machine. Considering how different these use cases are, this could be quite interesting.

First Steps

Some simple things got the first few parts out of the way. I replaced the Internal DVD+/-RW with an External USB-2 one, which I can turn off when it is not needed.

The 80Gb hard disk was also moved to an external caddy, it is the Windows drive, which I generally only use for gaming. Again, this is USB-2, and I am a little worried about game load time.

Until I make some other savings, I cannot yet replace the power supply. I still have three case fans, the Sempron, its fan and the 6600.


The CPU is the most interesting part of this upgrade. I read an article on about putting an AMD Turion 64 Laptop processor on a desktop motherboard. The interesting thing is that the Turion 64 uses the same socket 754 technology as the Sempron, and I might be able to fit it.

This would bring some great advantages. Not only was it a faster rated processor in terms of performance (same clock speed), but it was 64 bit. More importantly, it had a TDP (Thermal Output- Typical Dissipated Power) of around 31W - half that of the Sempron. This meant it used less power from the PSU and needed less cooling (lower fan speed or simply a smaller fan). It was obvious this was a good route to my goals.

I started doing the research - would my motherboard support it? I did not find much information specifically regarding my board, only one article on using the Turion with the K8NS-Pro motherboard - one that had a number of differences from the non pro model. The research suggested I might need a different BIOS image depending on the age of it and what kind of stepping it supported. With a Sempron that did not support Cool and Quiet voltage stepping, I had no way of knowing. Gigabyte suggested it might not.

I decided to take the risk, and buy one of these. I had to hunt around and shop around, and eventually found one on eBay for £65. This was the AMD Turion 64 with a Lancaster Core- the ML-30. I was actually able to collect it locally, so I was able to get underway within a day of starting. The CPU was still in a sealed static proof bag, so it was in new condition.

My next step was to remove the old CPU and fit the new one. This threw up a few issues, so I will cover this next time…