Not your father’s Celeron

I picked up a Celeron G1610 CPU last week and I’m using it to build a Linux box. Yeah, it’s a Celeron. But it performs like a 2011-vintage Core i3 or a 2010-vintage Core i5, consumes less power than either, and costs less than $50. It’s hard to go wrong with that. Read more

Cyanogenmod 10.1 runs surprisingly well on a Nook Color

Cyanogenmod–the open-source distribution of Android for undersupported/abandoned devices–went to version 10.1 this week. Version 10.1 is based on Android 4.2.2, so it matches what’s in stores right now.

My Nook Color was sitting unused, so I figured I had nothing to lose by loading Cyanogenmod 10.1 on it. It was slow and laggy and crashed a lot under 7.2, so it wasn’t like it could be much worse.

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Hot-rod Cyanogenmod 7.2

Whatever you do, don’t call this post Optimizing Android 2.3 for Games, Graphics and Multimedia. I’ll kick your… nevermind.

But of course the first thing I wanted after I installed Cyanogenmod 7.2–which is based on Android 2.3.7–on my Nook Color was to make it run smoother and faster. What else would I want? So here’s some stuff I did, since adding three CPU cores obviously isn’t an option.

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Is overclocking over?

Extreme Tech (via Slashdot) asks if overclocking is over. It’s an interesting question.

I have a 4-core machine whose cores can all run at a top speed of over 3 GHz. And it’s a midrange PC at best, these days. The only time I ever push its CPU usage is when I’m encoding video. Web pages that bring a P4-class machine to its knees momentarily bring this PC’s CPU usage to 10%.

Not being a gamer, I haven’t had any reason to overclock in years. In fact, even back in 2000 I was recommending against it.
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How to buy a sub-$100 Android tablet and not get burned

Last year, a flood of $99 tablets built with extremely low-end hardware running dated versions of Android appeared. This year, slightly better tablets running slightly less dated versions of Android are readily available, sometimes for as little as $60. And I have to admit, these devices got me thinking. I didn’t quite pull the trigger. But here’s what to watch (out) for on the low end.
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Used dual-cores are coming! Used dual-cores are coming!

All this talk about new computers got me looking to see what’s out there in the channel. And it looks like the glut of Pentium 4s is finally clearing, making way for the 2-core revolution. Prices are low–I’m seeing dual-core systems, both Intel and AMD, with Windows licenses, for anywhere from $180 to $280 depending on configuration and some other factors that aren’t exactly clear to me.

Sound good? Here’s what to look for in an off-lease/refurbished computer.
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Stress test computer hardware with Prime95

Let’s say you’ve just bought a used PC with a short (typically less than 2 weeks) warranty. Or a new PC that’s not the brand you know and trust. Maybe you’ve built a new PC and you want to make sure it’s going to hold up before you start using it every day. Or you have a new server, and you want to make sure it’s going to hold up under heavy loads. What should you do to stress test computer hardware (or burn in computer hardware) like that?

Do what overclockers do.

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How CPU multipliers came to be locked

It was 1996. I was a senior in college, and I went to the computer store in the student commons to get a cable or something. I ran into an old classmate working in the store, who went on to work as an engineer for Boeing. We talked for a few minutes, and he told me about a web site that I just had to visit. I still remember the URL for some reason. He grabbed a piece of paper and scrawled “http://sysdoc.pair.com” on it.

It was my introduction to the world of PC hardware enthusiast sites. That mysterious URL was the early address of Tom’s Hardware Guide. The front page mostly consisted of links to articles telling you how to overclock Pentium CPUs using undocumented jumper settings on Asus motherboards, and the ads were largely mail-order houses offering specials on Asus motherboards and low-end Pentium CPUs.
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It’s been 15 years, and computer stores haven’t changed much

In the early 1990s, I learned how to fix computers because I got tired of long waits and shoddy repairs from computer stores.

Last month I took a friend to go buy a computer. I didn’t want her to get stuck with retail junk, so I took her to a computer store that I knew sold quality parts. Plus I know the owner. He wrote an O’Reilly book too. I figured it would be a smooth experience, since I knew exactly what to ask for. The salesperson said he’d get back to me within two days with a quote, then it would take about a week to build the system after we gave the OK. Seems pretty smooth and reasonable.

It turned into a nightmare. Or at least a mess. Read more

What happens when you overclock

I’ve never been a big fan of overclocking. I overclocked for a couple of weeks back in my Pentium-75 days but quit when my system started acting goofy. I did it again five years ago when I was writing my book, because, well, everyone expected me to talk about overclocking in it. So I overclocked again, and tried to use that overclocked machine in the process of writing a book. This foray only lasted a little while longer.

I explicitly recommended against overclocking in my book, based on my experience with it. Now, some five years later, we have an analysis from a Microsoft engineer, based on what he found when analyzing crash dumps people had sent in when they push the “send error report” button.There’s a lot of technical jargon in his analysis. I know enough about assembly language make a Commodore 64 flash lots of colors on the screen, so I know just enough to translate his code examples into English.

Basically, what the examples indicate is that the overclocked processor in question knew that two values were set to the same number, was told to do something if the two values were equal and something else if they weren’t equal, and the CPU did… the something else. Suddenly five wasn’t equal to five.

The second example he sites is just a sneaky way to set something to zero. These overclocked processors weren’t able to do that reliably.

Let me put this a different way. In 1989 or 1990, I read a magazine article in the late, great Compute magazine about CPUs. At the time, the Motorola 68030 was one of the fastest CPUs on the market. The author asked a Motorola engineer how Motorola made a 50 MHz CPU (which at the time was mind-blowing). Know what he said? He said they started out by taking a 33 MHz CPU, running it at 50 MHz until it broke, and then they looked at what broke and tried to find a way to make those parts stronger.

A lot of people encourage overclocking because they say it’s harmless. That quote from a Motorola engineer notwithstanding, I think it really depends on what it is that you’re doing. Some would argue that if all you do is play games, go ahead and overclock, and if you toast your CPU in a year, well, next year’s hottest game will need a newer CPU anyway. Having had a computer crash in the middle of a game where I was doing well, I’m not so keen even on that idea.

I’m certainly not going to overclock anything that’s going to have my financial information on it. When I’m doing my monthly budget, I need my computer to know that five equals five.

I didn’t recommend overclocking in 1999, and with what CPU prices have done in the past six years, if anything, it makes less sense now.