01/28/2001

I liked how yesterday’s experiment went. So here’s the good stuff I found yesterday.

Laptop intro (Tom’s Hardware Guide)

Aside from spelling errors (notebooks have “gismos,” and PCMCIA network cards connect to CAT5 cable through the use of a “dangle”), this is a pretty good introduction to notebook PCs, covering recent developments like miniPCI and MDC as well and explaining oft-confusing battery technology.

The roundup of video chipsets common in notebooks is nice, and includes the important but easily overlooked power consumption of each solution.

I was disappointed that there was no mention of a previous THG notebook article, http://www4.tomshardware.com/cpu/00q4/001107/index.html , which talked about little-known upgrade paths–by replacing the MMC in a notebook, it’s possible to cross generations. Yes, you can upgrade an old Pentium-based notebook to a P2 or Celeron, assuming you can find an aftermarket MMC.

When you have information like that, there’s nothing wrong with mentioning it whenever another article with similar information gets posted.

These two articles are essential reading if you’re in the market for a laptop, or if your job includes spec’ing and ordering laptops.

EPoX EP-8KTA3 review (AnandTech)

Good discussion of the board’s weaknesses, especially in regards to routing cables and heat dissipation. Heat might be less of an issue if they didn’t assume everyone overclocks, but heat is your PC’s enemy, whether you’re running out of spec or within it. Also good coverage of this board’s special features, including a two-digit diagnostic LCD display on the board. If something goes wrong and it can’t boot, this board will tell you what happened.

Benchmarking is limited to Content Creation, Sysmark, and Quake III Arena under Windows 98, so this is hardly an authoritative evaluation of performance. If you’re into flight sims, racing games, strategy games, or RPG games (let’s face it, first-person shooters aren’t everyone’s thing, and for good reason), Anand’s benchmarks are worthless to you.

This is a decent review, but hardly authoritative. If you’re thinking about buying a KT133A-based Athlon board and you’re considering the EP-8KTA3, you’ll definitely want to look for reviews on another site. You’ll know from reading the KT-133A roundup at THG  that the EP-8KTA3 is a better all-around performer than the Abit K7TA, but you won’t get that from this review.

Mosel Vitelic “PC143” SDRAM (Hardware Daily)

Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous. To wit: “This Mosel Vitelic ram is actually the same as Mushkin Rev2.0 ram. But this one doesn’t have the Mushkin stickers on it and it doesn’t comes with the bubble delivery bag.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Same chips doesn’t mean same module. Same PCB and same chips doesn’t necessarily mean same module. Here’s the scoop: a 7ns chip may not necessarily run at 7 ns. If a chip runs at 6.9 ns, it’s marked as 7. If it runs at 6.6 ns, it’s marked at 7. If it runs at 7.1, it’s marked as 7.5. What Mushkin’s doing is testing and putting the very fastest 7s on their rev. 3 modules. The second-best go on the rev. 2s. This takes additional testing, which adds to the cost. Buy your Mosel Vitelic memory elsewhere, and you’ll have some 6.6 ns chips and some 7.0s–your results won’t be predictable. One module may run a lot faster than the next. But we’re way ahead of ourselves here.

“According to sisoft Sandra 2001, the chips on this ram is made by Apacer rated at 133mhz.” Wrong again. The reviewer’s hardware knowledge seems as limited as his knowledge of proper English grammar. The chips are made by Mosel Vitelic ( www.moselvitelic.com ), a Taiwanese memory manufacturer who’s been around since 1991 (it was a merger of two companies, each founded in 1983) whose memory is gaining a reputation among overclockers because of its use by Mushkin. Apacer ( www.apacer.com ), on the other hand, makes memory modules.

He then ran some tests in SiSoft Sandra that make this memory look very impressive, but they didn’t do anything to stress-test the RAM to ensure that indeed it was stable at 160 MHz. They also encourage running it at 160 MHz CAS3, which is dubious advice–you get better burst speeds but higher latency that way. That’s precisely the problem with Rambus. How about some benchmarks that more closely resemble real-world performance?

Mosel Vitelic is getting such a reputation that you’ll soon see cheap, generic PCBs with Mosel Vitelic chips on them being sold dirt cheap and bought by misinformed people who read reviews like this and think they’re getting Mushkin-calibre memory for half price.

Mosel Vitelic does make and market their own modules, but that’s not what this is. Manufacturers like Mosel Vitelic and Apacer will be pretty safe, but what you’re paying for when you buy Mushkin is their hand-picking of chips, so you’ll get better, or at least more consistent, results with a Mushkin module.

If you want a near clone of Mushkin memory, you’ll have to look for a module manufactured by Mosel Vitelic themselves (good luck), or by a brand-name maker like Apacer containing 7 ns Mosel Vitelic chips. But you won’t necessarily get the same results.

The review concludes with this: “I highly recommend this ram for people who are looking for good overclocking performance. This teaches us a lesson that good ram isn’t always expensive!”

Unfortunately, the reviewer recommended the wrong thing. The true lesson of this review is that you don’t always get burned when you buy cheap memory, but a few runs of SiSoft Sandra isn’t a good way to test system stability, so this reviewer really doesn’t know what he’s got. He only thinks he does.

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