It’s just about upgrade time.

Well, I’ve got a new FIC AZ-11 board and Duron-750 CPU waiting for me to do something with it. The AZ-11 is $65 (up $5 from when I bought it) at www.gpscomputersvcs.com; the Duron-750 retail is $50 (down $5 from when I bit) but the OEM chip is 33 lousy bucks. I think the retail kit is a good deal, since you get a longer warranty and you know you have an AMD-approved fan. Shipping was $10.50. Nice deal.
Over at Directron.com, you get a good selection of cases and power supplies. And you can get a Diamond Stealth S540 video card for $28 (my forum readers already knew that–hint hint). So, let’s see. Figure $200 for a case, power supply, motherboard, CPU, fan, and video card. All you need is memory, hard drive, floppy drive, and incidentals like an OS, keyboard and mouse and maybe a NIC. So you can have a perfectly respectable system for around $400, but it’ll scale nicely too if you want more. I know my P2-350 at work tends to hover at around 60% CPU usage, so a Duron-750 is way more than necessary for much of what I do, but it’s nice to have some CPU power in reserve.

First impressions of the AZ-11: It’s obviously a modified microATX design. There’s a placeholder for onboard video, which the KT133 chipset lacks (but the KM133, usually used on microATX boards, has). The leftmost 1.5″ of the board is mostly unfinished. Chop that off and it looks like a standard microATX board. It’s not the ideal board, but at $65 you’re getting FIC respectability at a PC Chips price. What do you want for 65 bucks?

With the Gigabyte GA-7DX now selling in the $150 range and Crucial PC2100 memory selling at PC133 prices, DDR makes sense if you’re building an entirely new system. If you want to upgrade something old on the cheap, an AZ-11 and a low-end Duron is a mighty big step up for $125-$150. It wasn’t that long ago that a 4-meg stick of memory cost that much.

And on another note (the CPU): What they say about the fans is true. Be very careful clipping on the fan, and once you get it on, leave it alone. It’s a really tight fit, so I can see why the hardware sites warn against crushing the CPU core. Frankly I’d be afraid to take the fan off the chip.

I’m also a little concerned about the known VIA KT133 problems. There are reports of data corruption on high-speed IDE drives, and apparently use of an SB Live! card makes them worse. And of course I’m going to keep my SB Live! in my fastest system in case I want to do voice recognition.

I just read today that the newest VIA 4-in-1 driver fixes that problem. But I’m thinking seriously about avoiding the problem by putting a SCSI controller and drive on the system. I wonder how many of the infamous IBM 75GXP problems may not have been caused by this. I know the KT133, SB Live!, and IBM 75GXP were an extremely compelling and popular hardware combination because it gave you so much bang for the buck.

Even if I don’t use a SCSI drive and controller, I’ll probably put a Promise Ultra66 in there since it’s known to be a stable, mature, and robust solution and I’ll have plenty of PCI slots available for it.

3 thoughts on “It’s just about upgrade time.

  • May 18, 2001 at 8:16 am
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    As long as you didn’t get the AZ11E or the AZ11EA then you’re immune to that problem. Technically, the problem is not associated with the KT133 (or KT133E) chipset at all. The fault lies in the VIA 686B southbridge. The AZ11 uses the older (but less buggy) 686A.

    The VIA 4-in-1 4.31v drivers contain a supposed fix for that problem, but I’m still seeing it occur in our test systems about 1% of the time (which is still way too high). I have reported my finding to VIA, and they say a new patch will be released within three weeks that contains a better fix. Also, VIA has been working with motherboard manufacturers to get BIOS updates out to the public that will also be able to fix this problem.

  • May 18, 2001 at 12:03 pm
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    Thanks for the clarification. Do you find the SB Live! has anything to do with it, or is it just getting the blame because it’s popular and common?

  • May 19, 2001 at 8:36 pm
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    In my tests (and others…finding links…), the SoundBlaster Live! is the cause of the problem. With the 686B southbridge and no SBL, I have had no problems (over 100 tests). With the SBL added in, the problem begins to surface roughly 85% of the time. This does not happen with any other sound card. However, the VIA fix seems to help. With the VIA fix added in the data corruption issue only shows itself around 1% of the time. That’s still 1%, though. The final series of tests (with the patch) were conducted over 1,000 times (automated) to verify the 1%.

    I’m guessing that the junk the SBL pipes over the PCI bus is killing the 686B southbridge. It has been known for a long time that SoundBlaster Live! series of cards continue to pump data through the PCI bus even when the card is not in use. It is not determined if this is a driver issue or a hardware issue…

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