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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.
Read More »How CPU multipliers came to be locked

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 »It’s been 15 years, and computer stores haven’t changed much

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.

Read More »What happens when you overclock

Spend your computer money on your monitor, not some hopped-up CPU

I read an editorial at Tom’s Hardware this morning that struck me as a bit unusual. Not only did it not mention Quake once (or Doom or whatever the FPS flavor of the week is today), it didn’t mention overclocking, and it wasn’t especially excited about AMD and Intel’s new CPU releases today.
In fact, it argued that by rushing out and buying those CPUs, all you’re doing is giving AMD and Intel an interest-free loan. You buy the chips now. The apps that need them will come later. And that, he said, is just plain wrong.

And I thought to myself: How is this any different from history? Yes, I’ll concede that every chip from the 486 up to, say, the chips of the gigahertz race was overdue. But let’s face it. When Gatermann’s dad needed a computer, we tracked down a used Dell P2-450. When a mutual friend’s sister went off to college, we tracked down another off-lease Dell, added a CD burner, and sent her on her way. If you know how to set a computer up right, it’s entirely possible to be plenty productive on a P2.

And the majority of people are mainly interested in using a computer to surf the Web, read e-mail, do some word processing, listen to MP3s and burn music CDs. For tasks like that, a P2 is, frankly, overkill.

When the first 386 PCs appeared in 1986, they were overkill. People were content with their 4.77 MHz XTs. Some of them had just gotten 6 or 8 MHz ATs, which were themselves overkill. Everyone seems to think the x86 series debuted in 1981. It didn’t. Intel released the 8088 in 1977. It was four years before the chip got mainstream use! (The 8086, after which the family is named, waited even longer.)

This industry has always been built with the bucks from the early adopters and enthusiasts. Always. And if you don’t want to play, nobody’s making you. I haven’t ordered my Athlon 64 yet.

It’s never made sense for me to be the first one on my block with the hottest new CPU. The same is true for most people I know. A lot of people would do well with a $150 used computer from one of these guys–click one of the links and scroll to the bottom and find a link that says “systems” or “desktop PCs”–and a really good keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Or if you want new, buy the cheapest PC available from a first-tier vendor you trust, then spend the money you would have spent on a 3 GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition CPU on something that’s actually useful, like that thing you spend all that time staring at. Get a flat-panel LCD monitor that runs at a comfortable resolution. Ditch the $3 keyboard and mouse that comes with the system and buy nice(r) ones. (The best keyboards on the market bring sticker shock–I have trouble justifying a $150 computer keyboard too, I know.)

Chances are you’ll have money left over. Good. In two years the budget CPU will be faster than that P4 Extreme Edition that Intel is touting today. Start saving for 2005’s budget PC now. The monitor, keyboard, and mouse you just shelled out the big bucks for will still work with it, and you’ll be a lot happier.

Windows potpourri

I’ll give some random Windows tips tonight, since it’s getting late and I don’t really want to think. So here’s some stuff I’ve been putting off. So let’s talk utilities and troubleshooting.
Utilities first. Utilities are more fun. So let’s talk about a pair of reader submissions, from Bryan Welch.

Proxomitron. Bryan wondered if I’d ever heard of it because I’d never mentioned it. I’m sure I mentioned it on my page at editthispage.com because I ran Proxomitron for a couple of years. Proxomitron is a freeware proxy server that blocks ads, Javascript, cookies, and just about anything else undesirable. I’ve found that these days I get everything I need from Mozilla–it blocks popups just fine, and I can right-click and pick “Block images from this server” when I run across an objectionable ad, and of course I have GIF animation turned off and Flash not installed. That works for me, and it saves me memory and CPU time.

But if you want more than Mozilla gives you off the shelf, Proxomitron will give it to you. I used to recommend it wholeheartedly. I haven’t looked at a recent version of it but I’d be shocked if it’s changed much. If any of that interests you, I’m sure you’ve already run off to download it. It runs on any version of Windows from Win95 on.

98lite. Most of my readers run Windows 2000 or XP at this point, but about 20% of you are still running Win98 or WinMe. If you want to get a little extra speed, download and run 98lite to remove Internet Explorer and other not-quite-optional-but-mostly-useless cruft. It’s been pretty well established that Windows 9x runs 20-25% faster with IE gone. That’s more improvement than you’ll get from overclocking your CPU. Or from any single hardware upgrade, in most cases.

If you need IE, 98lite can still help you–it can break the desktop integration and speed things up for you, just not as much.

If you’re still running 98, I highly recommend it. How much so? When I was writing Optimizing Windows, Shane Brooks probably would have given me a copy of it, on the theory that its mention in a book would cause at least sales he wouldn’t get otherwise. I mentioned it (I think I dedicated half a chapter to it), but I didn’t ask him for one. I registered the thing. If I liked it enough to pay for it when I probably didn’t have to, that ought to say something.

Troubleshooting. Let’s talk about troubleshooting Windows 2000 and XP.

Weird BSODs in Premiere under Windows 2000. I haven’t completely figured out the pattern yet, but my video editing computer gets really unstable when the disk gets jammed. A power play at church forced me to “fork” my new video–my church gets its edited, censored, changed-for-the-sake-of-change version (pick one) while everyone else gets the slightly longer how-the-guy-with-the-journalism-degree-intended-it version. Re-saving a second project filled up nearly all available disk space and the machine started bluescreening left and right. After I’d done some cleanup last week and freed up over a gig on all my drives, and then defragmented, it had been rock solid.

So if you run Premiere and it seems less than stable, try freeing up some disk space and defragmenting. It seems to be a whole lot more picky than any other app I’ve ever seen. I suspect it’s Premiere that’s picky about disk space and one or more of the video codecs that’s picky about fragmentation. But if you’re like me, you don’t really care which of them is causing the BSODs, you just want it to stop.

Spontaneous, continuous Explorer crashes in Windows 2000. Yeah, the same machine was doing that too. I finally traced the problem to a corrupt file on my desktop. I don’t know which file. I found a mysterious file called settings.ini or something similar. I don’t know if deleting that was what got me going again or if it was some other file. But if Explorer keeps killing itself off on you and restarting and you can’t figure out why, try opening a command prompt, CD’ing to your desktop, and deleting everything you find. (I found I had the same problem if I opened the desktop directory window in Explorer while logged on as a different user, which was how I stumbled across the command line trick.)

I can’t say I’ve ever seen this kind of behavior before. First I thought I had a virus. Then I thought I had a corrupt system file somewhere. I’m glad the problem turned out to have a simple cure, but I wish I’d found that out before I did that reinstall and that lengthy virus scan…

Defragging jammed drives in Windows 2000 and XP. If you don’t have 15% free space available to Defrag (and how it defines “available” seems to be one of the great mysteries of the 21st century), it’ll complain and not do as good of a job as it should. In a pinch, run it anyway. Then run it again. Often, the available free space will climb slightly. You’ll probably never get the drive completely defragmented but you should be able to improve it at least slightly.

This unusual case wants to house your next PC

The Lope I-Tee computer case is, well, shaped like a T.
When David Huff e-mailed me about it, he called it interesting. I’ll certainly agree with that.

Here’s the idea: You mount the motherboard up against the back plane of the case and put the drives and the power supply up front, yielding a case that’s not as deep as a conventional case and cools better. Allegedly.

I hesitate to write about it because I haven’t worked with one, I haven’t tested one, and I haven’t even seen one. Hmm. I really don’t know anything about it but of course I have an opinion about it. I feel so Slashdotty.

One big advantage of a layout like this is that all the ports are on the side where you can see them and get to them easily. The biggest disadvantage of a layout like this is that all the ports are on the side where you can see them, and depending on the way your desk is set up, they might be on the wrong side.

USB peripherals and front-mount USB ports are the usual cure for fumbling around the back–you can plug your digital camera or other things that move around a lot up there–but plugging your other peripherals in the back hides the cables and prevents things from getting too unsightly. Let’s face it, plugs and cables don’t fit traditional, conventional ideas of a thing of beauty.

On the plus side, cases that disassemble easily are always nice, as are cases that take up less space. But a couple of minutes with my ruler and my ATX cases shows this case isn’t any less deep than most of my mainstream cases, and due to its shape, it is considerably wider. I’d love something that genuinely took up less space on or under my desk, but this case won’t be it.

This case won’t flop on the marketplace though. They claim it improves cooling. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. People buy aluminum cases because they supposedly conduct heat better. The reality is the difference in heat conductivity between expensive aluminum cases and cheap steel cases is nearly zero, and what difference you can measure is more likely due to aiflow than its material. Enthusiast overclockers still buy them anyway, hoping to get an extra 5 MHz out of their overclock. The same kind of people who buy aluminum cases for overclocking will go for the I-Tee, especially if the I-Tee’s cost is close to that of a mainstream case.

I can’t make any recommendations for or against it, based on not seeing it. But I’m willing to go out on a limb and say this–or a design like it–will survive at least as a niche product.

Upgrade diary: Gateway G6-400

I recently had the displeasure of working on a Gateway G6-400. I’ll relate some of the experiences here, in case you ever have the same misfortune.
The G6-400 looks good on paper. This particular configuration had a P2-400 in it on an Intel mobo (BX chipset), a 16-meg 3dfx video card (hot for the time), and a DVD drive. The owner complained it was slow and unstable. The usual cure for that is to remove the extra crap Gateway installs on all their PCs.

Unfortunately, this one wouldn’t boot to let me do that. Not even in safe mode. Nice, eh?

Memory problem? I tried several known-good DIMMs. Same results.

Power supply? I tried a known-good, brand-name power supply. Same results.

At some point, the hard drive made an ominous noise. I replaced the hard drive and attempted a clean install of Win98SE. It bombed out at random points during installation. Just in case it was the DVD drive, I tried several different CD-ROM drives. (Hey, I was desperate.) Same result.

Out of curiosity, I put the suspect hard drive in another computer and tried to boot it in safe mode (I didn’t want Windows to mess up the configuration). It worked fine. Rats.

So by now I’d replaced everything in the box–everything important, at least–except the mobo and the processor. I spied an FIC P2 mobo with a BX chipset at Software and Stuff for 30 bucks. I bought it. I was playing the odds. Mobos go bad more often than CPUs do, especially when you’re not overclocking. And if I was wrong, I have other Slot 1 processors. The only other Slot 1 mobo I have is one of the really old LX-based boards that only has a 66 MHz bus.

Why pay $30 for an obsolete mobo when you can get a modern board for $50 or $60 and put a nice Duron or Athlon CPU on it? I doubted the power supply would handle it well. Spend $30 more on a mobo, and $30 more on a new CPU, then you have to replace the power supply as well. Suddenly $30 more has become $100.

The FIC is a much nicer board, even though the specs are very similar. It has one more DIMM slot than the Intel board had. It has no onboard sound, but it has one more available PCI slot. Expandability comes out a draw (you’ll use the extra PCI slot to hold a sound card), but you get your choice. You can put in something equivalent to the midrange Yamaha sound built into the Intel board. Or you can put in a high-end card. The board itself has a lot more configuration options, and even with the default options it boots a lot faster.

This G6-400 has a microATX power supply in it. At least it looks like a microATX power supply, and a lot of people who sell eMachines-compatible microATX boxes claim they’ll also fit a G6. Why Gateway put a small-form factor, low-power power supply in what was at the time of manufacture the second-fastest PC on the market, I have no idea. Unless the idea was to make lots of money selling replacement power supplies. The plus side is, at least it really is ATX, unlike Dell, who uses something that looks like ATX but isn’t. (You’ll blow up the mobo if you plug an ATX power supply into a Dell mobo or a Dell power supply into a standard ATX mobo.)

Fortunately, this case has screw holes in the standard ATX places as well. Unfortunately, the opening in the back isn’t big enough to accomodate any standard ATX power supply I’ve ever seen (the opening blocks the power plug). Someone willing to resort to violence with a hacksaw, Dremel (or similar tool), or tin snips could hack an opening big enough to accomodate a replacement box. More on that in a bit.

I pulled the Intel mobo and dropped in the FIC replacement. Unfortunately, the case used one big block for all the case switches. Since nobody’s ever standardized the header block for the and reset switches and lights, that’s a problem unless you’re replacing boards with a board from the same manufacturer (assuming manufacturers never change their header block pinouts, which isn’t exactly a safe assumption). But that wasn’t the only problem I ran into with this motherboard swap.

Remember that power supply I told you about? Turns out the power lead on it is just long enough to reach the power connector on the Intel mobo the machine came with, in front of the memory slots. FIC put its power connector on the other side of the CPU, and the cable is about half an inch too short to reach. Good luck finding an ATX power extender cable. Directron.com has one for $5, but the minimum order is $10 and that’s before shipping. A search on Pricewatch.com only listed a couple of places having them. Pricing was under $10, but then there’s shipping. I found one computer store in south St. Louis County that had ONE in stock. “They’re not cheap,” the salesperson warned me. I asked how much. $16.95. “You’re not kidding,” I said. That’s half the price of a new 300W power supply. Of course, by the time you pay $5 online and $10 to ship it, $16.95 looks a lot more reasonable, doesn’t it? And if your case won’t accomodate a standard ATX power supply, either buying one of these or buying a similarly overpriced microATX power supply may be your only choice.

To get things up and going, I just jerry-rigged it. I ran the power cables and found a place to rest the power supply where it wouldn’t short out anything. Then I shorted the power leads on the mobo with a screwdriver, and booted Windows 98 in safe mode. It booted up just fine, after insisting on running Scandisk. I booted into regular mode, which insisted on running Scandisk again. It worked beautifully. I did some very minor optimizations (Network server in filesystem settings, turning off Active Desktop, etc.) and rebooted a few times. No problems. No weirdness. Everything was smooth and fluid.

The chances of me ever buying a Gateway (new at least) already approached zero before this adventure. The few Gateways I dealt with in my years doing desktop support always had goofy problems that I usually had to reinstall the OS to resolve. Meanwhile, the Micron or Dell in the next cubicle over kept on chugging away, never needing anything more than basic maintenance.

This motherboard swap is easily the most painful swap I’ve ever done. It worked in the end, but the power supply was an annoyance and an unplanned expense. The header block was an annoyance.

So if you’re thinking about a motherboard swap in a Gateway, particularly a G6 series, don’t plan on it being a walk in the park.

Spontaneous system reboots

Steve DeLassus asked me the other day what I would do to fix a PC that was rebooting itself periodically. It’s not him who’s having the problem, he says, it’s someone he knows. He must be trying to show up someone at work or on the Web or something.
So I gave him a few things I’d check, in order of likelihood.

Static electricity. A big static shock can send a system down faster than anything else I’ve seen. Keep a humidifier in the computer room to reduce static electricity. If you’re really paranoid, put a metal strip on your desk and connect it to ground (on your electrical outlet, not on your PC) and touch it before touching your PC. Some people metalize and ground part of their mouse pad. That’s a bit extreme but it works.

Power supply. This is the big one. A failing power supply can take out other components. And even if you have an expensive, big-brand box like a PCP&C or Enermax, they can fail. So I always keep a spare ATX power supply around for testing. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one–you just want something that can run the machine for a day or two to see if the problem goes away.
Overheating. Check all your fans to make sure they’re working. An overheated system can produce all sorts of weird behavior, including reboots. The computer we produced our school newspaper on back in 1996 tended to overheat and reboot about 8 hours into our marathon QuarkXPress sessions.

Memory. It’s extremely rare, but even Crucial produces the occasional defective module. And while bad memory is more likely to produce blue screens than reboots, it’s a possibility worth checking into. Download Memtest86 to exercise your memory.

CPU. If you’re overclocking and experiencing spontaneous reboots, cut it out and see what happens. Unfortunately, by the time these reboots become common, it may be too late. That turned out to be the case with that QuarkXPress-running PC I mentioned earlier. Had we replaced the fans with more powerful units right away, we might have been fine, but we ended up having to replace the CPU. (We weren’t overclocking, but this was an early Cyrix 6×86 CPU, a chip that was notorious for running hot.) Less likely today, but still possible.

Hard drive. I’m really reaching here. If you’re using a lot of virtual memory and you have bad sectors on your hard drive and the swapfile is using one or more of those bad sectors, a lot of unpredictable things can happen. A spontaneous reboot is probably the least of those. But theoretically it could happen.

Operating system. This is truly the last resort. People frequently try to run an OS that’s either too new or too old to be ideal on a PC of a particular vintage. If the system is failing but all the hardware seems to be OK, try loading the OS that was contemporary when the system was new. That means if it’s a Pentium-133, try Win95 on it. If it’s a P4, try Windows 2000 or Windows XP on it. When you try to run a five-year-old OS on a new system, or vice-versa, you can run into problems with poorly tested device drivers or a system strapped for resources.

Another good OS-related troubleshooting trick for failing hardware is to try to load Linux. Linux will often cause suspect hardware to fail, even if the hardware can run Windows successfully, because Linux pushes the hardware more than Microsoft systems do. So if the system fails to load Linux, start swapping components and try again. Once the system is capable of loading Linux successfully, it’s likely to work right in Windows too.

Troubleshooting advice: When you suspect a bad component, particularly a power supply, always swap in a known-good component, rather than trying out the suspect component in another system to see if the problem follows it. The risks of damaging the system are too great, particularly when you try a bad power supply in another system.

And, as always, you minimize the risks of these problems by buying high-quality components, but you never completely eliminate the risk. Even the best occasionally make a defective part.


PC133 prices. I wrote last week that memory prices were about to jump, after reading a piece in The Register. Then I read something in The Register yesterday, after the prices of 128-megabit chips fell, quoting an NEC exec as saying NEC doesn’t expect memory prices to rebound until next year.

So… Nobody knows what memory prices are going to do. It’s truly like buying gasoline right now, isn’t it?

But the point will soon be moot for a lot of people anyway. Tom’s Hardware reviewed three AMD 760-based boards this week . A look at Pricewatch confirms these boards aren’t widely available yet (I found two listings on the Biostar board, two listings on the Gigabyte, none on the Asus, and a listing on an AOpen board), and Pricewatch hasn’t set aside an AMD 760 category yet, but by searching Pricewatch for AMD 760 you can find boards. The Biostar is currently the least expensive by far, but having used Biostar boards on occasion, I definitely prefer Asus, AOpen and Gigabyte.

Prices on an AMD 760-based board range from $129 to $189 before shipping, and these are bottom-feeder vendors so you know they’ll charge you $20 to ship it if they can find any excuse to do so.

If Intel’s your game, it’s easier to find a P3 DDR board based on the VIA Apollo Pro266 chipset. Pricing is very similar to the AMD 760 solutions, and availability is wider. As for performance, the only review I’ve seen of the Gigabyte GA-6RX was disappointing, but seeing as AnandTech doesn’t care about anything but overclocking CPUs and Gigabyte couldn’t care less about overclockers, that’s not too much of a surprise. But common sense must prevail here: If I just spent $450 on new DDR-capable kit, why would I immediately set out to overclock it and potentially burn it up?

Part of the problem might well be the Apollo Pro266 chipset. Tom’s Hardware has said the best-performing DDR chipset is the AMD 760, period. And of course Intel’s not about to give AMD a license to produce P3 chipsets, and AMD wouldn’t produce a P3 chipset even if Intel begged them to do so.

DDR memory. As for DDR memory, Crucial is still selling PC1600 DDR for the same price as CAS2 PC133 SDRAM. That’s considerably higher than you’ll pay for bottom-feeder PC133, but seeing as no one should be buying that stuff anyway, that’s a good price.

The outlook for upgrades. You may easily pay $180 or more for an AMD 760-based board right now. A 1 GHz Athlon with a 266 MHz FSB will run about $220, and 128 MB of PC1600 DDR will run $55. So you can be in a DDR-based system for right around $450 before shipping, which is considerably less than I paid to get into a Pentium-75 with EDO memory back when a Pentium with EDO was the thing to have. There’s no point in doing it if you’ve got a recent system because the performance increase isn’t spectacular, but if you’re upgrading an aging PC or building a new system outright, DDR is definitely worth a look. If you’re already looking to spend a fair bit to replace a motherboard, CPU, video card, and hard drive, the extra $100 you’ll spend to get into DDR looks like it’s worth it.


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.