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The Abit BP6 and modern Linux distributions

Mail from Dave T.: I bumped into a place that is selling a used, functional Abit BP6 and a 400MHz Celeron to go with it. I already got another 400 MHz Celeron so it would be perfect. I always wanted to try out SMP but so far I haven't thought it was worth it. Now I can buy this combo and make my dream come true ๐Ÿ™‚
I looked for reviews on the board but most of them were from 1999 and early 2000, when Linux was using kernel 2.2 and there also seemed to be problems with bios on the BP6 causing stability issues. None of the reviews were recent.

Being a long time reader I remembered you talking about owning a BP6 and a quick search confirmed that you were running a dual 500MHz BP6. Do you still have it? If I buy the board then I'll be running Linux of course so I was wondering if you do that as well? How well does it work? Stability? I know that processors in a dual configuration should have identical stepping. If the two are not the same stepping, do you think it will pose a problem? What power supply rating would you recommend for 2x400MHz Celerons?


/Dave T.

The Abit BP6, for those who are unfamiliar with it, was a popular board among enthusiasts back at the turn of the millenium, because it was the first really cheap and easy SMP board. Prior to the BP6, to run dual Celerons you had to resort to some trickery, either soldering on slocket-type adapters or, later, playing with jumpers on them. The BP6 just allowed you to buy a pair of cheap Socket 370 Celerons and drop them on. A lot of people bought Celeron-366s and overclocked them to 550 MHz with this board.

It’s been forever since I’ve mentioned my BP6 because I’ve never found it newsworthy. My main Linux workstation runs on an Abit BP6 with dual Celeron-500s (originally a pair of 366s, which I upgraded a couple of years ago). I bought the board in late 1999 or early 2000 and it’s still my second-fastest PC.

I run Debian Unstable on it, running updates every month or two, so I’m running bleeding-edge everything on it most of the time. The kernel is either at 2.4.19 or 2.4.20. I’ve been running 2.4-series kernels on the BP6 pretty much since the 2.4 series came out, although I’ve changed distributions several times since then. The board has an Intel 440BX chipset, which used to be common as dirt, so I expect even 2.6 kernels and beyond won’t have problems with it.

I haven’t updated the BIOS on my BP6 in years, if ever. I’ve found the system to be stable–the only problems I’ve ever had could easily be attributed to memory leaks. Things would get goofy, I’d run top, and I’d find XFree86 had several hundred megs of memory allocated to it. I’d kill X, and then the system would be fine. So the rare problems I have probably aren’t the board’s fault, but rather the fault of bleeding-edge software. I was confident enough in the system’s stability that this Web site ran on that system for several weeks and I never had problems.

CPUs are supposed to be identical stepping. I’ve seen dual-CPU machines with different steppings work together without having any problems that I could directly attribute to the mismatch. It’s not a great idea and I wouldn’t run my enterprise on a mismatched system–although one of my clients does–but for hobbyist use at home at a bargain price, why not?

As far as power supplies, I ran my BP6 with dual 500s on a 235W box in an emergency. It’s had a 300W box in it for most of its life, so I’d go with a 300W unit, or a 350W unit if you want to overengineer the box a little bit.

Performance wise, I find it adequate but I run IceWM on it, and my primary browser is Galeon. Evolution runs fine on it. Some of the more resource-intensive desktop environments might pose a bit of a problem.

As far as upgradability, if you don’t overclock, the fastest Celerons you can use are Celeron-533s. If you want to do dual processing, you’re limited to the Mendocino-core Celerons. Celerons faster than 366 MHz didn’t overclock well; the limit of the Mendocino core seems to have been around 550 MHz or so.

Adapters to allow newer Celerons to work on the board ought to let you go higher (I haven’t tried it) but the newer Celerons have their SMP capability removed. So theoretically this board tops out at a 1.2 GHz Celeron with an adapter, but that pretty much defeats the purpose of getting a BP6. That’s also probably why they’re cheap when you can find them; the kinds of people who bought these boards in the first place aren’t going to be too happy with two CPUs in the 500 MHz range these days.

But I’m pretty happy with mine. I’ll run it until it dies, and that’ll probably be a while.

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5 thoughts on “The Abit BP6 and modern Linux distributions”

  1. Thanks Dave,

    If I do decide to get the board then I will be running 400MHz Celerons on it, not overclocked. Today I got a 400MHz Celeron sitting in a BH6 board and I have overclocked it to 450MHz (75MHz FSB) and it is simply rock-solid (otherwise I wouldn’t do it). It doesn’t even show an increase in temperature with the OC. Anyhow, I am not thinking about squeezing bleeding performance out of it by buying processors that were really not meant for it. 2x400MHz would be just fine to play around with.

    Thanks again for your fast answer.

    /Dave T.

  2. I’ve got a couple of Abit VP6 motherboards with 933MHz PIII’s from rebuilt machines at the office. I’m thinking about bringing them home (they’re just sitting around now) and building a couple of duallie boxen for linux, then setting up a beowulf cluster. I’ve got another old 400MHz PII box that could be used as a host.

    I just need the time to get all the software working. I’m thinking this might make a good summer project.

    I like the Abit boards. They’ve been pretty reliable.

  3. Just some words of warning on the Abit BP6 from my experiences with the board.

    I have 2 x BP6 machines and have run my 366Mhz Celerons at 523Mhz (Lapped CPUs, meaning sandpapered the slug significantly) for over 3 years now. I run some nice ballbearing fans but nothing special, $15(AU) each.

    The board would be rock solid stable except for the following problems:

    The BX chipset should have a fan plonked on the green heatsink to keep it cool, it runs extremely hot, and if your case doesn’t have good airflow, you have a problem.

    Here’s the biggie.

    The boards at the time were subject to faulty capacitors as many other unknown boards by other manufacturers were (this was all hushed up), this includes the Jackon green caps common on the BP6 and other boards. As the faulty electrolyte in the capacitors broke down, boards began to fail, unexplained reboots, multiple powerups required, stability issues. APIC errors under Linux. Check google for more info on that.

    Don’t feel bad though, the BP6 IS an excellent board and nothing came close to it in it’s time. It’s possible to replace certain capacitors with high quality ones, it’s recommended you replace all the capacitors on the board, and it can be quite a feat of soldering and beyond many people’s capabilities. There is a guy in the US who sells the capacitor packs and/or does the capacitor replacements.

    So. If you ever meet someone whos board (of the 1998-2001 era or thereabouts) has died, or reboots strangely. You can just smile and think that his capacitors have probably died, make him an offer on the board, it can probably be repaired too if worthwhile. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Oh I should mention. Yes I agree about matching CPUs stepping, that’s very important. Also upgrade to the latest QQ BIOS. (when is available again)

    The BP6 will crash in many cases if the SMP activity becomes very busy, this is an indication of the capacitor problem and I believe a cause of APIC errors under Linux.

    This is why if you idle along on the BP6 you will never notice anything wrong. Whereas if you push the machine or run Linux you will _definately_ notice stability issues.

  5. Pardon me. One last comment. The APIC errors are actually due to a undersized capacitor generally located between the CPUs, not due to electrolyte issues.

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