Part II of “Breathing more life into an “old” PC”

Last week I mentioned ordering a CPU upgrade for my main home machine, taking it from 1.4GHz up to 2.8GHz. I promised to report back on the experience.


The upgrade was on my doorstep when I arrived home from work last night. Before getting started, I watched the 8 minute video on PowerLeap’s site that shows an actual upgrade being performed. Watching was both a good and bad thing. The good part was that it showed steps not listed on the one page instruction sheet. I’ll get to the bad part later.


After cracking my Dell 8100 open on the floor, I quickly determined that it wasn’t going to be a quick upgrade like slipping in a new video board. Grudgingly I unhooked the (seemingly) dozens of cables in the back and set the chassis on my desk.


First, I had to get to the CPU. My Dell had a big green fan shroud between the CPU’s heat sink and the case’s ventilation fan. The fan and shroud forces air across the heat sink. It took my far more than 8 minutes just to figure out how to remove the shroud, which was boxed in on both sides. Ultimately, I ended up pulling out my video board and learning how to swing the power supply out of the way.


Removing the original heat sink and CPU was simple enough, and I was soon ready to insert the new CPU. The socket is a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) socket, with a long flip up lever immediately adjacent to one edge of the socket. With the lever in the up position, you drop the CPU into the socket and then press the lever back down to clamp the CPU into place.


The new CPU is on a square adapter board which converts from 423 pins to 478 pins, and which draws its power from a small cable plugged into the side. This is where PowerLeap’s video screwed me up. The video showed the power plug being inserted into the adapter board before the board is dropped into the original socket. This is what I did. Unfortunately, the ZIF lever couldn’t be pressed down now because the power cable lay smack in the travel path between the lever’s up and down position. Picture a paper cutter and you've got the right idea.


“No problem”, I thought. “Just remove the power plug, insert the CPU board, press the ZIF lever down, THEN insert the power plug.” Wrong! Once you plug the power plug into it’s receptacle on the adaptor board, it won’t come out. After 15 minutes of trying various things, I finally was able to bend the power wires and ZIF lever just enough to get the lever past the wires.


After mounting the PowerLeap provided heat sink, the green shroud no longer fit. No problem, as the new heat sink has its own fan. I then reinstalled the video board, swung the power supply back into place, and hooked up the video, keyboard and mouse cables. At this point I was closer to 80 minutes than 8. Taking a deep breath, I hit the power switch. The system came on immediately and booted on the first try. Success!


I ran a few informal tests. For CPU intensive tasks like ripping CDs, stitching together photos, or playing UT2003 in the highest detail modes, the system definitely feels snappier. There are still many things that seem disk I/O bound. I’ll address that when I buy the replacement for this system, but at the moment, the $250 CPU upgrade seems like a good value.

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