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dualtully

A few years back one of my blogs first articles was about dual CPU systems. One of the PC’s I talked about was my dual CPU Pentium III Tualatin machine. In this article I wanted to go a little further into that machine and talk about some of the upgrades I did to make this PC into a true early 2000’s beast.

The Pentium III Tualatin chip is the third revision and refinement of the Pentium III CPU and earned a reputation as a speedy CPU outclassing even the early Willimette Pentium 4’s and giving the Northwood revisions a run for their money. Released in 2001 and 2002 these CPUs mostly found their way to server systems since Intel is said to of actively discouraged their use in the home market so as to make way for the arguably inferior Pentium 4. Tualtain processors are not backwards compatible with most Pentium III motherboards without the use of an adapter or pin modification.

The greatest of the Tualatin Pentiums was the 1.4ghz chip with 512kb of L2 cache. These CPUs gained a reputation of their own for speed and reliability. My Tualatin PC is a fairly typical server class setup for the time. It features dual 1.4ghz Tualatin chips running on a Tyan S2507T motherboard. This motherboard lacks the bells and whistles of a motherboard meant for an enthusiast such as any ability to overclock via the BIOS but it has been highly reliably.

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My CPU’s also came with two very impressive and very overkill heatsinks installed. It’s a shame this motherboard does not support overclocking because they would be perfect for it.

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Originally I ran this machine with Windows 98SE, 512MB of RAM and a Matrox Max video card. This severely held the true potential of the Tualatin back and I began to wonder how far this CPU and motherboard could be pushed. First of all Windows 98SE does not support dual CPUs and thus the second CPU was entirely wasted. The board also supported much more RAM where Windows 9x becomes potentially unstable with over 512mb of RAM. The Matrox G400 MAX was a fine video card and offered great features and excellent 2d quality. Unfortunately by the time the Tualatin was released it was a little long in the tooth and certainly held the CPU back.

Without overclocking options I decided to focus on RAM, hard drive and most importantly graphics card upgrades.

My first order of business was upgrading the hard drive. The hard drive I had installed was a 80GB ATA 100 IDE hard drive. certainly adequate for the time but I wanted to see if I could do better and that meant SATA and a SSD or Solid State Drive. Since this motherboard was released a few years before SATA hit the PC world in a major way I had to resort to a PCI SATA controller card.

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The card above worked first time without a hitch for me. SSD’s are still a little pricey but luckily I only needed enough space for the operating system so I was able to find a very small 32GB SSD from Samsung online for the OS along with a larger 80GB standard SATA hard drive for my games and data. I decided against upgrading the DVD drives to SATA since I was mostly doing this upgrade for testing but if your upgrading your own machines a SATA upgrade for the optical drives is also advised.

Next I needed to upgrade the OS from Windows 98SE to XP. Unlike 98, XP supports SMP processing, or the use of two CPU’s. Though most software of the time did not support this feature the few titles that do would see a bump in performance as well as possibly the OS itself overall.

RAM was next on the list. I doubled my RAM to a full gigabyte of PC133 SDRAM.

Lastly was the graphics card and this is what proved most tricky. My motherboard supported a x4 universal AGP slot which limited my options to AGP for the fastest video card. I am not very familiar with Radeon cards so I tend to go the Nvidia route, especially since they also tend to be slightly more compatible overall. I was going for pure speed in for this build so Windows 9x and DOS game compatibility wasn’t an issue for me either.

My first choice was the Geforce 7 series since these were the last cards released by Nvidia for AGP. Being as they are among the last cards released for the bus the higher end models can be quite expensive and it took me awhile to find one at a reasonable price.

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The card I settled on was a Geforce 7800 GS and although there is a somewhat faster 7800 OC and a 7850 I felt the 7800 GS was already overkill relative to the CPU. Unfortunately I failed to realize all the AGP cards of the 7 series were not truly AGP cards and used PCI-e to AGP bridge chips. On later motherboards this isn’t much of an issue but on my older VIA chipset board this caused havoc. I did finally get the card to display and run programs by disabling AGP fast writes and AGP x4 in BIOS but the results were a garbled mess as you can see in the captured video below.

With all these issues my next course was to fallback to the previous generation of the Geforce 6 cards and I acquired a Geforce 6800 OC for also relatively cheap.

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Like the 7800 GS I had before it the 6800 OC was not the fastest of the 6800 family. That title belonged to the 6800 Ultra but again I felt it was already overpowered relative to the CPU. There are some Geforce 6 cards that do indeed use a PCI-e to APG bridge chips but thankfully the 6800 OC branch are native AGP. I still had initial instability issues with programs freezing up but by again disabling AGP fast writes and AGP x4 in BIOS I was able to get the card to perform perfectly.

So? was the upgrade worth it? resoundingly yes. The 1.4Ghz Pentium even at stock speeds is a very capable CPU. With upgrades I think a machine like this could of had its usable life extended for quite some time and been made to play a wide range of early and mid 2000’s games and software competently. I was able to play Unreal tournament 2004 with all the highest settings staying consistently above 30 FPS. I also benchmarked the Doom 3 time demo which was considered a very demanding game for the time and got a very playable 36.7 FPS on high settings and 1024 x 768 resolution and 31.7 FPS on ultra settings and 1280 x 1024 resolution.

Here are some graphics comparing my scores with PCMark 2002 and 3DMark 2001se between my old setup and the upgraded setup.

pcmark 2002 compair

I’m not sure how PCMark 2002 comes to its score conclusion but you can see the CPU scores are barely different. This makes sense if it’s not considering the power of the upgraded graphics card. There is on the other hand a noticeable score jump for memory and hard drive speed. 3DMark 2001se though shows a very dramatic increase in its scoring with a jump of 8124 points.

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Finally in 3DMark 2003 I received a benchmark score of 7690.

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Overall a very successful upgrade. Just keep in mind when upgrading older AGP capable motherboards try to stay clear of graphics cards that use PCI-e to AGP bridge chips and shoot for native AGP cards. I did find cards using the bridge chips did seem to run fine on later AGP motherboards like my late socket A motherboard featuring a x8 APG slot.

If you want to watch a video of the entire upgrade process please check out the video below.

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2 Comments

  1. You have a similar motherboard to my dualatin system. Mine is a Supermicro of some sort, but I believe we’re both using the same VIA chipset. I’ve found my system to be horribly unstable, however, so I’m wondering if you’ve had any issues with your own after installing an AGP video card. It kind of seems like the stability issues might stem from the AGP slot for me.

    • I did have a rather hard time finding a later AGP card that was stable. I found any GeForce card that used a PCI-E to AGP bridge chip would not work correctly. even later AGP native cards like the GeForce 6 gave me trouble unless I disabled AGP fastwrite and AGP x4 in BIOS. older cards like the Matrox G400 seemed to work fine though.


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