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Give systems a brain transplant

Changing CPU can give a desktop new life.

When the complexity of new software gets your users complaining about slow performance, you're tempted to think...

of getting new desktop machines. But before you scrap those desktops, consider upgrading the processor. It's a myth that system vendor's boards can't support faster processors, and several companies offer CPU upgrades that can triple your system's original CPU clock speed for a nominal price. In many cases you can retain your current system's motherboard clock speed and voltage, but in some instances an upgrade will require that you alter one or both of those settings -- which makes an upgrade more time-consuming, but not impossible. Some upgrades internally make these voltage changes for you. To alter these settings, most often may require that you either go into the BIOS, or change some jumper settings on the motherboard itself.

The latter is often the case with older motherboards. Many motherboards are fully documented on their manufacturers' web sites, and the settings are available for you to download or view. This is particularly true of the major motherboard vendors, like Intel, for example. It's generally not a good idea to upgrade a motherboard that doesn't support at least a 100-MHz front side bus; you are better served by replacing that motherboard.

It is often difficult to find these CPU upgrade products in the catalog companies, either in the printed catalogs or on-line on their Web sites. Your best bet is to visit the manufacturers' web sites; most of them have an on-line ordering function. Among the better-known companies in this area are Evergreen Technologies and PowerLeap. Each has several different products meant to upgrade different classes of systems: Pentium Pros, II, III, and so on.

What you'll find on most sites is system compatibility information based on the system name (if you bought a brand name), on the CPU type, and/or on the motherboard. If you don't have this information for the systems in question, both of these companies will provide you with a small utility that scans your system and gives you this information. Powerleap's CPU Control Panel may be found at:; while Evergreen's System Information Utility may be found at:

In some instances upgrading your CPU will require that you upgrade your system's BIOS as well. Some of these upgrades come with BIOS upgrades as part of the package, while other upgrades will require that you find a company offering a BIOS upgrade. The advantage of a BIOS upgrade is that it often adds additional capabilities to your system, such as large partition access.

Remember, of course, that if the performance problem is because of scanty memory or slow disks, then you have to consider those areas to reap the full benefits of a CPU upgrade. Often, the best way to make a dog of a desktop sit up and bark is to increase system memory.

Barrie Sosinsky ( president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.

This was last published in May 2002

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