Get 70 Million Transistors for $22 Bucks

Sometimes a good deal comes along that’s so good you need to jump on it whether you need the item or not. For me today that deal was an AMD Athlon 64 3800+ Venice core CPU for $21.99 from Newegg with free shipping. A 24-hour deal that as of this writing ends in less than 2 hours and of the 99 desktop CPUs on Newegg it is the cheapest one available just beating out a vanilla Sempron LE-1100 by $1. It’s pretty amazing the kind of technology that can be bought for $22, less than what it takes to fill my car only halfway with gas. This 3-year old processor used to sell for over $350 and was once considered one of the best performing CPUs available with great overclocking potential. The 3800+ represented the highest stock-clocked Venice core from AMD and runs at a cool 2.40Ghz. Most people have been able to get this CPU up to 2.7-2.8GHz on air cooling and with only a marginal bump in Vcore. This 89W processor built on 90nm technology certainly can’t compete with today’s 65nm and 45nm processors in terms of power dissipation or performance, but for a mere $22, I’m not sure anything else comes close in terms of price-to-performance ratio.

Okay, so I’m sure I didn’t need to buy this aging hunk of transistors and silicon, but I figured Newegg wasn’t going to have these around for long (not a single 939-socket mobo can be found on their site) and once it was gone I’m sure it will be gone for good. And since I’ve got a 939-based system for my HTPC, I thought it would be good to just have on hand either as a backup, or as an upgrade to my 3200+ Venice core that’s in there now. Though the benefit may be marginal, since my 3200+ is already overclocked to 2.4GHz, essentially making it a 3800+, I am hoping to be able to squeak a few more MHz out of the OC and get it running at 2.6-2.7GHz, therefore in keeping in tune with AMDs naming convention, it would be somewhere around a 4100+ (which according to the way I remember AMD marketing these things, it should be comparable to a Pentium IV running at 4.1GHz).

I’m still on the fence with the whole Blu-ray DVD player, but feel that I may need a small bump in processing power for decent playback of Blu-ray DVDs without hiccups. This is my last ditch effort to keep an old PC around for at least a few more years and still have it do what I need it to do. I’m planning on keeping Windows XP on this machine for as long as humanly possible. Up until a month ago I was still running Windows 2000 on at least one my computers in the house, so I can imagine running XP for several years to come. Anyway, there’s tons of great articles on AMDs Venice CPUs and different systems people have thrown together with lots of benchmarks and results from overclocking. Though I can’t recommend jumping into the already-dead 939 socket, for $22 you could build a very capable HTPC or light gaming rig for cheaper than you could build almost any other system with any other CPU today.

http://techreport.com/articles.x/8327/1
http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/AMD/3800Venice
http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/display/athlon64-venice.html
http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.aspx?i=2548&p=1

Update 11/22/2008 – I finally found some time tonight to pull out my old 3200 and install the new 3800. I remembered to drop the clock back down to the stock clock, so I wouldn’t have any issues booting up with the new CPU. The swap was a breeze. I cleaned up the HSF with some rubbing alcohol and put on a new thin layer of Arctic Silver heat sink compound and clamped it onto the CPU nice and tight. I definitely liked the way Socket 939 worked in that regard, way easier than Intel’s LGA 775 socket. Unbelievably Microsoft didn’t make me reactive Windows like I expected was going to happen. Apparently you have to change out more than just one major component to have to go through that. Thank goodness for small favors (though it only takes 6 minutes and a call to MS to get it reactivated, so it’s no big deal, but if you don’t have to do it, the better).

I immediately rebooted and went into the BIOS and started OC’ing. Not that I need to OC it, in fact it’s plenty fast for just a modest HTPC at the stock speed, but where’s the fun in running stock? I bumped it up 5% and everything ran fine, so I bumped it up 10% and added a bit of Vcore just to bring it up to 1.40V as read by CPU-Z. Everything was still running good and the CPU was running at 2.64 GHz with the bus at 220 MHz, HT at 880 MHz and my DDR400 running at 220 MHz (or 440 MHz). I tried going one step further to 225 and Windows wouldn’t boot. So I bumped the Vcore up to 1.45V and it still wouldn’t boot. So I called it good for now and dropped it back down to 220 MHz and set the Vcore for 1.425V. Things seem to work fine there. I was more curious as to how much higher the x12 multiplied 3800 CPU would go over the x10 multiplier of the 3200. I was running a 15% OC just to get to 2.30 GHz and now I’m running a modest 10% overclock and my CPU is at 2.64 GHz. I watched The Incredibles and there wasn’t a single hiccup and the audio didn’t drop out on me once. So I’d say it was a worthwhile investment. Windows loads in under 30 seconds and I can be on the Internet or watching a movie just a few seconds later. Additionally, windows shuts down in less than 10 seconds. I know it’s not a real merit for how fast your computer is, but I’m keeping this machine extremely light on software apps, so I don’t have any benchmarking suites installed. Other than Super PI, which this thing can calculate to 1M decimal places in 33 seconds. Slow by today’s standards, but still faster than it was! My 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 does it in 17 seconds. So, yeah.

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For a complete biography, stop by www.danmarx.org and click around for a while.
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