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WinLab Reviews
Intel Pentium OverDrive Processor with MMX Technology
Give Your Old Pentium New Life

-- by Jim Forbes

Intel is pushing its MMX technology backward as well as forward, bringing the new multimedia functionality to older PCs via the OverDrive Processor line. If you have a multimedia PC that's equipped with a 75MHz, 90MHz or 100MHz Pentium, it's possible to upgrade it with one of two new Intel Pentium OverDrive Processors with MMX Technology (ODP MMX)

One of the processors is a $399 version for computers with 75MHz or 90MHz Pentiums. It upgrades these two processors to 125MHz and 150MHz, respectively. The other is a $499 166MHz chip that you can use with 100MHz Pentium-based systems. I upgraded a 75MHz multimedia computer with the 125MHz ODP MMX. The system also had a sound card, a 4X CD-ROM drive, 24MB of RAM and a 1.6GB hard disk.

It's a snap to upgrade a system with the MMX OverDrive. It took me less than 10 minutes to unbutton my computer, remove and safely store the original 75MHz processor, insert the new chip (with its on-board voltage regulator) into its Socket Seven holder and reboot the machine. The difference in performance was immediate and noticeable.

There are several benefits to upgrading with an MMX OverDrive. For starters, this chip includes more on-board cache than the original P54C Pentium-32KB versus 16KB. More important, particularly for multimedia systems, the upgrade will give you the full performance boost of the MMX-enabled applications that are now coming to market. Although many of these programs will run on older Pentium systems, they'll run much more quickly on MMX-equipped processors.

The benchmark results for my upgraded system showed improvement in almost every area. Not all of the results correlated to the 67 percent increase in clock speed this chip provides. Our Wintune benchmarks measured a greater increase in raw processor power than you might expect, jumping from a baseline of 137.69MIPS to 242MIPS-a 76 percent increase. The extra oomph was provided by the additional cache found on the MMX chip. The video throughput (my system uses a PCI-based accelerator) increased about 18 percent, from 3.5 to 4.13Mpixels per second, while uncached disk throughput remained almost unchanged (1.37MB per second for the original processor and 1.4MBps with the OverDrive installed)

The OverDrive processor produced a near 35 percent performance increase running our Excel macro (25.67 seconds versus 34.67 seconds with the older processor), but only a 16 percent increase on our Word macro (60 versus 51.67 seconds)

I also compared the execution of Adobe's PhotoDeluxe and Photoshop applications, and I tested Mediamatics' MPEG-1 and Microsoft's 3D APIs-all of which take advantage of the MMX instruction set-on both the old and the revamped system. The MMX processor cranked out scores that were nearly twice as high as the results for the 75MHz chip.

These test results make it clear that the chip's increased internal cache, higher clock speed and support of MMX instructions improve the performance of virtually all applications to a greater or lesser degree. I was particularly impressed by the graphics performance.

Before you go out and buy one of these chips, make sure your Pentium-based system can use it-Intel publishes a list of compatible systems, which should be available at retail locations or on the company's Web site (http://www.intel.com/overdrive). Also, add as much RAM as you can afford (RAM has never been cheaper). You needn't worry that you don't possess the skills to install one of these MMX Pentium OverDrive chips: If you can get your computer's case open, you're more than halfway there. No real technical knowledge is required, and the included documentation guides you step-by-step through the process.

Finally, balance the cost of a new system against the total cost of upgrading. My 75MHz Pentium system is two years old and originally cost $1,299. Since then, I've added a $399 ODP MMX processor, a $190 1.6GB hard drive and two $40 8MB memory modules-about $670 worth of upgrade parts-bringing the total cost to about $2,000. The result is a pretty fair MMX-based multimedia computer that I expect to last another two years. Weigh that against the cost of a new MMX system.

Upgrading isn't for everyone, and sometimes it's better to buy a new system. However, in my case, it was worth it-I'm very satisfied with my ODP MMX, and I was able to extend the usable lifespan of my system. Its ease of installation and the performance boost it provides earn it a place as the first upgrade processor on our Recommended List.

Intel's new upgrade processors fit into 75MHz, 90MHz and 100MHz Pentium systems, and provide higher clock rates, increased cache and MMX technology.

This chip includes more on-board cache than the original P54C Pentium-32KB versus 16KB.

Intel Pentium OverDrive Processor with MMX Technology
Price: $399 (for 75MHz and 90MHz); $499 (for 100MHz)
Platforms: 3x, 95, NT
Pros: Quick installation; performance boost; can extend usable life of PC
Cons: Price
Intel Corp.
800-538-3373, 503-264-7000
Circle #750 or visit Winfo Online

Windows Magazine, April 1997, page 166.

[ Go to April 1997 Table of Contents ]