Five ways to overclock a netbook (really!)

The words overclocking and netbook appear in a sentence together about as often as Steve Ballmer is spotted at a Linux convention.

3. Pump up the graphics with GMABooster

Method: An app called GMABooster by Vladimir Plenskiy can take your netbook's Intel graphics chip from 133/166 MHz to 400 MHz without increasing the voltage (power drain).

Models: Virtually all netbooks today, including the Acer Aspire One, most Asus netbooks, Dell Inspiron Minis, the MSI Wind, the HP Mini line (except for the original 2133), the Samsung NC10 and others. They all use Intel's GMA 950 graphics chip, which comes integrated with the motherboard of most Atom netbooks. The chip is also used on some notebooks and business desktop PCs.

Operating systems: Most versions of Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

Difficulty level: Easy. The biggest hassle? Nonpaying users must redownload and install a new version each week. Those who donate any amount to the developer can avoid that hassle.

The scuttlebutt: Reports are mixed. UMPC Portal found an average increase of 20% to its graphics performance benchmarks using GMABooster. "While 20% isn't huge, I think it could be noticeable depending upon what you are doing on your device," wrote UMPC blogger Ben. Some commentators at UMPC echoed that sentiment.

However, the French site Blogeee.netwas unimpressed, saying the small performance boost was outweighed by the increased heat and battery drain.

4. Enhance your 'Hackintoshed' netbook's graphics with GMA OverClocking

Method: Hacking your netbook to run Mac OS X has been popular for the past year. A free three-month-old app called GMA OverClocking from the developer Thireus lets Hackintosh netbook users set their Intel GMA integrated graphics chip to run at the maximum 400 MHz.

Models: Any netbook you can get to run Mac OS X. In practice, that is most likely to be a Dell Mini 9, Asus Eee 1000H or 901, HP Mini 1000 or Lenovo S10.

Operating systems: Officially, any version of Mac OS X prior to Snow Leopard, but some users say it works with Snow Leopard as well.

Difficulty level: Easy. First install Apple's Computer Hardware Understanding Developer (CHUD) tools, then run the GMA OverClocking installer, type one line in Terminal and reboot.

The scuttlebutt: Extremely safe, since the speed is increased without boosting the voltage. For the same reason, any boost in performance may feel very slight, users say.

5. Overclock your HP Mini 2140 with a hardware hack

Method: HP puts a tiny pin on the motherboard of its Mini 2140 netbook to prevent users from overclocking it. A developer known as Twain, a member of HPMiniGuide.com's forum, figured out how to disable the pin in order to use SetFSB to overclock his Mini.

Models: The HP Mini 2140.

Operating systems: See SetFSB entry for the Windows versions it supports.

Difficulty level: High. Twain had to figure out which "really tiny" resistor on the motherboard was doing the locking, cut out the resistor, and then use a soldering iron with a "super-small" tip to resolder the piece in a different location. Then he had to run the SetFSB utility. For those handy with a soldering iron who are confident that they can follow Twain's pictures and instructions, good luck. Others should keep well away.

The scuttlebutt: Twain says he jacked up his Mini's Atom N270 CPU from its rated speed of 1.6 GHz to 1.9 GHz, a nearly 20% increase. His PassMark 7 benchmark score increased to 312.6, and he was able to watch 1080p high-def video without any stuttering. Previously, his Mini could support only 720p.

Bonus tip: Take control of your Acer with A1ctl

Method: Another free app, called A1ctl, by Noda, doesn't actually let you overclock your Aspire's Atom CPU. However, it does plenty of other handy things: turns down noisy fans, boosts the screen resolution (up to 1024 by 768, from the native 1024 by 576) and underclocks your CPU for longer battery life.

Models: Most versions of the Acer Aspire One, the most popular netbook today.

Operating systems: Windows XP and Vista, though the underclocking/screen-boost features work only in XP.

Difficulty level: Easy. Download the RAR archive file, extract it and go.

The scuttlebutt: Reaction on the Acer Aspire One User Forum and developer Noda's blog has been frank about the app's bugs, but it's overall mostly positive. Noda released a final version, 1.0, in August that he says fixed most of its earlier bugs.

Unfortunately, Noda says he has no plans to keep working on A1ctl, meaning no Windows 7 version or new features such as overclocking are coming, for now.

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Eric Lai

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