Moving to an Intel Pentium 4

Recent advancements in processing power are far outpacing the requirements of even the most demanding popular software applications and games. If you build a high-end machine, it's likely to last you two to three years at the very least. In this month's instalment of Upgrader we'll show you how to move up to a brand new Pentium 4-based machine, and in an upcoming issue we'll go through the same process for an Athlon CPU.

Socket types

You can't just buy a new CPU and plug it into your existing motherboard, as the Pentium 4 is based on a different interface than that used for Pentium III and Celeron processors, and therefore requires a new motherboard. Your power supply may also not be up to par, which will require you to fork out a few more dollars once again, but more on that later. In essence, moving from a Pentium III- or Celeron-based machine to a Pentium 4 means you'll be building a brand new PC.

Before you venture out and buy a new Pentium 4, you need to know that Intel first introduced the Pentium 4 processor in a socket design comprising 423 pins. This is a large chip and differs greatly from the latest socket-478 chip, which contains 478 pins and is much smaller. Socket-478 chips will not fit into motherboards made for the first Pentium 4 socket-423 chips, and vice versa, so it is imperative that when you build a Pentium 4 CPU you obtain the correct motherboard for your chip type.

The socket-478 was designed to replace the socket-423 design. Intel built both the socket-423 and socket-478 processors using 0.18-micron technology, but a new 0.13-micron technology will be used for the new socket-478 processors running above 2GHz. At the time of writing, socket-478 chips could be found for equivalent, if not lower, prices than their socket-423 counterparts. In fact, Pentium III CPUs are now more expensive than entry level socket-478 Pentium 4s. It seems by basing your system on a motherboard featuring a socket-478 design you will be somewhat future-proofing your system with the ability to increase your speed as new processors are released. We will be focusing our installation procedure on this platform.

Case considerations

The Pentium 4 processor requires a power supply of the ATX12V specification. This type of supply features an extra four-pin 12V connector that needs to be plugged into the motherboard, in addition to the regular power plug (visit www.formfactors.org for more information). You should consult the manual of your current case or visit motherboard manufacturer Web sites to discover if your existing power supply will work with their motherboards.

Chip speeds

Pentium 4 CPUs are widely available in speed increments of 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8 and, more recently, 1.9 and 2.0GHz. You may be wondering how to decide which speed is appropriate; the simple answer is to compare the prices of the chips to your budget. Generally, there are huge jumps in price the higher up the scale you go. For example, the latest 2GHz CPU can set you back almost $1500, whereas a more modest 1.5GHz CPU will cost around $400! You won't notice much of a performance difference between the models, so my advice is to base your purchase on how much you can spend.

Chip installation

The main difference in the installation procedure of the Pentium 4 compared to other socket processors is the fan and heatsink assembly. While the chip itself is very tiny, the heatsink and fan combination used to cool it is huge. A retention mechanism (a black frame surrounding the socket) is needed to seat this heatsink and should be pre-installed on your motherboard.

The use of this retention mechanism puts a lot of pressure on the motherboard, and in some cases a slight bend may even be evident. According to Intel, this is normal; the maker recommends the motherboard be mounted on the chassis before you attempt to install the CPU.

The top down

Benefits: A major upgrade like this will extend your PC's life span "a few years at least.

Price: Motherboard - a typical Pentium 4 motherboard will cost you about $300; CPU (socket-478) - 1.5GHz, $380; 1.6GHz, $440; 1.7GHz, $510; 1.8GHz, $690; 1.9GHz, $920; 2GHz, $1500; Case - around $100 for a mid-tower .

Experience level: Advanced.

Time: Chip installation should only take a few minutes; putting together the whole system can take up to an hour.

Tools: Philips head screwdriver, anti-static wrist-strap.

Where to shop: Adelong (www.adelong.com.au), "Forte (www.fortecomputers.com.au), UMART (www.umart.com.au).

Tip

It is very wise to ground yourself while handling sensitive computer components. The best and easiest method to prevent components from getting zapped is a simple anti-static wrist strap, which can be bought from any good electronics store.

Step 1

To install the CPU, the first thing you need to do is manipulate the handle on the ZIF socket (zero insertion force) to its upright position (as in FIGURE 1).

Step 2

Make sure you properly align the chip with the socket. You can do this by observing the marking on the corner of the chip (as circled in FIGURE 2a) and matching it with the same mark on the socket (as circled in FIGURE 2b).

Step 3

Place the processor in the socket carefully and make sure it's "sitting correctly (as shown below).

Step 4

Secure the processor by dropping the handle and locking it in place (as shown below).

Step 5

Your heatsink may already have some thermal material attached to it, but if it doesn't, you will need to apply some to your processor. The Pentium 4 retail package should include a syringe for this job. Use this syringe to apply a dab of the material to the centre of the CPU.

Step 6

The next step is to align the heatsink with the retention mechanism with the levers in their loose position (as shown at right). Once the heatsink is in place, push down on all four corners of the frame until the plastic clips hook into position.

Step 7

You can now close the levers. This will take a bit of force so don't worry if it feels a little too tight. Once closed, your CPU should be set (as shown at left).

Step 8

The final step is to plug in the fan. Locate the fan connector on your motherboard "(top right) and connect the fan cable to it (circled at right).

BIOS settings

If you previously installed CPUs on motherboards more than two or three years old, in order to get your chip running properly you had to manipulate the jumpers on the motherboard to the correct front side bus speed and clock multiplier of that particular CPU.

These days, though, most motherboards on the market are jumperless, meaning there are no physical switches or jumpers to set and, in most cases, you can manipulate all your settings through the BIOS, making installation relatively painless.

In most cases, there will be no need to touch any settings with your new Pentium 4 CPU, as these are locked into their frequency from the factory so you shouldn't be able to run them at a faster or a slower speed. Once you boot up, your motherboard will recognise it straight away. Refer to your motherboard manual for more information.

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