Thursday, December 14, 2006

Beware of 4-pin fans (Intel or BTX fan)

I got a rather shocking education in new Intel technology. It seems to be something created for BTX motherboards. Let me step back a bit.

Most of us are familar with the 3-pin fans - 12vdc, RPM feedback, and ground. Motherboards adjust the fan speed by using pulse-width-modulation (PWM). In effect, they send pulses of 12vdc into the fan and the overall speed of the fan is related to the percentage of the time the fan sees 12vdc compared to no voltage. The problem with this idea is many fans "buzz" or vibrate slightly due to the jolts of power speeding up the coasting fan.

So apparently Intel came up with the 4-pin fan or "variable" fan. Instead of "punching" the fan with full 12vdc pulses, the 4th pin is used to send a low-voltage PWM and the fan internally uses this to set a variable speed from its minimum RPM at no pulses to its maximum RPM at a near 100% PWM. Sounds good - but when you plug this into a 3-pin plug it means the 4th pin has no pusles and if you're unluck the fan just stays at its minimum RPM. I learned this the hard way. It seems even the normal PWM of the 12vdc supply doesn't seem to speed up the fan. The fan manufacture offer this work-around: just short the unused 4th pin to the 2nd pin and the fan goes full blast jet-turbine level. Hmm, so it seems WORST case such a 4-pin Intel/BTX-style fan is either quiet but too slow, or super-fast and noisy.

So make sure you look at the photos or product carefully. Unless you have a mobo that supports such 4-pin fans, you don't want them. Online vendors make this a bit more confusing by often refering to fans connectors as 3/4 - which usually means it is a 3-pin connector with a 3-to-4 pin Molex-style power converter.

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A64 Temperatures

Interesting differences:

The PcChips mobo which properly manages the Athlon64 temperature has a Zalman-clone "cyclone" style copper cooler. It runs at about 2200 RPM and is fairly quiet. The Athlon64 idles at between 75 and 79 degrees F. When pressed to high load it will be running in the 85-87 degree F range. In rare situations I've seen it hit the low 90's. Not bad for a modern CPU. The Speedfan utility can query both the mobo's view of CPU temperature, as well as the AMD K8 CPU offers direct PCI access into the CPU's view of it's own temperature. The direct K8 value tends to be within 2 degrees F higher or lower than the mobo. This gives me fairly good confidence in both values.

In contrast the Asus mobo with the same Athlon64 CPU always saw the temperature at 70 to 73 degree C - and was always running the CPU fan of the CoolMaster copper cooler at minimum RPM of 1400. Direct SpeedFan access to the K8 via PCI put the temperature in the 100 to 110 degree F range. This is a worrying difference - but given my room temperature was in the 72 to 74 degree F range it's rather hard to believe the CPU was really running COLDER than room temperature. So the Asus has to go - I RMAed it back to newegg.

I ordered as replacement an interesting Jetway mobo with an Nvidia chip-set and a mix of PCI, AGP anf PCI-Express slots. If it works with my NVidia 6800 AGP card, this mobo (with 2 PCI-Express slots) will make a good server that can still be in use 3 or 4 years from now.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Asus K8V-MX MoBo with A64 CPU

Summary: happy with my last upgrade, I bought an Asus K8V-MX mini-ATX motherboard for use with a second low-watt A64 3000+ CPU for use as my file server, DVR, and media server. I was sorely disaapointed in the Asus - I'd assumed by preputation the Asus would be easy to use; I was wrong. I may still buy Asus in the future, but for now this motherboard has proven unusable.

My second upgrade was from an old, overloaded Intel Celeron to a socket 754 Athlon 64 3000+. The Celeron had had trouble - even with hardware-assist from graphics and PVR cards - playing encrypted DVD smoothly if there was any network activity. Especially since this was also a file server, remote access during playback would cause hiccups while playing video. The new CPU plays DVD's flawlessly even during file access and the low wattage CPU plus after-market cooler have drastically quieted this worker-bee system. Overall the upgrade was a success, but this is more thanks to the faster CPU and RAM. As I said, this mobo is going.

The Asus K8V-MX motherboard is mini-ATX form with 800Mhz front-side bus, 1 x AGP x8 slot, and 3 x PCI slots. It is a basic motherboard, doing what I need.

  • Good name in supplier (???)
  • BIOS has more options - still missing a few I'd like to see
  • Floppy and IDE connectors up near top where they should be
  • Asus has mobo and Cool-and-Quiet tools; but are buggy (it issues an alarm any time the Cool-n-Quiet CPU cuts core voltage to 1.0 volt since it expects core voltage to be 1.4v and also dies with memory faults)


  • Mobo + CPU were a pain to installed and took nearly 6 hours to get running smoothly
  • CPU area is a bit crowded for a good after-market cooler
  • Putting main power connector so close to floppy/IDE makes that place very crowded with extra wires - assuming you're not using custom short cables. I prefer the main power connector over near the rear of the mobo since it allows excess cable to neatly mounted below the power supply
  • Cannot disable boot sources; only shuffle priorities in limited ways. This means cannot enable floppy boot before hard drive if one also has USB drives plugged in while booting or you cannot boot.
  • BIOS doesn't understand low-RPM after-market coolers; I had to disable BIOS control to avoid it complaining about CPU fan RPM during every reboot. This causes the CPU fan to remain at its lowest speed regardless of CPU temperature
  • Latest BIOS from Asus (which was to fix the RPM issue) doesn't boot Windows 2000 Pro; the AGP driver hangs the system
  • Unlike the PCCHIPS, the Asus "CPU" temperature is a full 20 degree F lower than the K8's direct reading. The PCCHIPS is only 1-2 degrees off.

The first problem I had with the Asus K8V-MX was it would hang upon POST during the USB controller initialization. Of course I started with no drives or AGP/PCI cards in place, but since I have a USB mouse I had been plugging in an external powered DLink USB 2.0 hub. Eventually I discovered the need to plug my mouse directly into the mobo and disconnect the hub to boot successfully. Once I things running better, experimentation taught me that that I needed to change the BIOS setting "USB 2.0 Controller Mode" away from the factory default of HiSpeed/480Mbps to FullSpeed/12mbps. I can understand the desire to default to HiSpeed, I don't see how the BIOS in effect "hangs" when connected to a hub which doesn't appear to support it????

The second problem I had with the Asus K8V-MX was my CoolerMaster KHC-L91-U2 cooper after-market CPU cooler idles at only about 1400 RPM and that causes a POST halt for CPU Fan failure and "Press " error every time I boot. I guess Asus assumes we have one of those 60mm jet turbines whining along at 4000+ RPM. Actually, given the over-clocking reputation of Asus this is one of the LAST problems I would have expected from them. Fortunately (and unfortunately) Asus claimed a BIOS ungrade to v2.11 would solve this problem.

This lead to my third problem. After I upgraded the BIOS to v2.11, the CPU fan error dissappeared but Windows 2000 Pro started hanging a few seconds after the white Windows Logo screen shows up. Trying to boot in Safe Mode also hungs. Eventually with enough goofing around I was able to see a BSOD showing that file viaagp1.sys was failing. The BIOS notes didn't mention any change to AGP support. At this point I pulled my PCI cards out - I hadn't installed my NVidia AGP card yet. Just to make sure this wasn't some driver issue I took an old 30GB hard drive and did a fresh Win 2K pro install without any SP or special drivers. After Win2K was running independly, I used the Asus CD and started to install the Via 4-in-1 driver. It hung during the AGP install. After this, my new Win2K install also hung in exactly the same place. I goofed around looking for BIOS settings to disable or adjust the AGP slot to avoid this hang. Eventually I just rolled back to the old BIOS that came with my motherboard and had to disable the CPU fan support.

My fourth problem was there is no way to disable boot sources and for some reason USB drives seem to be lumped in with Floppy drives. Normally I leave the default order of floppy -> hard drive -> CD-ROM. But once I got the USB setting changed to allow booting with my USB hub, the the BIOS would halt when it detected that the USB thumb drive I often have connected did not include a boot image. It was no big deal to change the order to be hard drive -> CD-ROM -> Floppy since the mobo includes a nice F8 "Boot Menu" that enables me selecting the floppy manually the one or two times a year I'd boot from floppy. But I prefer the "old fashioned" BIOS design with allowed one to only define 1 or 2 boot sources and ignore all others.

Temperature Sensors:

  • W83627EHF is a Super-IO chip with serial, parallel, floppy, smart-card; Asus seems to also use it for any fan control.
  • K8 CPU has direct readout (per SpeedFan documentation)

SpeedFan details (need v4.30 or higher to see K8 Core Temp):

  • CPU of W83627 - is 20 degree F lower than K8's sensor, but reacts to CPU load.
  • AUX of W83627 - seems closer to the real CPU temperature - only 5 degrees too cool and also reacts to CPU load.
  • System of W83627 - assume is the die temp of Super IO chip
  • Core - direct from AMD K8 / A64

My worker-bee system consists of:

  • Athlon 64 3000+ (51-watt CPU)
  • 1GB DDR400 / PC3200 RAM
  • NVidia 6200 AGPx8 graphics card
  • Hauppauge PVR 350 PCI card
  • Sony DVD-ROM
  • 40GB Western Digital as main system drive
  • HighPoint SATA PCI card in RAID 1 to a pair of Samsung 200GB drives
  • Removable PATA rack; I place archived media files on various 200-300GB drives that can be mounted as required
  • All wrapped in a old, clunky mini-tower with bad drive mounting options - I will be moving to a nice Lian Desktop case to keep the height low

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PCCHIPS M860 MoBo with A64 CPU

Summary: bought PcChips M860 ATX mobo for use with a new low-watt A64 3000+ CPU. While it has worked satisfactorily, I doubt I'll buy another PcChips mobo.

My first upgrade was from a socket A Athlon XP 2400+ to a socket 754 Athlon 64 3000+ . Gigahertz-wise it is pretty much a wash since they are 2.08 and 2.00 GHz respectively. Comparison tools suggest a 5% boost for normal work and 20-25% if the 64-bit feature is used. While it's hard to detect a 5% improvement, I did notice some peppiness in certain graphics and menu options. Overall, the main value I've seen so far is the cooler and quieter behavior. I've even disconnected 2 of the 4 chassis fans I had running.

The PCCHIPS M860 mother board is ATX form with 800Mhz front-side bus, 1 x AGP x8 slot, and 5 x PCI slots. It is a good basic motherboard, doing what I need.


  • Mobo + CPU installed and booted very painlessly
  • Plenty of space around the CPU for a good after-market cooler
  • VIA chip sets have been good to me in the past


  • BIOS has few options (can be good for some)
  • Floppy and IDE ribbons are all at the "bottom" of the mobo, meaning running the ribbon cables up to the normal CD-ROM and drive location nearer the top
  • Had to reflash the mobo to obtain meaningful temperature readings
  • All of the "latest drivers" at PCCHIPS web site are much older than the CD supplied; the CD being new is nice, but it implies the vendor is pretty lazy in support for older products since they don't even bother to put existing new drivers up
  • PCCHIPS offers no tools which show board stats (temp, volts etc). I use these to setup my SpeedFan details. Without this it can be tricky to decode the various temp readings.

Overall the CHCHIPS mobo is suitable for someone like my Mom who just use their computer with a minimum of concern for adjustment. I'll continue to use it until my jump to a dual-core system.

Temperature Sensors:

  • IT8712F is a Super-IO chip with serial, parallel, floppy, smart-card; it doesn't seem to used on this mobo for any fan control.
  • F7583 appears to be a temperature sensor and fan control chip
  • K8 CPU has direct readout (per SpeedFan documentation)

SpeedFan details (need v4.30 or higher to see K8 Core Temp):

  • Temp1 of IT8712F - is not connected; is garbage
  • Temp2 of IT8712F - assume is die temp of Super IO chip; is 82-84 degree F usually
  • Temp3 of IT8712F - seems to be not connected; is garbage
  • Local of F7583 - is mobo / chipset; controls Chassis fan?
  • Remote of F7583 - is CPU plus 1-2 degrees F; controls CPU fan?
  • Core - direct from AMD K8 / A64

My for-fun system is good & basic; not a power system, but good enough the games I play and the work I do:

  • Athlon 64 3000+ (51-watt CPU)
  • 1GB DDR400 / PC3200 RAM
  • ATI radeon X1600 AGP graphics (good for games like Oblivion)
  • HP DVD R/W with LightScribe
  • LiteOn DVD-ROM
  • 80GB Samsung drive
  • Creative Audigy 4 Sound Card
  • All wrapped in a nice CoolMaster aluminum ATX case

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AMD Athlon 64 3000+ (51-watt)

Summary: to upgrade yet reuse my existing RAM and AGP card, I upgraded to an old socket 754 AMD Athlon 64. Given total cost (with shipping) was under $100, I'd say result was successful.

You all know how computer "fixes" tend to creep and grow. This upgrade started because I decided my worker-bee system (acting as file server, DVR, and media player) was starting to stress its old Celeron CPU - even with a whiny stock cooler I'd seen the temperature hit 170+ degrees F. So I figured why not upgrade the AMD Athlon XP in my for-fun system and hand-me-down the XP CPU to be the worker-bee? The XP rarely hits 105 degree F.

Well, as much as I'd love moving to a spank'n new AMD X2 dual core (blah-blah-blah), that would mean $300+ for new DDR2 RAM, $150 for an AM2 motherboad, $200 for new PCI-express graphics card worth owning, not to mention the $100-300 for a good CPU. Plus with Intel's latest DuoCore Extreme beating AMD's X2 by 30% to 70% I suspect this next year is going to be an amazing technology race. Next summer the dual-core (or quad-core) CPU will be perhaps a few 100% faster and take less power.

So I started by looking through motherboards for something with an AGP slot (for my ATI Radeon X1600 AGPx8) and using DDR400 / PC3200 RAM. It turned out the "newest" motherboards to support this combination were the socket 754. This limited me to an AMD Athlon 64 - something one doesn't see for sale much. I finally found a nice $58 deal at
newegg (dot) com; adding an old S754 motherboard means the entire upgrade is in the $80 to $100 range.

Digging a little deeper, it turns out this particular A64 model is actually something in the Mobile Athlon family, so it burns a maximum of 51-watts, instead of the standard 89-watts of earlier Athlon 64 processors. This struck me as a fortunate "accident" since cooler means quieter and that is something I value.

Basic specs from AMD's web site: Details for this AMD Athlon 64

  • Processor AMD Athlon™ 64, Model 3000+ (P/N ADA3000AIK4BX)
  • Operating Mode: 32/64, Stepping E6
  • Frequency: 2000Mhz, HT Speed: 1600
  • Voltage: 1.40V Max Temp: 65°C
  • Thermal Power: 51W (older models were 89w)
  • L1 Cache: 128KB, L2 Cache: 512KB
  • CMOS Technology 90nm SOI, Socket S754

So ... where is the $$ "creep" in project? Well, it started with a $29 copper after-market cooler since I wanted to leverage the value of my new low-watt CPU. After getting it running, this sweet little A64 idles at about 77 degree F and heats up to about 85 degrees F max when fully loaded! Upon power-up, it is satisyfing to hear the turbine-whine of the cooler drop to silence in a few seconds as the motherboard takes control of the cooler fan. In fact, for the first few days I had this urge to keep looking at the fan to make sure it wasn't faulty because it runs so quiet.

My worker-bee system is in a mini-ATX case and only had PC2100 RAM. So I started looking at min-ATX Socket A motherboards for my recylced XP ... long-store short I just decided to buy a second A64 with S754 mini-ATX mobo and another 1GB of PC3200 RAM. Since my worker-bee system runs 24/7 I liked the idea of the quieter fans. So I guess my initial $100 budget has expanded to 2 x $100 for 2 CPU and mobo, $60 for 2 nice after-market coolers, and $200 for 1GB of DDR400 RAM. At least I did suppress the desire to upgrade my for-fun system to 2GB RAM. Hopefully next summer I can re-upgrade the for-fun system to an dula-core AM2.

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I find increasingly when I have a specific computer "challenge" (err problem) that the only useful answers tend to be in personla blogs. For example, if an NVidia 6200 seems to not like a certain DVD player, the appropriate support forums tend to be full of unanswered or misanswered junk. The only useful info tends to be some one somewhere who SOLVED the problem and added the info to a blog.

So this is my attempt to pay this back - after I've wasted 3 hours trying to be my DLink external USB hub to not crash my Asus K8V-MX motherboard on boot up, I can post the solution here in hopes other people in the same rare situation can benefit.