AMD Athlon Buyer's Guide - Part 2: Overclockingby Anand Lal Shimpi on November 9, 1999 8:48 PM EST
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When we first took a look at a final production version of AMD's Athlon CPU on a fully functional Slot-A motherboard, one of our initial reactions was, "Hey, you can't overclock this thing." A quick call to AMD revealed that they had taken a different approach to controlling the clock multiplier and voltage settings of the Athlon CPU than the market had been used to. Instead of allowing for the two options to be controlled and adjusted on the motherboard as they have been in the past, AMD placed the only method for controlling the clock multiplier and core voltage on the Athlon processor card itself.
This manipulation is done by a physical modification of a combination of 16 resistor slots on the processor card. A number of Taiwanese websites published the first instructions on the actual manipulation of a few of these resistors to increase the clock multiplier of the processor, but Dr. Thomas Pabst of Tom's Hardware Guide was actually the first to produce a complete guide on all of the available settings, including the settings for changing the core voltage. The guide is very well written and contains all of the background information necessary to know how one can physically overclock the Athlon, so take a look at it if you are truly interested.
Since the release of that article, many individuals that are a little more than skilled with their soldering irons have taken it upon themselves to make a few bucks off of the modification. The fact of the matter is that when AMD released the Athlon back in August, they could already hit 750MHz in their own labs, so it makes perfect sense to expect that the Athlon is at least a decent overclocker. At the same time, the higher clock speed Athlons are out of the price range of many, while the Athlon 500 weighs in at a very competitive and reasonable price. What do these two events have in common? Take an Athlon 500, overclock it to 650MHz, and you now have a 650MHz Athlon for around $250.
Unfortunately, the modification process is very dangerous and should be reserved for those with quite a bit of experience with delicate soldering techniques. This is where the idea of capitalism comes in: at an added premium, a number of companies are offering pre-overclocked Athlon CPUs that operate at the higher speeds but cost lower than the higher clocked part would go for. Is there anything wrong with this? Not at all, as long as the vendor discloses that these CPUs are in fact overclocked and there are risks involved.
Some individuals have even taken it to the next level and have actually outfitted their modified Athlon CPUs with a set of dip switches that can control the clock multiplier and core voltage so that the control is placed back in the hands of the user. We were lucky enough to obtain an evaluation sample from one of these individuals, Mark Sorensen, the owner and operator of Trinity Micro. Trinity Micro is currently offering a modified Athlon 500 for $310, as well as the opportunity to have your own CPU modified for $125.00 + shipping and handling. While the pricing may seem quite steep, we had tremendous success with our evaluation Athlon 500, as you're about to see. Note that this potential does not apply to Trinity Micro's Athlon units alone, as they are all using the same chips, just different methods of modifying them in order to achieve the common goal: taming and overclocking the world's most robust x86 CPU.