How to upgrade your processor in an hour for less than £100

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The Big Easy (Upgrade)

>> Tutorial starts on the next page...

Most BX-motherboard-based PCs circa 1998-2000 will be too slow for use with modern, OHCI-compatible, video editing software. But a simple processor upgrade - which takes about an hour, and costs under £100 - can change all that, and give the machine a new lease of life. Bob Crabtree walks us through the upgrade...

We all like the idea of getting something for nothing, but will usually settle for the next best thing - getting a lot for not very much. And, somewhat to our surprise, that's genuinely possible by carrying out the processor upgrade explained here.
This walk-through is aimed mainly at readers who bought ready-made editing PCs between 1998 and early 2000. Back then, such systems typically used motherboards based around Intel BX chipsets and had slot-fit Pentium II processors, rather than socket-fit. Some of the processors in these systems were no faster than 233MHz, but others were in a range between 300 and 550MHz. That might seem incredibly slow, now that processors have topped 3GHz, and 2GHz is nothing special, but, at the time, they were regarded as fast. And, they were reasonably usable for the video editing tasks they were originally put to, because they had editing cards that did a lot of the work involved in capturing and outputting video.
For analogue capture and output, the cards they most commonly came with were from the Pinnacle DC 30 and the Fast AV Master ranges. For DV, the most popular cards were the Pinnacle DV300, Canopus DV Raptor and Fast DV Master. But, unlike modern mid-market editing cards - such as the Matrox RT.X100 and RT.X10, the Canopus DVStorm 2 and the Pinnacle DV500 and Pro-ONE - these older cards did little to speed up the rendering of video, so previewing changes and preparing projects for output was something of a chore.
The system we upgraded for this tutorial was originally DIY-built to run a Canopus DV Raptor, but had had the Raptor replaced about two years ago by an OHCI-standard FireWire card, so that we could test OHCI-standard video editing software and FireWire drives - a task it just about managed, but rather slowly. At the centre of the system is an AOpen AX6BC motherboard bought in January 2000. This came from DVC - one of a number of UK video editing specialists that integrated that model of motherboard into a lot of their systems.
Demonstrating our longstanding love of a bargain, the processor being replaced was a Celeron 533MHz. We'd opted for this originally because it was a lot cheaper than an equivalent speed Pentium. But, the original Celeron, like its 1.4GHz replacement, can't fit directly into the motherboard slot, because it's a socket-type processor. The only way to use it in the BX-board's processor slot is by mounting it into a slocket adapter (also known as an SSA - a slot-to-socket adapter). This is a gadget with a processor socket, and which itself fits in the board's CPU slot.
However, editing system builders don't take these cheap-skate shortcuts, so most readers with professionally-built BX-motherboard systems are likely to have slot-fit Pentium II processors. Readers who want a decent speed upgrade are going to have to go the slocket route, even if they aren't bargain hunters. That's not just because Intel no longer make slot-fit processors, but also because the company never did produce any that even approached a 1.4GHz clock speed.
The slocket used with the 533MHz processor before the upgrade was the official adapter supplied by the maker of the motherboard, but couldn't be used with the 1.4GHz Celeron because the newer CPU has different voltage requirements that can't be supplied by the AOpen adapter. So, instead, we used an adapter from PowerLeap - the PL-iP3/T. This is specially designed to accommodate the requirements of the so-called Coppermine Celeron and Pentium IIIs, in the same family of processors as the 1.4GHz. The adapter has a transformer on board and takes power from a standard four-pin power plug of the sort used to run internal hard disk drives and optical drives.
As the test results table shows (p73), the difference in performance between the two processors was massive and, in some cases, far greater than we could have hoped for. The most impressive results were seen when producing DVD-compliant MPEG-2 footage from Vegas Video and Pinnacle Studio, and rendering DV AVIs from Canopus Imaginate. Here, render times on the 1.4GHz Celeron were less than one-third of those with the 533MHz.
Averaged across all the tests, render time - under Windows 98SE and Windows XP - was cut by more than half. As anyone who has ever sat around waiting for effects to render knows, that's an improvement well worth having. Of course, a lot of readers with BX systems will have processors that are slower than 533MHz - some a lot slower - so a heart-transplant won't just make their systems a lot faster, it will make them able to do jobs that they simply couldn't do before - such as OHCI-editing, the creation of DVD-compliant footage, and the making (with the addition of a suitable burner) of DVDs.
To make life easier for readers, and save them a bit of money, we've made arrangements with two suppliers who will be able to provide exactly what's needed - and do so at less than their normal prices.
The Celeron 1.4GHz processor we recommend is an FC-PGA2 type (with integral thermal transfer material) which comes as part of Intel's retail pack along with a cooling fan and heat-sink. This is available from
The PowerLeap PL-iP3/T package includes the slocket adapter, decent instructions and a power-splitter cable (to share a power lead with a drive if there's not a free power lead) and is available from Both companies are offering deals to readers on other upgrade hardware, too, so check out the Big deals box on this page for low-cost FireWire cards, RAM, power supplies and more.
It's important to note that our motherboard - as we bought it - would not have worked with this upgrade, and the same will almost certainly be true of other BX motherboards, regardless of make or model. This is because one of the main requirements for using the Celeron in PowerLeap's adapter is that the motherboard be compatible with the Coppermine family of Intel Celeron and Pentium III processors - and these processors hadn't even come to market when most BX motherboards were made.
Fortunately, it is possible to make the AOpen AX6BC compatible, and this will be true of a lot of other motherboards, too, but not all. What's needed is a suitable update for the motherboard's Bios - something that either will or won't be available from the motherboard maker's web site. If an updated Bios is not available, it won't be possible to carry out this upgrade. If an update is available, it must be installed before proceeding with the upgrade - see the Bios updates box (right) for more information on how to do this.

The installation
This should be one of the easiest and quickest hardware upgrades you'll ever carry out - a PC expert would do the job in under 20 minutes (we took longer!). Allow yourself two hours to do everything, even though it will probably take less than an hour. Assuming you've got the parts, assembled the few tools required (see Tools checklist), and read (and understood) this tutorial and the instructions that come with the processor and slocket adaptor, it's time to start.
Find a clean, clear flat surface to work on with lots of space around it. A dining table would be fine - it's good to be able to sit down for the first stage - but put down an old clean sheet, folded double, to prevent scratching.
Set up the blue, J5, jumpers on the PowerLeap adaptor to match the voltage requirements of the new processor (1.5V for the Celeron 1.4GHz). Be guided by the jumper instructions that come with the PowerLeap socket, and do NOT use any of our photos as a guide. Take great care when changing the jumpers not to bend any of the components that are fitted on the slocket's circuit board - and keep this in mind, too, when fitting the processor and the fan in place.
When the jumpers are correctly set, place the slocket on the work area with its black 'back wall' (the edge that will push down into the motherboard socket) facing towards you. Pull the free end of the shiny metal arm towards the back wall of the adaptor and then upwards through 90 degrees.
This arm locks the processor in place once it's in the socket, so has to be lifted up to install the processor . There's not much room between the arm and the back wall of the slocket to get a finger, so it may be necessary to use a flat-bladed screwdriver to free the arm from under its plastic retainer. Without touching any of the pins on the new Celeron processor, look at its underside and note that pins do not extend into two adjacent corners. The processor only goes into the socket one way, so make sure that it is placed correctly - with the 'pin-free' corners towards the adapter's back wall and locking arm.
Holding the processor by the edges, lower it into place so that all pins are going into their sockets at the same time - don't have it tipped up. Before using the locking arm, lift up the adaptor and look all around the processor to make sure all pins are in and that the processor is sat flat. Place the slocket back on the work surface and use a bit of jiggling and very gently pressure to ensure the processor is seated properly. Push the shiny locking arm down, ensuring that it catches under the plastic retainer.
Next, the fan and heat sink assembly has to be fitted in place. It's held on top of the processor by metal clips at either end of a flat inverted-U-shaped metal bar that runs under the fan and above the finned heat sink. The clips MUST be put on in the right order - or you'll still be trying in a week's time.
The diagram in the processor instructions makes it clear what to do - but only if you'd done a similar job before! This is the trickiest part of all. Don't rush it and take care not to push any of the components on the slocket's circuit board while trying to get the fan in place.
If you are right-handed, ensure that the back wall of the slocket adaptor is towards you. If left-handed, have the open edge towards you. Hold the fan assembly in your favoured hand and so that the end with the power lead is towards you. Curl that lead on top of the fan so that it can't get trapped between the processor and the heat sink. Tip the full assembly to about 45 degrees relative to the socket and carefully hook the metal clip furthest from you over the plastic lug on the lip of the socket furthest from you (the end that does NOT have a ridge with the words 'PGA 370' on it). This is fiddly, so take it slowly - after a bit of messing about the clip will hook in place. Lower the fan gently on to the processor, ensuring the secured clip doesn't unhook, and that the clip at the other end is correctly lined up with its own plastic lug. Turn the slocket so the unattached clip is towards you and place a small flat-bladed screwdriver into the top-most hole in the clip. By levering the screwdriver handle up (and the tip down), gently force the clip down and onto its retainer. When this second clip is in place, put the assembly aside and take a five-minute break. Reassure yourself that the hardest bit is over.
Do not attempt to fit the slocket into the PC while the PC is still connected to the monitor, mouse, keyboard, speakers, telephone line or mains. Shut down the PC and turn off any connected hardware - monitor, scanner, printer. Turn off the power switch at the back of the PC if there is one. Remove all external cabling, but not before making a careful note of what was attached where - including orientation of cables. All fit only one way so you'll waste time trying to fit them back into the wrong socket or the wrong way round - though you'll have to try very hard to break anything.
Take particular care when replacing PS2 keyboard and PS2 mouse plugs afterwards - they are physically interchangeable but don't work in each other's sockets. If they're colour-coded, the mouse socket is usually green (green cheese - mice - easy to remember). If unplugging any USB devices, make a note of which socket each device connected to - if they are later plugged into different ports, Windows 98SE or ME may force you to re-install the drivers, which is a bore. This seldom happens with Windows XP.
Place the system box on a clean, clear surface with lots of space around it. Remove the screws on the back of the PC holding the outer case in place (usually four or six cross-head screws) and put them in the fruit bowl for safe keeping. Make sure to remove the correct screws. Do NOT, for instance, remove the four screws near to the fan on the back - these hold the power supply in place. Some tower system cases come off in sections. If yours is like this, it's normally only necessary to remove the right-hand panel (as viewed from the back) to get at the motherboard.
Once the motherboard is exposed, ensure that the PC (if a tower system) is laid flat - for easier and safer working. Plug it into the mains - with the power off at the wall socket - and touch a metal part of the case to earth yourself. Then remove the power lead from the PC.
Check that there is free access to the processor, without too many cables getting in the way - remove those that are a nuisance, noting accurately where they came from, and place them together in a carrier bag or other containter. Note, too, in which direction the processor's cooling fan is pointing (towards the front of the PC). The fan on the slocket that replaces it MUST point the same way or you'll be trying to put the slocket into the slot back to front. Unplug from the motherboard the small (usually three-pin) power cable that is connected to the processor fan - note which way round it came off (you know why, don't you?).
At each end of the processor, at the top, is a locking-catch. Move these away from one another - you'll hear a click. This unlocks the processor from its support arms. Hold the case down (placing a hand on the power supply or a strong metal strut) and pull up the processor firmly. If it doesn't move, don't panic. Check the locking clips again to make sure they're undone, and try again. If all else fails, loosen the screws attaching the support pillars to the motherboard - that way they flop a little out of position and should allow the processor to be removed. Make sure they are screwed back in place immediately after - but don't tighten them too much.
Take the new processor/slocket assembly, push it evenly and firmly down into the socket (fan facing front, remember) until there is no further movement. Visually check that it looks even and down as far as it will go, then lock it in place by pushing the clips on either end of the slocket towards one another. If the clips don't lock, the processor is not properly seated - remove it and try again; you'll feel more confident the second time, and should be able to get it in place. Lock the clips, afterwards, though.
Attach the power lead from the fan to the three-pin socket on the motherboard from which the other processor's fan cable was connected. Finally, take the large power-cable-cum-splitter that came with the slocket and attach the small end to the three-pin socket on the slocket and the large end to a free power cable coming from the PC's power supply. If there's not a free one, unplug one from a hard disk or optical drive and plug that into the female end of the splitter, then take the male end of the splitter and plug it into that drive.
That, you'll be glad to know, is the job done - or will be when any cables that were removed to gain access to the processor are reconnected as per the notes made at the time.
After taking another short break, it's time to run up the PC and see if it works. You could do this after putting the case on and taking the PC back to where it normally sits, but we'd recommend leaving the case off for now and bringing the monitor, keyboard and mouse to the work area and testing there. It's quite possible that the system won't work - a cable might have been left off or not fully pushed home - so better to find out and fix the problem without all the fuss of moving the PC back and forth and messing around with the case.
Once the system powers up okay, you'll see the processor's speed being reported in the early stages of boot up, and you can double-check by right-clicking on My Computer and choosing Properties. The first Device Manager screen that appears should show the processor speed. If everything is in order, power down, put the case back on and connect it up again in its normal home. At that point, you'll probably want to do some tests to see how much faster it is. We trust that you'll be impressed, and find that the minor cost and small amount of time have been worthwhile. The PC now won't just be faster, but will be able to jobs that it simply couldn't do before, whether running an OHCI FireWire card and compatible editing software or going the whole hog and turning it into a DVD creation station - which is what we did next!

>> Tutorial starts on the next page...


The PC we upgraded dual-booted between Windows XP Pro (SP1a and DirectX 8.1) and Windows 98SE (DirectX 8.1), and had the following hardware/software:
Intel Celeron 533MHz processor in AOpen slocket adapter; AOpen AX6CBC motherboard (AGP, five PCI slots, two ISA slots; three PC100 RAM slots); 256MByte RAM (2 x 128MByte PC100 Cas 3); Matrox Millennium G400 graphics card; Datavision PCI OHCI FireWire card with TI chipset; Adaptec AHA-2940U2W PCI Scsi card; Aureal Vortex 2 SuperQuad PCI sound card; Realtek RTL8139 family PCI Ethernet network card; IBM-DJNA-352030 20GByte system hard drive as IDE primary master and partitioned into three (8GByte for Windows 98SE; 11.5GByte for Windows XP Pro; 500MByte for odds and ends); IBM IC35L040AVER07-0 40GByte hard drive for video as secondary master, single partition; Pioneer DVD-103 (DVD-ROM drive); Plextor PlexWriter 8/20/20 Scsi CD-RW burner; unbranded 3.25in floppy disk drive

Components used for upgrade:

PowerLeap PL-iP3/T slocket adaptor and Intel Celeron 1.4GHz processor (FC-PGA2 type 100MHz front-side bus; fits PGA370 socket); retail pack with heat sink and cooling fan, processor has integrated thermal transfer material.

Components added after main timing tests completed
NEC ND-1100A DVD+R/DVD+RW burner (as IDE secondary slave) - Plextor SCSI CD-RW burner removed; RAM upgraded to 512MByte - two 256MByte sticks of Cas 2 PC133 in place of two 128MByte sticks of Cas3; ADS Pyro 2.5in FireWire Drive Kit


The PowerLeap PL-iP3/T slocket adapter for this upgrade was bought for £39.99 (inc VAT and UK mainland delivery) from www.upgradestore
. However, until the end of May, the company is offering readers a 12.5 per cent reduction on this price and on everything else on its website - use voucher no. 105033010. These deals include a ready-assembled Slocket/Celeron 1.4GHz bundle that will be available at £110.50 (assuming the current price of £129.99 is unchanged); a Celeron 1.3GHz processor; other processor upgrade adapter (with and without processor); an OCHI-standard PCI FireWire card (based on a TI chipset); and RAM.
After a lot of searching on the net, and having to cancel orders with two companies, we bought the boxed Intel 1.4GHz processor used for the upgrade from www.theover
- which acquired the CPU specially for us and is ordering stock for readers at the keen price of £55.81 (inc VAT and UK mainland delivery). Also on offer is RAM - Corsair Value Select PC133 256MByte modules that carry a lifetime guarantee - for £39.60 each. For PCs that will need a better power supply after being upgraded, The Overclocking Store is making available for £52.86 a PSU - the 300W Enhance Electronics Action PFC (model ENH-0130) - that it says is amazingly quiet and particularly well-suited for the job. A nice touch, the PSU (which is Intel and AMD approved) adapts automatically between mains voltages - doing away with the usual 230/110V switch that can get accidentally moved, destroying the power supply, and frying the motherboard and other components.


To extend the useful lives of computers, the makers of motherboards allow their Bioses to be updated to add new capabilities - such as compatibility with new processors - and to iron out bugs. Unless the Bios on your BX motherboard has been updated, it will not be able to be used with the 1.4GHz Celeron processor or other 100MHz front-side bus CPUs in the Intel Coppermine family.
On older motherboards, Bios updating usually involves downloading two files from the maker's site - the code for the Bios and a program that carries out the update. Often, the two are bundled in a single Zip file, so it's necessary to have a utility (such as WinZip) or an operating system (such as XP) that can open Zip files.
The updater program only runs in DOS - so once the contents of the downloaded file have been unzipped, you need to create a bootable floppy disk, copy the two files onto that disk and then reboot from the floppy. To create a boot floppy in Windows XP, right-click on the floppy drive in My Computer, choose Format, then pick the option for Make MS-DOS Start-up disk. In Win 98SE, the procedure is much the same, except for the final step, where the option to pick is Copy system files.
If your PC can't boot from a floppy, this will be because it has been set up to prevent boot virus infections. These were common in the days before networking when floppies used to be passed around the office. To enable floppy disk boot up, restart the PC and dab the Delete key every half second or so as it's starting up. This gives access to screens where numerous set up options can be selected - including which disks to treat as bootable, and in what order they should be looked at during boot up (the floppy needs to be first). Do NOT be tempted to make any other changes in the Bios unless you know what you are doing. If the Delete key doesn't work, try using F2.
The updater program works in two stages - first, copying the old Bios code to floppy disk and then taking the new code and overwriting the Bios on the motherboard. Do not start the update process until you have read and fully digested all instructions about doing this from the motherboard maker's site. And DON'T ever overwrite an existing Bios without saving the old one first - if power fails during the overwriting process the PC may become unusable, and beyond economic repair.


Tools checklist:

1. Pad of paper and pencil - to note details of all changes made, such as what cables are removed (inside and outside), and their orientation, so the PC still works afterwards

2. Bright torch with fresh batteries - it's surprising how gloomy a PC's interior gets when leaning over it

3. Cross-headed screwdriver - to remove and replace screws holding the cover of the PC case

4. Small fruit bowl and carrier bag - to hold any screws and cables removed

5. Flat-bladed screwdriver (4in blade or smaller) - to lever into place the clip securing the cooling fan on the processor

6. Old clean sheet, folded double, to prevent scratching if using the dining table as the workbench

7. Power-extension lead - to take power to the PC on any temporary workbench

8. Box of tissues or roll of kitchen paper - to wipe the sweat from brow and hands!

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