Pencil MOD : nforce4, include support for SLI and SATA-II

  • Category: Overclocking & Moding
  • Published on Saturday, 06 May 2006 14:42
  • Written by Nasirul Huq
  • Hits: 1953

We overclock, we overvolt, we cool them to force them to work at the maximum limit at which even manufacturer never thought of going. But here is the mod on nforce4 chipset that will totally change the category for which the product is meant for.

Before I start, let me warn you that this is the most extreme mod I have done still now. I have done some vmod in the past, but it is more extreme than doing vmod+pencil mod on AMD AthlonXP processor.

Background

NVIDIA's nForce4 chipset is offered in three variants.

  • nForce4:   This is the low-end version, it has no support for SATA-II nor SLI. Like - MSI K8N NEO4-F
  • nForce4 Ultra:   This is the mid-end version, it supports SATA-II but not SLI. Like - MSI K8N NEO4-Platinum
  • nForce4 SLI:   This is the high-end version, it supports both SATA-II and SLI. Like - MSI K8N NEO4-SLI

nforce4 chip

Though they are different, in terms of features, but they are actually manufactured under the same production line-up. Except the very last process of manufacturing.

If you look closely to these chips, you will see that the chipset themselves appear identical. However, a closer look at the resistors and pads surrounding the chip shows some differences. The resistors appear the same on both, but there are 3 sets of resistor pads that are closed on the SLI chipset, just two sets are closed on Ultra and none for the Standard chipset.
The vertical set of resistor pads just to the right edge of the chip itself is closed on SLI and open on Ultra. We could find no other obvious differences in the 3 chipsets.

Operation Table

I choose my old MSI K8N NEO4-F (nForce4 chipset) motherboard for testing as it had just one year of warranty left. Perfect time for such testing. If successful then good, if corrupt will try for warranty. If get warranty then also good, if not then very good, will get a new SLI motherboard.
 

MSI K8N NEO4-F

Rest is a bear system with -

Processor  AMD64 3000+ 
RAM  Hynix 512mb DDR400
Power Supply  Colors-it 400W 
Hard Disk  Seagate 80GB SAT-II 
   
OS  WindowsXP Pro with SP2

Procedure 

We tried this mod with an ordinary conductive pen. It worked perfectly, and with there being so much room around the set of resistor pads, you don't have to be that neat. If you close the pads, you have converted to SLI. Those of you who remember Athlon XP modding for CPU speed, will recall how close the sets of pads were in that mod. This required masking and careful painting of the pads to be closed. With the Ultra to SLI mod, there is huge real estate around the resistor on which you are working. As a result, even "all thumbs" modders should have an easy time with this one.
 

nforce4 pencil mod

Results 

  1. We get SATA-II support with the motherboard which ment to work at SATA-I only.
     
  2. We get partial SLI support.
    Partial because, to work with SLI we need to install two same SLI capable cards in the two SLI-slots and connect the bridge between them. But, as we don't have the 2nd SLI-slot so we can't directly use two cards. But don't get depressed. After these mod, now we can use nvidia dual GPU graphics cards like GX2 with older drivers*. These GX2 series graphics cards are basically factory punched pair of graphics card needs only one SLI slot to install but still requires a SLI capable motherboard.nvidia 7950gx2
     
  3. We can not able to include the IEEE1394 that comes with a Ultra/SLI series motherboard.

Conclusion

* Few week later, we learned that nvidia was not happy with this "SLI hack" and they changed their latest drivers quickly so that "semi-SLI would not work with current and later Forceware drivers." It appears that the later Forceware drivers check the chipset ID and if the driver sees "Ultra", then SLI is not enabled. MSI decided to kill the "semi-SLI" board because it would be a nightmare supporting a board that would only run with older nvidia SLI drivers and also don't want to make big-daddy (nvidia) angry.

But, it was a great experiment. 

Time to buy a real SLI motherboard. 

Dynamic Overclocking : MSI D.O.T. vs Gigabyte C.I.A.

  • Category: Overclocking & Moding
  • Published on Wednesday, 15 March 2006 02:06
  • Written by Nasirul Huq
  • Hits: 3442

Dynamic Overclocking overclocking is a feature which will increase your CPU/GPU-Speed if needed and when needed. It brings you extra performance while system is heavy-loaded. Diagnosing system's utilization to active the performance enhancement, make the ultimate personalized system possible.

You can achieve extra performance while you're playing 3D games and vector rendering. You don't have to raise the frequency and voltage for all-time because it will burden your PC system. Some people may concern their system always under intensive status. You can acquire additional performance within the tolerance when you need it.

There is also another advantage to 'noob' users who want to overclock they system but either don't know the exact procedure of the art of overclocking or too afraid to do so, specially when companies doesn't support warranty over overclocking damages. All they have to do some clicking to achieve some overclocking boosts to their system. 

Two major motherboard manufactures introduce this feature named D.O.T. and C.I.A.
Let us do an in-depth analysis of the feature and compare them.

What is D.O.T. ?   

MSI D.O.T. (Dynamic Overclocking Technology) that automatically overclocks CPU by increasing FSB clock when necessary. 

Have a look at the original description of D.O.T. taken from MSI's website.

What is the Dynamic Overclocking Technology? Many mobo users must feel curious about this question. Dynamic Overclocking Technology, in simple words, is the automatic overclocking function, included in the MSI's newly developed CoreCell Technology. It is designed to detect the load balance of CPU while running programs, and to adjust the best CPU frequency automatically. When the motherboard detects CPU is running programs, it will speed up CPU automatically to make the program run smoothly and faster. When the CPU is temporarily suspending or staying in the low load balance, it will restore the default settings instead. Apparently, the Dynamic Overclocking Technology will be powered only when users' PCs need to run huge amount of data like 3D games or the video process, and the CPU frequency needs to be boosted up to enhance the overall performance. On the contrary, when your PC stays in the normal status such as surfing on the Internet or doing hard drive defragment, CPU will remain the original speed without overclocking.

What is C.I.A. ?   

MSI wasn't alone in its initiative, as Gigabyte's C.I.A. (CPU Intilligence Accelerator) is called to solve same problems. The description provided in company's press release resembles that of MSI D.O.T. much:

...C.I.A. (CPU Intelligent Accelerator) is designed to detect CPU loading during software program's executing, and automatically adjust CPU computing power to maximize system performance. During loading high CPU resources consumption tasks, such as video and audio encoding programs or thrilling 3D games, the CPU requires more CPU computing power; when C.I.A. is enabled, it will detect the current CPU loading and automatically accelerate the CPU computing performance, thus allow programs to execute faster and smoother. On the other hand, when the programs are terminated, the CPU will return back to its initial status...

Gigabyte avoids specifying the parameter that C.I.A. controls. Instead of and unambiguos "...adjust the best CPU frequency..." of MSI, they use an indistinct "accelerate the CPU computing performance". However we don't know other means of doing this except for overclocking and therefore think it's pure casuistry.

But the aim that is to detect the load balance of CPU while running programs, and to adjust the best CPU frequency automatically sets the obvious question: how is it possible to determine CPU load only with a main-board without any additional software running. This is not trivial. 

The most correct way is to analyze the instructions transferred via CPU bus. But such a solution will cost a fortune and will require an extra processor, at least equal to the primary CPU. Therefore, MSI must be using some other method. But what? We thought of an idea, but it was so primitive that we decided to check it just to make sure we were wrong... 

Testbed

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3400+ and P4 3.2GHz processor
  • Mainboard: MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R and Gigabyte GA-8IPE1000 Pro2
  • RAM: 2x512 MB PC3200 DDR TwinMOS (timings: 2-2-2-5) 
  • Graphics card: Manli ATI Radeon 9800Pro 256 MB
  • Hard drive: Western Digital WD360 (SATA), 10,000 rpm

Tools

Initially we intended to briefly introduce the candidate to become another utility of the RightMark project, RM Spy or RM Infiltrator (not settled yet). This program helps CPU and mainboard testers determine CPU clock at any moment. As you know, some board makers make the default FSB clocks a bit higher in order to make their products show better performance in tests. But as we tested the program on the real test system we found out some facts that turned our simple presentation into something completely different... 

The idea is certainly not original. There are a lot of programs that allow dynamic CPU clock monitoring. Here are the general advantages of ours:

  1. RM Spy (RM Infiltrator) has only this particular purpose and is not a part of some monster suite. It's just an 120KB executable that needs no installation. 
  2. The results can be logged.
  3. The "Start delay" feature enables users to conduct operations required to be done before the clock check.
  4. The Check period feature minimizes CPU load created by the utility. 

So, launching RM Spy we see:

The following options can be changed in the main (and the only) program window:

  1. Start delay: the delay between the moment you press Start and CPU clock monitoring launch (minutes). 
  2. Check period: interval to monitor CPU clock in (seconds). 
  3. Save on Stop: check to create a log file with the results after the program is stopped.

The "Start" button launches CPU clock monitoring with the parameters set, while the "Exit" naturally stops the program (the same as the window close button). 

On clicking "Start" the utility automatically minimizes to tray. It can be restored by a double click on the respective icon.

During CPU clock monitoring you will see something like on the picture above.

Given "Save on Stop" option was enabled, you would get a similar log clicking "Stop". As you can see, RM Spy (RM Infiltrator) has only one function, so options and modes are minimal. On the other hand, it's sufficient for the main task, namely dynamic CPU clock monitoring.

Note that the screenshots above were obtained on the PC we wrote this article on, not on the testbed. Besides, since the program is still in development, the version you might download in the future might have greater functionality than it has now.

We decided to try the RM Spy on a board that has dynamic CPU clock adjust implemented by the manufacturer.

D.O.T. test results

So, below you can see the CPU clock diagram of RM Spy measurements that started right after the system boot. The CPU load was 0%, the measurement interval - 3 seconds. You can easily see the clock speed hardly changes. This means that either D.O.T. ran correctly, or didn't work at all.

This diagram demonstrates D.O.T. in Return to Castle Wolfenstein (we ran, played, exited it and let the CPU stand idle for a while). Well, the dynamic overclocking works - we alternated furious shooting with calm wandering or even doing nothing, and the diagram shows that the CPU clock is adjusted. But the questions is if it's really adjusted, according to the CPU load... 

 

Now, instead of increasing the CPU load we simply stopped CPU cooler fan at zero CPU load. This is to test whether D.O.T. monitors the CPU temperature to boost. 

Well... the CPU clock increased!!! Then we turned the fan on again... 

That's it. The experiment reveals the clear dependence between the onboard CPU temperature with the Dynamic Overclocking Technology enabled and the dynamic overclocking: the higher the CPU temperature is, the higher its clock is. Certainly, there's an upper bound, but it's limited by the D.O.T. settings in BIOS Setup. And vice versa, if the CPU cools down, its clock gradually decreases to the default value.

So, taking into account that in the second part of the experiment CPU load remained constant (zero), we can state that the CPU Usage is not monitored and has no effect on the D.O.T. technology. And the CPU load is determined basing on the temperature...

C.I.A. test results

Of course, we thought of checking C.I.A. as well (though we didn't doubt about it.) So, we just took the first board with this technology we could get (it was Gigabyte GA-8IPE1000 Pro2 on i865PE), a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor, and repeated the experiment. This time we'll be brief, as nothing new showed up. 

 In standby the system indicates slightly overclocked CPU, but works stable. 

 

The first differences of Gigabyte C.I.A. from MSI D.O.T. showed up when we alternated dynamic and "static" moments in a game (the latter means game character stood doing nothing for about 30 seconds, having killed everyone around.) However this didn't resulted in clock rate decrease. It returned to normal only after the game application was closed. It was also clear that CPU was not overclocked smoothly (MSI), but in a single jump. Now for the cooler power turnoff... 

As you can see, it's the same as indicated on the previous picture. From a certain moment on, CPU clock grows even at zero load. We didn't come up with any alternative ideas and decided that C.I.A. (same as D.O.T.) monitors CPU temperature instead of its real load.

MSI D.O.T. vs. Gigabyte C.I.A.

Finishing this express comparison of MSI and Gigabyte dynamic overclocking technologies, we'll state that C.I.A. seems to be more "rough". While MSI's overclocking is "truly dynamic" providing various FSB clock rates for various CPU temperatures, C.I.A. seems "triggerlike". It seems there's a threshold CPU temperature (about 45°C in our tests), after which FSB grows to a limit preset by dynamic overclocking policy set in BIOS. After this FSB remains the same until the temperature goes below the threshold.

It's up to you to decide which way is more correct. On the one hand MSI D.O.T. looks finer and more flexible, but on the other Gigabyte C.I.A. does what it's meant for as well without constant FSB changes (that are hardly good for system stability and processor lifetime.) We can debate about benefits of these approaches for a long time. But is there really any sense in it? Perhaps, some enthusiasts would like to examine D.O.T. and C.I.A. in more details, but our appetite for this theme is satisfied enough by a simple confirmation of the fact that neither technology monitors actual CPU load. Well, there are no miracles (at least hardware miracles,) and various monitoring methods are rather resource-consuming and pricey for a motherboard.

We also omitted some nuances that we couldn't make certain. E.g. are threshold temperatures hardware-fixed or variable depending on some conditions? Actually the latter seems to be more trustworthy, because if you give a processor a good warm up before tests, dynamic overclocking starts behaving strangely sometimes ceasing and sometimes overclocking the processor beforehand. Judging by this, we assume it tries to monitor CPU temperature before system starts to consider it as a base. However, this seems to malfunction, because we couldn't see any repeating dependencies.

Conclusion

Now let's see what makes us so perplexed. The fact that the CPU load is measured basing on the temperature? Well, no. This is a standard way of determining parameters indirectly. However, there's a more correct method: CPU power consumption analysis. It's much more correct because increased power consumption only indicates CPU load increase and isn't related to many other factors among which is the load (as it is with the temperature). However, it's much more difficult to monitor current at such low voltage than to use on-chip temperature sensor...

Ok, the manufacturer chose the temperature, and it's clear why - this is the simplest and the cheapest way. But why didn't MSI integrate some simple logic into their high-technology CoreCell chip to monitor the most widespread emergency situations, which might also cause CPU temperature growth? There are actually only two of them: 1) when temperature inside PC case grows up faster than CPU temperature, 2) CPU fan failure. If either occurs, the dynamic overclocking becomes unsuitable because CPU temperature can grow not because of the increased load, but because of some other potentially dangerous factors.

So, MSI's idea is sensible and elegant. Though it's elegant just because it's simple and inexpensive. However, its implementation doesn't make sense because it doesn't consider several obvious factors making D.O.T. toughen CPU temperature mode in emergency situations rather than prevent the unnecessary risk.

Such a crippled implementation of D.O.T. makes us think it's more a product of marketing than engineering made just to have another sound announcement...

I'd like to end this article with a standard appeal to all hardware manufacturers: "Please provide more details in your product descriptions!" It's clear that an average user doesn't need all the nuances, but experienced users should know how either feature works. Otherwise, it makes an unpleasant impression when you find out that CPU load monitoring actually tracks some other parameter that is not always directly related to the required.