Last year, I started WebKeyDesign as a way to learn more about web site design and hosting, and at the same time I purchased a Shuttle XPC to serve as a server for my home office. An XPC is a small cube shaped computer; it is Shuttle’s version of a small form factor PC. In reality it is a very nice PC for people who do not like full blown tower computers. The specific model that I got was the SN41G2, which features an NForce Socket A motherboard. Even last summer Socket A seemed to be on its last legs, and the price of the computer was very cheap. With the included Sempron 1800 processor, it was around $220. Compare that to a Mac Mini or even a used G4 Power Macintosh, and the XPC wins hands down. The XPC was really my third PC, I had an old Compaq P133 before, and a Socket 7 AMD machine I had built years ago. The AMD machine mostly sits in parts on my office floor as I use it mostly as a junk and spare parts machine. In all, I have to say that the XPC, (which I named Titan), is the first PC that I really fell in love with. It costs a fraction of my G3 B&W Power Mac and it matches my 15 inch Powerbook. The Powerbook is the best computer I’ve ever owned, but the XPC has allowed me to like PC computers.
Titan was upgraded with an Athlon 2600+ processor last winter, and while 1.9GHz was good, I still thought about one final upgrade. The Socket A processors were no longer being made by AMD and the motherboard did not have any overclocking options, so I either had to find the fastest Socket A processor AMD ever made or consider replacing Titan with a newer XPC model. This summer though, AMD is coming out with AM2, their new socket format and so 939 boards won’t are going to be obsolete pretty quickly. Most XPC models that feature 939 boards, have not really come down in price, so there really are no bargains in the XPC world right now. I decided on trying to find an affordable Athlon XP 3200+, and give Titan one last cpu upgrade.
The Athon XP 3200+ runs at about 2.2GHz and the Barton based models feature 400MHz front side buses. This would only be about 300MHz improvement over the XP 2600+ which had a 333MHz bus. The hard part is of course AMD no longer makes any Socket A processors so I had to find a used cpu. I tried eBay, but every time I tried to bid on something on eBay I would lose the auction, plus the 3200+ was going for around $175 in most final bids. That was pretty outrageous, so I kept looking at PriceWatch.com and seeing what the smaller online vendors had. Their price was about $150, but still kind of high. Ironically, some cpus actually become higher price once they are out of production. The 3200+ originally sold for $480 and was sold for as little as $125 at one time. It’s value was actually climbing now. Luckily I was able to find it on ComputerGeeks.com who got some in stock for a short time. They claimed the cpus were new too, not used. I was able to purchase one at $140.
Once I got the package from ComputerGeeks, I opened it up and found a white cardboard box inside a plastic one. Inside was a 3200+ cpu wrapped in foam, and with a crooked labelling sticker. After carefully removing the sticker and cleaning the surface with some rubbing alcohol, I had my new 3200+. There is something rewarding about knowing that you have the best and fastest processor AMD ever made, even if it is outdated by a few years.
While the XPC form factor is great, it does have some drawbacks and you are reminded of this every time you open one up. When I opened Titan up, the dust inside was incredible. It was everywhere and took a lot of compressed air to clean out everything. The other downside is trying to install anything in such cramped spaces. The processor upgrade especially requires removal of drives, the cooling heatsink, and some cables. Some patience is definitely required.
Eventually everything got put back together and after a few BIOS changes, Titan booted up with the 3200+ and ran fine at 2.2 GHz. The most evident change was in web browsing, as Titan is primarily a server, about the only real desktop use it gets is Remote Desktop. Firefox rendering feels immediate and less lagging. I don’t have any benchmarks but if you want to see that type of stuff, I suggest reading Sharkyextreme.com’s Athlon XP 3200+ review, which includes some nice benchmarks on how the 3200+ compares.
Probably the biggest detterent to getting a 939 motherboard and cpu, was that most AMD cpus are still around 2.2 GHz, and the entire computer industry is still stuck right under 3 GHz in general. The G4, the Pentium, the Athlon 64, and G5 are all still pretty much in the same range, so on sheer speed comparisons, an outdated Athlon XP 3200+ still compares pretty well to the current processors out there.