Windows 2000 with nVidia FX5700

One of the hardest things to get right when currently installing a K6 machine is to have a working Windows/DirectX/Drivers combination. Well after some sweat I’m happy to say that I finally found the perfect sweet-spot:

  • Windows 2000 with unofficial SP5
  • nVidia GeForce FX 5700 with series-50 drivers
  • DirectX 9.0c from july 2006 (later versions may require SSE and crash on a K6 without telling you that)

This great success has lead to the update of the OS Support page with all the info one may want and need…the system doesn’t BSOD on nv4_disp.dll when running DirectX 8/9 applications and OpenGL also works fine!

SATA to IDE converters

If like me you are (or are looking to) running an SATA HDD/SSD in you K6 machine, you are probably wondering if you should buy a dedicated bootable SATA host-bus adapter PCI card or maybe use an IDE to SATA converter to plug your SATA drive on the motherboard’s IDE ports.

convertet-box

A good Promise PCI card will cost you around 30€ and it works flawlessly and performs very well, but what about these adapters from China you can get for 10€? Well, I tested 2 of them; they all use the same chipset and only the PCB differs a bit. Both adapter’s PCB look like shit with soldering marks all over the place; they are cheaply made but at first glance they work well.

converter-pcb

Unfortunately, they perform horribly bad to the point where I had the feeling my K6 system was 4-5 slower doing any action using the disk…so do yourself a favour and avoid them. Buy a good SATA controller instead!

Old Hardware Shop

One of the most frustrating experiences when building an old system is to be able to buy cheap parts but then have to pay a lot for all the shipping costs from different sources and countries…at least this is what I was faced with when building my K6 system :)

Fortunately there are some specialised online shops which actually sell old hardware for a very low price so one can combine shipping costs; I ordered several parts from CBO-DO.de and they are very nice and helpful :)

Stronghold HD

Today I installed another great game bought from GoG: Stronghold! The development team just released a “brand new” HD version from this 2001 castle RTS and it’s AWESOME.

The original Stronghold, which you also get from GoG for free if you buy Stronghold HD, is limited to a 1024×768 resolution and it is a pain to play it on an actual 1920×1080 display…with Stronghold HD you finally get the full experience!

Unfortunately neither of these 2 versions are playable on a 500 MHz K6-2…even the standard version runs slowly. The original recommended spec for the game in 2001 was a 550 MHz or faster CPU.

Dungeon Keeper 2

Recently I bought Dungeon Keeper 2 from Good Old Games as it’s only around 6$ and I remembered it as a fabulous game. GoG are really awesome people which have ported older games so they run on current OS and it’s completely DRM free. After buying the game you get a simple .exe download without any heavy Steam-like client.

So, why am I telling you this? Well just to let you know the port doesn’t run well at all on a 500 MHz K6-2 system with a GeForce 3 (it ran fine back in 1999) :(

It all has to do with some changes made by GoG to the 3D engine…if you look at the installation folders you’ll have 2 executables.

  • DKII.exe : this executable runs “sort of fine” on the K6-2 but the experience isn’t that great and it will eventually lag when the missions become more complex and more enemies are displayed. This is NOT the default .exe run from the shortcut the installer creates
  • DKII-DX.exe : this is the executable modified even more by GoG to make it stable on modern Windows, it’s just unplayable on an old computer…just forget it

So unfortunately to get your Dungeon Keeper 2 fix on an older machine from the 500 MHz class with todays updates + drivers + DirectX, the GoG version isn’t good. It runs absolutely fine on any modern PC though!

Gigabyte GA-5AX performance optimisation

Having my working K6 system since a couple of weeks now I began tweaking the BIOS settings for my Gigabyte GA-5AX rev 4.1 to find the best performance, as it took quite some testing I’m now sharing what I found ;)

First of all let’s remember the system:

  • AMD K6-2+ 550 MHz
  • 768 MB PC133 CL2  RAM
  • nVidia GeForce 3 Ti200 64MB
  • Fast SATA HDD
  • Windows XP SP3

I began by setting reasonably good BIOS settings and after each individual setting change I  ran a series of 5 benchmarks using the good old Quake 3 v1.32 with “timedemo 1, demo four”. Quake 3 has the advantage of giving very consistent and reproducible results over any other benchmark tool and after all I’m using this system for old games…

The first tests I made is not BIOS related though…I tried to find the best nVidia driver working with my card. The 23.01 gave me an average of 28 FPS and the 21.83 WHQL an average of 28.7 FPS so there is the first base…I’ll be using the ForceWare 21.83 WHQL for the rest of the tests.

Now I’ll go trough each BIOS setting and give the fps change from this baseline…note that the changes are “incremental” by always keeping the previous test’s best performance.

Primary Frame Buffer

  • 2 MB (BIOS default): 28.7 FPS
  • All: 28.2 FPS
  • Disabled: 28.8 FPS

VGA Frame Buffer

  • Enabled: 28.8 FPS
  • Disabled: 27.7 FPS

Data Merge

  • Enabled: 28.8 FPS
  • Disabled: 27.7 FPS

Tweaking “IO Recovery Period” or “AGP Texture Size” didn’t change anything. Then I changed the CPU from an AMD K6-2+ 550MHz to an AMD K6-3+ 550 MHz to see how the 128kB additional L2 cache influenced the result. Well the fps jumped from 28.8 to 31.1 FPS which is nice!

As you can see I wasn’t that wrong with my default configuration as I only managed to “lower” the result by tweaking some settings…that’s experience talking ;) Here are the pictures of my final best result settings…

GA-5AX BIOS – Base Menu

GA-5AX BIOS – Power Management Setup

GA-5AX BIOS – PNP/PCI Configuration

GA-5AX BIOS – Integrated Peripherals

GA-5AX BIOS – BIOS Features Setup

GA-5AX BIOS – Chipset Features Setup

Arctic Cooling Copper Silent 3

Quickly after installing my K6 system I realised how noisy all the fans were back then…the stock CPU cooler just runs a small fan at full speed regardless of the CPU’s generated heat and I wanted to throw the whole system out of the window after 30 minutes.

So I began searching a good and quiet cooler for the K6 box…as nobody is selling Socket 7 coolers nowadays it wasn’t easy at first. Then I remembered that the Socket 7, 370 and A actually had the same fixations and it turns out Arctic Cooling is still selling a very nice cooler for them!

So I bought a couple of Arctic Cooling Copper Silent 3 (also known as Copper Lite) for Socket 370/A. I doubt they will continue selling them for much longer so grab one if you can…as you can see on the picture above it’s a massive cooler with a copper core. In the package there is also a tube of thermal paste which is nice.

On the GA-5AX you’ll have to cut away an unused part of the fixing system because there are capacitors on the way…not a big issue.

The biggest issue you’ll have with such a large cooler are the capacitors on the side of the Socket. In the picture above with the 12.5mm tall capacitors I replaced it works just fine, but with the stock 15mm capacitors found on the GA-5AX it will not fit unless you work with your Dremel.

The fixing mechanism has to be installed this way, with the pression point at the center of the CPU. I found that the best way to mount the cooler is to remove the screw, gently put the cooler into place while the mounting pins are lose and then apply a moderate pressure with the screw.

As you can see the final result is quite massive but also very quiet and the K6 runs at a completely cool temperature…no wonder there as it was designed for the very hot Athlons at the time. On the package it’s even written “Cooling Capacity: 90W” so don’t worry too much about cooling a K6 ;)