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 ;)

K6-2+ 550 MHz OS Boot Speed

A quick video which shows the boot speed on an AMD K6-2+ 550MHz, 768 MB RAM and SATA disk system for Windows XP and Ubuntu 10.04. Bot operating systems are “stock” with the latest updates installed and no special optimisation has been done.

As you can see, you are much better off using Windows XP on a K6 machine as the Linux distributions with GUI are terribly slow on this hardware.

It’s not only the boot process which is slow on Linux but also the whole OS GUI (Gnome in this case) which feels awfully slow to the point where it’s unusable; Windows XP on the other hand is quick and snappy!

So the common myth that Linux is faster than Windows on old hardware isn’t so true here…

K6 Box Part 2 – GA-5AX Capacitors

One thing that will inevitably bite you on old hardware are dead capacitors…they either dry out, explode or leak inevitably regardless of their initial quality after 15 years. On one of my GA-5AX boards I had some instabilities and this is exactly the sign of dried-out capacitors :(

One of you is dead!

So I ordered a bunch of new ones to replace them all, there are 2 types on the motherboard:

  • 8mm diameter 330uF 25V a bit everywhere
  • 10mm diameter 330uF 25V close to the CPU
If you can’t find 25V ones you can take caps rated at 35V instead and it will just work fine.

The removed old caps (the blue ones are from a GeForce 3)

Replacing them all (around 20 pieces) took me a good 2h of careful work…the soldering wasn’t that easy to do and I had to drill trough some of the old soldering with a very small drill bit.

Fitting the first new capacitors…

The new capacitors are also a little bit shorter, 12.5mm height instead of 15mm which is absolutely perfect around the CPU as many heat-sinks will now fit off the shelf without requiring some adjustments. Oh and the board is stable again now :)

New capacitors!

You may have notice the 2 places on the previous picture where capacitors were planned on the motherboard but never fitted? Well meanwhile I soldered some in there and it didn’t change anything…nothing burned :)