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PowerLeap PL-P4/N: When the Pentium 4 was released, early adopters were stung by the form factor change. Normally, a new motherboard would be in order, but we look at a cheaper and easier alternative.
 
 
Date: November 25, 2002
Manufacturer:
Written By:

In our bottlenecking article, I posed the question what needs to be upgraded to eliminate a bottleneck? A video card is pretty easy to replace, no matter the platform, but the CPU is another story. If your motherboard is new enough, it should accomadate a newer processor. The Athlon is a popular CPU, partly because the form factor has been a standard for so long. As newer motherboards come, you can carry your CPU over, and if you replace the CPU, you have a good chance of it working in the newer motherboard. The Pentium 4 has been around for quite some time, but the Pentium 4 platform itself has changed since its introduction. When the original Pentium 4 Williamette was released, not many people seemed to be aware that there was going to be a form factor change from 423 pins to 478. Early adopters ended up getting stuck with a limited upgrade path, and the inability to carry their CPU or motherboard into the newer Northwood platform. Although most enthusiasts knew enough to wait for the Northwood, the majority of the PC market, i.e. moms and dads picking up an eMachine, had no clue.

Keep in mind that even power users jumped on the Pentium 4 Willamette bandwagon, as the Abit TH7 was a popular motherboard. The i850 chipset is still in heavy circulation, thanks in part to the OEM market. Although these systems ride the 100MHz (400 Quad pumped) bus, they aren't obsolete by a longshot, as the i850 is still used in a lot of Northwood motherboards. They're still saddled with RAMBUS ram, so considering how much you probably paid for the ram, it'd be a waste to chuck it.

Simply put, if you got yourself a Willamette and i850 motherboard, you've limited yourself in terms of CPU upgrades. Northwoods simply don't fit in the older i850 motherboards, and the 423pin Willamettes don't fit in newer motherboards. If you got yourself an OEM system based on this combination, you're really stuck as it's not easy to replace your motherboard in a Dell or Compaq system.

The question you need to ask yourself is if you have an older setup, is it more worthwhile to do a complete system overhaul, or to tryout an upgrade kit? Normally, I'd say you're better off changing everything if your system is very old, but the P4/i850 still has a lot of life left, and as I've said, parting with all that expensive RAMBUS ram would be a waste. Still, I was curious to see if the performance gained in a CPU upgrade, motherboard remaining the same, would be worthwhile. This is where the comes in as it will allow you to use a newer Northwood CPU in an older motherboard. Although a new product, PowerLeap is no stranger when it comes to upgrade kits, offering packages for a variety of platforms.

Specifications

1. Fits in any Socket-423 P4 motherboard.
2. Custom heatsink/fan solution included.
3. Also includes hardware to allow use of other P4 heatsink/fans (access to underside of motherboard required for installation).
4. Arctic Alumina polysynthetic Thermal Compound.
5. 3-year customer Warranty. 30-day money back guarantee.


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The contents of the kit includes the adapter, heatsink and fan, an Arctic Alumina thermal compound blister pack, some screws and power cables.

The PowerLeap PL-P4/N does not come stock with a CPU, though you can grab that kit for an additional charge. As far as I know, the 2.6GHz Northwood "A" is the fastest CPU PowerLeap offers in its package, though I'm certain the 2.8GHz (if you can find one) would work as well. I'm not going to delve too deeply into the CPU, since it's not a standard part of the package, but you can read our 2.4GHz Northwood "B" review here for a summary of the Northwood architecture. What I can tell you that support for the Northwood "B" will depend if your Socket 423 motherboard supports overclocking. Most of the usual suspects, such as Abit and Asus do, but for OEMs, I wouldn't count on it.


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The actual PL-P4/N adapter itself has the same pin layout as a Socket 423 CPU. Looking at the topside of the adapter, you'll notice the ZIF socket for 478 CPUs. The physical support includes both the Northwoods, and the newer Celeron processors. Given the different power requirements of the Northwood, you'll need to install the power, routed from the included splitter. The upgrade socket will manage the voltage for you, since the older Socket 423 motherboards are unable to regulate the additional voltage required by the newer Northwoods.


Click to Enlarge

I don't have any specifics about the heatsink/fan combination other than what I can observe. It's a custom job, designed to fit over the PL-P4/N adaper and Northwood CPU. It's a thin fin design, with the base lapped to a mirror finish. The fins are composed of copper, whereas the base is aluminum. A 100% copper construction would probably work better, but that would add to the total cost of the upgrade kit.

Using Motherboard Monitor, the cooling was pretty good, averaging about 57C under load, about what we get with an Intel retail cooler. The fan itself I found a bit louder than the Intel Stock fan, but it wasn't terribly distracting when the PC was under the desk.

If you choose not to use the included cooler, PowerLeap includes the appropriate spacers to use a standard cooler in its place.

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