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Too Old to Overclock?

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It’s not been a good week for me and hardware. I seem to have developed a variation of the midas touch, where everything I touch goes up in smoke.

The story started with a Pentium M based Shuttle barebone system we had in for review. It blew up on me.

I had spent a good while getting the system ready with Windows Media Center 2005 and updating it fully all the Windows Update patches, which pretty much takes as longer than installing Windows in the first place. The next step was going to be installing a PCI Express graphics card – specifically an ATI All-in-Wonder X800 XL, which also needed to be reviewed, the intention being to kill two birds with one stone, as the rather cruel expression goes. However, it didn’t quite work out. As I put the card in I got a large orange spark. Now you don’t have to be the world’s most ‘leet’ hardware guru to know that large orange sparks when installing graphics cards are a Bad Thing. Sure enough the machine wouldn’t boot but after a few minutes of prodding and poking the machine was back and running. I tried it the graphics card again only for the same thing to happen. This time the prodding and pocking was followed by a small but definite plume of smoke rising from the motherboard. Again, I was fairly certain that this Not Good.

As a result of this little misfortune I was forced to install the ATI card in my own system. Fortunately the card still worked fine, but the drivers refusing to properly install. Whatever I tried, ‘Unknown Device’ sat stubbornly in Device Manager. I’ve reviewed many All-in-Wonder cards over the years and never had this problem before.

Next was an attempt to benchmark a notebook, with SYSmark 2002. The benchmark got so far, only for it to fail for one reason or another. I correct one thing and something else would cause it to crash. It felt like I in a cartoon, hammering down mole hills only for another to pop up behind me.

Next was another graphics card – a Sapphire X800 GTO2. Nominally this card is a twelve pipeline X800 card, but the squared symbol refers to the fact that with a BIOS flash and an overclock it will turn into a full X850 XT. This mod is not officially supported but everyone who has the card has been able to successfully turn it into an X850 XT. Everyone that is except me. I flash, I reboot and nothing. A call to the PR tells me that the only other instance he’s heard of when it didn’t work was that there was with an incompatibility with a motherboard. Sure enough, this was what happened in my case, as it worked in another motherboard. Sod’s law, I think it’s called.

By this time I had received a replacement Shuttle system and once again started to set it up. This time I didn’t get anywhere near installing Windows before - yes, you guessed it, it blew up on me. This time it only took me plugging in a hard disk and powering the system on before the plume of smoke rose up to meet me. Further investigation indicated that there was some sort of grounding fault with the external power supplies that ship with these Pentium M Shuttle’s but even so, I know what you’re thinking. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to blow up one PC is a misfortune but to blow up two looks like carelessness.

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