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A gold finger device with a twist

Product : Outside Loop Athlon Afterburner
Price : $69.99 (excluding delivery charges)
Available from : Outside Loop

Athlons always had the disadvantage of not being as overclockable as Pentium IIIs or Celerons. You just can't go into SoftMenu or adjust a few jumpers to change the FSB, but at first you had to solder directly onto the PCB. This obviously wasn't a very popular option as you had a high chance of killing your shiny new processor. However, soon came out a new toy for overclocking your Athlon without having to get that iron out of the cupboard. These were called Golden Finger devices. There are quite a few of these golden finger devices out and this is just one of them. We will have another one of these reviewed soon so watch out.

So lets start from the usual place to start from, the start. Your packaged Athlon won't just fit - you have to remove the casing. This can be tricky if you aren't very comfortable about the fact that you will be prying the plastic casing apart with a screwdriver. The method of removing the Athlon's casing has been published many times, and I've seen a few websites just juggling around the same thing, so I won't repeat it here. You can find out how to open your athlon casing here.

The Athlon I tested the Afterburner was a 550MHz one, which had it's cache set to 1/2 speed. I was not expecting to achieve 800MHz like quite a few people have told me, since their cache speed was set to 1/3 to achieve this frequency. However I did manage to get quite a nice speed bump and I also must say I stuck with my PC100 ram, mainly I wanted to see how far I could go without purchasing anything else apart from the Afterburner. Obviously if buying new ram, I would recommend spending those few extra Pounds to get PC133 modules.

The striking difference between the Afterburner and other Gold Finger devices is that there is no sign of DIP switches, instead there are three dials, one to control the Core Voltage and the other two to adjust the clock frequency. I found this to be much better than DIP switches because the dials can be turned easily without the Afterburner always being taken off the CPU (ok ok I'm a lazy bast). However the fact is I was able to change the settings without taking the CPU or the Afterburner in and out, so it is much quicker to adjust if your computer does not agree with new settings. The instructions sheet (which came with the card) only has a table consisting of 3 columns rather than the Freespeed (which is due to be reviewed) which has 16 DIP switches and takes an age to change if you want to increase or decrease by 50MHz.

Installation

After removing the plastic casing, but not removing the metal heat transfer plate (this is much harder and risky than removing the plastic cover, and there is no need for it) you just line up the row of 'golden fingers' or pins on the top of the Athlon and slot it into place. The afterburner sports a little stabilizing adhesive pad, which is used to stick it to the top of the Athlon's PCB. Although there is very little contact surface area it does seem to stabilize it quite well.

The instructions provided were quite concise and easy to understand although maybe the inclusion of diagrams would help it further. However, the Clock Frequency and VCore tables are very easy to understand.

Results

The Afterburner produced the same results as the Freespeed, and that is no surprise. I managed to get up to 700 MHz at 1.70V which is a modest speed gain from the original 550. There was a general gain in frames per second in Quake 3 but this varies from configuration to configuration. On average I found a gain of 8 FPS per 50MHz, although I'm sure with more tweaking this could be increased.

Overall views

Overclocking the Athlon isn't as easy as Celeron or Coppermine overclocking, however the Afterburner does make some in-roads into that. The fact that you have to snap the Athlon's casing off isn't a very nice prospect for anyone, because unless you are a maniac you don't really want to throw away a perfectly decent CPU if your screwdriver slips and scrapes off a little of the PCB's contents. However once that has been taken care off it's quite an easy process of slotting in the Afterburner on top of the AMD CPU. The Afterburner itself is well made, with no real problems there, and I was quite satisfied with the results I obtained. Of course I could obtain higher frequencies if I lowered the speed of the cache to 1/3.

Athlons can be bought overclocked from many places and they are all good, but I think it provides a good challenge to overclock your own. It won't be everyone's cup of tea but if you do it sensibly and with some caution you should be pleased with the results you obtain. The price of the Afterburner is quite good when converted into Pounds Sterling however I won't put a figure now, #because it changes daily. For around 45 you are getting a good quality product which I would highly recommend.