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Hardware Review of:
VIA C3 933
Processor

 

Russell Albach

From the December, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Psst! Yeah you. Interested in a hot deal on a cool processor? I have something I think you will be very interested in, and I bet you will be surprised at the name on the cover. Looking at increasing the performance of my system, as well as access to newer applications, I decided it was better to upgrade components than buy a complete system. Talking to some members of our group, along with business people, this seems to be the preferred current approach.

This really started when I decided I needed more performance from my older machine that I usually try out new software and hardware on. I began having problems with speed, heat, and a lack of watts from the increasingly tired power supply. The need for speed part was obvious, as both software and hardware companies tune their products to take advantage of the perfor-mance available in the newer processors. They still run on the older processors (more or less!), but everything is so slow, you start looking forward to glacier racing. Adding more hardware, like memory, larger, faster hard drives, and CD-RWs, adds heat to the inside of the machine, and also blocks air flow. These additional components also strain the power supply. You get caught up in a sort of Catch 22; more heat requires more cooling; a cooling (fans) require more power, a nyway, you get the idea. I needed to sVa my perfor-mance needs without busting the piggy bank. fi . :::

I figured on using as many of my existing components as possible, and just replace specific items in order to make use of the newer products. This meant I would need to design my upgrades around the processor, this being the single most  important ingredient dealing with speed. It was a foregone conclusion I would need to replace the motherboard at the same time. The newer components and software need supporting chipsets as well, and my existing MB was the old ISA and PCI only set up. Of course the new motherboard would require an ATX power supply, meaning my AT had to go. The power supply was getting long in the tooth, so I would solve one of my problems here.

Kicking up the wattage on the power, supply allowed adding not only more, and newer components, but additional cooling fans. Here is a tip; a lack of power is one of the two most common problems to check out when your machine begins acting up. If your power supply is several years old, and, or you have added additional components (more memory, additional hard drive, CD-RW/DVD, TV tuner, etc.), you are probably short on power. A new, higher rated power supply might be the answer. The second area to check out is the heat problem like I mentioned I had. Either of these things can cause an otherwise relatively stable system to become unstable, crash, or not run applications or games. 128MB video cards, 7200 RPM hard drives, and 512MB of DDR memory generate a lot of heat. Add in one of the hot (figuratively and literally) new processors, and you have enough heat to cause instability, and even do a patty melt on the processor. Intel and AMD processors are terrific processors, and I have machines using both, but the new versions, P4, and Athlon, both tend to run HOT! I already had a heat problem, and I was not looking for the cutting edge with this machine, so I needed to make this issue part of the decision process.
via c3
Figure 1

Since I was trying to do an upgrade at as low a cost as possible, and some of our members were interested in the same, I decided to try and incorporate as many existing components as practical. The Pentium III is a popular processor, and uses the socket 370 motherboard. I had been looking at the VIA C3 CPU as a possible replacement, and it just happens to fit in the 370 board. VIA has these processors running at 1 GHz + now, and the prices are terrific. I figured it would be very cost effective for people to pop out their older, slower PIII, plug in a C3 and go. I know someone is thinking why not replace the PIII with a faster version? Intel processors are expensive, at least compared to the VIA C3. If you want to go that route, it would probably be better to go with the P4, or an AMD Athlon. These require different motherboards, driving up cost even more, defeating part of my plan. I realize that the C3 is not as fast as a comparable PIII, Athlon, Duron, or even a Celeron, but it is low cost, runs everything the average user needs, and it runs COOL! Again, remember I needed to reduce my heating problem.

To do the actual review, I decided to use two tests. The first would be to plug the C3 into a LRP I have been running for about six months. LRP is Linux Router Project, and is a combination router/firewall running on a Linux kernel, and I learned about it on the `net. My second test would be the actual upgrade of the workhorse test machine I wanted to pump up.

I built a LRP because it fascinated me with it's simplicity. The one I first read about used an old 486/66 processor and motherboard, 8MB RAM, 1.44MB drive, and two NICs. There was no video card, hard drive, CD-ROM, sound card, or modem. Didn't need `em. You load Linux onto a 1.44 disk, boot the machine, and you have a router/firewall that is pretty effective, and uses old cast off parts! If you set the write protect tab to the protect position, it is really tough to hack into your machine. Everything loads into and runs from memory so it is very fast. If you are inter-ested in building one, look up LRP on the `net. I wanted to use the C3 here because it would be a good test for any heat related problems, not for a faster router. My current LRP uses 6 DX4/100, 64MB RAM, 420MB hard drive, and two 1 Ics (OLD!!), and has performed flawlessly for the last six or so months. I use a hard drive instead of a floppie, becaus intend to set up additional capabilities later, although this is less secure. Since it is an AT, I used another ATX case and power
case
Figure 2

supply in order to use the C3 and 370 motherboard. Figure 1 shows the C3 under a CoolerMaster heat sink, and NO cooling fan. You will also notice no hard drive, or modem on the riser. There is a video card in the ISA slot, but is used only to configure the LRP, and two NICs. There is 512MB RAM, and a 1.44 drive. Figure 2 shows the case fan discon-nected. I set up this to try to get the LRP to run as hot as it could in order to see if the C3 running at 933 MHz would survive the heat. I actually had fried a Pentium 133 running a heat sink and fan in my normal LRP, along with a case fan, and switched to the 486/100 with heat sink and fan after that sad experience. The placement of the LRP has something to do with the heat problem; a space problem dictates I place it under a desk where there is no external air circulation around the case, and it has direct sunlight on it in the hottest part of w the day. I figured if it ran hot enough to cook the 133, it would be a serious challenge for the 933. Absolutely no problems! 
mp3
Figure 3

The 933 ran like an atomic clock. The LRP never missed a beat, acted squirrely, or crashed. If the C3 could withstand this heat stress test, it should have no problem in a normal system. For these faster processors, it is not so much the processing demands that cause the heat problems, but the amount of heat removed from the core. Good heat sinks, thermal paste, high flow CPU fans, case fans, internal spacing, round cables, etc., all contribute to the heat relief, but the CPU itself can be the critical difference. It doesn't hurt that the C3 is built on the new. 13 micron technology, just as those from AMD and Intel. One of the benefits of this smaller die size is lower power consumption, which also generates less heat. Another benefit I had not planned on was noise, or lack of it. With no processor fan and the case fan disconnected, I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the area was. Anyway, phase one of my test was passed with flying colors. On to the workhorse upgrade.
 
windows
Figure 4

I used the preceding case and power supply (used and already in possession), along with the motherboard and C3 for the base. The motherboard is an MSI 694T Pro with a VIA chipset, and the CPU is the VIA C3 933 MHz Ezra. To better run multimedia, I increased my memory in this machine to 512MB of PC 133 SDRAM. This is a common memory type, and is reasonably priced. I had an Abit Siluro T400 64MB AGP video card, so that went in. The 1 OGB 7200 RPM Maxtor stayed, along with the 1.44, 20x CD-ROM, and 10/ 100 NIC. The motherboard has AC97 sound built in, so I did not need my old sound card. A simple machine, but now much more capable. This did have a 233MHz CPU, 128MB RAM, and 16MB PCI video. I was pleased at how much smoother everything ran. Figure 3 shows an MP3 running under Winamp, and three Quicktime videos running, all simultaneously. Figure 4 shows my WordPerfect Office applications all open on the desktop. This shows the C3 runs popular applications, and has all the capabilities the average user requires. Notice that Figure 5 shows the processor speed, voltages, and CPU temp (33C). Fast, cool, and runs all your applications, and does it at a reasonable price. What more could you ask? As an aside, while doing this review, I spoke with an IT manager for a large com-pany. He was interested in the C3 for the same reasons I was; low power consumption, and cool running. His company had just installed a back up power system for the corporate computers, and was upgrading some of their machines. Rack mounted processors tend to run even hotter due to the closed in areas they operate within, so he was especially interested in my temp stress test.
 
screen
Figure 5

I didn't bother with spec testing. While those are important, they have a limited appeal. Maybe 5% of the computer market is interested in clock speed, MFLOPS, over clocking, etc., but the other 95% is interested in how the machines perform daily work. Will it run my applications; what is it's cost/performance value; how often does it crash; what is the reliability; and can I do the modifications? Those are the areas the majority of the consumer market want to know, and the manufacturers and publishers need to realize that. It would be to their benefit to pay more attention to the "average" user, and perhaps less to the 5%. VIA is one company that does understand this, and the C3 is indicative of that. They are producing a state of the art processor, at a reasonable price, that will fit in perfectly with the needs of that majority market. Those who will complain that the C3 is not equal to the comparable processors from AMD or Intel miss the aforementioned point. VIA does not claim the C3 is equal, and does not market it in that manner. It is a low power, cool running, capable processor that is a VIAble alternative. This processor is, I think, aimed primarily at the laptop, or imbedded processor market. Because of it's low power demands, and cool running, it is a natural for areas plagued by both. I have just learned that a friend of a friend has a laptop with one of these C3 processors running at 1 Ghz +. I would love to get my hands on one of those to try. The only info I have heard about it is it supposedly has terrific battery life partially due to low processor demands. I am well pleased with the C3 933, and recommend it to anyone wanting to upgrade, or who is having power or heat related problems. Check out their Web site, and download pdf files on the C3, and read about their other prod-ucts.

If you already have a socket 370 motherboard, you can pick up a C3 933 for around $38 by shopping around the 'net. There should be faster versions out at any time, and they should be priced below the AMD and Intel counterparts.

Their main US location is: 
VIA Technologies, Inc.
940 Mission Court, Suite 220
Fremont, CA 94539. 
E-mail


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