Bargain PC upgrade from eBay

I spent about a hour on Saturday upgrading my old PC. It was an hour well spent…

Strictly speaking my upgrade began five days earlier. A quick eBay search on Socket 478 revealed a choice of several second-hand Pentium 4 processors to replace the 1.7 Ghz chip on my four year old Gigabyte GA-8IPE1000-G motherboard.

Now clearly there is a risk in buying any electronics second-hand. Processors are extremely delicate, but good eBay sellers should offer a money-back guarantee. It is also very important to match the processor you plan to buy with your existing motherboard.

The one I selected was a 3.2 Ghz Socket 478 Pentium 4, with 800 MHz front side bus and 1 Mbyte of cache – basically a significantly higher spec to my existing processor. I bought the processor last Monday for about £45 and it arrived the next day. I also needed a better heatsink and fan, to cool this faster processor – another eBay bargain, at £10, which arrived last Thursday. The fan shipped with thermal paste already applied to the base of the heatsink. This forms a seal between the processor and heatsink, to ensure proper cooling.

So Saturday afternoon I unscrewed the back of the PC, and began the upgrade. Swapping the processor was the easy part, since the motherboard uses what is known as a zero insersion force socket for the processor. You simply lift a lever and the processsor can be lifted out.

There were two difficult moments: first I needed to figure out how to unclip the old heatsink from the motherboard; and second, I had to work out how to secure the new one, as the eBay fan and heatsink combo didn’t come with any instructions.

Anyway, after a bit of trial, error and brute force, I eventually got the old heatsink out, removed the 1.7 GHz Pentium 4, dropped the 3.2 Ghz chip in, and then figured out how to secure the new heat sink. Once the back of the PC was on I powered-up and the PC’s Bios instantly detected the 3.2 Ghz processor. After checking Windows XP would boot up, I restarted the machine and changed the Bios setting for CPU Host Frquency to 200 MHz, which tells the motherboard to use an 800 MHz front side bus.

What’s the lesson: well if you have an older motherboard and a hour or so to kill, it’s worth checking out if you can still get a more powerful processor, even if it is second-hand. Tomorrow, I think I try upgrading the memory…