Sunday, December 02, 2007

Back to the Benches & Coming up to Speed

Last Sunday I posted a roundup of Windows system benchmarking tools I had been using in my pursuit of what combinations of memory we should go with on "nicer" older Dell systems.

Windows Benchmarking Software - A Grand Stream Dreams Production

We had three different hardware systems, and would be upgrading them to 1 GB of system RAM from 256 MB of RAM.

Although the hardware was different between them, research on Dell's website along with scans from Crucial led us to determine that PC2700 memory @333MHz speed would be compatible across all platforms.  So, we decided to go with testing a single 1GB stick configuration or dual 512 MB sticks, still netting 1 GB total RAM.

The tests were run, repeated, checked for consistency and trends analyzed.  When it was all said and done, the dual-stick combo won out...found to be moderately faster in testing over the single stick across all the different platforms.

So that moderate speed gain was the deciding factor?

Well, not really.  Actually the tests provided the justification we needed to say that upgrading these systems to 1 GB of RAM from 256 MB was noticeable and significant enough to justify the expense of upgrading them.

(And the masses of our customers rejoiced at this news, and there was much less gnawing and gnashing of teeth....)

While the dual-stick configuration was moderately faster, I doubt most of our customers could tell any difference when they run Internet Explorer to do web-work or in their Office or DOS (yes, still running DOS applications) software.  And price-wise the costs between the two were almost identical. No, the dual-stick configuration held one benefit: If we have dual-sticks in a system and end up finding one module goes belly-up in the fishtank, then we still have a 512 MB module functioning and the customer can continue to work while we order replacement RAM.

Redundancy.  It can be a beautiful thing in "goberment".

Memory and CPU Core Tools

While I was focusing on performance (and I say that loosely considering the systems we were examining) benchmarking, and shared those tools with you previously, I did actually use additional ones.

See, it was important to understand exactly what processor types and CPU speeds the systems had in them, along with the memory modules.

Sure you can right-click the My Computer icon on the Windows desktop and look at the properties, but they don't always tell the whole story.

Here are the utilities I used to accomplish that task.  They are very, very good at what they do.

And are free.

CPU-Z - (freeware) - Provides detailed technical information on key system hardware: The CPU name and number, core stepping and process, package, core voltage, internal and external clocks along with the clock multiplier, instruction sets, and cache information.  The Mainboard specifications along with vendor, model, and revision, BIOS model and date, chipsets and sensors, and the graphics interface, Memory frequency and timings, module specification (total and by module) vendor, serial number, timings tables. And finally the system information.  It is way-awesome, tiny, and USB portable.

CPU Rightmark - This site has a multitude of utilities worth downloading and using:

  • RMMA - (freeware) - very similar to CPU-Z but provides additional testing tools.
  • CPU RM - (freeware) - suite of tools to measure processor performance.
  • RM Gotcha - (freeware) - tiny tool to determine CPU clockspeed at any moment.
  • RM Clock - (freeware for personal,non-commercial, and non-profit use) - "a small GUI application designed for real-time CPU frequency, throttling and load level monitoring and on-the-fly adjustment of the CPU performance level on supported CPU models via processor's power management model-specific registers (MSRs). In automatic management mode it continuously monitors the CPU usage level and dynamically adjusts the CPU frequency, throttle and/or voltage level as needed, realizing the "Performance on Demand" concept."  Lots of cool activity graphs and a helpful system-tray icon with performance details. Neat!
  • RAMTester - (freeware) - checks reliability of memory modules under Windows. Writes patters into memory and then reads them, comparing differences.

SIW | System Information for Windows - (freeware) - provides a holistic view and report about EVERYTHING (software, hardware, network, keys) on your system along with a host of embedded system tools, and real-time performance monitors.  Oh yeah, it is a single exe file.  Very Portable. Very nice. Reports can be saved or exported in CSV, HTML, TXT or XML formats.  Runs on all Windows platforms including Vista and x64 systems, along with Win PE environments such as BartPE, ERD Commander, and WinRE.  How cool is that!

Tip 'O the Week: Boosting Dell D610 CPU clock-speed

So after I had cleaned up the test lab (my cubicle), the day was winding down Friday, I had loaded up my USB stick with copies of these utilities and was fiddling around with them on my own primary computing platform: a Dell D610 Latitude notebook, with a Centrino processor single-core (1.7GHz), and 1 GB RAM.

I was running CPU-Z and was surprised to see the CPU core speed logging in at .7 - .8 GHz, not the 1.7GHz reported by the system.  Every now and then it would jump higher, but then drop again.

I figured this was the Centrino processor in effect.  It was designed for mobile use, and cuts clock-speed (among other features) to improve battery-life.  It was throttling the CPU speed downward, almost by half, based on loads/performance automatically.

Some versions support a Intel utility called Speed-Step that allows adjusting of the performance manually, but the one in my laptop did not.

Hmm.  I normally don't unplug my laptop from it's docking station. And when I do take it into the field with me, usually I am doing long-term work, so I plug it into a power-outlet.  I wasn't concerned about battery life but would like to see if I can get the CPU running at full clock-speed.

What to do?

Since trying to hack or overclock a goberment issued notebook is generally frowned upon, even within the IT department, I wondered if there was an easier way to deal with it.

Diving into forums, I eventually found the trick.

With CPU-Z running in my dual monitor to monitor the effect, I

  1. went into XP's Control Panel,
  2. selected "Power Options",
  3. selected the "Power Schemes" tab,
  4. observed the setting was "laptop/portable" even though it was plugged in to the outlet,
  5. changed the setting to "Always On"
  6. Note: I could see the CPU change instantly in CPU-Z.  Throttling was disabled!
  7. saved the updated settings and was back in action at full 1.7GHz CPU speed!


Pros: Running the CPU at full clock speed may improve application and system performance.

Cons: Run it on battery under this configuration and your battery may deplete faster.

Since I am almost always plugged in, I didn't care about that. Besides I could always change it back if I did need to go onto the battery power for a longer time.

And, I loaded up a great notebook utility in the process.

Freeware Notebook Utility Find 'O the Week: BattStat

Battery Status (aka BattStat) - (freeware) - For XP/Vista/W2K - This is a wicked-useful application for laptops.  It provides a system tray icon that provides lots of info on the power status of the notebook, internal temperatures, CPU speed and usage, power event settings, etc.  You can float a status-toolbar on your main display if you wish, or hide it. It can auto-run at boot. You can also single-click change your power scheme settings on the fly.  Oh, very, very nice!

It also provides details on you laptop battery itself; names, voltages, temp, design capacities, even wear-percentages.  Our new Gateway notebook has already lost 6% of it's capacity due to wear. Interesting!

For more details on this product see the product link above and read this review: Cybernet News: Laptop Battery Status

Happy CPU and memory monitoring, notebook CPU tweaking, and battery monitoring!


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