How to give old PCs a new lease on life

Are you looking for a way to extend the life of your older Intel Corp. Pentium PC systems and make them Year 2000-compliant at the same time? These two tasks seem incompatible at first, but the FCW Test Center has come up with a solution.

When upgrading an older system there are two questions to keep in mind: First, will the upgraded system be Year 2000-compliant? Second, will you see a performance increase adequate enough to extend the life of the PC at least two years?

Unfortunately, there is no all-in-one product that will solve both of these problems. But there is a way to upgrade these systems and at the same time make them Year 2000-compliant for a relatively small price and a little bit of setup time. We looked at two hardware cards from different companies that, when used together, make this solution possible.

The first card we looked at is the AcceleraPCI from Evergreen Technologies. This easy-to-install CPU upgrade card can take your old, tired Pentium systems and bring performance up to a Pentium II-class level.

AcceleraPCI is a single add-in card that slips into any available PCI slot in the computer. The card sports its own memory sockets and CPU fan. The use of the card's own memory allows the CPU on the AcceleraPCI to access memory data directly from the upgrade card rather than across the slower system bus, effectively eliminating the need to use the slower memory in the computer system.

Our card came with a 433 MHz Intel Celeron processor on it with 64M of SDRAM, but a 466 MHz processor now should be available. Evergreen's easy-to-run initial setup program reports the current system speed and informs you whether you can upgrade the system with the AcceleraPCI card. You also can find software on the Evergreen World Wide Web site so you can perform this task free of charge before purchasing the card.

We used a Dell Computer Corp. 100 MHz Pentium-based system with 32M of memory to test the ability of the AcceleraPCI card to increase performance.

The original system scored a dreadful 29 on the Business Application Performance Corp.'s SYSmark/98 benchmark. After we ran Evergreen's installation software and installed the card - which was extremely easy and took a few minutes - we reran the test. We were astounded with the difference: The upgraded system scored a 120 on the same test, which in relative terms was about a 400 percent performance increase.

This placed system performance at a level just below that of a true 400 MHz Celeron system. That kind of speed increase will easily extend the performance life of a system by at least two years.

Fixing Y2K

Unfortunately, a two-year extension will not be worth much if the older system is not Year 2000-compliant.

Although the AcceleraPCI card can correct older Y2K BIOS date-and-time interpretation problems, it will not solve any real-time clock (RTC) issues.

We ran a Year 2000 compliance test from Micro2000 Inc. (www.micro2000.com), which tests for both the BIOS level function and the RTC function. In our case, the older Dell system passed the BIOS level test without a problem but, predictably, failed the RTC rollover test.

To solve our Year 2000 problem, we looked at the Millennium Key/PC Year 2000 upgrade card from RMM Inc. This small card comes in an 8-bit ISA format and fits easily into an 8- or 16-bit ISA slot. It installs quickly and requires no software. Best of all, it solved our RTC rollover problem. The Millennium Key card intercepts software calls to both the BIOS and RTC, then returns the proper date and time stamp to the software.

There are many hardware and software solutions available for making older PCs Year 2000-compliant. We suggest sticking to a hardware solution, which decreases or eliminates the likelihood of a rogue virus attacking your Year 2000 solution and bringing it down in the future. These two cards provide a secure and effective means for taking older PCs into the next millennium by increasing performance and adding Year 2000 compliance.

REPORT CARD

Evergreen Technologies

(800) 733-0934

www.evertech.com

Price and Availability: Available on the open market for $449.

Remarks: The first really good Pentium upgrade on the market. A true performance booster.

***

RMM Inc.

(410) 730-8118

www.rmm-inc.com

Price and Availability: Available on the open market for $50.

Remarks: An extremely easy-to-use and effective hardware solution for your Year 2000 PC problem.

BY ANDREAS UITERWIJK
Sept. 06, 1999

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