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    PlanetQuake | Features | Articles | Is SMP Worth It?
   

Is SMP worth it?
Or is it just hype?
  — by
Cozmo

Warning: I won't bore you with 50 graphics from mostly useless programs showing stuff that's equally useless. My style is a little different; I'll tell you what I think, show you some stuff to backup what I say, and maybe entertain you in the process. All of the tests were done in "real-world" scenarios. I have ICQ going in the background all the time, I usually have a minor thing or two like Word installed on the machines, and I don't run in 640X480. All the installations were less than a week old, with the most minor of applications installed (98/NT ICQ, PhotoShop, and Pegasus Mail. On Linux-Gnome ICU running in the background, with every other service turned off). I've not yet met a serious gamer with the typical "test system" used in benchmarks. We all typically have a thing or two going on, and our OS has some crap on it, so these benchmarks are geared towards the general public.

What is SMP?

SMP (Symmetrical Multiprocessors) have traditionally been only in the realms of the technically elite or the people with way too much money. Abit has changed all of that with their new BP6 motherboard. Now you can go out and spend a couple of hundred bucks and enjoy all the benefits of having more than one CPU. Or can you?

Being an avid gamer, when I first heard about Quake 3: Arena supporting SMP, I raised my eyebrows. When Abit announced a dual motherboard using socket 370 processors, I picked up the phone and placed my order. For the three or so of you who haven't heard of the Abit BP6 Motherboard, here are the quick stats:

Supports Dual Socket 370 Processors (From 300A-466Mhz)
Intel 440BX Chipset (66/100Mhz FSB)
Supports UDMA/33 IDE protocol
HPT366 UDMA/66 Supporting up to Four DMA66 Devices
AGP 1X/2X
3 168-pin DIMM sockets supporting a maximum memory configuration of  up to 768 Mb
ECC support
Soft Menu II (More on this in a moment)
Award Bios

Putting the beast into the box

So here I am, motherboard in one hand, CPUs in the other, and well, one CPU on the bench. Assembly wasn't much different than putting together any other system, I just had to plug in two processors instead of one. The Abit motherboard is surprisingly small, not much bigger than the usual baby-AT style motherboards at all. Another high point was the manual. In fact, it would be an insult to call this a mere manual... It's a freakin novel. Considering these motherboards originate in Taiwan, I expected the usual "You put moterboard in case. Plug cpu into moterboard and turn on, best results shall follow." Not the case with Abit. You get a nice book with pictures and well written descriptions, lacking any blatant mistakes (how many times have you jumpered exactly as the manual indicates, only to find out the motherboard has a newer version of the settings stamped on it that completely contradicts what the book says?). So I put in all my goodies from the old Asus mobo, and flipped the switch. The system came online, I entered the BIOS and was presented with heavenly joy.

BIOS Goodness

Abit and I had a bad experience a long time ago, so this was my first experience with the "Soft Menu". All I can say is "sweet!" Complete control of your CPU's functions from within a menu, what a great feature. I hate jumpers. Jumpers are evil. I know how to use jumpers, but they suck. Shut down the PC, move jumper, turn on PC, rinse, lather, and repeat. Naturally, being the overclocking kind of guy I am, I tinkered with things a bit, rebooted and had a nice black screen. That's not a good thing. A quick flip of the battery jumper and everything was back to the way it came to me. After much tweakage, I was able to get my 466's stable at a cool 522. This motherboard is simply an overclocker's dream... you're able to control the voltage of both CPUs individually and fine tune the bus speeds in amazingly small increments.

Life With 2 CPUs (Sorta)

I'd already partitioned my drives in preparation for this new beastie, so I installed the appropriate operating systems, and began the tests. Most people would call this "leading edge" technology. I refer to it as "bleeding edge" technology. Allow me to explain. The test monster consists of:

Abit BP6 Motherboard
Dual Celeron 466's overclocked to 522Mhz (using regular fans)
192MB of Micron 100Mhz SDRAM
Voodoo 3 3000 AGP w/latest Drivers for 98, Linux, and NT
Western Digital Caviar 6.4 & 3.4GB Drives Enclosed in Cooler Master's DCD-4001 CoolDrive
Sound Blaster AWE 64 ISA (I'll explain why in a moment)
Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998, NT 4 Server w/SP 4 (Build 4.00.1381), and Redhat Linux 6.0 with 2.2.5-15 kernel compiled with SMP Support

I don't know if I'm the only person with this trouble, but it seemed to me the Abit's Plug 'N' Play was not as fine tuned as some of the other motherboards out there. I spent hours fiddling with the BIOS settings, removing stuff, putting stuff back in, simply trying to convince my LAN card to stop sharing it's IRQ with the "mass storage controller". Finally I contacted some friends and they suggested moving the PCI network card to the bottom most slot. Oops. Some habits are just plain hard to break. I like everything in a neat little bundle up top where the fans can blow across it all. After I did that everything appeared to be happy.

Somebody ought to write a howto on getting all of these OSs happily sharing the same PC. You want a challenge? Go try it. Once I remembered that 98's FAT32 was getting in my way, things became a bit easier. I'll spare you the gory details of setting up the operating systems; it's a painful memory. I thought I'd start with Linux first, knowing it was going to be the most difficult.


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