Northwind GFD Rev 2.0
With a dozen or more companies churning out Athlon overclocking devices consumers now have the option of picking and choosing the device that best suits their needs and system design. Northwind's Goldfinger (GFD) revision 2.0 has a lot to offer in that it is one of the simplest to use but one of the more extendable to hit the market. Offering an optional solder-less cache divider kit ($20.00) the GFD rev 2.0 at a mere $50.00 is perhaps the smallest and most convenient of the these overclocking daughter-cards.
Convenience comes in two forms; first, the design of the device eliminates the need for an external power source - a big plus if your PC's drive connectors are all used up, and second, ease of configuration.
Now I know that the thought of having to deal with 20 dipswitches may seem somewhat overwhelming at first but the way the PCB is laid out it's remarkably easy. To begin with, the four right hand switches are redundant unless you have purchased the cache divider kit. Since our sample arrived without this kit (which I fully intend to order), I didn't give them another thought. The switch banks are laid out so that the clock frequency and core voltage are each handled by four matched pairs. A matched pair is considered on when the top and bottom switches are set as is pointing to one another or centered, and off when pointing away. The first four matched pairs handle the clock multiplier and can the Athlon, at its 100MHz FSB to 500-1050MHz in 50MHz increments. The second four matched pairs of dipswitches control the core voltage and allow for documented settings beginning at 1.45v and increasing in 0.05v increments up to 1.90v.
The cards diminutive proportions (1.625 x 2.0 inches) allow you to install the device without completely removing the plastic casing of your Athlon processor. Illustrated instructions for performing the modification can be found on the Northwind Computers web site. But, since removing the CPU's plastic housing improves thermal management (easing the heat strain on the processor by 4 or more degrees Celsius) and because removing it is easier than modifying it, we went ahead and set the plastic case aside for our tests.
A Matter Of Some Concern
Because the daughter-card requires no external power, Northwind recommends using a minimum 300W power supply from any on the list recommended for use with the Athlon from the AMD web site and in this they are not wrong. We tried the device on several 235 and 250W stock case power supplies without success (and burned up a few in the process). However, 300W or better power supplies worked every time without fail.
The GFD Rev 2.0 In Action
We tested the card on two Slot-A mainboards - Gigabyte's GA-7IX and EPoX' EP-7KXA and successfully brought our week 42 500MHz part to 650MHz at 1.7v on the GA-7IX and 700MHz on the EP-7KXA with a core voltage of 1.74v (our EPoX mainboard runs the volytage a bit hot with 1.69 the default setting. This means we set the dipswitches on the card to 1.65v to achieve our 1.74 setting) and with the onboard 3.6-ns cache lowered from its default 1/2 core speed to 1/3 core speed through software, even got it to run at 750MHz at the same core voltage. It was however lacking the kind of stability required for comfortable use.
| We further tested with a week 4 700MHz 0.18micron part with 2.9-ns cache memory and easily pushed it to 850MHz at 1.75v on the Gigabyte board and, by increasing the FSB to 105MHz, a whopping 893MHz on the EPoX board with a core voltage once again at 1.74v. I was tempted to push even further but, since the 700MHz part is new and I can't afford to replace it at present, I cautiously held back.
Because the daughter card uses no external power source I deduced that it causes the processor itself to draw the power it needs. My thoughts stem from the slightly higher CPU temperature reading when using the GFD 2.0 as opposed to the Freespeed Pro. This means you'll need better than average thermal management (We used Tennmax' VivaK7 Athlon cooler for the tests)
For its innovative and excellent design and manufacture this has to be the current top of the line in Athlon overclocking devices. At its MSRP of $50.00 it sits about dead center price- wise and as to support I can't comment as I had no problems configuring or understanding any of the very simple included documentation. The only draw back is the necessity of the 300W power supply, and since this is something every serious overclocker should already have there's really not much of a drawback at all.
The GFD Rev 2.0 is simple to use, takes up very little space and comes at a reasonable price. You can find out more by visiting the Northwind Computers web site at http://home.rmci.net/nw/ and make sure you check back to see this review updated as soon as the cache divider kit arrives.