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GamePC Barebones System Review - Components

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Choosing A Motherboard

As it took about me a week to settle on a chipset, you would have thought that selecting a motherboard would take just as long. Selecting a motherboard was a bit easier as I decided on the Asus CUSL2.

Asus CUSL2 Layout

Click to Enlarge - 26K

Two reviews stand out that helped me decide on the CUSL2 - GamePC's review and AnandTech's I815E motherboard roundup where it received an editors choice award.

Here are some of the main features of the CUSL2. Detailed information can be found at the Asus web site (5.6MB Adobe PDF format):

  • Processors
    Pentium 3 FG-PGA 100/133MHz FSB processors from 450MHz~1+GHz
    Celeron FC-PGA 66MHz FSB processors from 333~566+MHz


  • Memory
    3 Dual Inline Memory Module (DIMM) sockets to support PC100/PC133 SDRAM up to 512MB


  • AGP
    Accelerated Graphics Port Pro slot with support for AGP 1X, 2X, or 4X modes


  • IDE Controller
    Two connectors that allow four IDE devices on two channels with support for UltraDMA/100, UltraDMA/66, and UltraDMA/33


  • PCI Slots
    Six 32-bit PCI 2.2 compliant expansion slots


  • CNR Support
    Two Communication and Networking Riser (CNR) slots to support new USB, audio, and networking products


  • Monitoring
    Provides monitoring and/or alerts for fan, temperature, voltage, and system resources


  • Jumpers
    JumperFree Mode allows processor settings and overclocking of frequency and volatege through BIOS setup

Note that there are no ISA slots on the CUSL2. In my case, I had to purchase a PCI based network card to continue using a cable modem.

Advanced BIOS Settings

The Asus CUSL2 has more overclocking options than you can shake a stick at. In JumperFree Mode, the CUSL2 allows the FSB, SDRAM, and PCI frequencies to be manipulated within the Advanced BIOS setup.

Advanced BIOS Setup

Advanced BIOS Settings

The FSB:SDRAM:PCI ratio frequencies can be configured in any one of the following modes: [66:100:33], [100:100:33], [133:133:33], and [133:100:33]. Following the selection of a frequency ratio, up to 32 additional FSB, SDRAM, and PCI frequency settings can be selected for fine tuning.

If the system should crash or hang due to improper frequency settings, just power off and restart the PC.

Safe Mode Boot

Safe Mode Boot

The system will boot up in a safe mode running at a 66MHz bus speed and the Advanced BIOS setup will appear allowing the frequencies to be adjusted. I've become all to familiar with this screen during the first few days of tweaking the system which I'll cover in the overclocking section.

A Few Bugs

The CUSL2 was not without it's initial problems, but updating the BIOS with the latest beta version (1003.1) and grabbing the lastest versions of Asus Update and PC Probe solved them.

Asus Update

Updating the BIOS using Asus Update may have worked, but I felt more comfortable flashing from a boot disk. Following the update from version 1001.A to beta version 1002.7, the PC wouldn't reboot and I was sweating bullets at this point. I found my hammer and chisel, removed the CMOS battery, waited a few minutes, and put the battery back. My problem was solved, but you wonder how many motherboards were returned because of this? Asus finally provided instructions shortly before I published this review, on updating the CUSL2 BIOS from version 1001.A:

    Notice: If you are going to upgrade BIOS from BIOS version 1001.A (and earlier) for CUSL2, please make sure the following item in the BIOS setup menu is set at [PCI/AGP] before updating the BIOS.

    Advanced -> PCI Configuration -> VGA BIOS Sequence

    In case the system is unable to start up properly after performing BIOS upgrade, please remove all the add-on VGA adapters from the system and start up the system with the onboard AGP graphics controller. The add-on VGA adapters then can be installed after loading the setup default from the BIOS setup menu.

I also looked through the CUSL2 manual searching for on a jumper to discharge the CMOS similar to Abit's BH6. Unfortunately, Asus decided to make it difficult and on page 57 of the manual cover a procedure to discharge the CMOS by shorting two solder points.

However, it wasn't until I updated to the 1003.1 beta BIOS that wake up from suspend mode worked and the CPU temperature was being reported correctly.

PC Probe

Now that things have settled down, I'd like to mention that the message boards over at CUSL2.com were of great assistance during the initial troubleshooting stage.

Processor/RAM/HDD

The processor. Another tough decision. Had I chosen to go with an AMD based system, this decision would probably have been a bit easier. AMD processors are cheaper than Intel's at the same MHz, and are readily available. Not that I could afford a 1GHz Pentium 3, but at the time I began this review, I was hard pressed to find one unless I ordered a system from a major OEM such as Dell or Gateway.

Overclockers.com is a good source of information on users' overclocking results. For instance, the 700MHz Pentium 3 has become a popular processor to overclock as over 400 user submitted results have been tallied with the average speed being a whopping 953MHz.

So a 700MHz Pentium 3 it is. I also picked up ThermalTake's Golden Orb, which is an interesting looking contraption, as a cooling solution.

ThermalTake Golden Orb

I went the extra distance and bought Mushkin's 150MHz CAS-2 HSDRAM which is rated at 2-3-2 at 150MHz. It was more a bit more expensive than CAS-2 PC133 rated memory, but I figured to go all out.

And finally, to take advantage of the CUSL2's UltraDMA/100 capability, I purchased Maxtor's DiamondMax Plus 40 hard drive which included an 80-wire UDMA interface cable. This specific type of cable is necessary to achive UltraDMA/100 transfer rates. The capacity of the drive is 20.5GB, rotates at 7200RPM, contains a 2MB buffer and is their Ultra ATA/100 model.

SiSoft Sandra Disk Drive Benchmark

The Maxtor drive runs quiet and is fast. However, a visitor to nV News let me know about Maxtor's AMSET program. This program will adjust the speed of the head seeks, which will cause increased sound levels during read/write operations but also increases performance. I have not yet tried the utility.

Enough yappin' - let's see what this system can do.

Next Page: Overclocking

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Last Updated on September 28, 2000

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