Now that Sandy Bridge is out in force, I've been seriously thinking about buying a new notebook. I went backwards a bit earlier this year when I stopped using the MacBook and switched to an older ThinkPad X61 with Core 2 Duo, and when I play with friend's newer Core i notebooks, the Core 2 Duo just feels slow.
However, one of my most frequently used programs is VMware Player, which is far more dependent on RAM than on raw CPU power. I have a virtual network inside VMware that consists of a domain controller and multiple Windows client versions that I use to do my testing, and having only 4 GB of RAM sucks when I need to open more than two virtual machines. I decided I should either get a new notebook so I can get cheap DDR3 RAM, or hold out by getting expensive DDR2 RAM or getting an SSD.
So... while searching online for some RAM and SSD prices, I found to my dismay that to take advantage of SSD speeds, I needed a BIOS hack for the X61 to enable SATA II speeds. The same BIOS hack also has a function called Dual-IDA that forces IDA on both CPU cores. Intel Dynamic Acceleration is the precursor to Turbo Boost that Intel heavily advertises on the Core i5 and i7 CPU's. But back in the Core 2 Duo days, they've already had this technology. The basic idea is that if you're only using one CPU core, it automatically overclocks by one multiplier level (i.e., 200 MHz on my Core 2 Duo T7100 CPU). The BIOS hack forces this overclocking on both cores all the time. So my 1.8 GHz T7100 would constantly run a 2 GHz. The equivalent CPU would be the T7250.
The BIOS upgrade turned out to be really hard. The ThinkPad BIOS upgrade utility for older notebooks don't work in 64-bit Windows, so I had to burn a bootable CD. The bootable CD upgrade program didn't work with the original Lenovo DVD-ROM drive that came with X61, it just says no CD-ROM drive found. So I searched around for one of those WinPE rescue discs, which also didn't work since they don't seem to detect that I have a battery, and the BIOS flash utility doesn't work if it doesn't detect a battery.
Sigh. Finally I found an old hard drive lying around. I swapped the hard drive in the X61 and installed 32-bit Windows 7 just to do the BIOS upgrade. With the BIOS upgrade and IDA enabled. My Windows Experience Index for the CPU went from 4.9 to 5.0, and CPU-Z shows the CPU clocked at 2.0 GHz.
After flashing the Dual-IDA capable BIOS, I had to use ThrottleStop to actually enable it. ThrottleStop also allows adjusting the CPU core voltage to more manageable levels. Normally, the core voltage dynamically adjusts itself according to the CPU speed. But since the speed is now locked at 2 GHz, it would be always using maximum voltage. Eventhough the core voltage is still fixed, but I could adjust it down, and the image above shows that it's fixed at 1.05 V. Even though the CPU now runs hotter at idle, but when the CPU load is higher, the temperature is cooler since it's locked at 1.05 V.
In addition to using the Dual-IDA BIOS, I decided to go for the DDR2 RAM. The RAM was really really expensive, but it's still cheaper than having to buy a new notebook just to use the newer DDR3 RAM. VMware Player now screams with 8 GB of RAM, so I'm happy again. At least I can put off buying a new computer for at least a year, or until the X61 breaks down.