Evergreen 486 to 586 Upgrade Processor

The kit contains the processor assembly, a chip removal tool, a diskette containing a diagnostic program, an instruction manual and a $10 refund voucher (which, in my case, had expired one week before I actually received the kit).
Running Linux

While overall performance is very subjective (few of us use exactly the same mix of tools and applications), I have to say that, for me, the upgrade was a huge improvement. The machine felt completely different with applications starting and running faster and boot-up and shut-down times greatly reduced.

A kernel compile ran almost exactly twice as fast, with the upgraded machine completing a make clean; make zImage in 31:36.66 seconds, a task which the original 486 processor completed in an elapsed time (measured using /usr/bin/time) of 1:00:30.24 (slightly over one hour). Given that the rest of the system (main memory and the I/O subsystem) was unchanged, this is quite a respectable increase in performance. Perhaps the biggest perceived change was to the performance of xhosted applications. Netscape, always a CPU and memory hog, started up much faster, as did xterms, a clock and the other applications which I normally run. X performance on the system also improved, but with the current, low resolution monitor and standard VGA video card, I don't envisage using it as a true desktop machine very much (perhaps that's the next upgrade target area). Network (NFS/Samba) performance seemed pretty much unchanged.

The Down Side

There isn't one. Nothing needs to be recompiled or changed in any way. There are no reliability issues. The fan on the Evergreen unit is completely inaudible when the covers are on the system.

The only fault I have with the whole kit is that mysterious cache configuration jumper. It is clearly shown in the illustrations, but ignored in the body of the text. The appendix contains a brief explanation of the differences between write-through and write-back cache. The kit comes with the jumper pre-set to a default of write-through and while it is unlikely anyone could get into trouble using this setting, a simple comment, even if only “leave well alone”, would have been better than nothing at all.

This lack of information on the cache configuration setting led to my trying out Evergreen's technical support by e-mail. They responded to my question within 48 hours, to let me know that the write-back cache option will work only with systems which have been specifically designed with that option in mind. The fact that Evergreen's tech-support responded within a reasonable time and that their web site is an easily accessible, round-the-clock source of information is of no little importance with a product where some degree of “do it yourself” is involved.

Bottom Line

For anyone owning nothing more powerful than a 486 and on a limited budget, this upgrade path is certainly one which I would recommend. Overall system performance has been improved with no decrease in reliability. There were no operating system changes involved and my existing kernel worked fine.

With all of this coming at a cost roughly equivalent to one-tenth of the cheapest, bottom-end system from a mainstream manufacturer, it has to qualify as perhaps the cheapest, legal way to get yourself a “new” machine. Not only that, but your “significant other” need never know.

Resources

John Little , who worked for Sun for nine years, is from the U.K., lives in Japan and works in Tokyo for an American company. He wears a range of increasingly bizarre hats in an (mostly futile) effort to hide his incipient baldness. He can be reached by e-mail at gaijin@pobox.com.

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