Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Computer Speedup Is Just a Chip Away

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Computer Speedup Is Just a Chip Away

Article excerpt

THE morning was beautiful. Sunlight reflected off the thick snow. A fine day, I thought, to upgrade my computer by exchanging my 386-class microprocessor for a faster, 486 "upgrade" chip from Cyrix Corporation.

The manual was reassuringly thin. If Cyrix could explain how to replace a microprocessor in 28 pages, it couldn't be that complicated, right?

I breezed through the first five pages of the manual. Then I ran into Page 6 - and the productivity paradox.

The first challenge was clearing a path to my microprocessor. I pulled out my hard drive and the CD-ROM player on top of it. That gave me enough room to slip a chip-pulling tool under one side of the microprocessor. But several electronic gizmos blocked access to all but one other corner of the chip. I squeezed the tools together, the way the manual said. Nothing budged. I squeezed harder. Nothing.

I glanced down at the manual's diagram and realized my mistake. I was trying to dislodge the chip socket instead of the chip sitting on top of it. I readjusted the tools and pulled off the 386 microprocessor.

The Cyrix upgrade chip is a clever bit of engineering. It fits into the 386 socket but its instruction set mimics speedier 486 microprocessors. It has an on-board cache that allows quicker access to crucial information. The chip is also clock-doubled, which means it runs twice as fast internally as the rest of the system. The result: My 386 20-MHz system should start acting more like a 486 40-MHz system. All with just a $349 upgrade chip.

Most of its buyers are end-users like me, rather than corporations, says Paul Pascarelli, Cyrix upgrade marketing manager. One source says the company expects to sell "a couple of tens of thousands."

My first mistake in installing the chip was handling it too gingerly. When the hard drive accidentally bumped it during reinstallation, the chip popped out. I pressed it down firmly the second time.

Then I couldn't boot (start) the computer. The screen flashed a message that my hard drive had failed. …

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