Iwill Slocket II Review

It’s unfortunate to see, but it happens–otherwise excellent products slowed in their tracks by poor support and backing. Such is the case with Intel’s Pentium III 500E and 550E MHz processors. They’re quite excellent processors, fast, extremely overclockable and inexpensive. Sadly, over the past few weeks, most potential buyers have been forced to overlook these little gems for lack of a decent platform on which to run them. Intel’s own difficulties with the i820 boards left i810e-based motherboards as the only ones capable of running them. Since the i810e is a value chipset, and not suitable for even the intermediate user, most potential buyers of the 500E and 550E have been forced to overlook the processor.

When we first learned, some months ago, that the pinout configuration of the FC-PGA (Flip-Chip Pin Grid Array) processors would be very similar to that of the PPGA (Plastic Pin Grid Array) processors, many of us wondered if we could simply use FC-PGA processors on our existing Socket 370 boards. Failing that, could FC-PGA processors be used on a Coppermine-capable Slot 1 motherboard, using a generic adapter card? Sadly, the answer to both questions was a resounding no; FC-PGA processors would not be compatible with any existing motherboards or slockets, save for a few i810e products, as was mentioned above.

So, if the 500E and 550E are both designed on the same Bus architecture as Socket 370 and Slot 1 processors, and, in fact, use pinout configurations very similar to Socket 370 processors, why shouldn’t they be compatible? That was the question the R&D; team at Iwill Corporation began to ask; and, indeed, they’ve found the answer. In fact, not only did they find the answer, but the solution as well. The end result–the Iwill Slocket II–a Socket 370 to Slot 1 adapter card, capable of running an FC-PGA processor on any Slot 1 motherboard supporting the required FSB speed.

 

The Answer

Back to the original question, exactly why aren’t FC-PGA processors compatible with Slot 1 motherboards? Lets take a look at the major requirements for supporting an FC-PGA processor, and how Iwill has addressed each.

Firstly, to run an FC-PGA processor, the motherboard in question must be mechanically capable of accepting a Socket 370 style processor. Thus, the base for the Slocket II is a standard adapter card, similar to Iwill’s own Slocket I, allowing Socket 370 processors to be utilized in conjunction with Slot 1 motherboards–no problem there.

Secondly, the current crop of FC-PGA processors require a cool 1.6V core voltage setting, something not supported by most current Slot 1 motherboards. The Slocket II has incorporated a wide range of available voltage options in order to help satisfy this demand, but you will still require a motherboard capable of a 1.6V core setting. Most BX motherboards are capable of doing so, even if the setting is not listed as an option, but as always, check beforehand to be safe.

The third requirement is undoubtedly the one that has caused the most difficulty and confusion. Every new ‘generation’ of processor, of course, has different requirements in terms of power consumption and delivery. As such, motherboard manufacturers must adhere to a certain set of guidelines, to ensure the correct power delivery systems are in place. This set of guidelines is known as the VRM specification. Current Pentium III and Celeron processors both call for support of the VRM 8.2 specification, and as such, any board not VRM 8.2-compliant will not be capable of running a Pentium III or Celeron processor. The FC-PGA processors, with their newer design, call for a higher level of compliance, VRM 8.4. Given that, any board not in compliance with the VRM 8.4 specification will not be capable of running an FC-PGA processor, even if it supports the required 1.6V setting. Unfortunately, no current BX, LX or VIA-based board can boast support for VRM 8.4.

Of course, the engineers at Iwill knew that as well. The solution? Add a VRM adapter to the adapter card–and that’s exactly what they did. So, not only is the Slocket II a Socket 370 to Slot 1 adapter, but it also serves as a Voltage Regulator to ensure the correct power is delivered. Thus the Iwill Slocket II is capable of running an FC-PGA processor on a Slot 1 motherboard, providing it supports the required FSB setting, and a 1.6V core voltage setting.

 

 

The Caviar of Slockets

While an FC-PGA to Slot 1 converter is something a great many users are interested in, myself included, it’s seldom wise to market a utilitarian product with only one real function when it’s quite capable of doing more. Of course, Iwill knows that, and they’ve integrated a great many more useful options and features into their Slocket II.

Utilizing the fact that VRM specifications are generally backwards-compatible, as well as the fact that the FC-PGA processors use the same Voltage ID pin configuration as PPGA processors, the Slocket II is fully compatible with all PPGA processors. That includes Intel’s current line of Celeron processors, as well as the upcoming Cyrix Joshua processor, which will also use a Socket 370-style interface.

As mentioned, the adapter must be capable of providing FC-PGA processors with 1.6 Volts, and PPGA Celeron processors with 2.0 Volts (Joshua’s voltage requirements have not yet been made official), so, clearly, at least a small array of voltage options was necessary. However, Iwill didn’t stop there–the Slocket II features voltages ranging from 1.30V to 2.10V in 0.05V increments, and from 2.10V to 3.50V in 0.10V increments (31 settings, in total), all adjustable via a block of five jumpers. Not only does this ensure a high level of compatibility with future processors, but the vast array of options is something overclockers and tweakers will enjoy.

Also adjustable via a block of two jumpers, the Slocket II can force the state of BSEL to either 66 MHz, 100 MHz or 133 MHz. This is an option more geared toward the overclocking community, as it would allow, for example, a 66MHz Celeron to be run at 100MHz on a motherboard that doesn’t support modification of BSEL on its own. Likewise, a 100 MHz 500E processor could be forced to 133MHz, providing the motherboard has support for a 133 MHz FSB.

Like many of the original slockets, the Slocket II is capable of running Celeron processors in SMP (Symmetrical Multi Processing) situations. All Celeron processors are SMP disabled, but can be re-enabled by using simple pin modifications, which the Slocket II has incorporated. So dual Celerons can be used in conjunction with a dual Slot 1 motherboard, making for a very affordable dual processor system. Furthermore, FC-PGA processors are also supported in SMP by the Slocket II. Unfortunately, of the current two FC-PGA processors on the market, the 500E and 550E, neither supports SMP, so this particular ability of the Slocket II is one that will go to waste, until Intel produces FC-PGA processors capable of taking advantage of it.

Of course, features aren’t everything. The quality of the product is of paramount importance, and Iwill certainly hasn’t cut corners anywhere. Unlike original adapter cards, the Slocket II comes in a full black plastic jacket, resembling that of the Pentium II S.E.C.C. package. Not only does the plastic casing look very professional, it ensures that the Slocket II will clip snugly into any Retention Mechanism, and won’t wobble around, as some other adapters have been known to do.

While on the topic of quality, and jumpers, I feel I should mention one other thing. The version of the Slocket II sent to me by Iwill features jumpers with the small plastic tabs on the top. Personally, I can’t figure out why ALL jumpers don’t have the little plastic tabs–they make life infinitely easier, especially when you do a lot of jumper changing. Furthermore, it’s extremely nice to see–it’s one of those little things that probably cost Iwill one cent worth of profit on each Slocket II, but really makes you feel like you’re getting a decent, well thought-out product–kudos to Iwill.

In order to keep costs low, no manual is included, just a small sheet of paper inside that lists all jumper settings. Printed on the back of the cardboard box is a six-step installation guide, complete with pictures of each step. Together, those two should be sufficient to get the Slocket II into your system, and working.

 

The Bad & The Test

Firstly, there is one tiny layout issue. As was discussed, the Slocket II contains an on-board VRM module, and as such, has four large capacitors located around the processor socket. While three of them are out of the way, the fourth is somewhat close to one of the heatsink clips, and could potentially get in the way of larger heatsinks. This may be something you’ll want to double check, if you plan on using large or unorthodox cooling methods. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to say, ‘Yes, that fan will fit’, or ‘No, that one won’t’, so if you’re thinking about a larger Alpha or GlobalWin, I urge you to check first. I can tell you, however, that the Intel Retail Heatsink & Fan assembly fits perfectly.

While on the topic of heatsinks, it would have been nice if Iwill included some sort of instructions on installing the processor heatsink. This is a fairly routine procedure, but the potential to snap small bits of plastic exists, so if you’ve never done it before (or even if you have), be careful and take your time.

As well, it would have been nice if the plastic processor casing was removable. While it won’t be an issue for most, those of you wishing to ‘customize’ may find it cumbersome.

The Test

Test System
Processor
Intel Pentium III 500E
Adapter
Iwill Slocket II Adapter
(courtesy Iwill Corporation)
Cooling
Intel Retail Heatsink & Fan
Mainboard
ABIT BE6-II
(courtesy ABIT Corporation)
Memory
128 MB PC133 SDRAM
Video
Asus AGP-V6600 Pure SGRAM
Hard Disk
Quantum Fireball CR 13.0A
Other
SMC EtherPower II 10/100 NIC
Creative SBLive! Value
Pine 48X IDE CD-ROM
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 98

 

Conclusion

There’s little to comment on with regards to the Slocket II’s stability–the test system was perfectly stable throughout the entire testing procedure. Iwill products have always been of the utmost quality, and the Slocket II certainly is no exception. I encountered no difficulties whatsoever.

You may have heard conflicting reports with regard to the on-die thermal diode. A few sources have stated that the Slocket II does not connect the pin necessary for the motherboard to read the on-die diode. This is not the case–the Abit BE6-II utilized in the test bed reported the temperature from the diode completely accurately (using an add-on thermistor as confirmation). Thus it must be concluded that the Slocket II does indeed connect the appropriate pin, and that if the temperature was not being reported correctly to some motherboards, the problem must be related to the motherboards themselves.

With an MSRP of a stout $29, it’s one of the more costly slockets on the market, but when you consider the development needed to produce it, and the fact that it contains an on-board VRM, that’s a very reasonable price tag.

If you plan to run an FC-PGA processor on a Slot 1 board, I wouldn’t recommend any other slocket. If, however, you simply plan on running a PPGA Celeron, and have no plans to upgrade to an FC-PGA processor in the future, there are cheaper alternatives, including Iwill’s own Slocket I, which may be a smarter idea. This becomes increasingly apparent if you’re in the market for a Celeron SMP system, as two of these parts would set you back a hefty $60.

In summary, the Slocket II is an extremely useful tool, and definitely the most feature-rich slocket I’ve ever come across. The folks at Iwill have done an excellent job producing a quality product, loaded with features. As a final note, amidst scattered reports of Coppermine incompatibility, before you purchase be sure to make certain that your motherboard can support a Coppermine processor in conjunction with the Slocket II.

Pros:
-FC-PGA, PPGA, and Joshua support.
-Celeron & FC-PGA SMP support.
-BSEL override.
-Tons of Voltage Options.
-Very well put together, High Quality.

Cons:
-Slightly more costly than standard adapters.
-Possible issues with larger Heatsinks.

For those of you interested in overclocking FC-PGA processors, stay tuned, there’s more to come shortly at HardwareCentral!

Ludo Morgan
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