Overclocking The MSI Wind U100
On Monday we had the pleasure of looking at the MSI Wind U100 series netbook. After publishing the article it came to our attention that we missed one of the key features of this notebook, which is the built in overclocking feature. It turns out that way back in November 2008, MSI released BIOS version 1.09, which included overclocking features in the BIOS for the Wind U100 netbook series. Once this feature is enabled in the BIOS you can select a CPU overclock of either 8%, 15% or 24%, for a maximum overclock of 2GHz. Once the overclock setting is enabled and percentage picked, you load the operating system like normal. When you are ready for a little more processor power you just need to press Fn+F10, and 'Turbo' mode will be enabled. This automated processor overclocking will obviously breathe new life into the 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor and will have a significant impact on performance.
The first thing to do is to make sure your BIOS is updated. Our review sample notebook came with a BIOS dated 1/16/2009, but version 1.0D was released on 5-21-2009. In order to be fully updated we flashed to this new BIOS version by downloading the BIOS, and placed it on a bootable USB key. Once the BIOS was on the USB key we set the MSI Wind U100 netbook to boot off the USB device and followed the directions on how to update the BIOS under DOS.
After a quick restart the system was up and ready to go with the new BIOS version installed as seen above.
Now that the BIOS has been updated you can arrow over to the Advanced menu in the BIOS and you will find a setting called 'DOC Percentage.' In order to overclock the MSI Wind U100 netbook series you must enable the DOC percentage setting in order to overclock the netbook.
Once the dynamic overclock setting has been enabled you then must pick the percentage of the overclock. You can select a CPU overclock of either 8%, 15% or 24%, for a maximum overclock of 2GHz.
Once the percentage is picked you just load the operating system like normal and use the Wind U100. When you are ready for a little more processor power you just need to press Fn+F10, and 'Turbo' mode will be enabled. You have to be plugged into AC power for the setting to work and you should see one of the above icons when you enable or disable the feature. Our MSI Wind U100 was unstable with an overclock of 24% due to instability of the memory module. That means the highest overclock that could be reached was 15%, which is still a great overclock.
The 15% overclock meant that the Intel Atom N270 processor that normally operates at 1.60GHz is now running at 1.86GHz! This dynamic overclock is done by increasing the bus speed. As a result the memory speed is also increased since the Front Side Bus is directly linked to the memory frequency. The MSI Wind U100 series netbook now has the memory operating at 619MHz, which is an 86MHz over the default setting of 533MHz.
Let's take a look at some benchmarks to see how this 15% overclock does!
Futuremark 3DMark06 & PCMark05
3DMark06 is still a popular standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking and the latest version in the popular 3DMark series available to run on Windows XP. 3DMark06 tests include HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, advanced SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance.
The overclocked MSI Wind U100 had a higher CPU score than the other netbooks with similar hardware configurations, but fell short on the overall score as the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE was nearly 20% higher. The ASUS N10Jc notebook with NVIDIA Geforce 9300M discrete graphics stole the show.
PCMark05 is an application-based benchmark and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It uses portions of real applications instead of including very large applications or using specifically created code. This allows PCMark05 to be a smaller installation as well as to report very accurate results.
The ASUS Eee PC 1000HE has the Atom N280 processor whereas the other netbooks and nettop have the Intel Atom N270 CPU. The overclocked MSI Wind U100 at 1.86GHz easily passed up the Intel Atom N280 powered ASUS Eee PC 1000HE thanks to the 15% overclock.
Cinebench & wPrime
CINEBENCH is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D. Consequently, the results of tests conducted using CINEBENCH 10 carry significant weight when analyzing a computer's performance in everyday use. Especially a system's CPU and the OpenGL capabilities of its graphics card are put through their paces (even multiprocessor systems with up to 16 dedicated CPUs or processor cores). The test procedure consists of two main components; the first test sequence is dedicated to the computer's main processor. A 3D scene file is used to render a photo realistic image. The scene makes use of various CPU-intensive features such as reflection, ambient occlusion, area lights and procedural shaders. In the first run, the benchmark only uses one CPU (or CPU core), to ascertain a reference value. On machines that have multiple CPUs or CPU cores, and also on those who simulate multiple CPUs (via HyperThreading or similar technologies), MAXON CINEBENCH will run a second test using all available CPU power. Again, higher Frames/Second and lower rendering time in seconds equal better performance.
Once again, the difference between the Intel Atom N270 used inside the MSI U100 is slower than the Intel Atom N280 found in the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE, but that is with stock settings. With a 15% overclock the MSI Wind U100 turned into a monster and was 12% faster than the more expensive ASUS Eee PC 1000HE netbook.
wPrime uses a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. We ran the wPrime 32M benchmark and the results are shown below.
wPrime is purely a CPU benchmark and the overclocked MSI Wind U100 smacked the other Intel Atom powered systems like they were nothing. The benchmark showed the overclocked U100 was 14.6% faster than the default system, which was expected with our 15% overclock.
Sandra 2009, Geekbench & Final Thoughts
Sandra 2009 Memory BandwidthThe Sisoft Sandra 2009 benchmark utility just came out recently and we have started to include it in our benchmarking. With Sandra 2009 you can now easily compare the performance of the tested device with its speed and its (published) power (TDP)! Sandra XII SP2 also has SSE4 (Intel) and SSE4A (AMD) benchmark code-paths, which is great for those of you testing next-generation AMD & Intel chips.
The memory bandwidth scores with the MSI Wind U100 overclocked to 619MHz and the memory proved to be significantly faster than the stock scores at 533MHz.
Geekbench 2 is designed as a powerful program which can allow you to measure the performance of your computers processor and memory. In addition, Geekbench also offers the Geekbench Result Browser which lets you compare your Geekbench scores with other Geekbench users.
Geekbench showed a performance increase of just over 15% and the overall Geekbench score was able to break the 1,000 mark for the very first time. You can see that overclocking the processor greatly helps the integer and floating point performance of the CPU as well as the memory performance. It is obvious after running all these benchmarks that overclocking the Intel Atom N270 even by just 15% will greatly improve your user experience and give you a performance boost when needed.
Final Thoughts & Conclusions
Turbo mode is certainly a key feature that sets the Wind apart from other netbooks. Nearly every entry-level netbook out there is equipped with the same Intel N270 Atom processor, so the performance is nearly identical. This overclocking feature gives the MSI Wind the performance it needs to stand out from the crowd, which is very important. At just $299.95 shipped the MSI Wind U100 netbook might be pushing a year old, but is affordable and can be overclocked quickly and easily. When overclocked the MSI Wind U100 was able to perform better than the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE, which retails for $369.99 shipped.
There are a couple of downsides to overclocking, though, that should be pointed out. For starters you must be plugged into an AC power outlet for Turbo mode to be activated. Once you unplug the system the overclock will be removed and the system will actually enter a power saving state. You also get a slightly louder fan since more cooling is needed. Battery life is a huge deal to netbook users and luckily it is not impacted by overclocking, as you can't enable turbo mode while on just the battery pack.
Legit Bottom Line: A quick update of the BIOS and enabling an overclocking BIOS feature is all that stands between the MSI Wind U100 and blasting past competing netbooks with ease!