PC Buyer Beware!

Which Intel dual-core processors and RAM memory can I use to upgrade my Dell Inspiron 530 PC and how will I know if a BIOS update is required in order to upgrade?

PROBLEM: I have a Dell Inspiron 530 desktop PC with 2GB of RAM memory and a 2GHz Intel E4400 Core 2 Duo dual-core processor. I want to install two more gigabytes (2GB) of memory and, if possible, upgrade to an Intel E7500 Core 2 Duo dual-core processor. My PC’s motherboard – model number ORY007 made by Intel for Dell – supports Intel Core 2 Duo processors, but not Intel’s quad-core processors. I haven’t seen any mention of the frontside bus (FSB) speed required from the motherboard to run that processor. Mine runs at 200MHz, which doesn’t seem fast enough to accommodate any of the Intel E7XXX series dual-core processors, all of which have an FSB of 1,066MHz. Can I install an E7400 or E7500 processor in my motherboard? If I buy a boxed Intel processor, will it come with a heatsink and fan cooler and thermal paste to spread between the processor and cooler? Do I also need to upgrade the BIOS before installing the new processor? Information on the web says that I need BIOS version 1.0.18 rather than the 1.0.3 that is installed.

ANSWER: The following are the considerations that should be borne in mind whenever you intend to upgrade a PC’s processor and RAM memory.

Dell used as many as five different motherboard models for the Inspiron 530. Your PC’s Intel ORY007 motherboard appears to support the Intel E7400 but not the E7500, both of which are Core 2 Duo dual-core processors. By using your computer’s Dell service tag, which will be on a label stuck to the case, to log on to Dell’s support site, you can find out which processors are supported. If your motherboard is listed as supporting E7400 processor, it will also support the necessary clock speed, which is actually 266MHz, not 1,066MHz, which is 266MHz multiplied by 4 to obtain the effective speed of double-data-rate (DDR) memory. The E7400 processor uses a system bus/clock multiplier of (10.5 multiplied by 266MHz) to achieve its 2.8GHz frequency (processor speed). The 1,066MHz figure arises because there are four transactions per clock cycle executed by the DDR2 RAM memory. Strictly speaking, the memory speed should be given as megatransfers per second (MT/s) rather than megahertz (MHz). The memory bus should also be run at 266MHz for the E7400, but, again, as it uses DDR2 memory with four data transfers per clock cycle, this becomes 1066MT/s.

Unfortunately, even if your PC’s motherboard supports the E7400 processor, the 266MHz FSB speed will present a different sort of problem. Dell probably shipped your PC with DDR2-800 memory, which supports a maximum clock speed of 200MHz, not 266MHz. As such, you’ll probably find that your computer either won’t boot or will need to run at a reduced FSB speed of 200MHz due to the limitations imposed by your old memory. If your original memory modules are labelled 800MHz (or PC2-6400), you will have to replace them with 1,066MHz (PC2-8500) modules, which means buying four 1GB modules or two 2GB modules if you want 4GB of memory. Before you buy two or four modules, check the maximum supported RAM for your PC’s motherboard, and also the supported configuration (the module sizes and memory speeds that each DIMM memory slot supports alone or in combination with the other slots).

If you know the make/model of a PC’s motherboard, which can be identified by the free CPU-Z utility from cpuid.com, you can download the motherboard’s user manual, usually in the PDF format, which provides information on the RAM memory that can be installed and a section devoted to BIOS settings. The US and UK Crucial.com Memory Advisors can be used to find out which memory configurations to install on a brand-name PC or particular make/model of motherboard.

You’ll probably need to upgrade the BIOS before you attempt your upgrades. Motherboard manufacturers usually add support for newer processors as part of BIOS updates, and the BIOS numbers you provided suggest that you have an early BIOS version. That is why you should always check to find out if a new motherboard supports the make/model of processor that you want to install without having to install a BIOS update, because you will have to use a processor that the mother supports in order to install the BIOS update that supports later processors. If the BIOS doesn’t support a processor, it can’t be used to install the BIOS update that adds support for it. If you buy a boxed, retail Intel processor, it should arrive with a suitable heatsink and fan cooler. Depending on the type of cooler, there will either be thermal paste applicator supplied or a small thermal patch will be stuck on to the base of the heatsink. You will have to remove the protective sticker covering a thermal patch that will cover the area of the processor where the processor’s cores are when the cooler is fitted. Full installation instructions for both the processor and the cooling unit are provided with boxed Intel and AMD processors. If the cooling unit’s fan makes too much noise, you can buy coolers designed to be as silent as possible.