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Unlocking Your Athlon XP
Author : Wayne Date : 14th January 2002


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Introduction :

With the introduction of the Palomino cored Athlon XP, AMD went a step further in their attempts to stop people overclocking. While the standard Athlon had the L1 bridges erased with a laser that did little more than scour the surface, the XP uses a more powerful laser that actually burns a small rectangular pit into the substrate. To make life even more difficult, at the bottom of each of these pits is a copper ground which needs isolating from the final bridge connection if things are to work as expected.

Okay, I'm sure this isn't the first XP unlocking guide you've read, but unlike some of the others I'm going to tell you straight, this isn't an easy operation by any stretch of the imagination. You need a keen eye, a steady hand and some level of planning. It's more along the lines of neuro-surgery than it is your typical tweak or mod, but with the right steps it can be done without too much grief. Rush it and you'll screw up, you need to be patient and take your time or it'll end in tears.

Being the responsible kind of site we are, I need to remind you that carrying out this process will invalidate your warranty, and if you do happen to destroy your prized processor don't come crying to us about it, we did it because we're idiots!

First off let's examine what you're likely to need.

Materials :

Depending on the approach you take, you may or may not need a fine, non electrically conductive filler, some Sellotape (Scotch Tape) and an Exacto or other sharp knife. You will need a conductive ink or paint or a rear demister (defogger) repair solution and a pin or other instrument with a very fine point.

For the filler, there are several options. You can use nail polish, Super Glue (Crazy Glue), automotive body filler, epoxy resin and Tip-Ex to name but a few. If you go for the automotive body filler, you're actually better using what's known as a knifing putty or "stopper" as this is a very fine filler designed for filling very small imperfections. Super Glue works but dries a little too quickly for my tastes meaning you have to work much quicker. Personally I prefer epoxy resin, it can be bought in small two part sachets and so doesn't cost a fortune. It also doesn't dry too quickly giving you about 5 minutes or so to clean up and correct any mistakes. For this particular processor I used Nanotherm thermal epoxy simply because I had a bit here and I know it's not electrically conductive.

Stencil blade Exacto knife and rear demister repair solution

Identifying the L1 bridges :

Identifying the L1 bridges isn't too difficult, mainly because they're actually marked up as L1. There are five pairs of gold contact dots separated by the pits we mentioned earlier. The image below shows you where to find them.

And here's a diagram showing more clearly what you're looking for.

Once you've located the contacts, you're safer cleaning the substrate with a cotton bud (Q-Tip) and either an alcohol based solvent, Isopropyl Alcohol or cassette head cleaner, or if you have none of those use a small amount of soapy water but use very little of it and dry well when you've done.

Before you start, position the processor on a soft surface to avoid damaging the pins. I used a folded pot towl but anything similar will do. Don't place it on the carpet as the shuffling of feet tends to build up a nice static charge. Also, make sure you're in a good strong light and, if your eyesight isn't perfect, get yourself a magnifying glass, eye glass or Loupe.

Which approach? :

There are several techniques you can use to improve your chances of success, but if you don't want to fill in those pits there's only really one route you can take, and no matter how easy it looks in this diagram I can assure you it aint. At least it aint easy to do and be certain none of the ink/paint has run down into one of the pits.

Failing this, the first step is to fill up those pits with your filler, but it's important none of your filler gets onto those gold coloured contacts. To do this we need to mask the two rows of contacts with Sellotape (Scotch Tape). Cut two fine strips of tape and place them over the two rows of contacts (Below). You may find this is easier done with a pair of tweezers, especially if you have fat fingers like I do.

With this done, you can then use a fine spreader to "massage" your filler well into the pits. For this I used a very fine watchmaker's screwdriver but a cocktail stick, large pin or something similar will probably serve the same purpose. Obviously if you use Super Glue it's a case of squirting it in and tidying up as quickly as you can before it sets.

Below you can see the contacts masked with Sellotape and the Epoxy now filling the pits.

Once your happy and everything is as it should be, wait a minute or two and just whip off the tape and wait until your filler is completely dry, the time will vary depending on the type of filler you've used. If you've used nail varnish or Super Glue, you probably now have a small ridge between the two rows of contacts. You may want to carefuly scrape this back down to substrate level using the point of your knife as it makes drawing in the traces that bit easier later.

The next step, and probably the most difficult for most people is to join up those gold dots. The diagram below sure looks neat, but if you manage to get your final job looking anything like that you're a better man (or woman) than I am. The easiest way to apply your conductive ink/paint is with a pin, cocktail stick, tooth pick or other fine pointed object. Go lightly or not only will the ink not draw, you'll also risk damaging the contacts in the process. You may find a match stick or other small, straight edged item can help keep the line steady but chances are it'll just get in the way and make life difficult.

The picture below shows the best I was able to manage, although to be fair I was actually pretty pleased with that. If you get it wrong first time, and there's every likelyhood you will, just clean off the paint/ink with a little Isopropyl Alcohol or if you don't have any of that an eraser supposedly works. As a last resort use a little cream cleaner on a damp cotton bud.

One thing you must avoid is allowing the bridges to make contact with their neighbours. So far as I'm aware this won't cause any major damage but it will lead to incorrect multiplier setting. The diagram below shows what I mean.

If you think you might need a little help keeping the bridges separate, you can cut another strip of tape wide enough to cover both rows of contacts (Below).

Then using a sharp knife such as an Exacto, cut away the paths between the two contacts. Don't use too much pressure or again you risk damaging something.Once done, carefully remove the remaining strips of tape with the tip of your knife.

The final step, for me anyway is to cut a strip of insulating tape and place it over the newly connected bridges just to stop them getting scraped when changing heat sinks or sliding temperature sensors under them, or just from general handling. If you don't do any of these things you won't need the tape, but better safe than sorry I always say.

Now all you need to do is to pop back your processor and check to see if you have the full range of multipliers at your disposal. If you don't, simply swear several times out loud and prepare to try again.

As with all delicate jobs, the secret's in the planning and the time you take over the job. Why didn't we use a pencil?? well, for one it's not as permanent as we'd like it to be, and the other reason is that there seems to be a fairly low success rate using pencils on XPs.

Whether the whole process is worth the gains you'll see is something only you can decide. I've not yet had time to see how far I can push the XP2000+ I used in this review but as soon as I have I'll post a few benchmarks.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments then head on over to our forums.