Help Rock out My System!


My current rig is an HP Pavilion M8530F with a Viola-GL8E motherboard. The CPU is a 2.2GHz Phenom X4 9550. The board is AM2+. I asked HP for a copy of the mainboard’s user manual hoping it could tell me what AM2+ chip I could drop in. However, I find myself even more confused. I think a 2.6GHz Phenom 9950 X4 will work even though it is a 125-watt chip and my current 9550 is a 95-watt chip.

I’d rather not spend the money only to be proven dead wrong and be stuck having to borrow my fiancée’s Vaio laptop. It may be nice, but it’s not my desktop. So far, the only change made to my rig in the two years I’ve had it was the addition of a graphics card cooler, of the intake variety. I’ve done research and the more questions I have answered, the more confused I get. If I could, I’d just buy/build a new rig, but that’s not an option. Some newer games, like BioShock 2, require AMD core speed in excess of 2.2 GHz, and mine barely meets the requirements. Even the budget upgrade article in the July 2010 issue is vague on whether I can upgrade. Doc, please steer me in the right direction, lest I crash on the rocks of inaction.

—Lucas Allain

By design, pretty much any AM2+ board with the right BIOS and the correct thermal engineering should be able to run just about any AM2+ chip. Since the Phenom 9950 X4 launched several months before the Phenom 9550 X4, the Doc believes there is a high probability the Phenom X4 9950 will work. But to make things a little muddier, you should remember that there are two versions of the Phenom 9950 X4 in circulation. The original part, released in July 2008, was a blazing 140-watt version. In October, AMD released the same chip, but its thermals were scaled back to 125 watts. You’ll want the 125-watt part, of course—unless you are sure your board supports 140-watt processors. Got it?

Want more confusion? The Doctor isn’t guaranteeing anything, but some owners of HP boxes with the Viola-GL8E (it’s built by Asus and is also known as the M2N78-LAHP) report success with Phenom II procs—but only after updating to the latest BIOS for the board. A Phenom II is preferable to a Phenom for the greater clock speeds and larger cache.

So, what would the Doc do? Update the graphics card. If you go with the chip that is likely to work, the Phenom X4 9950, you’re looking at stepping up a massive 400MHz. The Doc knows a used 9950 is less than $50 on Fleabay, but you would probably be happier in gaming by updating your GPU instead.

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTION Are flames shooting out of the back of your rig? First, grab a fire extinguisher and douse the flames. Once the pyrotechnic display has fizzled, email the doctor at for advice on how to solve your technological woes.

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