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  PCChips EZ-Watcher EZW-3060 Mini-PC 
  Nov 10, 2003, 09:30am EST 
 

The Heart of the Beast


By: Dan Mepham

The heart of the EZ-Watcher system is a simple controller that interfaces directly with the chipset and motherboard. PCChips is still in the process of patenting the EZ-Watcher system, so unfortunately, at PCChips’s request, we’re not able to share too many specific details pertaining to the operation of the system. The best we can tell you, however, is that to implement the overclocking system, PCChips developed a simple handshake algorithm between their microcontroller and the chipset. Perhaps most importantly, because the system functions on a purely hardware level, it requires no software or drivers whatsoever, and functions completely independently of the operating system. That's right - it'll work flawlessly with Windows XP, 2000, 95, Linux, or even DOS. This is arguably the unit's single greatest strength.

The controller used by PCChips in this case is the Atmel AT89S51. The AT89S51 is a very simple 8051-based static CMOS controller. It includes a small amount of flash memory (4 KB), and a tiny amount of on-chip RAM (datasheet at Atmel's website here). PCChips has designed a small program that is flashed into the memory of the controller, and takes inputs from the user (the overclocking dial), and executes a handshake algorithm with the chipset to increase clockspeed. There are also simple hardware inputs from the motherboard that provide readings from the temperature sensors. The motherboard, RAM, hard disk, and optical drive status indicators likely function on a simple polling algorithm, though we weren’t given specific information to that end.


It is interesting to note that there are several program development kits as well as flash software available online that are compatible with the AT89S51. More intrepid users may have the option of writing their own control software or tweaking existing software. Naturally this isn’t something we recommend, and would certainly void the warranty, but an interesting possibility nonetheless.

The Atmel controller provides output data via four serial data lines to a Princeton Technology LED controller (datasheet at Princeton's website here). The Princeton LED controller drives any of the LEDs on the display board, of which there are more than 40, based on the serial data provided by the CMOS controller.


While the system is more advanced than most we’ve seen, there are still some shortcomings. For example, while the temperature bar graph displays have nine bars each, they’re only able to display with a resolution of three bars at a time, as they’re driven by LEDs in groups of three. So essentially the unit only gives a 1-to-3 reading, not 1-to-9, as it may appear.



1. Introduction
2. Meet PCChips' EZ-Watcher
3. A Look at the Exterior
4. Under the Hood
5. The Heart of the Beast
6. Performance
7. Summary

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