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Although the subjects of this FAQ are the Micronics 486 motherboards used in many Gateway 2000 (also Dell and Micron) computer systems, there is is a lot of information which interests a broader audience. Many companies sell processor upgrade products and represent them as really simple to do, yet there are many postings on usenet complaining of the difficulty of doing one processor upgrade or another. The combination of our experience, the experiences of others, and the various collections of data on the web has shown us that 486 processor upgrades are not always a done deal. If you are considering a processor upgrade for any motherboard, read on and proceed with caution. Likewise, there are some misconceptions about memory, hard disk, and CD-ROM upgrades. We'll set the record straight in these areas, too.
This is probably the last major update to this document, because I don't think there will be anything significantly new to say in the future.
Q1. How can I identify a Micronics motherboard? Which one do I have?
Q2. What processor upgrades are possible for my Gateway 486 system with a Micronics motherboard?
Q3. Which is the fastest reliable upgrade for my system?
Q4. What kind of performance improvement can I expect in my system from one of these processor upgrades?
Q5. Which Micronics motherboards have you tested extensively?
Q6. Which processor upgrade do you recommend?
Q7. Do I need a BIOS upgrade or any software changes to upgrade the processor in my system?
Q8. My computer BIOS reports a processor type and speed different from what is actually installed inside. Is something wrong?
Q9. What else can I do to improve the computing power of my Gateway/Micronics 486?
Q10. What do I need to do to add to the memory of my Gateway/Micronics 486?
Q11. How can I increase hard disk capacity?
Q12. Can I add an Extended IDE (EIDE) CD-ROM drive to my system?
Q13. Why should I use a 3.3 volt processor upgrade kit when I can get a new 3.3 volt 486 motherboard and processor for much less?
Q14. Why should I use a 3.3 volt processor upgrade kit when I can get a new Pentium, Pentium Pro, or Pentium II motherboard?
Q15. What is your interest in all this?
Q16. What is overclocking? Can I do it? Should I do it?
Q17. What about Gateway 486 systems that use other motherboards, for example Anigma or Intel?
Q18. What about Gateway Pentium systems?
Q19. What is Spirit of Performance and who is Ben Myers?
A1. Gateway 2000 used 486 motherboards produced by three hardware designer/manufacturers, Anigma, Intel, and Micronics. A Micronics motherboard has its part number inscribed on the board at the factory. identifies the model of motherboard. The format of a Micronics part number is 09-nnnnn-mm, where nnnnn identifies the model of motherboard. All of the Micronics boards use a Phoenix BIOS. The earliest Micronics motherboards are full-sized AT boards, about 12" x 13". Later boards are baby-AT sized, about 8 1/2" x 13". The table below cross-references Micronics motherboard models, their part numbers and other characteristics.
A2. First, if you have a Gateway / Micronics system that uses either a 25 MHz 80486-DX or a 50 MHz 80486-DX2, you may be able to change the motherboard switch settings to run the system with a 33 MHz system bus, rather than the current 25 Mhz. Refer to the motherboard table below to see which motherboards allow you to change the system bus frequency.
All of the Micronics 486 motherboards known to have been used by Gateway were designed for 5 volt processors. We have also tested several other Micronics motherboards which we have on hand.
Next, let's start with the older 5 volt processors, ranked in order from slowest to fastest...
The Cyrix Cx486DX2 defaults to a write-back cache at power on. If your motherboard does not have the additional more expensive circuits for reliable operation of write-back cache, the Cx486DX2 is not for your system. In our findings to date, the only 5 volt Gateway / Micronics 486 motherboard which supports write-back cache is the JX30G, model number 09-00189-xx. The Micronics JX30GC and the dual-voltage Micronics JX30WB do, too.
The Intel 83 MHz Pentium OverDrive requires a Type 3 ZIF socket, found on some Micronics VL bus motherboards. It also requires a motherboard that operates correctly with a write-back cache. Again, refer to the motherboard table below.
If you have a system with a VL-bus motherboard, even a motherboard that supports write-back cache, and a VL-bus SCSI host adapter, such as the Adaptec 2842 or the BusLogic 445S, a processor with internal write-back cache enabled does not run reliably. You must use a voltage regulator which inhibits the internal write-back cache of the processor.
Finally, there are the 486 style processors which have an operating voltage of 3.3 or 3.45 volts. These processors require a voltage regulator to operate in a 5 volt motherboard. A voltage regulator is a tiny circuit board installed in the motherboard socket with a 3 volt processor plugged in piggy back style on top.
The Am486DX2-80, the Am486DX4-120, the Cyrix 80 MHz Cx486DX2, and the Cyrix 5x86-120 all require an external bus clock operating at 40 MHz to achieve full operating speed. Although there are switch settings on some Micronics motherboards that allow you to do this, we do not recommend this for two reasons. Doing so exceeds the 33 MHz limit defined in the latest and last VL-bus design specification. And Micronics has never officially documented these settings. It looks like Micronics designed the 40 MHz clock setting into some of its motherboards anticipating that the VL bus specification would be updated, which never happened. Some add-in VL-bus cards do not operate reliably faster than 33 MHz.
Despite their cleverly chosen names, neither the AMD Am5x86 nor the Cyrix 5x86 has a complete Pentium-compatible instruction set. The AMD Am5x86 is a very fast 486-compatible processor. The Cyrix 5x86 uses architectural features similar to the Intel Pentium to run its 486-like instructions very quickly, despite its slower clock speed.
All of the chips listed here are no longer in production. As far as I know, the AMD Am5x86-P75 was the last one made, with a final production run in August of 1997. You will probably find them in the market for used and surplus chips.
You can buy a 3.3 or 3.45 volt processor, voltage regulator, and processor cooling fan separately, but we recommend a packaged upgrade, backed by an appropriate guarantee covering both performance and reliability. You pay a few more bucks for a packaged and guaranteed upgrade, but in return you get predictable and proven results.
A3. The Am5x86-P75, Cyrix 5x86-100, and the Intel 83 MHz Pentium OverDrive all perform at similar levels, somewhere in the range between Intel 75 MHz and 90 MHz Pentium processors. Shop for your upgrade among these based on a combination of price, performance, guarantee, reliability, and compatibility.
A4. If your system is currently powered by a 33MHz 80486 processor, you can expect nearly a four-fold increase in overall processing speed. If your system is currently powered by a 66MHz 80486-DX2 processor, you can expect overall processing speed to be almost twice as fast. As a rule, calculations such as spreadsheet recalcs and spell checking of a document will be much faster, but tasks that rely on external devices such as database and WWW searches will not run much faster at all.
A5. We have tested many Micronics motherboards (all of the ones used by Gateway 2000, Dell and Micron) extensively with most of the chips listed above. You can identify which motherboard you have in three different ways:
All of the motherboards tabulated below are robust enough in design to run reliably with either AMD or Intel processors. Benchmark test results for the Am5x86-P75, Cyrix 5x86-100, or the Intel 83 MHz Pentium OverDrive processors are similar. Typical results running Windows Magazine's WINTUNE (Version 2.0) exceed 60 on the Dhrystone test and 14 on the Whetstone test. By comparison, the Dhrystone and Whetstone numbers for the same motherboards running a 33MHz Intel 80486-DX are 19.0 and 3.7. For a 66mhz Intel 80486-DX2, the numbers are 37.5 and 7.3.
|Micronics Board ID||Other ID or Info||Typical Gateway Part#||Phoenix BIOS Rev.||TYPE 3 ZIF?||25/33 MHz Bus Switch?|
|09-00203-xx||JX30GC***||(none, Micron part)||JX30GC-04||Y||Y|
|09-00169-xx||Gemini VL (ZIF)||486DXLBP24TR||GLB05||Y||Y|
|09-00144-xx||Gemini VL (LIF)||486DXLB||GLB05||N||Y|
|09-00117-xx||EISA ASIC||(none)||1.01.22.2||N||33MHz fixed|
|09-00081-xx||Baby Gemini ISA||(not known)||G22-2||N||33MHz fixed ****|
|09-00054-xx||80486 ASIC ISA||(not known)||G14||N||33MHz fixed|
* Motherboard supports write-back cache.
** There are two variations of the JX30G, one with an AT-style keyboard connector and the other with PS/2-style keyboard and mouse connectors. There are some different BIOS versions for each, but they are otherwise electronically identical.
*** The AMD Am5x86-P75 will not run at 4x clocking in the JX30GC.
**** Some Baby Gemini ISA boards operate with a 25MHz fixed external bus speed.
ZIF stands for Zero Insertion Force. You can insert a processor into a ZIF socket with little or no force.
LIF stands for Limited Insertion Force. You have to press down on the processor to insert it in a LIF socket.
Generally you do not need to upgrade the BIOS in your computer to install any of the processor kits we sell, as described in A13 below. We do recommend that you upgrade to the BIOS revisions shown in the table above.
If you have already upgraded the BIOS in your system with a MicroFirmware BIOS upgrade, MicroFirmware states that their BIOS needs to be at a minimum revision level to operate correctly with processors with clock speeds of 100MHz or greater. The table below shows the required minimum MicroFirmware BIOS revision levels for the Gateway/Micronics motherboards with flash BIOS. Contact MicroFirmware at http://www.firmware.com for more information. If you are a registered licensee of a MicroFirmware BIOS, you can download the latest version from their web site.
|Micronics Board ID||Other ID or Info||Micro Firmware Part Number||Minimum BIOS Revision (or later)|
|09-00169-xx||DXLB or Gemini VL (ZIF)||M4GS25||4.03.6.13|
|09-00144-xx||DXLB or Gemini VL (LIF)||M4GS25||4.03.6.13|
A6. The only reasonable and unbiased answer is... Shop for the best combination of price, performance, and reliability that you can afford.
The only processor recommended for nearly ALL of the motherboards shown above is the Am5x86-P75. In addition, the Cyrix 5x86-100 and the Intel 83 MHz Pentium OverDrive processors are recommended for the JX30G, JX30GP, and JX30GC motherboards. When I say "recommend", that means we have tested the given combination of processor and motherboard here under varying conditions, and the combination gives reliable performance at the rated speed of the processor. The Am5x86-P75 runs at 3x clocking, only 100mhz in the JX30GC. In addition, the Cyrix 5x86-100 runs in the JX30 only with MicroFirmware BIOS M4HS45 Revision 4.05.13 or later. It also runs in the Gemini VL only with MicroFirmware BIOS M4GS25 Revision 4.03.6.19 or later.
A7. No, with one exception. If your system has a MicroFirmware BIOS, you must make sure that it is at or greater than the minimum revision number required for a processor upgrade.
A8. Run an independent and reliable utility program to verify the processor clock speed and system cache configuration. Ray Van Tassel's shareware CACHECHK is a good one, as is CPUTYPE which we ship with our upgrade kits. As long as an independent and reliable utility program reports the expected processor clock speed and system cache configuration, and your system behaves reliably, there is nothing to worry about. Many BIOSes were written before newer processor chips were even designed. An older BIOS does not have the necessary logic to detect and report a newer chip accurately. This is also true for many older Pentium motherboards when they are confronted with Socket 4, Socket 5, and Socket 7 Pentium upgrades such as the Pentium OverDrive and kits that use plug-in adapters. You can obtain a copy of CACHECHK thru http://www.shareware.com , the C|NET shareware web site, among other places.
A9. If the processor in your computer is or soon will be at least a 100 MHz 80486-type, upgrade the external cache memory to 256K bytes if possible. The performance difference between a smaller cache and 256K external cache can be as much as 25% for some applications, but more often lies in the 10-15% range. The external cache memory on the Micronics JX30GC, JX30G and JX30 motherboards, used by Gateway in a great many systems, can be upgraded very easily with common 32Kx8 20 ns. SRAM chips. On the other hand, the Micronics Gemini VL motherboards use a custom snap-in SIMM-like external cache module which is no longer manufactured and is currently in extremely short supply.
Adding memory to your system often improves overall performance by allowing Windows to cut down on its use of its virtual memory swap file. If you are running or intend to run Windows 95, 16 megabytes or more of memory is highly recommended. Windows 95 and its applications are memory eaters.
A10. If your motherboard uses 72-pin SIMM memory, you are limited to 1x36 (4MB) and 4x36 (16MB) SIMM sizes. If your motherboard is a Micronics JX30, JX30G, JX30GP, or JX30GC, you may install non-parity 1x32 or 4x32 SIMMs once you have correctly set a jumper on the motherboard. Otherwise you must install parity memory. Memory must be Fast Page Mode (FPM), rather than Extended Data Out (EDO) memory used in newer Pentium systems. Also, the more recent SIMM sizes of 2x36, 2x32, 8x36, 8x32, 16x36, and 16x32 WILL NOT work in your Micronics 486 motherboard.
If your motherboard uses 30-pin SIMM memory, refer to specific information about your motherboard to determine which memory is used in what combinations. As a rule, 30-pin SIMMs must be installed in sets of four identical SIMMs. The 30-pin SIMMs used in Micronics boards must have parity checking and may be either 1Mx9 or 4Mx9.
All of the Micronics 486 motherboards require SIMMs of unlike sizes to be installed in specific SIMM sockets or banks. Refer to the documentation for your motherboard for specifics, or ask us for information about your board.
Despite claims attributed to Gateway sales and technical support people, you do NOT need to buy memory only from Gateway. Any reputable supplier of generic SIMM memory can sell you memory that works reliably in your Gateway/Micronics motherboard.
The Micronics Gemini VL 486 motherboards require that all BIOS shadowing options be disabled in system CMOS when more than 16 MB of memory is installed. These motherboards require the GLB05 BIOS, downloadable from http://www.gw2k.com , to run with more than 16MB of memory. With Windows 95, there is little or no loss in system performance when BIOS shadowing is disabled.
If you need memory configuration, jumper settings, and switch settings for you motherboard feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org for this information, or go to http://www.micronics.com . You need to have handy the Micronics part number of your motherboard, a number in the form 09-xxxxx-xx. Our information is more complete that the information from Micronics, which chose not to document some features. We include line drawing schematics of boards when available, undocumented jumper settings, and jumper settings required for the newer 3.3v and 3.45v processors.
A11. If you want to upgrade or replace your IDE hard disk drive with one of the newer large capacity IDE disks (> 528MB capacity), there are three general solutions:
You can obtain a no-cost flash BIOS upgrade for the Micronics JX30G motherboard, install it, then partition, format and use large IDE disk drives. Download the JX30G12.EXE file from http://www.gw2k.com or http://www.micronics.com . The JX30G-12 BIOS inside the self-extracting executable supports large capacity IDE hard disks, up to 1.6GB in our testing, probably up to 2.1GB using CHS (Cylinder-Head-Sector) addressing which works for most but not all EIDE drives. Gateway states that JX30G-12 is unsupported, but it was produced by Micronics for the JX30G motherboard. Micronics does not provide much direct support for their BIOS updates to end-users either, but this BIOS works reliably under a variety of conditions. So do not worry about lack of support for this BIOS. Owners of systems with 486 motherboards are pretty much on their own anyway these days.
IF YOUR JX30G MOTHERBOARD HAS PS/2 STYLE KEYBOARD AND MOUSE CONNECTORS, you are not supposed to install the JX30G-12 BIOS according to Micronics. The BIOS for the PS/2-style JX30G identifies itself with the text JX30GP, where the "P" suffix indicates the PS/2 connectors. We have found the JX30G-12 BIOS to run reliably in the Micronics JX30-GP motherboard, with no loss in capability.
For large hard disks and the other Gateway/Micronics motherboards listed here, check the information at the MicroFirmware http://www.firmware.com regarding BIOS upgrades. All MicroFirmware BIOS upgrades support LBA plus other advanced BIOS features.
If you decide to investigate an EIDE controller card solution, you must have one which supports LBA, at minimum. In addition, the Micronics Gemini VL motherboard has both primary and secondary IDE connectors, occupying IRQs 15 and 14, respectively. These IRQs cannot be disabled, even when no drives are connected to their IDE connectors, so an EIDE card for the Gemini VL must only provide a BIOS, and not use any IRQs. An EIDE card which meets these requirements would be as trouble-free as a system BIOS upgrade, except that its BIOS would also occupy an added small amount of system memory space between 640KB and 1MB.
Software solutions to the large IDE hard disk problem are not universal. They apply only to the operating system that you use, sometimes requiring an exact software release to operate correctly. Generally, they require that you set up a conventional DOS partition on the hard disk, then run a software install program which adds drivers and other special software to your system to give you access to the additional hard disk capacity.
Finally, if your system uses SCSI hard disks, refer to the manufacturer-supplied documentation for the SCSI host adapter installed on your system. This documentation describes the capacity limitations, if any, of the SCSI host adapter. Modern SCSI host adapters support very large hard disks with little extra effort on your part.
A12. Usually, yes. EIDE CD-ROM drives are often misunderstood. Some articles and technical documents may refer to EIDE as the Attached AT Peripheral Interface (ATAPI). First, the typical EIDE CD-ROM drive operates entirely through a software driver in CONFIG.SYS, bypassing the system BIOS completely. So a BIOS upgrade is not required to support an EIDE CD-ROM drive. You can attach an EIDE CD-ROM drive as a slave drive on the same primary IDE connector as your hard drive, or to a secondary IDE connector, either on the system motherboard or as an EIDE controller card. You must follow the normal IDE master-slave configuration rules in setting up both EIDE CD-ROM and any IDE hard disks. IDE and EIDE drives sometimes have a neutral jumper setting, often labeled CSEL, used when a drive is alone on an IDE connector. Prior to installing the EIDE CD-ROM in your system, make sure that the system CMOS refers to it as "Not installed" or similar. Then, connect the drive to the system, and install the EIDE CD-ROM software drivers in CONFIG.SYS and the Microsoft CD-ROM Extensions (MSCDEX.EXE) program in AUTOEXEC.BAT. By following this general procedure, we have successfully installed EIDE CD-ROM drives in all of the Gateway/Micronics 486 VL-bus motherboards, other older 486 motherboards with built-in IDE connectors, and a few motherboards IDE controller cards.
A13. You get what you pay for... There are quite a few reasons for sticking with the Micronics motherboards over newer 486 motherboards. The most important is that if you are going to spend time and money on a motherboard replacement, you might as well go for a newer Pentium, Pentium Pro, or Pentium II board. See below.
Some other reasons are:
A14. Now THAT is a really good question. Any Gateway/Micronics 486 system, except the one which uses the JX30GP motherboard, uses a standard baby-AT sized motherboard with classic AT-style keyboard connector. Most JX30GP system cases have a small plate covering the keyboard opening, as described above. You can remove the plate and install any standard baby-AT sized motherboard with classic AT-style keyboard connector. There is a wide choice of baby-AT Pentium and Pentium Pro motherboards with AT-style connectors on the market today. They fit easily inside your Gateway/Micronics 486 computer case.
If your JX30GP system does not have a removable plate covering its keyboard opening, you have the challenge of finding a baby-AT motherboard with PS/2-style connectors about 1/2" apart. This spacing is uncommon for PS/2-style connectors, which are normally about 1/8" inch apart on the Pentium boards used by Gateway and other manufacturers.
If your old motherboard has VL-bus add-in cards, plan on replacing these at the same time, because nearly all Pentium boards produced today use the newer PCI bus. Motherboards which support both PCI and VL bus are generally regarded as crude jury-rigged designs. If your 486 motherboard uses 72-pin SIMMs, you may be able to use them in a Pentium motherboard, but only in pairs. Check the specifications of the motherboard before you buy if reuse of memory is important to you. As always, buy based on a combination of quality, price, reliability, documentation quality, and ready availability of technical support. A Pentium motherboard plus other accessories may be a cost-effective upgrade for you.
A15. We found that the upgrade needs of the owners of Gateway 486 computers were not being adequately served in the industry. We developed and tested a reliable 486 upgrade kit based on the AMD Am5x86-P75, today's most cost-effective upgrade for owners of 486 computers. We tested the kit extensively in all of Micronics motherboards shown in the table above, and guarantee reliable 4x 133 MHz operation of our kit in any of these motherboards. The voltage regulator we have selected for the kit has a jumper which you can set to enable write-back cache when installed in motherboards that support write-back cache. The kit costs $119 plus exact shipping costs.
We also offer another 486 upgrade kit based on the100MHz IBM 5x86, but only for the Micronics JX30G, JX30GP, and JX30GC motherboards as well as selected non-Gateway computers. It is not compatible with the older Micronics 486 motherboards used by Gateway. Our IBM 5x86 kit costs $109 plus exact shipping costs.
Now and again, we are able to acquire Intel 83MHz Pentium Overdrive processors and offer them at $149. Based on experience to date, we sell them only for use on systems which use the Micronics JX30G, JX30GP, and JX30GC motherboard. Check the information at http://www.intel.com if you have another type of motherboard with a Type 3 ZIF socket. Intel has compiled a lot of data about the compatibility of their processors with various systems and motherboards, but Intel disclaims responsibility for its accuracy.
We sell Intel 5 volt 80486-DX4 OverDrive processors for $79, when we can get our hands on them. They are no longer manufactured, but now and again some of them turn up.
None of these chips are manufactured any longer, so we may or may not have the processor upgrade you need in stock.
If you need to upgrade more than one computer, please contact us for quantity pricing and/or affordable upgrades done by us at your offices (25 or more computers only).
Our guarantee extends for one year but excludes both overclocking and write-back cache when used inappropriately. Shipping costs are not refundable.
With each order, we include a diskette with copies of two reliable public-domain programs which verify the CPU bus speed, Ray Van Tassel's CACHECHK and Frank Van Gilluwe's CPUTYPE. We also furnish printed information about motherboard jumper and switch settings, plus motherboard schematics if we have them.
We also sell external cache memory upgrade kits for Micronics JX30GC, JX30G, and JX30 motherboards and other motherboards which have sockets for common 28-pin SRAM chips. Our kits include a simple and complete step-by-step chip installation guide. Contact us for pricing for your motherboard with its current cache memory setup. We offer package pricing for a processor upgrade with a cache upgrade.
Unfortunately, we seem to get the most requests for cache upgrades from owners of systems with Micronics Gemini VL motherboards, part numbers 09-00169-xx and 09-00144-xx, for which custom 256K byte cache modules are now scarce.
Finally, if you are interested in a replacement name-brand Micronics and Intel baby-AT motherboard with PS/2-style connectors, full BIOS compatibility, and a decent (though not screaming fast) Pentium-class processor with MMX compatibility, contact us for models, pricing, and availability at email@example.com . We will sell them as long as we have some to sell.
We provide primary customer support through electronic mail. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A16. Over-clocking, running the processor at a clock speed higher than designed by its manufacturer, is a long-established method of coaxing higher performance out of personal computers. It all began when some enterprising hardware hackers discovered that the 1984 vintage IBM AT would run above the rated 8 MHz speed of its 80286 processor. Other devices in a computer could also be overclocked, but processor overclocking is most common one.
Several Micronics motherboards have switch settings to enable a 40 MHz system bus, which is the base clock speed for the processor. With a VL-bus motherboard, this is also the speed at which the VL-bus operates, but the latest and last VL-bus specification describes bus operation at up to 33 MHz. Some VL-bus devices operate reliably at 40 MHz anyway, but you won't know until you've tried it. My FAQ to you: Would you entrust the integrity of the data on your hard disk to a VL-bus disk controller that is running beyond its design limits?
Overclocking generates additional heat and electronic emissions that may go beyond the design limits of your computer.
If your system uses with a hard disk controller that is not attached to the VL bus, you might consider overclocking your system. But as a general rule, we recommend against it.
A17. We have thoroughly tested the Intel Classic R 486 motherboard used in some Gateway mini-desktop systems, and we have complete technical information about it here. The Classic R works reliably with both the Intel Pentium OverDrive and our AMD Am5x86-P75 processor kit.
We have a companion FAQ covering all of the different models of Anigma motherboards used in Gateway 486 systems. If you want a copy of our Anigma FAQ or have a question about a specific Anigma board, send email to email@example.com . We have found that overall quality of the Anigma boards to be quite a bit lower than that of the Micronics and Intel boards.
A18. We have tested all of the baby-AT and some ATX Intel-made Pentium motherboards used by Gateway and have complete information about them here. Look for our Gateway Pentium FAQ in the near future.
A19. Spirit of Performance, Inc. is a family owned business incorporated in 1987. Both the company, and one of its principals, Ben Myers, have done extensive hardware and software testing over the years for PC Week, PC Magazine, Windows Magazine, as well as other companies. Ben Myers developed several releases of the Ziff-Davis Winbench graphics benchmark for Windows, and has many years of experience testing performance and reliability of computers. The Ben Myers of Spirit of Performance is NOT to be confused with his namesake English beer drinking expert who turns up elsewhere on the web, although he does quaff a good beer rather infrequently. (Search for "Ben Myers" using DEC's Alta Vista search engine to check out your beer interests, too.)
Spirit of Performance, Inc.
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