Q: What is overclocking?
A: Overclocking is the process of operating computer hardware at speeds in excess of their manufacturers’ ratings.
Q: Can I overclock my OEM system?
A: With the advent of software utilities like SoftFSB, the answer is “possibly.” Most OEM systems from the largest manufacturers (Dell, Gateway, Compaq, etc.) cannot sustain a serious overclock. It is possible to obtain a few extra MHz.
Q: What about overclocking my notebook?
A: We do not recommend overclocking for portable computers. Most notebook systems cannot accommodate extra cooling. Even if overclocking were possible, most notebook cases are not designed to dissipate the amount of heat it would generate.
Q: I run important applications on my system on a regular basis and I cannot tolerate system crashes or data loss. Should I overclock my system?
A: No. When system stability and data integrity are of utmost concern, don’t overclock. Overclocking is best suited for gamers, who want realistic and smooth play; and speed fanatics, who want bragging rights on having the fastest, cheapest system around.
Q: Will overclocking damage my processor or void my warranty?
A: If you are conscientious enough to observe proper thermal regulation and abide by voltage limits, overclocking is unlikely to damage your processor. It can sometimes shorten the lifespan of a processor, though most chips will become obsolete long before they burn out. But yes, overclocking will void your CPU warranty, and possibly other component warranties as well.
Q: I have seen advertisements for retailers that sell overclocked CPUs. Are they legitimate, and is there an advantage to buying one rather than overclocking my own?
A: Some retailers sell legitimate CPU, motherboard, and memory combos, which come preoverclocked and pretested for less money than you would spend on an analogous system at the manufacturer-rated speed. Buying such a combination could save you some guesswork, as not all processors in any given class can overclock successfully. Some retailers guarantee that these overclocked systems will run; others do not. Ask questions, and know what you are buying.
Beware of retailers who sell processor/motherboard combos in an overclocked state without advertising them as being overclocked. These are instances of fraud, which should be reported to the appropriate processor manufacturer.
Q: Why is my overclocked system unstable?
A: This is a complex question. Many factors can create system instabilities.
Common causes include:
Core Voltage. Increasing voltage can help stabilize an overclocked processor, but remember that additional cooling will likely be required to offset the extra heat that is generated.
Cooling. Proper thermal regulation is key to maintaining a stable overclocked system. Use a quality processor cooler, combined with an efficient case fan layout. One trick for diagnosing potential thermal problems is to use a cooling spray (found at most electronics vendors for under $10) to directly lower the temperature of specific components, while you operate the system at maximum CPU load. If stability improves when you are cooling a particular component, that component likely needs better cooling.
Memory. Poor quality memory is one of the leading causes of overclocking instability. When overclocking, use only quality memory from trusted manufacturers, not generic modules from unknown vendors. Increasing CAS latency, or decreasing certain memory timings, is sometimes required to stabilize the memory subsystem when overclocking. Benchmark testing can help you evaluate any performance differences that result from changing the various settings.
Buses. Both the PCI and AGP bus standards are built around strict operating specifications. Try to maintain bus rates as close to their default values (PCI = 33 MHz, AGP = 66 MHz) as possible. An AGP bus is more forgiving when overclocked than a PCI, but decreasing AGP transfer rates may be required to achieve stability. Similarly, hard drives attached to the PCI bus may require lowered transfer rates to ensure data integrity when overclocking via the front- side bus.
Power Supply. Overclocking requires more wattage than the default settings require. While most power supplies can easily sustain moderate overclocking, some systems will require a power supply upgrade to maintain stability. Intel- or AMD-approved units with a rating of at least 300 watts are recommended. Brand name power supplies are often preferred over generic power supplies, as brand name units may prove more reliable and have power output voltages that more closely meet the required motherboard voltage specifications.
Firmware/BIOS. Be sure to update the BIOS firmware and hardware drivers for all components. Most manufacturers release updates at regular intervals, so checking the appropriate websites and online file archives for updates is required.
Q: Is my processor running hot?
A: The temperature limits listed in Chapters 5 and 6 indicate failure points, not maximum stable operating temperatures. Processors should never exceed 60° Celsius. The best cooling systems will keep temperatures well below 50° for most configurations.
Q: What can I do for a hot processor?
A: 1. Apply a thin layer of thermal paste between the heatsink and processor core.
2. Verify that there is adequate airflow in the system and make sure the fans are
moving air in the right direction.
3. Check for proper heatsink-to-processor alignment, as some models can slip during shipping.
4. And finally, install a quality processor cooling solution for better thermal dissipation.
Q: What if my processor does not overclock as expected?
A: Not all chips will overclock the same. This fact is a byproduct of integrated circuit manufacturing techniques. Most individual examples of a specific processor model might overclock to a certain range, but that does not mean your specific processor is guaranteed to reach the same speeds.
Q: How do I “burn in” my processor?
A: The need to burn in a processor is an old overclocking myth. A processor has no mechanical friction, only a type of electrical friction. Electrons will flow through a processor core the same way, regardless of the duration of that flow.
Acronym for accelerated graphics port, a bus interconnect standard designed by Intel for the high-speed transfer of graphics data and the storage of 3D texture data within a system’s primary RAM. Most current 2D and 3D graphics accelerators are designed for the AGP bus standard.
Advanced Micro Devices is the second largest personal computer microprocessor manufacturer, with models covering nearly all market segments in the computing industry. AMD is currently Intel’s strongest competitor. Their rivalry helps ensure lower CPU prices across the board.
A 32-bit microprocessor architecture manufactured by Advanced Micro Devices. The high-performance Athlon is marketed as direct competition to Intel’s Pentium III and Pentium 4 architectures. Both the Pentium and the Athlon lines have undergone multiple revisions since their original release.
A measurement of the amount of information processed or transferred within a given timeframe, usually measured in megabytes per second. Bandwidth is synonymous with throughput.
A test designed to measure the performance of either hardware or software components.
A mathematics system composed of ones and zeros that is the basis of modern computing technologies.
A collection of wires designed to transmit data across various components within a computing platform. The front-side bus connects the processor, memory, and chipset computing components. The back-side bus connects the front-side bus to expansion peripherals, such as drives or graphics accelerators.
A specialized type of memory designed to store data temporarily so it can be accessed quickly during buffering operations. Cache is generally designed around static random access memory (SRAM) and, unlike similar dynamic random access technologies, it does not require continuous refresh updates.
A measurement of the ratio of electrical charge transferred across two conductors, or the amount of charge an isolated conductor can effectively store.
Cubic feet per minute, a measure of a fan’s ability to move air. The higher the CFM rating, the more volume of air can be moved in any given time and the cooler your system will be. Note that higher CFM generally means greater noise.
A combination of integrated circuit devices designed to route, control, and transfer information across various operating buses found in today’s systems. Common designs incorporate two distinct but interconnected hubs: the Northbridge and Southbridge controllers.
A configuration of electrically or magnetically connected components or devices.
A measurement of how many times an integrated circuit can change its operating state within a given timeframe, usually measured in megahertz, or millions of cycles per second.
A process of thermal dissipation using a liquid or gas medium to transfer heat away from a given substance to another region or medium.
Cyrixoriginally existed as an independent manufacturer of Intelcompatible microprocessors, but this smaller corporation was acquired by VIA Technologies in 1999. The Cyrix product name is often associated with the latest processors offered by VIA, though these newer architectures share little in common with the older Cyrix platforms.
A measurement of the width of internal pathways within an integrated circuit device, usually measured in nanometers.
Acronym for double data rate synchronous dynamic random access memory. DDR memory technologies employ a signaling technique capable of transferring data along both the rising and falling edges of each clock cycle, thus offering a theoretical 2x improvement in memory bandwidth over conventional SDRAM.
An acronym for front-side bus. The FSB connects the processor to the memory and other components in a PC.
An acronym for gigahertz, or one billion cycles per second. One GHz is equal to 1000 MHz. See MHz.
An electronic device composed of multiple transistor circuits, originally developed by Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor in the 1950s.
The world’s largest developer and manufacturer of personal computer microprocessors. Intel maintains the dominant market share across all platforms, and is often considered to be the leading authority in microprocessor design.
An aging bus standard that is rapidly disappearing in today’s computing platforms. ISA offers minimal bandwidth and is best suited for low bandwidth devices, such as modems or sound cards.
The amount of time that elapses for a process to take place, or the time delay involved with one component waiting for another to finish a process.
A device designed to store data. Primary storage is composed of a series of integrated circuits that hold data short term (while a PC is in operation).
Secondary storage is composed of physical disks (hard drive, CD-ROM, etc.) and similar devices designed for the long-term archiving of information.
An acronym for megahertz. One MHz is equal to one million Hertz, or cycles per second. Processor clock speeds are measured in megahertz, but don’t be fooled: there are many other factors that determine a processor’s performance than the MHz speed alone.
A logical controlling integrated circuit chip composed of multiple transistor pathways, generally based on a silicon substrate with aluminum or copper circuit interconnects. Same as processor or central processing unit (CPU).
An internal value that correlates the front-side bus speed to the operating speed of the microprocessor. Example: Pentium III 800e = 100 MHz FSB x 8 Multiplier.
Implemented by processor manufacturers to prevent users or dishonest retailers from overclocking processors through changes in the CPU multiplier setting.
One billionth of a meter.
To operate a microprocessor at speeds beyond its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) rating.
A 32-bit microprocessor architecture manufactured by the Intel Corporation. The Pentium series has undergone multiple revisions and redesigns over the years, so the name is more a marketing trademark than an architecture designation.
Acronym for peripheral component interconnect, a bus standard developed by Intel to be scalable to 66 MHz and 64 bits. Most current-generation personal computing architectures employ a 33 MHz, 32-bit PCI bus standard.
Acronym for rambus dynamic random access memory. Rambus memory is designed for extreme operating speeds up to and exceeding 800 MHz. It offers a substantial bandwidth advantage over original SDRAM technologies.
Acronym for synchronous dynamic random access memory. SDRAM is designed for high-speed operation, and thus provides consistent data flow between the processor and memory buses.
A semiconductor device designed to archive or amplify signals, thus creating a logic storage and manipulation circuit. The original transistor was developed by Bell Labs in 1947.
A measurement of a circuit’s electromotive force or potential difference.
A measurement of power required for the operation of a circuit.
(http://www.hmonitor.com) is a real-time hardware monitoring application for systems featuring thermal and fan-speed sensors. Hmonitor allows for active monitoring. It can also alert users to potential problems associated with excessive heat generated through overclocking.
(http://www.voodoofiles.com/250) is an advanced application designed to interface with the front-side bus clock controller from within Windows. SoftFSB is a valuable tool for obtaining maximized overclocking of today’s most popular platforms.
(http://www.h-oda.com) is a freeware application developed to analyze and display detailed information for current-generation processors and chipsets.
(http://www.cpuid.com) is a freeware application that can provide information about most current processors. Categories of information include the following: processor name, vendor, core stepping, packaging, core voltage, internal clocks, external clocks, overclock detection, processing features, cache architecture, and other motherboard information.
(http://www.madonion.com) is the most popular 3D graphics benchmark available today. 3DMark offers effective system testing in both traditional and overclocked environments. The 3DMark 2000 v1.1 is designed for DirectX 7 graphics accelerators, while the 3DMark 2001 is best suited for DirectX 8.1- compatible video cards.
(http://www.sisoftware.co.uk) offers effective benchmarking and diagnosis for a multitude of system components. SANDRA is available in multiple versions, though the freeware edition offers all the benchmarking modules required to analyze overclocking performance returns and system stability.
Ziff Davis WinBench
(http://www.etestinglabs.com) is a popular benchmark suite designed to test the graphics, video, and disk subsystems under all versions of the Windows operating system. The latest version was released in July 2001, but the highly optimized WinBench99 still provides a superior testing interface compared to competing applications.
(http://mbm.livewiredev.com) is a popular Windows system tray utility that will display information from your motherboard’s sensor chip. Details such as fan speeds, processor and motherboard temperatures, and voltage, are displayed to the user. It is a good way to monitor your system and improve your tweaking and troubleshooting capabilities.
(http://www.tufftest.com/OnlineResources) offers great diagnostic capabilities. It will help you assess any potential stability problems incurred through overclocking. TuffTEST builds a self-booting disk that requires no external operating system. As a result, this highly effective testing suite can be deployed across all ranges of x86 computing systems.
(http://www.techimo.com) is the premier online community in which to discuss all aspects of computing technology. TechIMO consists of an informative group of 60,000+ users who are capable of answering even the most challenging of troubleshooting or overclocking questions.
(http://www.sandpile.org) is an extensive resource for those interested in the technical aspects of nearly any x86 computing platform. Sandpile is updated regularly to ensure that it contains the best-quality information.
(http://www.aceshardware.com) offers a superb mix of both professional and enthusiast computing information. Common topics include the presentation and discussion of new computing technology.
(http://www.google.com) is hands down the best search engine on the web. Those who operate other search engines spend their days trying to figure out how to be as good as Google. Google also acquired Deja news, the Usenet newsgroup archiving service, and they archive new newsgroup postings as well. Whenever you have a question, go to Google, click on the Groups tab, and search. You will very likely find threads discussing and solving your question.
(http://www.hardocp.com) Kyle Bennett tells it like it is. Read no nonsense reviews of the latest hardware, get timely news and references to performance and overclocking related articles from all around the web, and participate in active discussion forums.
(http://www.overclockers.com) features timely overclocking related hardware reviews and a great overclocking survey database where users submit their own overclocking results. Use the overclocking database to see how well your CPU type/speed has been overclocked by other users.
(http://www.anandtech.com) features the very latest hardware reviews. The message board (http://forums.anandtech.com) has many useful forums, with the Hot Deals forum being this author’s favorite.
TechTV’s “The ScreenSavers”
(http://www.thescreensavers.com) is a live daily television show hosted by Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton, that covers hardware, overclocking, and various technology subjects. The show is a lot of fun and is highly recommended for overclocking enthusiasts. It is broadcast live from San Francisco every weekday at 4pm Pacific Time, on DirectTV Channel 354, Dish Network Channel 191, and a wide variety of cable networks.
Cooling and Overclocking Specialty Retailers
Be sure to research these retailers at ResellerRatings.com before you buy: 1COOLPC
(http://www.1coolpc.com) offers fans for all CPU types, rounded cables, water cooling kits, lights and window mods, thermal compound, video card coolers.
(http://www.pcmods.com) offers cases and case accessories, fans and fan accessories, lights and window mod kits, control and monitoring devices, hard drive coolers, noise reduction and sound absorption products.
(http://www.highspeedpc.com) offers water cooling kits, quiet power supplies, Athlon XP multiplier unlocking kit, high performance fans, pre-tested high- speed DDR memory, case windows, lights and LCD mods.
(http://www.3dcool.com) offers CPU, laptop, and monitor (display) coolers, chipset fans, hard drive fans, RAM fans, silent fans, cases (clear and aluminum), temperature monitors, round cables.