While this book covers most of what you are likely to face when overclocking, the techniques involved can change as new computing architectures appear and technology evolves. Thankfully, the x86 architecture itself imposes some restrictions, which will allow the information here to be used across a wide range of both current and future systems. While each new design introduces additional performance features, overclocking concepts remain relatively similar for all x86 platforms.
Overclocking grows out of qualities inherent in the manufacturing of integrated circuit products. Manufacturers choose to market microprocessors at various speed grades,
effectively holding back any given processor from its maximum potential. In turn, overclocking enthusiasts opt to push their systems as far as they can. They do this either because they want to extend the useful life of an existing system or because they want to purchase a slower rated and thus cheaper system and get more performance from it. The process of overclocking can also be addictive: some people thrive on the challenge of attaining maximum performance for the least amount of money.
The premise of overclocking is that it is possible to improve computing performance, either by raising the operating frequency of the primary processor-to-system bus on the motherboard or by remapping the internal clock multiplier of the processor. The methods involved may be different for each specific processor across the wide range of products offered by Intel, AMD, and VIA. The original idea remains the same for all platforms, but its application can vary wildly for each of the popular architectures.
Many secondary factors play key roles in reaching and maintaining peak operating speeds for an overclocked system. Proper thermal regulation, through the implementation of active and passive cooling technologies, builds the foundation for success. Problems can arise, however, even with the best configurations, so troubleshooting will almost certainly be necessary. Once overclocking has been attempted, benchmarking enables enthusiasts to analyze stability problems and measure positive performance returns.
Your Motherboard Won’t Let You Overclock?
If your motherboard doesn’t support enough (or any) FSB settings or multiplier changes, fear not. Most motherboard manufacturers provide BIOS upgrades that may add new features and BIOS Setup options. Also be sure to try third-party software options such as SoftFSB (discussed in the Appendix) to alter front-side bus speeds from within Windows. Finally, replacing your motherboard in order to gain more overclocking options is a viable choice, and can be done for as little as $50. If you do buy a new motherboard, be sure that it supports all of your existing hardware.
Now You Know How, But Should You Do It?
Overclocking appeals to a wide variety of PC users, but it is not for everyone. If you are easily frustrated by problems with your PC, troubleshooting is an annoyance for you, or you frequently rely on others to help resolve issues with your PC, overclocking can only complicate your life. But if you enjoy (or at least tolerate) troubleshooting and tweaking, and the idea of getting a faster system for practically no extra money sounds pretty slick, consider overclocking as a viable means to an end. It might even become a hobby.
You should begin your experimentation on an extra PC, rather than on your main system. Even if you don’t maintain the only copy of a Fortune 100 company’s financial records on your main box, you probably don’t want to lose data or deal with the frustration of not having a functional and reliable main PC when you need it.
Remember, back up everything!
What to Do with the Extra Performance
You will undoubtedly be happy with quicker application response times or higher frame rates in games, but why let the extra performance go to waste when you’re not using your PC? Distributed computing projects are popular as a way to solve complex or CPU-intensive problems using the power of PCs around the world.
Projects to find cures for cancer, crack encryption, unlock the secrets of our genetic code, and identify drugs to fight anthrax and smallpox, are just a few of the distributed computing projects out there. What makes these projects irresistible is the fact that they track your PC’s number-crunching power and total contribution to the overall effort, so you can see how your PC, or group of PCs, stacks up against others.
Performance junkies can even join teams of users running the same distributed computing effort, combining their forces and engaging in friendly competition against other teams. The teams work toward achieving the project’s goal and earn bragging rights as a bonus. Learn about six popular distributed computing projects, which can put your new higher-performing PC to work when you’re not using it, at http://www.techimo.com/teams.html.
Be warned, however: because distributed computing projects keep your CPU running at 100% effort around the clock, stability problems are more likely to surface. That can be a good thing if you want to find problems and eliminate them, but it can also be annoying if you’re happy with your PC’s new level of performance and you don’t intend to do any further tweaking.
Whether you have decided to buy slower hardware and overclock it, or bite the bullet and pay for speed up front, it’s always worthwhile to find good deals and reliable retailers. Although local shops might have decent sales from time to time, on the whole, online shopping will provide the best prices on hardware components.
A site called ResellerRatings (http://www.resellerratings.com), which is owned and maintained by the author of this book, lets you search thousands of online retailers to find the best hardware prices, and then browse customer reviews of retailers to protect you from poor service. Some other price search engines have company ratings as well, but those sites are in the business of providing price searches, not company ratings, and they do not go the extra mile to ensure the integrity and authenticity of the customer reviews of companies to nearly the same degree as ResellerRatings. If you use other price search sites such as iBuyer.net (http://www.ibuyer.net), PriceWatch (http://www.pricewatch.com), PriceGrabber (http://www.pricegrabber.com), or CostUpdate (http://www.costupdate.com) to compare results, be sure to use ResellerRatings.com to evaluate unfamiliar retailers. Once you have made a purchase, help other shoppers by leaving your feedback on the site as well.
BizRate (http://www.bizrate.com) is another site that features ratings and reviews of online retailers. However, BizRate only features 450 or so computer hardware
retailers. It is also unclear to this author as to what steps BizRate takes to prevent fraudulent evaluations. Still, the site offers one more resource for your arsenal, especially when coupled with ResellerRatings and various other price search sites.
The AnandTech “Hot Deals” forum, accessible at http://forums.anandtech.com, is another way to find good prices online. As its name implies, this forum is filled with the latest online hardware deals.
Although I do not advocate that you buy from one retailer or another, and that you make full use of price search sites and ResellerRatings before you buy, NewEgg (http://www.newegg.com) has a user reviews feature on its site that you may find useful. It enables customers to submit reviews and ratings for various products, which are helpful when deciding which products to buy. Often, users comment about the overclockability of a motherboard or other product, as well.
Exclusion of Liability
Overclocking should prove a positive experience for PC enthusiasts. However, problems can arise when you deviate from the processor manufacturer’s original specifications. Overclocking voids product warranties, so take great care at all stages of the process. Monitor an overclocked system carefully, even if it appears to be stable and functioning properly.
Overclocking is the entire responsibility of the user who actually implements the techniques and information offered in this text and its supplementary resources. Manufacturers offering product warranties for components within an overclocked system are not responsible for any damages suffered, regardless of whether product failure or damage is either directly or indirectly associated with overclocking. Invoking warranties or agreements for components in an overclocked system is an ethical issue. Common sense and law require the user to assume all liability for any part, hardware or software, used in conjunction with overclocking.
All parties involved in the development, production, or sale of this text disclaim any and all liability for problems that may result from the knowledge you gain from The Book of Overclocking.
Beware: It’s Addictive
Once we have achieved a goal in life, it never seems to be enough, so we adopt a greater goal. The same is true for overclocking. Once you become adept at it, you may find yourself perpetually tweaking your PC, always seeking the smallest performance increase, temperature reduction, or improvement in stability. What started as a desire to save a few bucks and keep from upgrading can turn into a pricey, time-consuming, endless pursuit. Your dollars can disappear into cooling components and case modifications. And you may find yourself spending too many hours on the web discussing the search for maximum performance.
Not to worry, though, you’re in good company. Sites like techimo.com (http://www.techimo.com), HardOCP.com (http://www.hardocp.com), Overclockers.com (http://www.overclockers.com) and AnandTech.com
(http://forums.anandtech.com) provide support for your new habit, and can help all skill levels with the overclocking process. These community-oriented sites allow a free exchange of ideas about computing on any topic—from daily operations to troubleshooting to overclocking and beyond. Answers to your tough overclocking questions are never more than a mouse click away.