Everyone understands the potential for increased productivity or enhanced entertainment afforded through computers, but most users often view the technologies and hardware driving the phenomenal demand for desktop computers as “behind the scenes” components. Indeed, computers are often regarded as mysterious or even troublesome devices. A significant number of computer users do not understand the workings of a computer system’s internal hardware beyond the minimal basics.
This lack of knowledge is often a byproduct of the computer industry itself. Technology follows a consistent evolutionary path, with the arrival of new architectures and platforms every 6 to 12 months. The backlash of this process is the users’ inherent belief that systems are outdated as soon as they are purchased. This neverending cycle fuels the computer technology industry, thus leading to ever increasing costs associated with upgrades, or even complete system replacement.
The upgrade cycle forces computer users into a price-concentric upgrade path based on what the industry wants the user to believe, thus leading to the increased demand for upgrades or system purchases. This model does not benefit the end user, as hardware costs are increasing at an exponential rate for those hoping to keep pace with the public relations hype generated by the industry. (The impact of the current industry model is not meant to be negative or malicious toward the end user; it is simply the marketing approach being adopted in nearly all industries these days.)
In order to sustain their business models, many corporations within the computer industry often prey upon the fact that the vast majority of end users have limited hardware knowledge. The Book of Overclocking dispels the myths surrounding the politics of the technology business and fully equips you with a cost-effective alternative to upgrading by extending the life of your current hardware while increasing your satisfaction with your existing PC’s level of performance. Why purchase expensive upgrades when increasing your current PC processor’s clock speed could be the key to realizing your desired level of performance?
Current Industry Players
Many computing enthusiasts choose not to conform to the tech industry’s upgrade path propaganda by implementing overclocking techniques. Overclocking is the process of increasing the speed or clock frequencies of devices, such as processors, beyond their factory defaults.
Our primary concern in this book is with extending the processor (CPU) clock speed and examining the intricate relation it has with the computer system’s other components. The procedures involved with the overclocking process can vary according to different system architectures, but the basic concepts remain essentially the same. We’ll focus on desktop personal computing, with the IBM compatible being the dominant market player.
The term IBM compatible has undergone a radical departure from the early days of desktop computing, but the fundamental concepts behind the technology remain
essentially the same. The entire range of desktop systems once designated under the blanket umbrella of IBM compatibility can now be referenced to the base architecture being utilized, in this case, “x86,” a derivative of the naming process applied to system architectures from the original 8086 in the early 1980s through the release of the 80486 nearly a decade later. While different manufacturers and developers have adopted various naming strategies to increase market differentiation, all current so-called IBM-compatible desktop platforms remain nothing more than extensions to the x86 core processor architecture.
The market has witnessed the rise and fall of a variety of processor manufacturers over the years. The three remaining x86 market players are Intel Corporation, Advanced Micro Designs (AMD), and VIA Technologies, and their major product offerings are listed in Table 1-1.
Table 1-1: Major Processor Manufacturers and Product Offerings
Manufacturer Architecture MHz Rating
Intel Corporation Pentium 60 – 200 MHz Pentium MMX 133 – 233 MHz
Pentium Pro 150 – 200 MHz
Pentium II 233 – 450 MHz
Celeron 233 – 333 MHz
Celeron A 300 – 533 MHz Pentium III Katmai 450 – 600 MHz
Pentium III Coppermine
500 – 1133 MHz
Celeron II 533 – 1100 MHz Pentium III Tualatin 1100+ MHz Celeron Hybrid 1200+ MHz Pentium 4 Willamette 1300 – 2000
Pentium 4 Northwood 1600 – 3000+
Pentium Xeon All Pentium Ranges
Advanced Micro Designs K5 75 – 117 MHz
K6 166 – 300 MHz
K6-2 266 – 550 MHz
K6-3 350 – 450 MHz
K6-2/3+ 450 – 550 MHz
Athlon K7 500 – 700 MHz
Athlon K75 550 – 1000 MHz
Athlon Thunderbird 600 – 1400 MHz
Table 1-1: Major Processor Manufacturers and Product Offerings
Manufacturer Architecture MHz Rating
VIA Technologies/Cyrix/National Semiconductor
Athlon Duron 600 – 950 MHz
Athlon 4/MP 1200 – 1400+ MHz
Athlon Duron Morgan 1000+ MHz Athlon XP 1333+ MHz
686 M1 80 – 150 MHz
686MX M2 133 – 300 MHz
Cyrix III 350 – 450 MHz
VIA C3 533 – 933+ MHz
Intel remains the dominant player across all ranges of the desktop computing marketplace, and has retained its significant market share ever since the first implementation of its 8086 processor within IBM’s earliest x86 desktop computing systems. The architectures driving competition from other manufacturers are extensions to technologies pioneered by Intel over the past 30 years.
The Pentium 4 represents Intel’s current flagship platform. The Pentium 4 platform is based on a radical departure from its earlier P6 architectures, though binary compatibility is maintained with nearly all 32-bit x86 programming code. The older P6 core technology is still represented through Intel’s active support and manufacturing of the Pentium III and Celeron microprocessors.
AMD has rapidly gained market share over the past decade due to its superb architectural designs and dedication to cost efficiency. This increased competition is a welcome addition to the computer markets, as AMD can effectively influence the pricing strategies across the entire microprocessor market, thus leading to decreases in end-user pricing due to increased competition for Intel’s product offerings.
AMD’s core business model is based around the Athlon series microprocessor, which has undergone a multitude of revisions since its first inception just a few years ago.
The Athlon remains the most efficient x86 architecture currently available in terms of raw per-MHz performance, regardless of the marketing hype and paranoia generated by competing manufacturers. The current AthlonXP, AMD’s flagship product series, represents a pinnacle of x86 computing not even conceptualized just a decade ago.
Once popular processor favorites like National Semiconductor’s Cyrix and IDT Centaur’s WinChip are now only memories, though both of these corporations still live on through acquisitions by the Taiwanese technology giant VIA Technologies. VIA has resurrected the technologies from these manufacturers with its C3 series of processors. The C3 is a relatively underpowered chip compared to competing entry-
level designs, though its architecture does offer a good performance to price ratio for users interested only in basic desktop applications.
Other manufactures have come and gone, but their processors have been only of mild interest to most end users, so we won’t discuss them here specifically. Still, the techniques we’ll address are often applicable to additional architectures not directly covered because most X86 platforms are similar. Older processors often overclock like their later siblings, the only difference being the operating speeds and other architectural values.
Topicalities to Be Presented
Your path to understanding overclocking begins with a view of today’s market in Chapter 2. This background information explains how you can use overclocking to offset the increasing costs of computing. We’ll do a cost analysis of common overclocking scenarios versus the actual monetary cost of both purchasing a prebuilt PC and upgrading individual hardware components, so that you can better appreciate the fundamental benefits of overclocking.
Chapters 3 and 4 provide the concepts that create the foundation of overclocking. We’ll cover the basic techniques and ideas required to attain a successful overclock without concentrating on platform-specific data.
Chapter 5 covers perhaps the most important factor in attaining a successful overclock: cooling. Proper thermal regulation of both the microprocessor and the entire system is required to maintain stability at extended operating speeds, especially as the latest 1+ GHz architectures push the envelope in terms of extreme heat generation. The overclocking of a processor without proper cooling is tempting fate, as this is the leading cause of component failure when pushing systems beyond their factory defaults.
Chapters 6 through 8 offer extended information about each of the latest platforms from the three primary manufacturers: AMD, Intel, and VIA. Topics include platform specifics and detailed information about the latest generations of processors. We’ll cover background information, architectural data, operating speeds, and detailed overclocking procedures for all current, popular platforms.
Chapter 9 tackles troubleshooting, which is often required to diagnose potential instabilities or device failures within an overclocked computing system. Overclocking increases the possibility of instability because it places additional stress on the various system components. The majority of problems arise from mismatches in the communication rates between each of the PC’s components.
Chapter 10 discusses benchmarking applications and procedures, the ability to assess the performance return offered by overclocking. We’ll look at the intricate testing and analysis of system performance at all component levels with a balance of both synthetic and real-world benchmarking routines. A complete system benchmark
testing process can also offer you the ability to determine the proper mixture of various overclocking procedures for maximum performance.
Chapter 11 offers advice on whether or not you should overclock once you know how, as well as smart shopping tips, and what to do with your PC’s increased performance. Just because you know how to overclock, doesn’t mean that it’s right for you, since overclocking can increase system instabilities and the potential for data loss. And of course, it may make more sense for you to buy cheap and fast components rather than overclock your existing hardware, so the smart shopping tips section will help you find the lowest prices on quality hardware from the best retailers.
The Appendix answers your most frequently asked overclocking-related questions, defines terms, and provides a list of resources where you can further advance your knowledge and overclocking skills. You will also find a list of software applications to help you diagnose, benchmark, and overclock your PC. Several retailers are listed that provide overclocking equipment such as water coolers, fans, Athlon unlocking kits, and PC cases.