We take a journey into the weird and wonderful world of sub zero overclocking
It is a sweltering day in the recently renovated Umart store in the Brisbane suburb of Milton. On January 11th last year the store, and neighbouring warehouse, were underwater, a victim of the massive floods that swept through the city. But the mud-soaked old stock had finally gone in a hugely popular flood sale, the new carpet had been just laid and the big empty space is now being taken over by overclockers for the weekend.
The two giant pressurised tanks of liquid nitrogen are a dead giveaway, as is the weird and wonderful assortment of things being done to computer components as I enter the store. The tinkering is largely preparatory, with the main event a workshop the next day for a bunch of Atomic magazine readers and Umart customers.
It is being run by TeamAU, a loose collective of the best overclockers in this part of the world. Four of them have made the journey for the event, SniperOz from Melbourne, YoungPro from Adelaide, Dinos22 from Sydney and Deanzo from Christchurch in New Zealand. For them this isn’t just a chance to impart a bit of knowledge on some budding overclockers, it is a chance to compare notes and catch up on each other’s gear and tweaks.
For them this weekend is also a learning experience. Most of them usually run a mix of Intel processors and Nvidia graphics cards. This weekend is sponsored by AMD and Gigabyte, who have provided the new Bulldozer-based processor, the FX-8150, as well as Radeon 6970 graphics cards. This means new territory and a different set of tweaks and voltages to play with in the pursuit of ever faster benchmark scores.
Only Dinos22 has much experience with this CPU. He recently flew to London to perform at a technology show, spending a week on a manufacturer’s stand demonstrating overclocking. That event ended with a world record of sorts, at the time the fastest CPU speed outside of AMD’s Guinness World Record-winning attempts. With a speed of 8150MHz, it was a record soon broken.
It is often the way with overclocking, which relies on a combination of skill and luck with hardware. Different chips have different breaking points, so as more processors get tested and overclocked, more records tumble. As this is often a direct result of the way in which the chips are made, processors tend to get better over time as minor revisions and bug fixes get implemented.
For this weekend there are four brand new CPUs to play with, so today is not only about testing skills, it is about seeing just how good these CPUs are. There is talk of some GPU overclocking as well, which has YoungPro carefully soldering wires and a potentiometer to the back of each graphics card. These additions are then fixed with a glue gun, keeping the fragile contacts in place.
Overclockers are often where our old review products go to die. As I watch Deanzo paint thermal grease all over his motherboard I see why the pecking order is so. In order to cope with the side effects of sub zero temperatures, the hardware all needs to be sealed against condensation. Deanzo swears by a specialist product that neither melts nor freezes, while the others tend to use vaseline to seal their hardware.
Once this procedure is done, with attention paid to the inside of the memory of PCI-Express slots, the board is covered in various materials designed to prevent or soak up condensation. It isn’t as high tech as it sounds. These guys go through a lot of paper towel and toilet paper, which gets stuffed between PCI-E and memory slots. The areas around the CPU get covered in foam tape or something similar (I’m pretty sure I saw Blu-tack and Gaffa tape used at one point).