Stone Cold Computing: a journey into overclocking

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Stone Cold Computing: a journey into overclocking
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With everything sealed the ‘Pot’ is mounted. A Pot is a (usually copper) tube designed with a heatsink base. This is what sits on the CPU and gets filled with liquid Nitrogen, the key to getting the really high processor speeds. Thermal paste is applied and then the Pot is screwed down. Then more toilet paper is wrapped to sap up condensation.

The next step is to fill up a bunch of thermos flasks with liquid nitrogen. The spreading cloud as it boils off into the air creeps across the floor becomes a common and spectacular sight over the course of the weekend. I’m then put on pour duty as SniperOz fires up his system. They are all using the same system image, which has been installed on a bunch of very fast Corsair Force GT SSDs. This makes the jump into Windows quite quick, which quickly becomes important as the process of tweaking BIOS settings, rebooting and then running a benchmark or two begins.

My job is to watch the multimeter, which is attached to a temperature probe mounted inside the Pot. Unlike Intel’s CPUs the FX doesn’t seem to have a cold bug, which makes the process of cooling the CPU straightforward. With a cold bug you need to manage the temperature, whereas after some initial tweaks we just drop it down to -170ish degrees.

 

You can see the multimeters in the foreground of this shot. They are hooked into temperature probes, in this case one multimeter is showing the CPU pot at -164 degrees, which the GPU pot is being kept at a more reasonable 30 degrees thanks to careful pouring.


This is new ground, so there is a degree of getting to know what the settings do before any serious tweaking begins. Everyone chips in with what they are working out. Flash drives get passed around with various bits and pieces of software essential to the almost ritualistic recording of each decent overclocking attempt.

Once the processor seems stable at a higher clockspeed then a run of 3DMark 2005 is done. After the third graphics test ends, they escape out and frame the result in the centre of the screen. Several copies of CPUZ are then opened, with each tab arranged in its own spot on the screen. A screenshot is taken, and the process begins again. This is the official way that results are submitted to competitive overclocking websites, which break down results in a myriad ways.

Because high end overclocking can be an expensive business, the community has developed an almost cricket-like approach to statistics. Getting the highest Wprime score isn’t the same as the highest 3DMark Vantage score, which isn’t the same as the highest 3DMark 05 score. There are also separate breakdowns between air and liquid Nitrogen overclocking, processor type and then a different subset entirely of graphics card scores.

What follows is a long afternoon of tweaking, interspersed with Pizza, warm soft drink and taking turns at telling a constant stream of Umart customers that the current shop is just up the road. A large chunk of time ends up being taken up trying to work out the intricacies of a piece of AMD engineering software designed to massage processor power states. With a combination of a wall of text readme files and trial and error deciphering of the raw hex values in the tools dropdown menus they eventually worked it out. This allowed them to push further, getting the processors comfortably over 5GHz, saving BIOS settings in preparation for the next day’s event.

By the end of the day the issue with Brisbane’s hot and humid weather was becoming apparent. No matter how much toilet paper was requisitioned on our journeys around Milton, the level of condensation on the systems was way higher than expected. A drop of water into an exposed component would likely kill a motherboard, which is never a good outcome.

Most of us will only ever overclock with automated settings, if we do at all. Unlike the early days of overclocking, the kind of performance benefits seen aren’t massive and tangible in day to day tasks. Mainstream CPUs are more than quick enough for the tasks they are set. Sub Zero overclocking in particular has become a sport, where tweaking skills and the ability to troubleshoot are key.

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This feature appeared in the Feb, 2012 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Copyright © PC & Tech Authority. All rights reserved.
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