Overclockers Unite!

The new Sandy Bridge E (Enthusiast) processors are a gamer’s delight. With the new LGA2011 socket and X79 chipset, Intel Sandy Bridge-E series processors come with enhanced performance overclocking support. But is it worth the money?

First, let’s answer the question – of course it is! Overclocking is both an art and a science. Done most frequently by hard-core gamers, overclocking is but one of several techniques used to squeeze the ultimate in performance out of a system. An extra iota of system speed can mean the difference between life and death in an expansive big-team multi-player Battlefield 3 encounter. And when it comes down to getting on the Leaderboard for ASRock’s Overclock King (http://www.asrock.com/microsite/oc/page_Leaderboard.html), with its $3,000 prize, well, you’d better know how to overclock.

Perhaps because pushing the envelope of technology is part of what makes gaming fun, overclocking has almost a “renegade” reputation. ASUSTeK’s Republic of Gamers site (rog.asus.com) has some great technical tips on leading-edge performance; check out the video The Spirit of Overclocking on their main page for a hilarious look at liquid nitrogen cooling. Also a very good technical reference is the Overclocking Guide here: http://www.overclock.net/t/1189242/sandy-bridge-e-overclocking-guide-walk-through-explanations-and-support-for-all-x79-overclockers.

In addition to the above, motherboards and systems ideally suited to overclocking are available from companies as diverse as Gigabyte, EVGA, Alienware, and Overclockers UK (http://www.overclockers.co.uk/index.php). With video game sales surpassing movie theatre ticket sales, this is big business.

But, despite all of the interest in overclocking, there seems to be little literature in the industry that covers what I consider to be a hugely gating issue to system performance, which is I/O signal integrity on the motherboard. Take a look at the ASRock $3,000 Leaderboard again: http://www.asrock.com/microsite/oc/page_Leaderboard.html. Note that even though many of the systems have similar configurations, there’s a wide range of variation amongst their 3DMark 11 test scores. It’s likely that variations in DDR3, DMI, and PCI Express (PCIe) “tuning” account for much of the performance difference. These variations can exist between motherboard designs from different vendors, and in fact between different lots of motherboards from the same vendor. For more detail on this subject, check out my previous blog at https://blog.asset-intertech.com/test_data_out/2012/01/your-laptop-are-you-getting-what-you-paid-for.html and the Connect article http://www.asset-intertech.com/connect/2009Q3/PCB_variances_and_SerDes.htm.