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Overclocking shifts from hobby to profession

Analysis Fugger, Kingpin, Shamino are not just ubergeeks anymore
Wed Feb 06 2008, 16:00

OVERCLOCKING a high-end computer is, in a way, like speed-tuning an already fast car. In both cases, you'd go for pushing up top models, rather than, say, speeding up a Pentium III - or a Yugo - these days.

Both activities involve a tremendous amount of adjustments to both the engines, the surrounding hardware and to the, well, control system. Cooling a CPU has become as sophisticated, if not more, as cooling a twin-turbo V8 engine. And, both activities are, at least at the top end, getting prohibitively expensive for most 'general public'.

The only major differences are that computer tuning evolves muchfaster - as do computers, after all - and has somewhat less risk to one's life and limb. The chances of being scarred by pouring dry ice, or accidentally drinking a cup of LN2 instead of your Evian, or even getting fried by some loose electrical wire there, are lower than slamming yourself at 300+ km/h into a wall while trying to tame an uncontrollable overtuned petrol-laden beast.

But that 300+ km/h ride may get far more adrenalin pumping - got to admit that.

Ultimately, computer performance tuning had to move from garage hobby to a real profession, with "monetisation" potential, focused teams instead of lone geeks, custom tuner-system production, advertising, promotion and - finally - several board and PC system vendors investing big time on this.

Now, the biggies like HP and Dell having splurged big-time money on VoodooPC and Alienware - even OCZ has got hold of one, the Hypersonic brand, in the meantime - and smaller vendors like Biohazard and Vadim are in the game full swing.

Few of the "gurus" in this field are known by their real names. How many know the famous "Fugger" of xtremesystems.com as Charles Wirth? Not to mention Kingpin - sorry, k|ingp|n, and my fellow Singaporean Shamino?

Well, "Fugger" has moved up recently in the fame department - the last few IDFs featured him at the Intel CxO demos, unleashing the record speeds for Chipzilla's Penryn's - close to 6GHz on Yorkfield. Now, with some help from k|ingp|n, Fugger did the community proud by supercooling the Skulltrail to dual 5.5++ GHz! A nearly 180 GFLOPs peak performance system, even when counting 64-bit double precision FP.

Not bad at all for eight cores, even when you look at the size of the monster CPU blocks there - have a look at the pics when you click here .

So, as long as he keeps up breaking the records, Fugger can now count on pretty regular stage appearances with bigwigs and extra dosh from all that.

On the other hand, Shamino did a four-hour quick hop from Singapore to a suburb of Taipei to help giant Foxconn jumpstart its "Quantum Force" overclocking board operation. Aimed right at Asus' Republic Of Gamers series, Shamino's extreme tuning expertise influenced the upcoming BlackOps X48 series of Foxconn Quantum Force mobos, even down to ready accessories for LN2 or dry-ice cooling for the chipset.

So, it is a full time career now for Shamino - at least Taipei and Singapore speak the same Hokkien Chinese dialect, so uprooting shouldn't have posed a problem as long as he can skillfully avoid the erratic scooter drivers up there.

On the other had, Asus is moving a big chunk of its worldwide branded business operation to Singapore, so it might hire off the rest of Shamino's ex-team at VR-Zone to, uhh, boost its chances?

For the avid overclockers among our readers, there seem to be two main areas of expertise.

One basically supertunes the system to its absolute limits, combining all the best componentry, modded boards and LN2 cooling with super-duper elements. Combined with ungodly voltages, this allows them to run a given "stage demo" config at an extreme speed - say 6GHz is a target for Yorkfield - sufficiently long to pass all the (in)famous benchmark tests and take screenshots of the record scores. If possible, in front of the applauding audience, of course.

If, after that, the same system never wakes up again for some reason, it doesn't really matter. The fresh set of components will anyway be ready for the next stage show-off.

It delivers a good feel" of a given platform's utmost technology limits, or what it can achieve say two years down the line - so, the exercise is not futile. If you really know this stuff, you got a chance to shine for 15 minutes of fame.

The other approach is "consistent, sustainable performance enhancement". It's not nearly as glamorous as the first one, but, it combines all-round balanced system tuning from CPU, cooling, FSB, chipset, memory, graphics, I/O, power, all the BIOS options and so on, but targeted at sustained long-term system operation without major, if any, reliability sacrifice - yet with proven measurable performance jumps in real applications.

A balanced system matching the CPU speed jump with chipset, bus and memory speed increase, yet all within safe levels matched with proper cooling and power feed, could run fine for years, keep in mind.

The companies mentioned above made their dosh this way, and many others can do the same within their niche. An avid sustainable system tuner could have an actual long-term job here - whatever "long term" means in IT.

So, if you love this stuff, know it, and do it in practice, with scratched fingers and all that - don't be shy, give it a go! The big guys are - finally - making it a career too. µ

 

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