Let Them In

Overclocking has been around just about as long as the PC, maybe even before then.

For most of this time, it’s either been rather difficult or not very rewarding. Even when it’s been relatively easy/rewarding, it was relatively difficult to find out about it.

This has not been the case the last two-and-a-half years. The combination of highly overclockable chips and the Internet have turned overclocking from an black art to a mainstream hobbyist activity.

This is the Golden Age of Overclocking. These are the good old days.

Difficulty Is Not A Virtue

You don’t need to learn a whole lot anymore to get most of the benefits of overclocking. Look around a little bit at some of the hundreds if not thousands of places that now constitute an overclockers’ infrastructure for information, figure out what to buy, buy it, put it together.

If you bought wisely, and have realistic expectations, a substantial overclock will work most of the time.

This is not a bad thing.

Those of you who wish to go further certainly can, and make it as tough as you like. You certainly can go a whole lot further now than you could two or three years ago.

Never mind things like water-cooling or Peltiers or total immersion, you likely cool your video card with a much better fan/heatsink than you could have bought for your CPU a few years ago.

Them’s Gold In Them Thar Hills

Why do you think we’ve had all these advancements?


You get a lot of people interested in buying something, you get people interested in making it.

Do you think Abit came up with all sorts of overclocking enhancements just to give their engineers something to do? No! They saw they could make money doing it, and they were right.

All kinds of companies, from an Abit to an Alpha or GlobalWin or Leufken to the programmmer writing a video card overclocking program, are doing these things largely, mostly, or entirely due to the emergence of the overclocker’s hobbyist industry.

Were they doing it five or ten years ago? Hardly. Why not? The people weren’t there, so the money wasn’t there. If the people go away, so does the money, and then back to the bad old days.

A Newbie Is Anybody Who Came After Me

Do me a favor, one question poll: How long have you been overclocking? If you could.

I bet most of you haven’t been doing it for five years. I haven’t. Joe Citarella hasn’t. I don’t think the rest of us at overclockers.com have. The vast majority of those running websites right now haven’t, even those who were adults five years ago.

How about ten years? Not even Tom Pabst makes that cut, his first overclocked machine was in 1993.

Maybe more to the point, let’s say you’ve been overclocking since the crystal-changing days. How applicable are the overclocking skills you learned back then today? How often do you get to use them? How much of an edge does that give you in overclocking a Duron?

When Experience Doesn’t Count

Mr. Pabst wrote a book on overclocking less than two years ago. How many of you would buy that book today? Why not? It’s outdated? But it’s only two years old, it’s practically new.

There are many fields of human endeavor where long experience is valuable. This sure isn’t one of them.

Maybe 80% of what I use for overclocking I learned within the past year. Over 80% of what I knew two years ago is useless for anything except fixing old machines and instant nostalgia.

You can’t worship experience under these conditions.

If Mr. Pabst had walked away from overclocking after finishing his book in 1998, and came back today with just the knowledge he had up to 1998; he (and anyone else) would be pretty useless, wouldn’t he?

When experience helps competence, then it matters. When it doesn’t; it doesn’t.

Born-again newbies

Unlike virginity, newbie status can come back. You don’t have to do anything to get it back; doing nothing is just how you get it back.

There are no permanent veterans; just like there are no permanent hard bodies. You have to keep working out to keep in shape.

Newbies Pay The Bills

Sure, there are plenty of people out there who don’t know what they are doing. But no matter how bad any of them are, they all do one thing that benefits you.

They move money.

Mostly, they do this by spending their own. They buy a big chunk of equipment and create a much bigger market. They may waste a lot of money is the process, but it’s theirs, not yours. If somebody buys a Duron, an 815 board and RDRAM and tries to put it together, how does that hurt you?

By increasing the market, they save you money. Due to them, there are products out there that wouldn’t exist if they didn’t, and others that nonethless would would probably cost you more.

You wouldn’t have the overclocking infrastructure you have now if lots of people weren’t looking for answers. A hit or impression count doesn’t ask “Are you worthy to receive this?”

If some resellers cater to less-knowledgable people, so what? It’s not medical school.

Easier access just encourages more people to get involved. More people, more money to attract more and better product and more competition that brings lower cost and more information.

You Are Not Worthy Of A 7-11

There’s a price you pay for overclocking, and you can pay it one of two ways: with money, or with time/risk.

You’re hungry. You want a hot dog. You can do one of three things.

  1. You can check one, two or many supermarket ads, get in your car, drive a bit, and buy a package of hot dogs, drive back, and cook them. You get the cheapest price, but you have to drive a while, and spend more time preparing it.
  2. You can go a short distance to a 7-11, and buy a package of hot dogs there. You’ll pay more, but drive less and get them quicker.

  3. Or you can go to the 7-11 and just buy a grilled hot dog. That costs a lot more, but you don’t have to prepare anything and can eat it right away.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve done all three, and don’t think my life would improve if I had fewer choices.

It’s the same with computer equipment. I’ve bought over the Internet. I’ve bought at computer fairs. I’ve bought at neighborhood stores. I’ve bought packages from resellers. Different conditions, different pricing.

If I choose to do my own scrounging around rather than pay somebody to do it for me, that’s my choice. But I wouldn’t feel any better if I didn’t have that option. In all honesty, from a strictly economic standpoint, I’m not valuing my time too greatly.

However, it’s not just dollars and cents. I often like the sense of adventure and satifaction of figuring out the puzzle and finishing it without outside help. That’s not for everybody, and that’s fine. Nor do I think it’s unreasonable for someone who takes chances and does my dirty work for me to charge for it, anymore than I mind 7-11 charging me a lot more for a cooked hot dog than the cost of the frankfurter and bun. Service is never free, and if I pay nothing for it, that’s about all I’ll get.

I myself have been in situations where I needed a sure thing, and was quite willing to pay extra for it, just like that cooked hot dog at 7-11.

The Empire Strikes Back

The argument I hear against convenience resellers is that by being too visible and too popular, they invite rack and ruin upon us all.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the argument; I doubt the reality.

I’m sure Intel and AMD do get annoyed by these folks. If the vast majority of overclockers did in fact use these services, and the vast majority of those would never overclock if those services were not available, this could be a good point.

However, that’s not the case. Based on the survey work I’ve done, plus looking at forums and newsgroups; I doubt even half the overclockers go for convenience. My best guess is that about a third do. That leaves the do-it-yourselfers as twice the problem the resellers present.

If you were an executive from either company thinking that overclocking loses your company money, what would you look at: one-third of the problem, or all of it? The resellers are a great whipping boy to show the brain-dead media, but if you don’t even protect your chips against remarking by adding a little microcode, how serious are you?

Do you think any AMD or Intel executive associated with CPU manufacture is completely unaware of overclocking, or thinks that only these resellers do it? Do you think they’d get amnesia about overclocking if the resellers vanished tomorrow? No, most of the “problem” would still be there.

If the FDA decided hot dogs were bad for you; would they just ban sales at 7-11? Would you blame 7-11 or all those hot dog guys on all those corners for being too popular and visible? Do you think the FDA would never have noticed hot dogs were bad if people just bought them under the counter in the supermarket and secretly ate them with the curtains drawn?

There’s no doubt in my mind that overclocking is a self-limiting phenomenon. The day CompUSA starts openly selling overclocked machines is the day Intel and AMD start a crash program to stop it. We are nowhere near that day, and I doubt we’ll ever be.

Nor do we have to worry about the vast majority of people ever becoming involved with it.

Most people are scared of their computers. It’s an irksome tool, an expensive, badly behaved servant that gives them a lot of grief. Do you think the average person is going to look for more trouble?

People overclock for two reasons. Either they like the challenge, and/or they can’t afford to pay for the machine they’d otherwise like to have. In neither case are they likely to spend more than they already are.

If you take away the challenge or make it too challenging, those people will find something else to do, and at most will pay more less often. Those who can’t afford more will settle for less.

You have two possibilities.

1. Either AMD and Intel know that, and do just enough to make overclocking difficult enough to deter the average person and keep the “problem” contained or

2. Some executive is going to think otherwise and manage to take real action against overclocking in general, solely on the basis of estimated (and probably wildly inflated) revenue loss, and that’s not something we’re going to be able to influence by buying or not buying packages.

Reversing the Movie

The introduction of the cacheless Celeron started the process of mass cheap overclocking. The cached Celeron accelerated that. While growth and interest are not as explosive as they were in 1998-99, we are certainly much better off than we were before then., and because more people
are involved and interested, and because companies know there’s money to be made, we are better equipped to handle any challenges than we were a few years back.

It’s always conceivable that AMD or Intel or both will try to squash us, but the more people and money with an interest in not seeing this quashed, the better off we are. Even if you wouldn’t trust half the army with your computer. 🙂

But should overclocking get walloped, that should not be good news to anyone, no matter how skilled. Either you’ll just take longer to die, or you’ll be living in some Dark Age squalor working a lot harder to get a lot less result.

If the newbies go away, fewer companies will make overclocking products, and one bottleneck in the wrong place can stop you cold. Far fewer people visiting overclocking websites means far fewer overclocking websites, and far sparser ones at that.

I suspect that no matter what, one will be able to overclock one way or the another. It’ll just be more expensive, far harder, and less productive. Besides, if only the hardest of the hardcore remain, who’s left to be impressed by your feats?

You might be one of the few survivors the overclocking equivalent of nuclear war, but that’s hardly a good way to make it an exclusive club. Hardly something to look forward to.

Email Ed

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