Principles of Overclocking

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There’s an unfortunate article entitled Has AMD Castrated Overclocking? out there.

In one sense, it is unfortunate because the author doesn’t seem to know many of the core principles of overclocking.

It is more unfortunate because the underlying attitudes and beliefs behind the statements are so common these days. I’m not out to pick on the person because of what he said, but I’m using this as an example to show how to approach overclocking better.

Overclocking: A Thinking Man’s Game

A large (and I think growing) percentage of overclockers react to theory and thinking like a rabid dog reacts to water. They don’t want to hear it; they want to do it.

To them, trial and error is the only way to learn. Sorry, but that’s the only way dumb people learn.

Sometimes, trial-and-error is unavoidable (fine-tuning a particular machine is an example of this), but it is always better to learn from the experiences of others first pretty much for the same reason it is better to learn from the experiences of bridge-jumpers to learn about the effects of gravity.

There are two reasons why people of otherwise normal intelligence are dumb about this. There is ignorance (people just don’t know) and there is stupidity (people just don’t want to know; stupidity is just ignorance with attitude).

The reality is overclocking is governed by certain general principles. It’s much like gravity; it works on you whether you know about them or not.

The key to intelligent overclocking is to see how the general principles apply to a particular situation. This requires somebody doing some thinking about it to establish very general parameters, then somebody doing some testing to verify the thinking and see more precisely how the general principles apply.

But you can’t apply principles to a situation unless you know them. If you don’t know them, everything is a surprise, including many things that ought not to be.

Principles of Overclocking

Here are the basic core principles behind overclocking:

  • CPU manufacturers make their products using technologies that have certain inherent limitations governed by physical laws. When those limitations are reached, it is time for new technologies.
  • The maximum potential of a particular technology is rarely reached the first time it is tried. As time goes on, tweaks are made to the technology so that it can reach its maximum potential. However, no particular set of technologies can be tweaked indefinitely. Once a certain point is reached, further significant improvement becomes impossible, and further advancement requires new technologies.
  • To ensure a negligible percentage of product failures, CPU manufacturers aim towards making the vast majority of their CPUs capable of running under normal working conditions at speeds which are near, at, or above their highest rated CPU. They don’t always succeed in this, but that is their goal, which they usually make sooner or later.
  • CPU manufacturers generally rate most of their CPUs at speeds which are somewhat to considerably lower than the CPUs maximum potential speed. Generally, the lower the rated speed for a certain technology, the higher the potential overclock.
  • The level at which a CPU can operate can be modified to some degree by changes in its working or physical environment. Modest changes usually yield modest results. Major changes can yield bigger results, at the price of much bigger effort/cost.

    Taking What The Defense Gives You

    This may bruise some egos, but most typical overclocking gains are just a matter of taking what the defense gives you. In this case, both Intel and AMD generally sell at least some processors that can run significantly faster than the speed at which they are rated. That’s what the “defense” gives you, and that’s what overclockers exploit.

    Most normal overclocking gains (especially big ones) have nothing to do with anything you do to the CPU.

    Outside of extreme environmental changes (i.e., freezing), user changes almost always have a limited impact on performance. They aren’t often insignificant, but they are rarely major.

    Therefore, intelligent overclocking is 80% or more think-work. You read the intelligence reports and the results the scouts hand in, you pick your spot where the defense is weakest, and you go for it.

    That’s where you should put in most of your effort. That’s the part for which you deserve credit.

    If you don’t do that, your success or failure depends on whether anyone you listened to was part of the chain leading to somebody who did do the work, or just dumb luck or lack thereof (they call it that for a reason, you know).

    Let’s take these principles and apply them to the article and see what we learn.

    Applying Principles, Part I…

    The Delusion of Percentages…

  • Percentage Does Not Equal Personal Achievement…

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