Overclocking Ground Rules

Overclocking is a very big subject, so we really need to define where our Overclocking Guide is heading. We do not believe, at present, that AnandTech readers really want Buyer's Guides for phase-change cooling, water cooling, and other cooling techniques that change by the minute and are used in high-end overclocking. Instead, we have decided to concentrate on the best components that you can buy for overclocking on air with a decent Heat Sink/Fan (HSF). This could change in the future if other cooling techniques go mainstream, but for now, our Overclocking Guide will recommend components for an air-cooled system. Of course, if you do use water or phase-change, or other exotic cooling solutions, you could get even better performance from the components that we will recommend.

While board mods are also common in high-end overclocking - to extend memory voltage in particular - we will not be recommending board mods that will void your warranty. If we know of a board mod that is commonly used, we might mention it, but that is not the purpose of the AnandTech Overclocking Buyer's Guide. We will be recommending components that you can buy, which have proven to provide significant overclocking capabilities at stock.

If you are interesting in finding out more about the extreme end, there are plenty of places on the web that cater to extreme overclockers, with widely varying degrees of success. You can go to sites like the Forum at www.xtremesystems.org and see comments from names like Macci, OPPainter or Fugger who appear routinely at the top of the charts for 3Dmark and Aquamark3. You'll find discussions of phase-change cooling and maybe even liquid nitrogen testing. The extreme high end is as much black magic as technology, and what works almost changes by the minute. We'll leave that arena to sites that already do it well.

What we would like to do well in the overclocking area at AnandTech is to recommend components from comparative testing and experience that can give you a much better than average overclocking experience without you having to become an expert with a soldering iron - or invest in a refrigerated computer case that costs more by itself than our High-End system. No one seems to be doing a good job in this area, and we want AnandTech to become a dependable resource for overclocking component recommendations.

Performance or Value

There are really two reasons to overclock. The first is to reach the absolute top performance levels possible with computer components. The second is to get superb value from your components - to make a sow's ear into a silk purse, so to speak. While this is impossible as the saying goes, in the computer arena, it is not only possible, it is pretty easy to do.

Since these two overclocking areas are often at odds with each other, we could find no really good way to bridge the gap. For that reason, you will see two different recommendations for many of our choices - performance and value. You can expect our Performance selection to reach the highest overclocking levels that you can reach. The Value choice will give you incredible overclocking performance for the money - bang for the buck.

Some components lend themselves to overclocking better than others. Processors, Motherboards, Video Cards, and Memory are targets for most overclockers. So, we've concentrated our efforts on these components. While Hard Drives are not normally modified to perform better, they do have an impact on final system performance and, perhaps more important for the overclocker, they can sometimes limit or enhance the ability of a system to overclock. For those reasons, we will also be recommending Hard Drives in this Overclocking Buyer's Guide. The Case/Power Supply can also influence overclocking results as a result of more efficient cooling from the case or stable, high-output power from the power supply, so these components are also included.

The rest of the system components like Monitors, Optical Storage, and Input Devices are not so easily overclocked, and we will not devote attention to these components in our Overclocking Guide. Since overclocking can run the gamut from value systems to high-end, it is also almost impossible to second-guess what an overclocker might be looking for in a monitor, optical storage, sound card, speakers, LAN, keyboard and mouse. We suggest that you refer to other AnandTech Buyer's Guides for more information on our recommendations for those components.

In the end, we will summarize the recommendations in the Overclockers Buyer's Guides in four areas - Overclocking Performance, OC Performance Alternate, Overclocking Value, and OC Value Alternate. You will see quite a spread between these four systems, but they all represent the best of overclocking - from top overclocking performance on one end to the best overclocking performance that we could find for the money you would spend at the other end of the spectrum.

Index CPU and Motherboard: PERFORMANCE OC Recommendations
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  • rwinder - Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - link

    I think it is a wonderful guide. Kudos for having the nads to do it, knowing that there would be "experts" that would give you crap about your recommendations. Don't let them deter you.

    One suggestion: Could you benchmark the performance of your recommendations (and alternatives) so us readers can make the price/value judgements?
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, August 02, 2004 - link

    Seems kinda like we had to read whole article to get to the end, no?

    The point is, primary suggested parts were NOT appropriate for a "value o'c" system. Value does not mean merely not to choose most expensive parts in one or two areas. FOr the described value system there would be zero benefit to spending the extra $150 (over what needed spec parts would cost) on fancier case/PSU, and only a half-dozen %, at best difference in memory costing twice as much... that's not value at all, it's much higher than avg cost for new system in the market today.
    Reply
  • lazerasa - Monday, August 02, 2004 - link

    You people whining about the case, memory, and video card on the value selections... read the systems summary page, there are other, cheaper recommendations there. Read the whole artice before you start your whining. Reply
  • mindless1 - Monday, August 02, 2004 - link

    CM Stacker is a nice case but c'mon, who's going to build a value o'c system and spend $262 on case + PSU?

    Likewise, someone would have to be kinda stupid to spend $300-odd $ on high end memory for the value o'c system unless /required/ by the particular 'board just to get 1GB or more stable. Other suggested systems would be a more appropriate platform for that memory.

    BTW, the OCZ 520W PSU is not all that great. It IS fancy, but the base design (including after the cosmetic tweaks) cannot support 520W. Sadly it may be no better than a Sparkle 350W yet priced 3X higher. Don't be fooled by a $3 big anodized heatsink or "good" reviews where they don't subject it to a heavy load... after all that was the whole point of 520W, no? TO someone who knows PSU, it only takes a very short glance at that PSU to know why it can't support 520W.
    Reply
  • cnq - Saturday, July 31, 2004 - link

    Wesley,

    I agree with many of the comments: we may not agree with all your picks, but we really like the enthusiasm and obvious energy that you've poured into your picks and your writeup.

    Now for a little more feedback :)

    There wasn't any "value" video card pick.
    Was that intentional, or an oversight? I can understand that the next gen vid cards are *so* far ahead in performance that you would urge your readers to spring for one, but still it seems that you should toss in a value pick.

    So, thinking of the Athlon2500 buyer who (presumably) can't spring $400 for a next-gen vid card, what would you recommend in the $175-$199 price range? My picks would be a 9800pro followed by a 5900XT. (True, the 5900XT was born to overclock [390-->500 seems the norm ], but that doesn't mean it catches up to an overclocked 98pro in absolute performance.)
    Reply
  • rjm55 - Saturday, July 31, 2004 - link

    29 and Wesley
    Thanks for clearing up the Athlon XP mobile info. I was a bit confused with the difference in the specs with desktop Barton, but now its clear. If you gotta have a XP, it looks like the 2600+ Mobile is now the one to get.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, July 30, 2004 - link

    #29 - You are correct and I actually do know better. The multipliers and FSB have been corrected in the Athlon XP section on page 6.

    #31, #32, and #33 - I fully understand that many look at overclocking to bring more value to their computer buying. There are also others who use overclocking to bring new performance highs to their computer platform. As I stated in the review, these 2 goals are often at odds. That is exactly the reason I have done BOTH Performance OC and Value OC recommendations and alternates.

    If Value is your main OC concern, then throw all the rocks you like at my Value picks, but please don't assume the Performance OC buyers don't exist or don't matter. I can assure you from emails and discussions on Forums that Performance OC is also an important concern for many buyers who OC their systems.
    Reply
  • WheelsCSM - Thursday, July 29, 2004 - link

    I agree with Z80. While I understand that different people view value differently, I can't see how a $390 video card or $175 case can be considered value in anyone's book. Other than that, I think this was an excellent article, and I look forward to future overclocking system recommendations. Reply
  • Z80 - Thursday, July 29, 2004 - link

    I'd say that most of your readers, like me, see overclocking as just another means to squeeze more "bang-for-the-buck" out of our PC dollars. We like to run well in the benchmarks but at the same time spend half of what a typical Dell customer might spend for the same performance. In my opinion, you missed your "Value OC" goal by a mile. If it wan't for your last statement "go with a cheaper case for $100 less. Second, buy an ATI 9800 PRO for $200 less and overclock the heck out of it. Third, go for one of the CAS 2.5 value DDR400 memories from Corsair, Geil, OCZ, Kingston, and others; this could save you about $125. These three substitutions reduce the price by $425 and get the core system price down to $836" Maybe you should look at factoring in a bang-for-your-buck cost comparison factor like you did with a recent video card review. Reply
  • Z80 - Thursday, July 29, 2004 - link

    I'd say that most of your readers, like me, see overclocking as just another means to squeeze more "bang-for-the-buck" out of our PC dollars. We like to run well in the benchmarks but at the same time spend half of what a typical Dell customer might spend for the same performance. In my opinion, you missed your "Value OC" goal by a mile. If it wan't for your last statement "go with a cheaper case for $100 less. Second, buy an ATI 9800 PRO for $200 less and overclock the heck out of it. Third, go for one of the CAS 2.5 value DDR400 memories from Corsair, Geil, OCZ, Kingston, and others; this could save you about $125. These three substitutions reduce the price by $425 and get the core system price down to $836" Maybe you should look at factoring in a bang-for-your-buck cost comparison factor like you did with a recent video card review. Reply

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