Overclocking Ground Rules

Overclocking is a very big subject, so the first task is 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, phase-change, or other exotic cooling solutions, you could get even better performance from the components that we will recommend.

While board modifications are also common in high-end overclocking (to extend memory voltage in particular), we will not be recommending board mods. Please keep in mind that board mods will normally 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 you can buy that have proven to provide significant overclocking capabilities at stock.

If you are interested 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 or OPPainter or Fugger who routinely appear at the top of 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, but 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 based on the effects 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 Alternative, Overclocking Value, and OC Value Alternative. 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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  • jeeptrkr - Friday, December 10, 2004 - link

    Perfect timing and very infomative article. I'm looking to buy a MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum w/ an AMD 64 FX-55 cpu.
    How would Crucial Ballistix PC4000 2.5-4-4-8 compare to PC3200 2-2-2-5 on the MSI mb? Faster bandwidth ver tighter timings?
    Reply
  • decptt - Thursday, September 30, 2004 - link

    Thank you, Fink.
    I ran Athlon64 Mobile 3200 2.0@2.55 Vcore 1.8

    I will drop to 10x250 vcore1.7 for safer :>

    Ballistix run@ 1:1 2.5-4-4-8 (I don't want to set 2.5-3-3-5 like the review for make sure that it works fine)

    I'll tell the testing result again.

    P.S. I had reached to 10x260 V1.8, windows works but Prime95 doens't work stable.
    Reply
  • southernpac - Sunday, September 19, 2004 - link

    Wesley,
    If Raid 1 is used (mirrowing), is the slow down negligble for a simulations gamer - or would it be noticable? Would the same be the case with 7,200 rpm SATA's?

    I also notice that you listed the eVGA 6800, but the July High-End Guide listed the Gigabyte 6800 (Ultra). Have you noticed performance or manufacturing differences between the 6800 vendors?

    The photo of the Crucial Ballistik PC3200 512 memory has a CL113V.X1 part number on it. I can't find that part number listed on the Crucial web site. ? Bill Mackay
    Reply
  • thebluesgnr - Saturday, September 18, 2004 - link

    This is one interesting article, but I wish it had the same idea of a "Value" system as other AT articles. The Value system of this guide is too much for me, here's what I came up with:

    AMD Athlon XP Mobile 2400+ 45W $77
    ASRock K7V88 Raid $44
    512MB (1 X 512MB) Corsair Value Select DDR400 CAS2.5 $79
    128MB GeCube Radeon 9550XT $99
    Antec SLK3700-BQE Black ATX Midtower w/ 350W PSU $90
    Seagate 80GB 7200RPM SATA (8Mb Cache) – ST380013AS $71

    HSF not included, total of $460.

    One could change that system to a Chaintech VNF3-250 + Sempron 3100+, but I would rather upgrade the video card first.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Saturday, September 18, 2004 - link

    #25 Wesley Fink- its great to hear a Value RAM roundup is being planned, listening to and where necessary addressing your readers comments is one of the main reasons AT is such a valuable website. Reply
  • Gholam - Saturday, September 18, 2004 - link

    You have a mistake on page 13 - you list CM Stacker as an all-aluminium case, while it definitely isn't. It has aluminium panels, but the chassis frame is made of steel. It also weighs 14.9kg... ouch. On the other hand, there is no other case where ducting the PSU is as easy... Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, September 18, 2004 - link

    #24 - I mentioned in the Value conclusion that you can cut $300 by choosing a cheaper case and an ATI 9800 PRO instead. Perhaps I should make those recommendations part of the Value OC chart in the future.

    #22 - I recommended one 512MB stick of Crucial Ballistix to get the cost down on the lowest priced system and still have great overclocking. We do plan a Value RAM roundup in the future.
    Reply
  • cnq - Saturday, September 18, 2004 - link

    Wesley,

    Keep up the good work!
    Only nit is that like last time, you "forgot" (maybe it was intentional) to present a value video card. The price of the video card stuck out like a sore thumb in the summary pricing table for the value system!

    The power requirements are ugly, but consider putting the 9800pro in the summary table for the value system next time. Until the X700XT and 6600GT's come out (and in AGP), you can't do better for $190. [Or at least you could have downshifted from a 6800GT to a 6800 to save a hundred bucks on the value system.]
    Reply
  • ksherman - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    you know what would kick arse? doing comparison tests! Compare all the different rigs you guys reccomend and see who the winners are. i.e. Performance OC vs your high end setup etc. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    I really don't know why anyone here is so keen on the Sempron 3100+. You'd be a fool to buy one when the A64 2800+ is available at only a slightly higher cost, has twice the L2 cache, and most importantly 64-bit support. Anyone who buys a Sempron 3100+ today will regret it in a year or two when x86-64 Windows is supported.

    If you only keep a CPU for a year or so though, it makes even less sense getting something like the Sempron 3100+ with hopes of high overclocks unless you like always having an overclocked substandard processor.

    The non-high end memory issue is important and really needs to be covered, CAS 2.5 modules form the likes of Corsair are available at very competitive prices compared to CAS 2 modules. We need an article that looks at CAS 2.5 and also CAS 3 PC3200 modules from the major manufacturers so we can see how far they overclock, and at what voltages and timings. Most people don't buy CAS2 modules unless they're getting a top of the range CPU (2.4 GHz A64 or 3.2+ GHz Prescott), so if you look at an A64 3200+, you need to look at the memory most people will use with it.
    Reply

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