Overclocking or Overcooking?

We had some interesting experiences during our overclock testing. Let's just say in the motherboard section of the labs that a halon fire extinguisher is now a standard item on the test bench. Call us unlucky, abusive, or having just dumb luck, but our results these past few weeks when overclocking IGP setups has not been good. In fact, it has been downright terrible as of this week. Editors other than those who normally test motherboards had the opportunity to experience the joy of random resets and failures. After reporting extensively on the failures we experienced when using 125W TDP processors on the first release of 780G IGP boards, we thought the worse was over when the manufacturers responded with beefed up designs, BIOS updates, or officially acknowledging that certain boards were just not capable of handling the 125W TDP processors. In fact, we had not experienced any real problems with the replacement boards as we finally finished testing for the IGP roundup and looked forward to new boards featuring 140W TDP capabilities later this summer.


This 780G died while trying to overclock the Phenom X4 9350e.  There's a twinge of burnt plastic on the fan header and HDMI port as well as the dead MOSFET itself.

We are still investigating, but the constant stress of 24/7 overclocking along with us trying to dial in that perfect group of settings which invariably means we push the board beyond its boundaries probably lead to our failures. While we were extremely upset for a variety of reasons (valid ones at that) when our first failures happened several weeks ago, today we are a bit amused with it actually. You see, it is not every week when you can go through five boards in less than 48 hours while trying to make an article deadline. We know three of the boards played pop goes the MOSFET as the pictures indicate, the other two died of natural causes that cannot be explained right now. In fact, it was a mix of chipsets this time from various manufacturers. Maybe the perfect storm hit us at a very inopportune time, but one lesson we have learned is that when testing overclocks in a fully loaded uATX case, it is not easy to get the marshmallows out and in place when the flames arrive.


  This 780G also faced an untimely death, although the damage was contained to just the MOSFET.  Either way, the board is dead.

In all seriousness, the cooling of the MOSFET/PWM area is critical when utilizing a high watt TDP processor or when overclocking a midrange Phenom CPU on these boards. It does not matter if it is a NVIDIA or AMD chipset as we have had both fail (some more spectacularly than others). We heavily suggest refraining from overclocking these processors on current IGP products unless you properly cool the MOSFET/PWM area or just do not overclock at all. While we lost several boards during the completion of this article, we would like to add that several others have not experienced a single problem to date while overclocking on an open test bench or in our test case with plenty of airflow across the board. In our opinion, it comes down to solid component choices on the board and maximizing airflow to get the most out of these boards when overclocking. In addition, none of the ATX boards based on the 790FX, 780a, or 750a has failed us while being asked to overclock at significantly higher voltages in most cases.  That said, whether through BIOS immaturity or design, we did not have the best of luck with the 9950BE on the full size boards. 

Does the Phenom X4 9350e Overclock Any Better? The 140W TDP: Is Phenom the new NetBurst?
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  • MikeODanyurs - Thursday, July 17, 2008 - link

    This article got me thinking, why would you purchase a 9350e for a HTPC (which was what I was planning) when for the same or less money, you could get a 9850 Black Edition and just set the muliplyer to 10 (instead of 12.5). You'd have a CPU that you could use later on at full speed or OC'd, but for now on a HTPC underclock it to the 9350e speed and you would still have the bus at 4000 (not 3600) and the NB and HT speed at 2.0GHz (not 1.8GHz). Anything I would like to know is what the power usage would be if you did this (125w), compared to a 9350e (65w). Reply
  • Wwhat - Friday, July 11, 2008 - link

    In regards to your description of the strange behavior I'd like to point you to this article on microsoft.com:
    http://support.microsoft.com/?id=896256">http://support.microsoft.com/?id=896256

    An excerpt:
    Possible decrease in performance during demand-based switching
    Demand-Based Switching (DBS) is the use of ACPI processor performance states (dynamic voltage and frequency scaling) in response to system workloads. Windows XP processor power management implements DBS by using the adaptive processor throttling policy. This policy dynamically and automatically adjusts the processor’s current performance state in response to system CPU use without user intervention.

    When single-threaded workloads run on multiprocessor systems that include dual-core configurations, the workloads may migrate across available CPU cores. This behavior is a natural artifact of how Windows schedules work across available CPU resources. However, on systems that have processor performance states that run with the adaptive processor throttling policy, this thread migration may cause the Windows kernel power manager to incorrectly calculate the optimal target performance state for the processor. This behavior occurs because an individual processor core, logical or physical, may appear to be less busy than the whole processor package actually is. On performance benchmarks that use single-threaded workloads, you may see this artifact in decreased performance results or in a high degree of variance between successive runs of identical benchmark tests.
    ..

    It also explains how to change the policy in windows regarding this behavior, and while this is about XP I would not be surprised vista inherited this.
    Reply
  • Rev1 - Saturday, July 05, 2008 - link

    I dunno im gunna wait till nahalem comes out. Reply
  • gochichi - Thursday, July 03, 2008 - link

    I see that they have a lot of issues still. They need make sure that their board partners and chipset designs are really stable and ready for the "future"... I thought that was the whole point of AMD's spider platform, that they weren't gonna be playing around with switching sockets on users and such.

    Well, anyway... I love having a quad-core (Intel) and I think that these products are all at a nice performance level. I do believe it helps for them to have ATI right now. Because if I were going to buy a cross-fire system, which I think makes more sense now than at any other point of time, it would be tempting (though still ultimately wrong) to get a 2.5 AMD quad-core to have everything match.

    Wow, it's a great time to be a computer shopper right now. Today's AMD would have trounced yesterday's Intel, but Intel is just so lean and so efficiently producing better and better stuff that it's a tall order to even compete. AMD does seem to be making their appeals to the big guys pretty effectively, seems like when you go to brick and mortar stores about half of the systems are AMD based.

    Looking into the future, AMD has what it takes to remain relevant in the market. They need to switch to a smaller process and save energy, and keep the 3 or 4 core thing going... no dual cores at all is the right thing to do.

    I'm thinking that AMD could really grow into a huge beast with their AMD/ATI combo, just look at the beating NVIDIA is getting all of a sudden. The Radeon 4850 is going for $170.00??? And it's in abundant supply... wow, sucks to be lil' NVIDIA right now. AMD beat Intel when Intel was doing all kinds of illegal stuff that made it irrelevant, next time AMD beats Intel (if) it's going to be a very very big deal.

    AMD has market share and name recognition, all they need now is a killer product, and I think they're getting really close to having one.
    Reply
  • Aries1470 - Thursday, July 03, 2008 - link



    Hey, just speculating now...

    In a couple of years (maybe some time next year?), we should start seeing CPU's incorporating GPU's, or vice versa.
    So the battle would be something like:
    AMD/ATI

    Intel/Intel

    VIA/S3 Hey, they are still on single cores, as far as I know, but they do have the Chrome 440 GTX, of which is a DX10.1 product, but that doesn't mean much.. I haven't searched for a review yet ;-)

    nVidea/??? correct me if I am wrong, but at the moment they have No rights for x86 CPU??

    Well, that is my 2¢ worth.

    p.s. the Chrome 440GTX is with a 64bit memory us? Hmm... not really wide. ahmmm...
    Reply
  • Calin - Friday, July 04, 2008 - link

    VIA is playing in a league of its own (or played, until the Intel Atom). Even with the Atom, the northbridge is using a lot of power, so VIA could still compete.
    VIA is now all about integrated platform with low performance at very low power draws (very low compared to the x86 world of today).
    As for the 64-bitness of the S3 Chrome memory controller, this too helps save both costs and power.
    Reply
  • garydale - Thursday, July 03, 2008 - link

    I realize that the Windows world is still 32bit, but we're talking about processors here. I run a pure 64 bit Linux (Debian/Lenny) with (almost) no 32 bit applications - certainly not the ones I use frequently that need full processor speed. Why are the tests all done with 32 bit software?

    Even if you can't run all the tests in 64 bit mode, surely a few benchmarks are available in 64 bit so we can get an idea of how the various processors perform in their native modes?
    Reply
  • ohodownload - Wednesday, July 02, 2008 - link


    - The AMD Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition ­ 2.6GHz @ 140W; $235
    - Energy-efficient AMD Phenom X4 9350e ­ 2.0GHz @ 65W; $195
    - Energy-efficient AMD Phenom X4 9150e ­ 1.8GHz @ 65W; $175

    The first thing to notice is that AMD is launching a new model set 100 MHz higher for the same price as the previous 9850 at 2.5 GHz. The small boost in frequency should enable this CPU to be equivalent to Intel’s Q6600. Unfortunately, this is to the detriment of power consumption and the TDP gains 15W compared to the previous model for a total of 140W. Therefore, even with its Q6600 Intel holds a clear advantage in terms of power consumption all the while being slightly less expensive (officially $224)....

    more : computer-hardware-zone.blogspot.com/2008/07/new-3-amd-phenom-x4s.html
    Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Wednesday, July 02, 2008 - link

    I was just noting how Anandtech's articles are often a little slow to come by (new ones) but WOW! CHock full of great info, insight and indepth information. Its like a good book you just can't quit reading till its done. Great Job GUYS! Reply
  • Christian Packmann - Wednesday, July 02, 2008 - link

    1. Are there no CPU drivers for the Phenom? These should allow changing C&Q configuration with Windows' energy options, better than fiddling in the BIOS. This works on my Athlon64 3200+ on WinXP Pro.

    I'm also running AMD Power Monitor, which allows quickly switching the used energy setting from its tray icons popup menu, so I don't have to open the energy options every time.
    This is great for debugging C&Q-related problems, which can happen on single-core CPUs too.

    2. I'd guess that the isse with the Phenom is a software bug in the CPU driver or BIOS, but it /might/ be a CPU bug.
    CPU frequency changes are always driven in software (doesn't matter if it's a kernel driver or BIOS) by writing to some model-specific CPU registers, see the "BIOS and Kernel Developer's Guide (BKDG) for AMD Family 10h Processors", http://www.amd.com/us-en/assets/content_type/white...">http://www.amd.com/us-en/assets/content...e/white_... .

    You can set the VID and Frequency with these registers. A frequency ramp-up or ramp-down usually consists of several steps of changing voltage and frequency until the target frequency is reached. There is a short waiting period after each change until the new voltage step has stabilized.
    These waiting periods seem to be contained in some more CPU registers; if these values are wrong, C&Q will obviously not work as planned.

    Now I don't know if these waiting values are determined by the CPU or written to it by the BIOS/kernel driver during its respective initialization (I only skimmed this section in the BKDG, not enough time ATM). If they are determined by the CPU itself and C&Q goes wrong, this would indicate a CPU bug. If they are determined by the BIOS however, this would be a BIOS bug and fixable with a BIOS update.
    If you find a Phenom motherboard which doesn't exhibit these problems, then the BIOS would obviously be the culprit.

    Oh, and a wild-ass-guess: maybe these waiting periods are (in part) influenced by temperature, and vary with changing CPU temperatures - this would of course imply that they aren't determined once at startup, but recomputed at given intervals. This should be testable, too.

    3. Even if it's just a BIOS bug, a fix shouldn't completely solve the performance loss with PS, due to the split power planes of the Phenom. As long as the kernel throws threads around the cores willy-nilly, you will get a performance loss if C&Q does work properly. Frequency ramp-up does always take some time if C&Q actually works. This specific problem cannot occur on CPUs with a single power plane (which the C2Qs still have, I think), as all CPUs will always have full voltage as long as a single core runs at 100%; only the frequency might need to be adjusted. Of course the performance loss you measured is extreme and indicates broken C&Q ramp-up speed.

    BTW, this wild thread-changing you observed will always cost some performance for most code, as a core change makes the L2 contents useless. This is only 512K for the K10, but on C2Q a change between cores 0/1 and 2/3 will invalidate up to 6MB, depending on CPU model and cache usage. This doesn't matter much with todays memory bandwidths, but I'd still regard this a kernel bug.
    Reply

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