Overclocking Controversy

It wasn’t until the Pentium II that Intel started shipping multiplier locked CPUs. Before then you could set the multiplier on your CPU to anything that was supported by the line, and if you had a good chip and good enough cooling you just overclocked your processor. Intel’s policies changed once remarking, the process of relabeling and reselling a lower spec CPU as a higher one, started to take off.

While multipliers were locked, Intel left FSB overclocking open. That would be an end user or system integrator decision and not something that could be done when selling an individual CPU. However, ever since before the Pentium III Intel had aspirations of shipping fully locked CPUs. The power of the enthusiast community generally kept Intel from exploring such avenues, but we live in different times today.

Two things have changed Intel’s feelings on the topic. First and foremost is the advent of Turbo Boost. So long as Intel doesn’t artificially limit turbo modes, we now have the ability to run CPUs at whatever clock speed they can run at without exceeding thermal or current limits. We saw the first really exciting Turbo with Lynnfield, and Sandy Bridge is going to expand on that as well. On the flip side, Intel has used Turbo as a marketing differentiator between parts so there’s still a need to overclock.

The second major change within Intel is the willingness to directly address the enthusiast community with unlocked K-series SKUs. We saw this recently with the Core i7 875K and Core i5 655K parts that ship fully unlocked for the overclocking community.


The K-series SKUs, these will be more important with Sandy Bridge

With Sandy Bridge, Intel integrated the clock generator, usually present on the motherboard, onto the 6-series chipset die. While BCLK is adjustable on current Core iX processors, with Sandy Bridge it’s mostly locked at 100MHz. There will be some wiggle room as far as I can tell, but it’s not going to be much. Overclocking, as we know it, is dead.

Well, not exactly.

Intel makes three concessions.

First and foremost we have the K-series parts. These will be fully unlocked, supporting multipliers up to 57x. Sandy Bridge should have more attractive K SKUs than what we’ve seen to date. The Core i7 2600 and 2500 will both be available as a K-edition. The former should be priced around $562 and the latter at $205 if we go off of current pricing.

Secondly, some regular Sandy Bridge processors will have partially unlocked multipliers. The idea is that you take your highest turbo multiplier, add a few more bins on top of that, and that’ll be your maximum multiplier. It gives some overclocking headroom, but not limitless. Intel is still working out the details for how far you can go with these partially unlocked parts, but I’ve chimed in with my opinion and hopefully we’ll see something reasonable come from the company. I am hopeful that these partially unlocked parts will have enough multipliers available to make for decent overclocks.

Finally, if you focus on multiplier-only overclocking you lose the ability to increase memory bandwidth as you increase CPU clock speed. The faster your CPU, the more data it needs and thus the faster your memory subsystem needs to be in order to scale well. As a result, on P67 motherboards you’ll be able to adjust your memory ratios to support up to DDR3-2133.

Personally, I’d love nothing more than for everything to ship unlocked. The realities of Intel’s business apparently prevent that, so we’re left with something that could either be a non-issue or just horrible.

If the K-series parts are priced appropriately, which at first indication it seems they will be, then this will be a non-issue for a portion of the enthusiast market. You’ll pay the same amount for your Core i7 2500K as you would for a Core i5 750 and you’ll have the same overclocking potential.

Regardless of how they’re priced, what this is sure to hurt is the ability to buy a low end part like the Core i3 530 and overclock the crap out of it. What Intel decides to do with the available multiplier headroom on parts further down the stack is unknown at this point. If Intel wanted to, it could pick exciting parts at lower price points, give them a few more bins of overclocking headroom and compete in a more targeted way with AMD offerings at similar price points. A benevolent Intel would allow enough headroom as the parts can reliably hit with air cooling.

The potential for this to all go very wrong is there. I’m going to reserve final judgment until I get a better idea for what the Sandy Bridge family is going to look like.

The Roadmap & Pricing The Test
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  • starx5 - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    And why didn't you ran 2560x1600(or higher resolution like eyefinity) benchmark either?

    Is this because sandybrige is not that good?
    Reply
  • wut - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    So you're expecting eyeinfinity out of a single integrated graphics connection out the back of a motherboard?

    Are you okay?
    Reply
  • gundersausage - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - link

    i7-950 vs i7-2500K... So which will be faster and a better gaming chip? anyone? Reply
  • WillyMcNilly - Thursday, October 28, 2010 - link

    Fantastic preview! I am definetly getting sandy bridge now. Apparently the Gigabyte P67-UD7 will have a geforce n200 chipset and support full 16X/16X sli AND crossfire! It will make a significant upgrade from my Phenom 2 and I cannot see myself waiting for bulldozer which has apparently been delayed (gee what a surprise!) until Q4 2011. Reply
  • Chrisch - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    which sample did you use for your tests?

    QDF Q12W = GT1 (850-1100MHz)
    QDF Q12X = GT2 (850-1100MHz)
    Reply
  • techeadtrevor - Thursday, December 30, 2010 - link

    Hey guys, checkout this review of the i7-2600k... I think its bogus...tell me what you think of it on here.
    ( http://en.inpai.com.cn/doc/enshowcont.asp?id=7944 )
    Reply
  • psiboy - Sunday, January 2, 2011 - link

    Catalyst 8.12... WTF! 2 year old drivers? How much did intel bribe you to use drivers that old for their competition? That is a really bad path to guy down... Tom's did weird stuff like that a while back and lost readers because of it.... You just lost my respect Anand.... Reply
  • kmidm - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    I don't think an entire product line of CPU's with on-board graphics is anything really to get excited about, especially for us geeks. I guess I'm just old-school. The Sandy Bridge ,like Clarksdale, has similar benefits from a single-chip chipset which is very appealing from a throughput and control standpoint. Reply
  • katleo123 - Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - link

    Take nother look at Sandy bridge
    visit http://www.techreign.com/2010/12/intels-sandy-brid...
    Reply
  • hapeid - Friday, March 10, 2017 - link

    Wow Intel owns when it came to converting video, beating out much faster dedicated solutions, which was strange but still awesome.

    I don't know how AMD's going to fare but i hope their new architecture will at least compete with these CPU's, because for a few years now AMD has been at least a generation worth of speed behind Intel.

    Also Intel's IGP's are finally gaining some ground in the games department.
    Reply

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