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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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    You're correct, I didn't feel a dual vs. quad-core comparison was fair which is why I focused on the 760. I'll clear up the text though :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    fixed :) Reply
  • mastrdrver - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    If we go with what Anand has said and use the roadmap to guess pricing I just have one question then:

    Why in the world would anyone spend ~$300 for the 2500 and ~$500 on the 2600 then use the on chip gpu with no plans on some kind of discrete?

    If the difference between a $600 HP is Llano and Sandy Bridge, Llano has a possibly huge advantage since I think its safe to assume that the gpu side will start at 5450 performance.

    Its like Intel would be trying to tell you that SD Xbox 360 is better than HD Xbox 360 (Llano). Are you serious? If Llano can hit a pc at that price point and have a full shader count, Sandy Bridge is dead in the consumer market.

    I know that's a lot of ifs and time between here and then but Intel doing what it has always done with graphics (suck) is going to haunt it. I think Intel let the door wide open and its head between it and the frame. All AMD has to do is shut it.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    There are people whose workloads are heavily CPU bound but who don't need a heavy duty GPU. Higher end servers and a lot of workstations fall into this category.

    Beyond that unless Intel made a GPUless die or deliberately disabled the onboard GPU there's no reason not to include it. While we'll have to wait until Intel shows off labeled die shots I doubt that the GPU is a large enough chunk to justify the engineering effort just to save a little on the manufacturing side.
    Reply
  • mastrdrver - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    You are correct but my point was meant to be on "Best Buy" systems and not server or workstations. Sorry if I didn't get that clear.

    On the server front this will have to go up against Bulldozer which is an entirely different topic.

    While it would be foolish for Intel to make a gpuless die since integration with the cpu side is inevitable, Larabee or what ever better be good. Then there is the driver thing. That Dragon Age Origin picture sure doesn't look right. For drivers that still have work to do, that picture looks exactly like the one from when Clarkdale was released. I'd be a little surprised if much driver work is left if those two pictures are actually different.
    Reply
  • arh2o - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    How much will these new 1155 motherboard prices be? Will they be in the same price range as the current 1156 motherboards? Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    I'd imagine the P67 boards will be priced between $150~$200. Reply
  • odin607 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    What about temps =( Reply
  • cmdrdredd - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I'm never buying an Intel CPU or Motherboard ever again. This is one area that made them what they are today. The ability to take a mid range part and clock it up is what made the Core 2 series such a success with gamers and other performance enthusiasts. Not all of the success is attributed to overclocking, but a good bit of the popularity came from a $200 CPU being able to clock up to levels that the $700+ cpus hit. Now, if the unlocked parts can hit big overclocks and aren't overpriced then maybe it'll work out. However, it's all to easy for Intel to give us the finger and price a $200 CPU at $600 because it's unlocked and say "tough crap, if you want to overclock then pay up!". I am hopeful it doesn't come to this.

    Anyway, quads are old news IMO...I'm looking at 6core for my next one.
    Reply
  • JumpingJack - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    "but a good bit of the popularity came from a $200 CPU being able to clock up" ...

    Reading the preview, it looks like the 2500K may fit this description.

    From the articles:
    "...and the 2500K will replace the i5 760/655K ($205 - $216). ..."

    Even the 875K, when it launched, wasn't as you claim... it actually came in 200 bucks cheaper than the 870.

    http://techreport.com/articles.x/18988

    It would seem to me that Intel has been planning this change for sometime and went out to address this....
    Reply

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