Lost but not forgotten, we’re back again with the second part to our guide to software utilities for enthusiast hardware, this time taking a look at the motherboard & CPU side of things. If you missed our previous piece on video card utilities, we’d recommend reading it first as we are going to pick up from where it mostly left off.

As was the case with the video card guide, we seek to establish a guide for advanced/enthusiast users for what makes for good software and what software packages are critical towards getting the most out of your system. As an inherently subjective process we will not be awarding software like we do hardware - enthusiast-level software often is a smorgasbord of features that fails to neatly fall in to categories like hardware - but we will be identifying those notable software packages that are of best design and most use, and what strengths and weaknesses they may possess.

With that said, things are vastly different when looking at motherboard & CPU side of things. While for video cards both AMD and NVIDIA design their entire line of consumer products with support for tweaking, including adding a small amount of hardware to assist in that, this is not the universal case for motherboards (and the CPUs that reside in them). What software-accessible features we see for motherboards are almost always a kludge on the parts of clever programmers and motherboard designers, and frankly it all works out very poorly.

As the largest chipset vendor (an extension of being the largest CPU vendor) much of this is due to the actions of Intel. This isn’t to blame Intel, they haven’t been doing anything evil or wrong, but they are the market leader and as a result exercise a great deal of influence just by what they do or don’t do. In this case they have not gone to any great lengths to allow software access to their chipsets; with the multitude of markets they cater to they’re naturally going to focus on stability and other factors that are of greater importance to more normal computer users. They’re also understandably a bit sheepish on overclocking, a unique problem with CPUs not having nearly as great of a spread in performance as video cards (Q6600 anyone?).

For that matter the rest of the chipset manufacturers have largely followed the status quo set by Intel, with the only notable exceptions so far being actions by NVIDIA and very recently AMD. Since the late Athlon XP days, NVIDIA has offered some software control over their chipsets via their nTune utility. But this functionality is heavily dependent on motherboard manufacturers doing their part to enable such functionality, resulting in the whole mess being very hit & miss – it’s there but it can’t be counted on. NVIDIA’s ESA standard aims to change this, but then again even their own platform wasn’t supposed to be so fragmented in the first place. As it stands we think ESA is a strong bet going forward, but right now it’s still more a dream than reality, and even if everything were to go to plan it will be years until such a level of tweaking abilities became consistent for motherboards as it has for video cards.

Meanwhile AMD has only jumped in to the game this month with their very impressive OverDrive utility. But because it’s quite literally brand new and is only supported on a single chipset so far, it’s not something we can fairly pass judgment on. It’s too early to determine if it will be any more effective than NVIDIA’s nTune, considering only a handful of people have motherboards that can use it at the moment.

This brings us to the current situation, where as of today most motherboards don’t even support software controlled tweaking, and what few do is covered by a hodgepodge collection of utilities from motherboard manufacturers and third parties. Most of us are still limited to the trusty-yet-antiquated CMOS for our tweaking needs.

But this isn’t just an article to talk about how the first-parties have struggled to develop meaningful tweaking utilities. There are several great information and diagnostic utilities that work with virtually all motherboards, virtually essential for any computer enthusiast. While by no means a unified offering, they are as a whole a very powerful toolset that make it possible to get away with such significant CMOS tweaking and will be the focus of today’s article.

With that said, we’ll start with a deeper look at what few first-party software tweaking utilities exist and how they currently stack up before moving on to our much larger look at diagnostic & information utilities.

Motherboard Tweaking Utilities
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  • jtleon - Wednesday, March 12, 2008 - link

    I know that such a guide may be a common item online, however, those other sites that claim to "optimize" an OS install are not running your many benchmarks on hardware. I would greatly appreciate seeing a comprehensive OS install guide (covering XP, Vista, perhaps even older operating systems like W2K).
  • rADo2 - Friday, December 21, 2007 - link

    Lavalys Everest Ultimate is an excellent infotool, it can also output its info to Logitech G15 LCD panel and/or Vista sidebar:

  • Arctucas - Friday, December 14, 2007 - link

    I never have used nTune because so many users who have used it report that it causes more problems than it is worth.
  • Zak - Saturday, December 15, 2007 - link

    I never had any real problems with nTune, except the built in stress test is clearly meant as a joke. Any machine I tried it with would almost always pass the nTune stress test for 10 minutes and then fail/lock up/crash during first few seconds of 3DMark** or any other utility or game.

    However, there is an issue that makes nTune kind of useless for me: the video card fan control settings don't get saved with profiles so after reboot the the overclocked profile loads but the fan defaults to its slow speeds so the card will overheat and your machine will crash during a game very quickly unless you manually set the fan to higher speed in nTune every time. Kinda annoying... Is there a solution for that, by any chance?

  • xsilver - Thursday, December 13, 2007 - link

    I for one am sick of mobo makers not making any progress in this customization / tweaking area.

    For manufactuers to stand out from one another they have resorted to crazy looking heatpipe NB heatsinks when they could go another route.

    After having owned an abit s939 board I found its uguru tweaking options to be excellent and stable. Being able to change voltages/FSB while in windows *WITHOUT REBOOT* this was key.

    I have no idea why this is no longer available on my asus p5k dlx mobo. It keeps wanting to reboot after I change anything and it doesnt stick when I use it.

    I would have thought it be extremely convenient to have a pc boot at low/standard voltages/FSB but then crank it up to max fsb/voltage when encoding/gaming/folding etc.

    I would not hesitate to buy abit again if other manufacturers dont implement this feature in future motherboards (too bad abit doesnt have much market penetration and is hard to get here in australia)
  • jojo4u - Wednesday, December 12, 2007 - link

    The crowd at SPCR hails RMClock for it undervolting options since you can control each step of CnQ/EIST instead of a global VID.

    Regardging the that Tjunction:
    Btw, there's a fact with Intel CPUs which is often overlooked. The DTS reports how much the temperature is away from the throttling point. This point is variable for desktop CPUs. On top of it, you cannot read this value out. So DTS readings from different CPUs are useless since CoreTemp assumes 85 degree celsius most Intel desktop CPUs.
    If you own a desktop Intel CPU, I would have a goal of staying at least 10 degree away from the throttling temperature. The new CoreTemp can output this delta.
    See also: http://www.alcpu.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=247">http://www.alcpu.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=247

    Intel mobile CPUs just report the temperature as "near" 85 or 100 degree celsius.

    The actual value of the throttling point (PROCHOT_L) for AMD CPUs remains a complete mystery to me and will be part of my next experimenting

    (from http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php...">http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php...
  • LEKO - Wednesday, December 12, 2007 - link

    Thanks for this ocncise article, it will helps me, but mostly friends in their overclocking journey.

    These articles becomes "reference" when we teach overclocking to someone.
  • domg - Wednesday, December 12, 2007 - link

    RMClock is a great application, no doubts about that. However, because of the latest restrictions imposed by Microsoft, there is absolutely no way of loading the UNSIGNED driver used by RMClock into Vista x64 unless you manually boot into development mode (every time). I would have liked to see something in the article about this, since there are a great many people out there who have been forced to go without use of RMClock for this very reason. If you search, you'll find that you can disable mandatory driver signing by uninstalling four Windows updates (KB932596, KB938979, KB938194, KB941649) and using bcdedit.exe to disable driver integrity checks. However, this should not be necessary and it would be nice to see the developer get on track with this after several months of known incompatibility.
  • nullpointerus - Wednesday, December 12, 2007 - link

    From what I've read, you can sign your own drivers:
  • goinginstyle - Wednesday, December 12, 2007 - link

    "NVIDIA and now AMD are taking a stab at the issue, but it has yet to be enough. Both are quite capable of the task and we hope to one day see the motherboard situation rival that of the video card situation."

    Have you tried AMD's new AOD utility? It still has a few issues but addresses just about all of your concerns with the mb utilities plus adds a few features that are not on the video card tuners.

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