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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  • foundchild1 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    "For example, today the fastest LGA-1156 processor is the Core i7 880. When Sandy Bridge launches early next year, the fastest LGA-1155 processor will be the Core i7 2600."

    Shouldn't the second one also read LGA-1156? Are they changing the pin count/socket for this 'tock'?
    Reply
  • foundchild1 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Well, that's me being an idiot and not reading the whole article first... New socket indeed. Reply
  • medi01 - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    So intel has locked multtipliers because of some other evil companies, eh? To protect the consumers, right?

    What a shame... :(
    Reply
  • jfelano - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Did you even read the article???? Yes its s1155. Reply
  • wazzap123 - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    The story of how caches are going to work in the 8+ core world is getting exciting. I like the overview at the daily circuit that summarizes how Niagara 3, Tilera Gx-100, and BlueGene/P processors weigh in on the issue too
    http://www.dailycircuitry.com/2010/11/progress-in-...
    Reply
  • dendysutrisna - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    The Apple iMac 21.5inch is a computer machine which uses the power of Intel Core i5-2400. Look at these page: http://www.bestdealscomputers.net/desktops/new-app... Processors like that, thanks to its strength, could draw the attention of everyone, even computer vendors at the level Apple also has without a doubt to hook them. Reply
  • Grooveriding - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    It's hard to wade through all this data so quickly. That said, as far as overclocking, the new 2011 socket will be the successor to 1366 ?

    I hope with all these new overclocking controls there will still be that mainstay $300 CPU that can overclock to some extreme performance. Meaning a successor to the i7 920/930 that can deliver the amazing performance those can overclocked.

    I hope this is not the death knell for such a CPU and Intel is expecting us to fork over $1000 for that performance level.
    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Good question, but judging by the road map, the Extreme and Performance segments are still Gulftown Processors. I think the 1366 stays for Gulftown. Reply
  • Casper42 - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    On the 2P Server side of things, I have been told there will be a Westmere v2 coming in January 2011.
    This is probably the same family that will produce the i7 990 and the other 1366 chips on the chart that don't exist yet. The Xeon 5600 and 970/980 are damn near identical aside from QPI Links.

    Being those are being released in Jan, I wouldn't expect to see a socket 2011 desktop part until basically a year from now.

    They will once again be a close relative to the 2P Server family. The socket for the 2P Servers will be Socket R and will be Quad Channel memory as well as supposedly having PCIe 3.0.
    Reply
  • bitzao - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Yeah but.... will it run Starcraft II ? (on medium) Reply

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