Overclocking Ground Rules

Overclocking is a very big subject, so the first task is to define where our Overclocking Guide is heading. We do not believe, at present, that AnandTech readers really want Buyer's Guides for phase-change cooling, water cooling, and other cooling techniques that change by the minute and are used in high-end overclocking. Instead, we have decided to concentrate on the best components that you can buy for overclocking on air with a decent Heat Sink/Fan (HSF). This could change in the future if other cooling techniques go mainstream, but for now, our Overclocking Guide will recommend components for an air-cooled system. Of course, if you do use water, phase-change, or other exotic cooling solutions, you could get even better performance from the components that we will recommend.

While board modifications are also common in high-end overclocking (to extend memory voltage in particular), we will not be recommending board mods. Please keep in mind that board mods will normally void your warranty. If we know of a board mod that is commonly used, we might mention it, but that is not the purpose of the AnandTech Overclocking Buyer's Guide. We will be recommending components you can buy that have proven to provide significant overclocking capabilities at stock.

If you are interested in finding out more about the extreme end, there are plenty of places on the web that cater to extreme overclockers, with widely varying degrees of success. You can go to sites like the forum at www.xtremesystems.org and see comments from names like Macci or OPPainter or Fugger who routinely appear at the top of charts for 3Dmark and Aquamark3. You'll find discussions of phase-change cooling and maybe even liquid nitrogen testing. The extreme high end is as much black magic as technology, and what works almost changes by the minute. We'll leave that arena to sites that already do it well.

What we would like to do well in the overclocking area at AnandTech is to recommend components from comparative testing and experience that can give you a much better than average overclocking experience without you having to become an expert with a soldering iron or invest in a refrigerated computer case that costs more by itself than our High-End system. No one seems to be doing a good job in this area, and we want AnandTech to become a dependable resource for overclocking component recommendations.

Performance or Value

There are really two reasons to overclock. The first is to reach the absolute top performance levels possible with computer components. The second is to get superb value from your components - to make a sow's ear into a silk purse, so to speak. While this is impossible as the saying goes, in the computer arena, it is not only possible, but it is pretty easy to do.

Since these two overclocking areas are often at odds with each other, we could find no really good way to bridge the gap. For that reason, you will see two different recommendations for many of our choices - performance and value. You can expect our Performance selection to reach the highest overclocking levels that you can reach. The Value choice will give you incredible overclocking performance for the money - bang for the buck.

Some components lend themselves to overclocking better than others. Processors, Motherboards, Video Cards, and Memory are targets for most overclockers. So, we've concentrated our efforts on these components. While Hard Drives are not normally modified to perform better, they do have an impact on final system performance and, perhaps more important for the overclocker, they can sometimes limit or enhance the ability of a system to overclock. For those reasons, we will also be recommending Hard Drives in this Overclocking Buyer's Guide. The Case/Power Supply can also influence overclocking results based on the effects of more efficient cooling from the case or stable, high-output power from the power supply; so, these components are also included.

The rest of the system components like Monitors, Optical Storage, and Input Devices are not so easily overclocked, and we will not devote attention to these components in our Overclocking Guide. Since overclocking can run the gamut from value systems to high-end, it is also almost impossible to second-guess what an overclocker might be looking for in a monitor, optical storage, sound card, speakers, LAN, keyboard and mouse. We suggest that you refer to other AnandTech Buyer's Guides for more information on our recommendations for those components.

In the end, we will summarize the recommendations in the Overclockers Buyer's Guides in four areas - Overclocking Performance, OC Performance Alternative, Overclocking Value, and OC Value Alternative. You will see quite a spread between these four systems, but they all represent the best of overclocking - from top overclocking performance on one end to the best overclocking performance that we could find for the money you would spend at the other end of the spectrum.

Index CPU and Motherboard: PERFORMANCE OC Recommendations
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  • MemberSince97 - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    ^^GJ^^ WF... Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    #10 - I just checked the ORB for 3DMark2001SE and the highest placing Intel was #10 - the 9 top scores were AMD. 2001SE IS sensitive to CPU speed and memory speed and is useful for comparing CPU's.

    3DMark2003 is not very sensitive to CPU and Memory, so it is excellent for testing pure video performance. Intel does lead in many of the top ten 3DMark2003 scores, but that is a result of Video card performance since 03 is very video centric. Consider the leads there the result of Intel's chipset prowess in graphics support. Looking at the top 20 it is like 50/50 AMD/Intel in 03.

    #17 - The DFI is already for sale in the US. The problem is it is selling out very quickly. Additional production is on it's way to resellers, and DFI is gearing up more production for October.
    Reply
  • gnumantsc - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Just a little typo in regards to 2 x 74GB Western Digital 74GB Raptor 10,000RPM SATA RAID (148MB Total) Should be 148GB not MB.

    Unless there is a raid system to make your 2 HDs 1000 times smaller :)
    Reply
  • helopilot - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Wesley: What an *excellent*, well written article! Full of very
    useful info, specs, opinions and lots of general observations and
    tips. I think this is one of the best pieces I've read on a
    hardware review site. You must have invested considerable time on
    this article!

    I especially appreciate the level of detail you've incorporated and
    the tables, diagrams, graphics etc. that really help to get the
    information across to the reader. You deserve high praise indeed
    for this level of tech writing.

    Keep up the Good Work!

    Reply
  • PolaroidPaul - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Great review but one issue that bugs me. I am looking into building a value OC system and it sure seems like the DFI board is a good one. Unfortunately, it is practically vapor ware at the present time.

    Maybe parts that are not readily available should not be on the recommended list. I hate having to wait for parts to show up in distribution while every article tells me how good the sample was. Tell me about what is comming but don't put it on the list if it does not show up as availalbe on your real time pricing list.

    Just my humble opinion!
    Reply
  • Illissius - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    I will repeat the stuff about the value RAM. You say yourself that the A64 isn't as sensitive to memory bandwidth, and the doubling of it with socket 939 only results in 2-9% performance gains. 'Enthusiast' memory is a lot less than twice as fast, so you can extrapolate how much extra performance that would gain, and it makes little sense to spend double on it when that money would be much better spent on a faster processor or video card*.
    Actually, you should just split the memory into Performance and Value, same as with the processor. Ballistix and EB for Performance, and standard value RAM from someone reputable (eg Corsair Value Select) for the Value. Hell, why not seperate /every/ component into Performance and Value? 9800Pro/6600GT and 6800GT for the video card, WD Raptor and random 120-200GB drives, and so on.
    ...I'm starting to think that the best thing to do would be to just flat out split the Performance and Value into seperate buyer's guides. They're at least as different as the mid- and high end guides are.

    One more thing, and then I'll stop - the HSF has much more significance in the overclocking equation than you seem to be attributing it. You don't need to give it a seperate section, just mentioning a list of the better choices would be nice (afaik, Zalman CNPS7000A-(Al)Cu, Thermalright SLK-947/8U, SP-94/7/8, and XP-90/120, and possibly others), because for the person just getting into the whole overclocking thing, they may not know ;).

    * Contrary to a common misconception, you don't need faster memory to overclock the processor. Most boards can lock the memory at stock speeds, or otherwise can use a 5:4 ratio or something.
    Reply
  • iversonyin - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    i would fork out a little more for 2800+ athlon 64 then usin the sempron

    hes right on the money $20 more, u r better off with 2800+ 64 then sempron
    Reply
  • thebluesgnr - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    #13,

    it's actually:

    X300SE = 9600SE
    X300 = 9600
    X600PRO = 9600PRO
    X600XT = 9600XT

    No 9200 in PCIe.
    Reply
  • DEMO24 - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    This is to poster #2. You CAN buy a x300 or x600. its called the 9200 for a x300 and a 9600 for the x600. Theres nothing speical to the x cards below the x800 cuase they are all jsut old cards made to fit PCI-e. A good way for ATI to make money and look good. Reply
  • ksherman - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Yippie! someone finally OCed a Sempron! Ive been wondering how well those cheapos would do... Sounds amazing! Reply

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