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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  • whitelight - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    For ram, look into PQI's 2-2-2-5 (2x512mb) solution. It overclocks really well with relatively tight timings and has samsung's tccd chips. It's also cheaper than other solutions ($250) Reply
  • axel - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Hi, very interesting article indeed.

    The only thing I do not really understand, and rather see as an error is the following:

    You say that almost every top overclockers i.e. in the futuremark 3dmarks ORB database are on AMD platforms. Though, except if I'm not looking at the right place, if I'm taking into account the 5 best scores, I see that 4 of them are running Pentium4 platforms, and only one is an AMD (which is actually on the 4th position of the top-5).
    Reply
  • AlphaFox - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Id like to see how the XP stacks up against the 64 when overclocked.. I have a XP mobile 2600 and am running it at 2.46Ghz and everything I throw at it runs as smooth as silk.. I dont see a need to upgrade unless there was something I couldnt run, or run smooth. Reply
  • eetnoyer - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Any chance you've tested the limits of the ballistix RAM on the DFI. If so, how high did it reach? Reply
  • Nickel020 - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Nice article, but there is a mistake on page 5 (CPU and Motherboard: VALUE OC Recommendations):
    The heatsinks listed (XP-90 & 120) are made by Thermalright, not Thermaltake.
    Reply
  • Shinei - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Nice article, though I'm curious to see how the 3200-M64 performs compared to the Clawhammer and Newcastle desktop cores. I know the Newcastle revisions have an upgraded memory controller, or something like that; does the 3200-M64 have the same upgrades, or is it based on the older Clawhammer revision?
    And why the choice of OCZ's PowerStream? Antec puts out a 550w that's just as reliable as the 480w you suggested as an alternative... Unless I missed a review that pointed out the OCZ to be more robust than the Antec supply.
    Reply
  • qquizz - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    This is my type of review. I can't have too many of them. I do agree with slashbinslashbash about some guidance on value oriented RAM. The price differences between 2-2-2-5 memory and say 2.5-x-x-x value memory is rather drastic. But if none of it will o/c then so be it. Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    #2: Under the Value OC Alternative system Wesley writes "Buy an ATI 9800 PRO for $200 less and overclock the heck out of it." So it looks like you were right on the money ;) Personally I'm looking at a 9600XT All-In-Wonder as it's about the same price at Newegg; less performance in games (still reasonable framerates in Doom3) but with the ever-so-cool All-In-Wonder functionality added. Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    Great guide. The only thing that I'd ask you to do differently (or rather, to add next time) is to make a "value" recommendation for the RAM. Nowadays I won't use any less than a gig of RAM, but I think it's silly to pay substantially more for RAM than for the CPU. Even just one stick of 512MB in the Value Alternative system costs more than the CPU.

    I'd like to know some "value" RAM alternatives that might not have such aggressive latency timings but will still keep up with the mobo and CPU, if it's possible. I know you guys can't test every cheapo stick of RAM out there, but... any sort of guidance would be appreciated. All the big brands offer "Value" RAM. Will none of it overclock? Is the performance from the recommended $280 (for 1GB) RAM actually worth the $120 premium it commands over, say, two $80 sticks of Corsair Value Select (on front page of ZipZoomFly)? Would that $120 be better spent on the CPU? It's more than the difference between the Sempron 3100+ and the "Value Recommended" system's A64 3200+.. and it nearly covers the upgrade to both the CPU and motherboard.

    Also, two errors: 1) the eVGA 6800GT is listed as $389 under the Value Alternative system but at $383 under the Value Recommended system; 2) the Value Recommended system sums to $1440, not $1460.

    Again, great guide, it's probably what I'll be looking at when I decide on my next system.
    Reply
  • decptt - Friday, September 17, 2004 - link

    For AGP VGA, do you have a value altervative for limited budget not playing doom3?

    For me, 6800 is too powerful to run multimedia and encoding DivX.

    Do you think 9800Pro can be runner up?
    Anyone knows about when ATI X series for AGP (X300, X600) will be coming? or ONLY PCI Express :'(
    Reply

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