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Tech Tips

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    PlanetQuake | Features | Tech Tips | 6-3-2000
   

Tech Tips


Hardware

Your hardware is of course what enables overclocking in the first place, and therefore requires careful consideration.  The components you will want to think about in relation to overclocking are the motherboard and CPU, heatsink/fan, and the case.  I will go over each one of these in detail.  First off, by far the most important (and most complicated) part, choosing a motherboard and CPU.

Choosing A Motherboard and CPU

Since the motherboard and CPU go hand in hand, we will discuss them together.  I will assume that anybody reading this has a basic knowledge of the different CPU types out there, if not there are plenty of resources online to edumacate yourself such as Ars Technica, Anandtech, and Firing Squad and TechTips will be covering that soon as we move into our guide to building a gaming rig from the ground up.

Now then, the most important aspect of choosing a motherboard is its ability to change the FSB (front side bus) speed.  Most motherboards only allow the processor to run at it's default FSB, therefore rendering overclocking impossible.  However, nowadays many major motherboard manufacturers are catering more and more to the overclocking crowd.  Here's a quick list of goodies to look for in a motherboard for overclocking:

- LOTS of FSB speed options, the more the better!  Many good boards now have as many as 80 possible FSB speeds.  A variety of user changeable FSB speeds is a MUST HAVE.

- Ability to change the processor core voltage.  Sometimes in overclocking a stubborn CPU, giving it just a little more juice makes the difference between barely posting, and being rock stable.  In fact, more often than not you will need to raise the core voltage a bit to achieve stability.  Having a motherboard that can tweak the voltage of the CPU by at least 10% is really a necessity to any overclocker.

- Ability to change FSB and voltage settings from the BIOS.  Most older motherboards require you to play with jumper switches, while newer boards (especially those from Abit and Soyo) let you tweak EVERYTHING from the BIOS screen.  Trust me, playing in the BIOS is much more fun than messing with jumper switches all day. These motherboards are referred to as "jumperless" motherboards and usually come with what is called "SoftBIOS". You have full control through the BIOS rather than having to change all the jumpers.

- Special memory tweaking options. This is not as common on older motherboards but on some of the new VIA or KX133 chipset based boards, we are seeing options to tweak your ram performance, definitely a plus!

- Fan connectors, again the more the better.  Two is the absolute minimum, and you probably won't find a motherboard with more than four.

- Space between the CPU slot/socket and ram slots and/or large capacitors.  This is really hard to judge from looking at pics online, but if possible try to get a board that has a lot of room.  Some of the larger high performance Alpha or Global Win heatsink/fan units can sometimes take up a ram slot or two.

- Stability.  Face it, some motherboards are just complete and utter CRAP.  Anybody who owned a prepackaged computer which gave them trouble due to a crummy motherboard knows this.  Always stick with name brands.  However, even the big guys occasionally make really unstable motherboards, and overclocking will only worsen the stability problem.

- Standard motherboard stuff, such as how many ram slots? You NEED at least three.  How many PCI and ISA slots does it have?  Does it have AGP4x?  What chipset does it have, and how is it's performance and stability?  What slot/socket does it use and will you be able to upgrade to a better processor with it?  Be prepared to do some massive research on this stuff unless you already know about all of it.  Trust me, it's worth it to research a while and pick one you KNOW will be worth the cash rather than go on some toothless freak's rumor monger advice.

Overall the motherboard is THE MOST IMPORTANT piece of hardware in your entire system.  EVERYTHING connects to it in one way or another.  Don't skimp on the motherboard, buy the absolute best you can afford, and always be thinking of the future and it's upgradability.
 

Since a motherboard will only be able to fit one or perhaps a couple different types of CPU, you're CPU and motherboard choices will go hand in hand, while the CPU you choose helps decide which motherboard to buy.  However, NOT all CPU's are good for overclockers.  Some because the CPU themselves don't overclock well, others because the motherboard supply for them is pretty sketchy.  Therefore let's go over the major CPU's today and discuss how they rate for overclockers.

Celeron:

Ahh the Celeron, the Intel darling of the overclocking world.  These processors (especially the 300A and 366)  literally brought overclocking to the mainstream world.  With their combination of dirt cheap price, high overclockability, and a very wide and excellent set of motherboards to choose from, the Celerons were king of the overclocking world for quite some time.  However with the advent of higher performing chips and the vicious price cuts due to the Intel/AMD war, these Celerons are really getting left behind.  They are still a good idea for a novice overclocker due to the huge amount of cooling and motherboard options for them, but any serious gamer or overclocker should really stay away from them simply because while cheap and very overclockable, their performance is starting to lag behind most modern processors.  However for the casual gamer or for a good price/performance ratio for your mom's computer, these things still kick ass.  A Celeron running at 550 will be able to hold it's own against a Pentium III 500 in most situations, for a lot less.  Celerons come in Slot 1 and PPGA format, and trust me, PPGA is the way to go.  You can always buy a PPGA to Slot 1 converter.  There is a ridiculous amount of Slot 1 boards out there for overclocking.  While there are many Celerons out there the ones that overclock the best are generally the 300A, the 366, and the 400.  The 366 in particular will hit 550 about 75% of the time with proper cooling.  So for a absolute budget box, or for a email and word processing computer, the Celeron is still a viable solution.  However anyone looking for serious performance should definitely look to some of the newer cpu's out there.

Celeron II:

The new Celeron II's are just plain cool.  Basically they are Coppermined Pentium III's with half the L2 cache disabled which run on a 66mhz bus instead of 133 MHz, and while this seriously hurts performance in comparison with a PIII, the extra clock speeds you can achieve with these processors makes it worth it.  To put it simply, the Celeron II's are VERY overclockable, however because they run on a 66 MHz FSB by default still, and they have ungodly high multipliers, hitting 100 MHz FSB will be tricky.  With a good heatsink/fan though, Celeron II 533 and 566's routinely break 800 MHz, and there have been many reports of even breaking 1 gigahertz with just air cooling!  Combine the possibility of offensively high clock speeds with the ability to use a FC-PGA to Slot 1 adapter card to tap into the wonderful slot 1 mobo market, and the fact that the Celeron II's are about half the cost of PIII's, and you have a real winner.  The drawbacks?  Well you will NEED the extra clock speed to keep up with a Coppermine or Athlon, since not only do they provide more bang per MHz, but they also run at higher bus speeds with makes a HUGE difference in overall system speed.  Despite this, the Celeron II is definately a winner.  However with the impending release of AMD's Duron processors in a few weeks, I'd hold off on purchasing a Celeron II just yet, as I hear the AMD Duron (the Athlon's little brother) is going to completely own.

Pentium III:

This is for the guy with just TOO much money.  The Pentium III comes in several flavors, first there's the original .25 micron Pentium III's which ran on a 100 MHz bus.  These really shouldn't be considered in light of the newer flavors of PIII's out there.  Next we have the Pentium III's which have a .18 micron die process (the smaller the die is, the less heat produced, less voltage required, and generally the better the processor will overclock), and also runs on a 100 MHz bus.  These processors are denoted with a E at the end of the name.  These are the REAL juicy ones, as when you combine the smaller die (processor core) size, and a 100 MHz bus speed, these puppies overclock very nicely.  They come in FC-PGA and Slot 1 varieties and either way will be able to take advantage of a whole slew of good overclocking motherboards.  Lastly you have the Coppermine CPU's, these also have a .18 micron die process but run on a 133 MHz bus.  They have EB at the end of their names to denote the .18 micron process and 133 MHz FSB.  There are several problems with these CPU's when it comes to overclocking.  First off, the 133 MHz bus is already quite high, and you will need a newer VIA based chipset motherboard to run them at bus speeds any higher than that.  This makes overclocking quite hard due to having to find a motherboard that can reliably go beyond 133 MHz.  However the biggest problem is the RAM.  Remember your RAM also runs on the FSB, and even the best PC-133 ram just will NOT do anything above 150 MHz, and finding RAM that will even do 140 is quite a challenge (not to mention pricey).  Overall, while their performance out of the box is the best, the EB processors are NOT good for overclocking.  Bottom line is, if you're looking to overclock a Pentium III, buy one that has just an E on the end.  In particular, the PIII 600E has shown to be quite a good overclocker.  The PIII's are VERY expensive compared to the other CPU's, but their performance is nothing to laugh at, and when it comes to gaming, if you have the cash you just can't go wrong with a Pentium III.



   


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