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.
A Motherboard and CPU
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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.