l33t post of the day
Wired News: Welcome to the world of overclocking, where silicon lives fast, dies young, and leaves a good-looking corpse.
Every computer has a clock that beats out the working cadence of the CPU and the components that feed it. Each time the clock ticks - 2.26 billion times per second before Sylvia stepped on the gas - the CPU spits out another calculation. The quicker the clock goes, the quicker the computer runs. A pumped-up PC perks up any application. More to the point, it smokes the competition in a first-person shooter like Quake, which is really what this is all about. No one risks frying his CPU for a zippier spreadsheet.
A chip's rated speed isn't a hard-and-fast limit; it's just the clock rate at which the manufacturer guarantees optimal performance. Before Taiwanese motherboard maker ABIT released its IT5H board in 1997, however, tweaking that rate meant unsoldering a machine's original clock and installing a new one - a tricky operation that daunted even skilled technicians. The IT5H let you accelerate right from the keyboard. By typing a few instructions during the PC's boot cycle, you could change the front-side bus multiplier - the parameter that governs how fast the CPU communicates with main memory - and shunt more voltage to the processor.
ABIT's board appeared at an opportune moment. Soon afterward, Intel split its product line between the high-speed, high-ticket Pentium and the cheapo Celeron. Suddenly, users who mounted Celeron chips on ABIT boards could create a "virtual Pentium." The convergence of easy hacking and affordable hardware turned an obscure geek hobby into full-bore macho mania. Once they're hooked, overclockers kiss the budget good-bye as the compulsion to put the pedal to the metal smashes the usual restraints of time and money.
As Spider-Man learned, with great power comes great responsibility. The more electrical current a chip draws, the hotter it becomes. Without a cooling system, an overclocked CPU's delicate microlithographed circuitry burns out. Thus, cooling is an obsession among overclockers, who trade tips and post benchmarks at online hangouts like HardOCP.com (the Hard Overclocker's Paradise) and Futuremark.com.
Speaking of overclocking, check out this MegaTokyo comic (I swiped a panel from it for my recent review).