CPUs and Overclocking, A Love Story

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CPUs and Overclocking, A Love Story

Author: Timothée Pineau

The history of computing ties in with a lot hard work and technical innovations. The most important innovations are surely the transistors and micro-processors. Today, CPUs are everywhere. We find them in our desktop systems, smartphones and even in our cars. There is no limit to how we can use processors.

As we all know, overclocking is increasing the operating frequency of the hardware components we use. Manufacturers rate a product to a specific clock frequency, and we just set it higher. The game usually is to find out how far we can push the hardware, both in terms of frequency and performance. Eventually, we overclock until we find the right mix of performance and stability combined with the optimal usage model.

In this editorial we go back in time to find out more about overclocking CPUs. What is the highest frequency every achieved? How long do overclocking records stand? What vendor has the biggest overclocking footprint? Let’s find out.

The best overclocking CPUs.

We all know HWBOT can be used for keeping track of your own benchmark scores, or to compete against friends and foes. But the engine behind the bot offers much more. Over the years the database has indexed so many benchmark results, we are about to go back to the early years of competitive overclocking and for example find out data on the history of CPU frequencies.

Note that the HWBOT database only started in 2006, so any records from before that time – think about the epic Celeron 300A and the Athlon XPs – we can’t talk about.

Currently the highest CPU frequency (for desktop) ever achieved is 8179.988 MHz. CPU Frequency has always been an interesting category for overclockers. TheKing from Italy held this record for nearly two years straight from early 2007 to late 2009.

All the way until mid-2011, Intel ruled the top of the frequency rankings. That year something changed, though, and that something is called Bulldozer. Macci, a renowned overclocker from Finland cooperated with the AMD marketing team to push the FX-8150 CPU not only to the top of the CPU frequency rankings, but also into the Guinness Book of Records reaching a core frequency of 8.4GHz.

From that point forward, AMD never let loose of the frequency record.

Caption: Max CPU frequencies (Source: HWBOT)

Frequency does not always rhyme with performance. Sure, these records are only validations using the CPU-Z software and are usually stable for only a couple of seconds. When we consider overclocking, and competitive overclocking in particular, we also look to measure the performance with specific benchmark applications.

What other processors are part of the Highlights of Overclocking?

The most appreciated CPUs by overclockers

When you have access to the 850,000+ benchmark scores in the HWBOT database, you can learn cool things. It really is a gold mine for hardware enthusiasts. Take for example the graph below. This graph shows the volume of scores for the top-3 most used processors each year since 2006.

Caption: Percentage of scores by CPU model (top3) annually. (Source: HWBOT)

Note: not a single AMD CPU seems to appear in this chart. It doesn’t mean that no one uses an AMD CPU, but it means not enough people bench it. Today, 90% of the overclockers use Intel, where only 17% tries an AMD product.

Let’s have a look at the Intel Core i7 2600K. At the time of its launch, the processor made big news. For both gaming and overclocking, the Sandy Bridge architecture was a must-have, and the 2600K was the top-end SKU. The year of its launch, the Core i7 2600K accounted for nearly 30% (!) of the benchmark submissions. The year after, for still 13%. The Sandy Bridge architecture make a significant impact on the IT industry and market.

The volume of submissions are a good indicator of the performance improvement every product brings. The higher the volume, the more innovative and performance enhancing a product is. What we can also learn from this chart is that overclockers don’t necessarily care that much about the cost of a CPU. After all, the Core i7 980X was the most popular processor in 2010. That being said, the much cheaper Core i7 920 was almost as popular that year.

Talking about performance and innovation, let’s have a look at the evolution of the records in one of the most popular benchmarks, SuperPI 32M.

SuperPI-32M, the overclocking cult benchmark.

SuperPI 32M is such a tradition in the world of overclocking. It was developed in 1995 and was adopted by the overclocking community as a means to (accurately) measure the system performance. People started to compete for the fastest SuperPI time.

The folks at HWBOT have started an archeological project to see how overclocking was prior to 2006. Targetting specific benchmarks – for example SuperPI 32M – we can now look back all the way until January 13, 2000. At that time, it took no less than 1 hour and 56 minutes to complete the benchmark. It was the Japanese overclocker ほりっち who achieved this result by overclocking a Pentium 3 500 to 805 MHz.

Caption: Execution time of SuperPi 32M (Source: HWBOT)

Today it takes less than 5 minutes to complete a SuperPI 32M run.

This concludes your journey down memory lane and small historical overview of the most overclocked CPUs. And you, what CPUs did you enjoy overclocking the most?


Belgium Massman says:

Nice write-up, Xyala!

France Wizerty says:

yes, very interesting, thanks :)

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