Making A Case For Unlocked Dual Core CPU - Research On Losing The Entry Level Overclockers

  • News, Editorials
  • 18

Making A Case For Unlocked Dual Core CPU – Research On Losing The Entry Level Overclockers

Author: Pieter-Jan Plaisier

In light of the recent news leak by VR-Zone from which we learned the Haswell Refresh is seeing the daylight on June 2nd at Computex 2014, we reviewed the initial information from Intel regarding their upcoming enthusiast releases. Dating back one month, Intel stated it will accommodate the PC enthusiast with four different novelties:

  • Haswell Refresh with improved Thermal Interface Material
  • Bring Iris Pro to desktop parts
  • Octo-core Haswell-E for X99
  • Affordable Pentium K “Anniversary edition”

Most of the coverage on the web is, of course, dealing with the Haswell Refresh and the 8-core Haswell-E. In this article I would like to go deeper in on Intel’s approach to the enthusiast market and make an additional case for the USD $100 Pentium K edition.


When Intel switched to a K-SKU product segmentation strategy, the cost of overclocking increased drastically. Today, the minimum price for enjoying the overclocking experience is around USD $250. The strategy is very successful amongst enthusiast and mainstream overclocker groups as products targeted to these overclocker groups have been the most popular at HWBOT for the past three processor generations. On the downside, this strategy has almost completely erradicated the entry level overclocking community.

At HWBOT there are 643 overclockers who used the in 2007 released Pentium E2160. The most popular entry level processor released in 2012, the Pentium G860, only has 22 users. This means the entry level overclocking community has been reduced by 97%.

Looking at the CPU core count distribution for XTU, a software application featuring overclocking tools and a benchmark, we see that 10% of the HWBOT overclockers use a dual core CPU. That is remarkable mainly because there is no recent overclockable dual core CPU on the market, but also because the dual core overclocking group is larger than the hexa core overclocking group (despite having no products). In the Steam Hardware Survey we can also see that 50% of the gamers still use a dual core CPU.

Combining the clear interest of the community to have an overclockable and affordable processor with the historical evidence of the Entry level overclocker group as the likes of Pentium E2160, it appears there is demand and market space for this type of product.

Detailed report

Five groups of overclockers

As part of the research, I looked up information on the price at release for various popular overclocking processors. I then divided the enthusiast segment in five groups:

  • Extreme: USD $1,000 and above, best performance no matter what cost
  • Premium: around USD $500, close to best performance but price-conscious
  • Enthusiast: around USD $300, targets high-end SKU of mainstream platform
  • Mainstream: around USD $220, price-performance conscious
  • Entry: around USD $100, wants to fiddle but has no money

The Extreme segment has a lot of money to spend and will aim for the highest performance no matter at what cost. This segment usually includes the extreme overclockers who hunt for world records. They are willing to buy an one thousand dollar CPU just to have the best performance available on the market. Target price: USD $1,000

The Premium segment is somewhat split in the middle between upper mainstream and lower extreme. They will buy highly priced components if it will provide the best performance, but are price-conscious enough to realize when they can get something similar for an equal price. Target price: USD $500.

The Enthusiast segment includes most of the mainstream users who enjoy overclocking. They have a fair amount of disposable income and are ready to cash out if necessary, but mainly look at the mainstream platform when it comes to overclocking. An extreme CPU is usually too costly. Target price: USD $300.

The Mainstream segment comes a little below the enthusiast segment. The Mainstream users want to enjoy the same features like the Enthusiasts have, but are much more price-conscious and will look at what performance per buck they will get from a specific product. Target price: USD $220.

The Entry segment includes people who have very little money to spend on hardware components but still enjoy fiddling with the settings. Historically this includes students and younger gamers. This is the group who would buy low-end components and then overclock it to the performance level of the top-of-the-line components. Target price: USD $100.

An important note is that I grouped products by target audience. For example, the mainstream overclocker only has the Core i5 4670K as choice in the Haswell line-up because that is the most affordable overclockable CPU at the moment.

Overclocker groups and CPU pricing

The chart below describes the price evolution for the CPU hardware components targeting the various overclocker groups. For the price I considered the launch price as indicated on (exception: For the Core 2 Quad Q6600 we used the price for the launch of the G0 silicon revision). For each generation of architecture I looked at the choice for each enthusiast group. From top to bottom, the price varies between USD $1,059 for the most recent Extreme processors to USD $84 for the most low-end Entry processors.

Breakdown with precise release dates (click)

Here are some pointers to understand the chart,

  • For the Extreme user group, highlighted in grey, we see that the price has not evolved that much over time. The recent change from USD $999 to USD $1,059 may be related to differentiating between OEM and boxed pricing for the last three SKUs. The OEM price of all extreme CPUs is USD $999.

  • For the Premium user group, highlighted in orange, we can see a price increase of 12% comparing the USD $530 Core 2 Duo E6700 from 2006 to the USD $594 Core i7 4930K from 2013. The launch of the Conroe in 2006 had higher prices in general as the performance increase was so disruptive compared to the previous generation of processors.

  • For the Enthusiast user group, highlighted in light blue, we see that the price increased by 30% comparing the USD $266 Core 2 Duo E6850 from 2007 to the USD $350 Core i7 4770K from 2013. Traditionally every new generation of processors get a small price bump compared to the previous generation. This is mostly likely because the new generation CPUs are always launched when the previous generation is still in stores. To differentiate pricing, the new generation is a bit more expensive.

  • For the Mainstream user group, highlighted in yellow, we see a fairly similar price increase of 30% comparing the 2006 USD $163 Core 2 Duo E6300 and the 2013 USD $243 Core i7 4670K. Historically speaking people who would buy in to the Mainstream processor line-ups are technology enthusiasts on a budget. Speaking from personal experience, as a student I bought the Core 2 Duo E6300 because it was the closest I could get to the performance of the top of the line Conroe SKU. The price at launch was fairly high considering my budget, but the novelty of the product and my personal interest convinced me to purchase.

  • For the Entry user group, highlighted in dark blue, nothing has really changed over the past decade. The CPUs cost between USD $84 and USD $91, with a small spike in 2009 at USD $113 for the Core i3 530 processor.

In general we can say that for the Mainstream and Enthusiast segment the price has increase the most. Since 2006/2007 these overclocker groups pay about 30% more for enjoying the experience of overclocking.

Overclocker groups and their favorite SKUs

To understand the dynamic between the overclockers groups better, I pulled a list of the 100 most popular CPUs at HWBOT. The popularity is measure by the amount of distinct users who submitted a result to the database using a specific CPU. The chart below represents the popularity of a CPU grouped by target audience over time.

Breakdown with precise release dates (click)

The chart is a little complex to understand, so here are some pointers,

  • For the CPUs launched in 2006, the most popular CPU comes from the Enthusiast group. It is the Core 2 Duo E6600 and is in the top-10 of all-time favorite overclocking processors.

  • For the CPUs launched in 2007, the most popular Enthusiast CPU is the Core 2 Duo E6850. That CPU is in the top-30 all-time, but was the least popular of comparing all user groups. This does not mean the CPU was not liked, but probably means the E6600 was still being used a lot in 2007.

  • In general, the Extreme processors are fairly well-liked by the HWBOT overclocking community. The Core i7 980X was even the most popular CPU launched in 2010! We can see two spikes for Extreme processors: one in 2007, the release of the first quad core CPUs, and one in 2010, the release of the first hexa-core CPU.

  • Considering the previous point, we see that since 2011 (Sandy Bridge-E) the Extreme CPUs have become rather unpopular at HWBOT. Their place has been taken by the Premium CPUs. That is very understandable since the difference between K- and X-SKU is fairly small. Performance and overclocking-wise, the USD $600 price point products are as good as their USD $1,000 counterparts.

  • Since 2011, the first real K-sku segmentation, it is remarkable how well Intel manages to position the Enthusiast (2600K, 3770K, 4770K) and Mainstream (2500K, 3570K, 4670K) processors. The more expensive product is more popular than the more affordable overclocking product.

  • The most dramatic change can be found at the Entry user group. After two years of releasing fairly popular Entry level overclockable CPUs, the price for the lowest end overclockable CPUs went up for the Core i3 530. What followed was a reduction in popularity of the Entry group processors and since 2010 no sub USD $100 CPUs are amongst the most popular overclocking CPUs.

In general we can say that ever since Intel clearly defined product positioning for the overclocking products, the market segmentation is very visible. The Enthusiast products are more popular than the Mainstream products and the Premium processors are still doing very well. It will be interesting to see if the Haswell-E with 8 cores can push up the popularity of the Extreme product group for Intel. After all, that is where the biggest margins are.

Considering the Entry overclocker group, we can say that Intel has successfully eradicated overclocking using low-cost products. Since 2010 no low-end processors is popular at HWBOT, which can simply be explained by the fact that below the Mainstream product group everything is locked. The margin of overclocking is limited to the BCLK frequency margin, which for low-end parts varies between 2 and 5% on air cooling.

Losing 97% of Entry level overclockers

The reason why Intel wanted to eradicate overclocking of the cheap parts is very simple: when overclocking, you increase the performance beyond that of a more expensive part. In their logic, overclocking means losing the up-sell margin of the more expensive part. By locking down most of the SKUs and offering the ability to overclocking on a limited (and premium priced) selection, Intel has accomplished exactly what it wanted. People who want to overclock will have to spend more.

The problem with this approach is that it excludes the user groups of people who simply don’t have much money to spend. Referring back to my personal experience with the Core 2 Duo E6300, if I were a student today I would have to buy the Core i5 4670K. That is a price difference of USD $60, which is significant enough to consider opt-out. In the case of the Core 2 Duo E6300, I opted in specifically because the new architecture presented itself as a revolution in terms of performance. Without that revolutionary performance, I may not have been the owner of the E6300.

Considering the numbers from the second graph, charting the popularity of a overclock product over time, I looked in to the absolute numbers in the Entry overclocker group. The most popular Entry group processor SKU is the Pentium E2160, released in 2007, with 643 users. In 2011, the most popular Entry group CPU was the Pentium G6950 and only had 62 users. In 2012, that decreased to even 22 for the Pentium G860. That means we lost 97% of Entry level overclockers in five years time!

The question is: where did they go? If we look at the Mainstream overclocker group, we can see an increase of 70% in users going from Core 2 Duo E6300 to Core i5 2500K. One could jump to the conclusion that the majority of the Entry overclocker group moved to the more expensive (+ USD $100) Mainstream group. But considering that the same Mainstream group grew by 143% between 2006 and 2008 going from Core 2 Duo E6300 to Core 2 Duo E8400, that might not be the right conclusion.

The hypothesis is that in 2010 the disparity between affordable overclocking and extreme/marketing overclocking was too big, causing a disruptive effect amongst low income enthusiasts. That hypothesis is backed by evidence from the second chart. Of all CPUs released in 2010, the USD $1,000 Core i7 980X was the most popular amongst the HWBOT overclocking community members. The industry – motherboard vendors in particular – focused heavily on advertising the overclocking capabilities of the mostly engineering sample CPUs. This caused the masses to believe overclocking was something only for the wealthy or well-connected.

A case for Pentium K – the unlocked dual core

The last chart I want to share with you in this editorial is one we included in an internal report about the XTU integration project. The pie chart below illustrates the distribution of processor cores as used with the XTU benchmark at HWBOT.

Above you can see the following distribution,

  • 83% of the XTU users have a quad core CPU
  • 6% of the XTU users have a hexa core CPU
  • 10% of the XTU users have a dual core CPU

First of all I want to emphasize using of the XTU benchmark for this pie chart. XTU is a software application which combines the practicality of overclocking with the theoretical benchmarking. A user who downloads this software has access to a tool which is designed for overclocking. Also note that the benchmarking option has only been a part of XTU since the Haswell release. With this in mind, it is fairly straight-forward that most of the XTU users use a quad and hexa core CPU. Since Haswell, the only overclockable products have four and six cores. It is remarkable though how many people use XTU with a dual core CPU as there has not been an overclockable dual core CPU since Clarkdale. Looking at the 2xCPU XTU benchmark rankings, we also see that it is dominated with the non-overclockable dual core Haswell and Ivy Bridge CPUs.

This puts forward the case for an unlocked dual core CPU for future processor generations.

Combining the clear interest of the community to have an overclockable and affordable processor with the historical evidence of the Entry level overclocker group as the likes of Pentium E2160, I believe there is demand and maket space for this type of product. The Entry level overclockers of today are the big spenders of tomorrow and therefore it is important to cater to their wish for the overclocking experience within their budget range. The almost completely wiped out group of Entry level overclockers usually feature the most enthusiastic people, as they are “in it” for the passion rather than financial gain or grand media exposure. We should treasure that group and make them feel welcome in the world of overclocking again.

Bring on the Pentium K!


Australia FatBoyNotSoSlim says:

Can you redo the graphs (can see them on Facebook, not on HWB right now) with the lines the same colour? (Extreme as just grey, premium as just orange etc.)

Belgium Massman says:

Yea, apologies for that. Excel has a weird way of randomly assigning colors ...

Bulgaria I.nfraR.ed says:

403 Forbidden on linked images

Belgium Massman says:

How about now?

Belgium richba5tard says:

I can see them them, and I wasn't able to see them 20 minutes ago so I think it's solved.

Great article PJ! When I was a student I was able to buy a sub $100 processor (Athlon XP1700+) and overclock it to outperform the faster CPU available. I would never have been an overclocker if the cheapest overclockable CPU was > $200.

United States Gunslinger says:

I'm curious if the quad core domination of XTU submissions isn't because of the competition scheduling?

Sweden Calathea says:

Interesting read for sure. It's sad how budget oc has been so severely limited. I hope unlocked Pentium Dual core doesn't get too close to quad cores in price, it could be a fun chip to pick up for the lulz.

Australia alexluke42 says:

as a student and entry overclocker, I agree intel has destroyed overclocking in the entry segment, but I have moved to 2nd hand enthusiast gear (i7 920 x58 setup that I got for free), like many of my friends, and I don't see myself downgrading to a dual core in my main machine any time soon!

Belgium Massman says:

Gunslinger said: I'm curious if the quad core domination of XTU submissions isn't because of the competition scheduling?

Maybe, although one could argue that the purpose for submitting doesn't really matter. Whether you submit just for the leaderboards or specifically for a competition, in both cases you are actively engaged with overclocking.

Antarctica Trouffman says:

Interesting read !
The lock-down of OCing and pricetag put on the K SKUs to its magic.

Belgium Massman says:

FatBoyNotSoSlim said: Can you redo the graphs (can see them on Facebook, not on HWB right now) with the lines the same colour? (Extreme as just grey, premium as just orange etc.)

Updated with correct colors :)

Germany QAI says:

Todays entry overclockers start with systems from 775 era or older, then move up to stuff like the 1366. Even if there were unlocked dual cores, I'd still recommend the new guys to buy this kind of old hardware, as it teaches more about overclocking than simply raising the multiplier as many average K-sku users do today.
But that of course only applys mostly to those who buy hardware specifically for the purpose of benchmarking, and less to those who just want a faster 24/7 rig, then realize they can improve performance by overclocking and get into the szene this war. I think this last group is ceasing to exist, since today you either conciously buy an unlocked sku or you are told that you can not overclock anyway.

Russian Federation ZFeSS says:

The main problem is not here. Main problem is a fact that we've got only K cpus and no other for overclocking. Two models instead of 20-30 for each generation for the last 3 years in below 500$ market. It kills cpu overclocking. Main goal for this cpus (and especially for above 500$) is benching VGAs.
P.S. No word for AMD cause it's other topic.

Belgium Massman says:

Fyi, if you look at the Steam Hardware Survey, you can see almost 50% of the gamers are still running dual core. Market seems there ...

Norway knopflerbruce says:

If Intel releases an unlocked dual core, how many 4670k buyers will they lose? I bet a fair share just save up the extra $$$ just to get that extra perforrmance. I can understand if they won't release a chip like that (maybe they could release a semi-nulocked chip with unlocked MP up to, say, 45).

United States david.hunt. says:

Massman: Very food article and a good read.

My feelings are what has lead to the lack of new overclockers has many factors.

The economy is one BUT to me the biggest one is with the current Intel chips the variables that used to be available in the prior to say 2600K days are gone. Look back and see how many spent hours or even weeks working for that last little bit of FSB to gain higher computational power, the balance between multi and FSB and that is gone now. Sure with a X or K chip one can bump the multi until the chip won't function and find the limits but that takes most of the skill level out of the game.

Think back to the days when Sampsa was soldering in different PLL controllers to gain that advantage BUT now these capabilities are all locked away from us. Granted the chips are much more efficient but the ability to adjust them has been removed. When I reviewed the SR2 board back in 2010 I remember saying "This may be the first time where the current generation of chips is better than the next" and as that applies to what you can do with them I was correct. It was a business( money) decision on Intel's part as they saw people buying $290.00 E5620 Xeons and getting the performance from them on that board that would normally need the $1700.00 top binned X5680's/. IE: They lost a lot of potential money.

Same thing with the timeframe of the I7-920's. Some kid could buy the under $300.00 920, get his under $200.00 gaming board, run the BCLK to 200 with a 20 multi and take his 2660MHz cpu to 4GHz and those people didn't buy the top end 965 that sold for $1000.00.If you doubt what I say then think on this: The desktop version of the I7-920 came out well before the dual QPI xeon version and when the xeon version came out the Intel reference board had a added circuit to the PLL controller. This circuit contained a "patrol chip" whose sole purpose was to keep the chips from booting at anything over 1333. This I know for a fact as I spent months trying to OC a dualie 1366 and figure out why it wasn't possible including spending an afternoon in email with Franck(cpuz) trying maybe 20 different clockgens that he wrote to get around the lock Intel had on the system. It was that frustration that caused me to sit and trace all the circuitry and find this chip.

My point here is Intel makes decisions based on money and not what we the overclocking community want. WE are a small thorn in their side and to placate us they "allow the kiddies" as they see us. to have a few unlocked multi chips to keep us quiet. Think back to the timeframe before the SR2 board and all I was told by our tall French friend was " those chips are different than the desktop chips and they will not OC" and that was utter crap. I'd say BS but I'm trying to be polite. We see the same thing now with the current gen, locked solid with misinformation being spread by Intel about thermals,etc.. "Those chips won't run faster" and that is pure BS!

OK, bottom line is what you are missing is that you aren't dealing with a company that wants to work with the community but one that is solely driven by bottom line net dollars. That isn't wrong of them as lets face it, Business is business, BUT we have to understand that fact and stop beating our heads against a wall trying to deal with them.

United Kingdom Jumper118 says:

This is funny because i would really want a dual core intel cpu that is unlocked. Its not really the price of the i5 and i7, its the cooling required to get decent results that puts me off. At the end of last year i went intel. I had the choice of sandy, ivy or haswell. I went with Sandybridge purely for the reason that i stood a chance against people who are underwater in the same league. I know i wasn't going to beat sub 0 people, but with low ambient temps i can keep up with people under water with a sandy cpu. The other thing that put me off haswell was that i spend £240 on a 4770k and it will likely oc to 4.4ghz then hit a wall. Sandy is much more reliable in terms of high ghz. Ive turned to fm2+ for dual cores now anyway, ive got an unlocked a6 5400k and a 370k, because intel have nothing that i can oc in that price range. You even get a north bridge and bclk to mess with.

On another note, im not sure about your classification. Its seems the more you spend the more of an enthusiastic you become which often isnt the case. I see a lot of people with extreme cpus that dont know what they are doing. Whereas you have people like me who have less money so go and buy older stuff which isnt that relevant anymore like socket 478 and 939 and buy multiple cpus and a very high end board to learn and improve their overclocking skills and knowledge.

Australia Jimba says:

Good point! I to would buy a dual core for haswell fun. I brought parts that would of cost me the same as A very high end rig in 09 for cheap today. And just for benching as the older parts have more to tweak and play with.

Please log in or register to comment.