Welcome to what must surely be one of the most fascinating interviews in the Overclocker in Focus series. Richard Swinburne worked as a motherboard reviewer and technology writer on the media side of the industry fence for several years before switching sides and joining the ASUS ROG marketing team in 2011. Now employed by MediaTek, Richard remains an impassioned Overclocking evangelist with lots of ideas about the past, present and future of the game.
The Interview Transcript
HWBOT: Hi Richard. Thanks for joining us on the Overclocker in Focus series. Please go ahead and introduce yourself.
Richard Swinburne: I’m Richard Swinburne. I’m 32, from the UK. I’ve been overclocking for about fifteen years, as an enthusiast, not with liquid nitrogen. I was writing for media and doing overclocking as media for about six, seven years, before joining ASUS in 2011 – joined the ROG in 2011, until last month. And my online name for Twitter and HWBOT is Billy Baggy, that was also about sixteen years ago – from Red Dwarf, if you remember that. I’m from the UK as you can probably tell.
HWBOT: What is your educational background?
Richard Swinburne: My education is Chemistry. I did a Chemistry degree which seems weird. Everything on PCs is self taught, like most people. I have no Electrical Engineering knowledge but everything is taught from simply asking questions, playing around, reading online.
HWBOT: When did you start overclocking?
Richard Swinburne: I’d learned a lot as media talking to the engineers in Taiwan when we get to come out here, because I used to be based in the UK. Then I moved out here, and we learned a lot, because I reviewed motherboards predominantly, and then CPUs and then memory and I learned a lot from the engineers about the power delivery, the Front Side Bus tweaking, all the way down to tRD settings, memory timings and stuff like that. Back when Front Side Bus was a thing.
HWBOT: How do you see the overclocking scene today?
Richard Swinburne: Overclocking went from nothing to everything, because performance goals were a driver for review scores, for technological… you were able to sell on the fact that you were faster than someone else. So it became… it always is important, and being the best performance motherboard is a driving force for the whole industry. It’s been a great thing.
I wouldn’t say that there’s been a ‘Golden Days’, I think there are people who have preferred certain sections of time where they were perhaps better at it or perhaps knew the platform better, had more time to learn it and stuff like that. My time to learn, it was Pentium 4 through Core 2 Duo / Quad days, and after that in fact when I joined ASUS I did less overclocking because we were doing work based on it. So I left the Overclocking side of it to the R&D guys. It was just for fun and for casual stuff, but in media you really have to learn about everything and that was fun back then. I think it’s changed but, not for better or worse.
Five years ago I was like that. Five years ago I was looking as media just getting out in the industry, having spent five, six, seven years writing about motherboards with no auto-Overclocking. Seeing people just press a button, I just felt like… arh that’s just taking all the love out of it. It was like looking at my industry going into nothing, into people… put your nose in the air a bit on that one.
But having seen how popular it is, how popular that feature is from a sales perspective and from an entry level, getting people into it. It’s giving people the idea that anyone can overclock and…. What is the benefit? I didn’t know what Overclocking was. You mean I can just press a button? And so someone in a sales room somewhere who has no PC experience, can go.. ‘boom’, there you are, that’s how to do it very quickly. And they go.. I didn’t even know you could do this. And then they take it home and look about what it means to have an overclocked PC and they start getting into it. And then they discover benchmarking and this and that and they start tweaking it and it just opens up. It’s like the benefit of… I mean people.
Before there were buttons to press there was ‘in-Windows’ Overclocking and people go, oh no don’t tweak from within Windows, you can only do it from the BIOS because that’s hardcore. It’s like, ok but now loads of people do it from (Windows). These guys do it [points to live OC contest], you know tweaking from in Windows and having the special software. Yeah, so everyone got there eventually.
HWBOT: How has the industry influenced Overclocking?
Richard Swinburne: But in terms of every sport there’s going to be cynicism. If you go to Motorsport there are guys who are casual Motorsports fans, there are guys who are casual modding cars fans, all the way up to big money F1. There’s going to be cynicism in it but people still watch F1, people still watch the live stream and people still watch the cool Overclocking, the world record breaking. There’s always going to be drama in every industry, that fine. Just let those guys deal with that drama and get on with it. Just enjoy it. The fact that there’s enough money in it so more people can get into it and take part and have events like this. And everyone has their own kind of events.
What’s worrying is that the push towards gaming has stopped a few (events), like we don’t MOA any more, the GIGABYTE one has kind of stopped. So there’s less online events, but there’s still offline events which is arguably better. People don’t have to leave the comfort of their labs, and anyone can join in. So anyone can into it and jump out, they don’t have to travel abroad so.
HWBOT: Where do you see overclocking in five years from now?
Richard Swinburne: And there’s always the AMD route if you want more freedom. Just for playing with freedom. And I think maybe Zen is going to bring back some of that next year. I mean, I don’t know the platform yet, but I hope it’s going to be competitive and we’re going to have a bit more AMD / Intel head-to-head, because that’s what the industry needs really. It needs more live comparison, more dynamic battling.
Right now because of AMD’s financial issues, Nvidia is going off taking a load of the market, Intel is dominating completely. So the market conditions could be better from a consumer perspective and from an Overclocking perspective. We can only hope that they get a good core and we get more freedom and more choice.
The next challenge is getting more people who are buying PCs at the point of buying PCs, like the workshops, but thousands of workshops. In every country. Somehow doing that. I don’t know someone is going to get the resources to do that… I don’t know. That’s the next challenge.
HWBOT: How can we expand mobile platform Overclocking?
Richard Swinburne: Mobile Overclocking.. wow. It’s a lot harder. You’ve got to have a lot more stuff and obviously mobile is a lot more integrated, you can’t just slap a pot on a CPU.
I’d like to go down to the SoC level, like we do here with having, you know you delid a CPU and get straight to silicon. I’d like to see that on SoCs. I’d like to see dev boards from Qualcomm, from MediaTek, from Intel, from Allwinner, everyone even ARM themselves – where you could overclock it. Just for fun. Whose design is the best? And get more and more enthusiasts in it that way.
People do IoT dev boards, there’s Raspberry Pi. They’re relatively inexpensive. I expect the other developer boards to be a higher price, but getting people interested in performance tweaking SoCs, optimizing SoCs and just something different, you know growing the interest in the tech industry and performance industry.
There’s nobody in those companies that has links with extreme overclocking. They’ve got to have someone within it to try and break the cycle as it is. And everyone so fixated on… unless it’s applicable to a phone we can’t say anything about it [whispers…]. It doesn’t matter. Come on. Nobody in any OC event has any application to a real world PC. But it’s just fun. It’s the exploration of what the silicon can do, what the system can do. That’s what it is. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t run Word at three million frames-per-second. It’s not necessary. It’s not necessary to say that battery life is going to be non-existent. It doesn’t matter. It’s just to see who has the best engineering design. The best silicon quality.
I mean the phone industry is the PC industry in the late 90’s. They’ve come so far so fast, but they’ve left some avenues to explore.
HWBOT: What do you think about Overclocking as an eSport?
Richard Swinburne: If extreme gaming and eSports gaming can be a game and a sport, why not overclocking? It’s just getting to that level now. I mean eSports gaming went through a growth patch then everything crashed because all the money fell out of it. And it’s just picking up again due to mostly LoL and DOTA’s size and the money behind that. But that’s just the money and players are an explosive size compared to extreme Overclocking which is a niche, but it represents enthusiasts and PC building. Which is always going to be there.
A couple of companies, Cooler Master for example, have said the gaming market is now saturated for PCs, there’s too much attention to it, we’re going to go back to doing PC enthusiast and try to accommodate modders and overclockers and have the best PC designs. There’s less money in it, compared to eSports gaming, but it’s still as significant, it’s still as competitive.
When HWBOT last year came to us to pre-launch the OC-ESPORTS.io site, Adeline and I were very interested in doing a season to try and keep people interested over a long period. Which is what the ROG Showdown turned out to be. So that’s why we designed it as that and to have successive things. Not to have one event, then the next event, the next event just around product launches because that’s a tad cynical in terms of they only want it to have benefit for themselves. We want to kind of build up the whole thing and that’s why the enthusiast side and the extreme side came from.
So you separate the rewards that you can give away to both things. That took a lot of convincing internally, but it was trying to show that we could grow the reputation, the brand. And the enthusiast side, which has loads of people, and not just appeal to the high-end. The high-end guys are important of course, but we want to grow the entire thing. Rookies, Novices and stuff.
I still don’t agree with HWBOT’s way of categorizing Rookies and amateurs though. It’s got to be… time limited categorization is not my favorite way of doing it. It’s better to let people jump up to the next level once they’ve attained a certain points level. So they’ve overclocked and they’ve learnt so much they go to the next stage. If they learn some more, they go to the next stage. That’s typically how a sport works. You start from carts in Motorsport, then you go up to the next level, sort of Formula Renault then you go from Formula 3000, Formula 2, Formula 1.
You’ve got to get better. You’ve got to win the series and when I see people earning 0.1 points on HWBOT as a Rookie, I kind of feel sorry for them because you want them to win big and feel encouraged to do the next step. People are so used to earning big points and big money and stuff like this, and all the gamification of all the applications that you have in 3DMark or on your phone or… whatever. there could be some optimizations within that system. Hopefully we’ll see it.
It’s about getting the best experience. Even if you’re only gaming on it and overclocking a little bit. Or even if you’re maybe 3D rendering or whatever, it’s getting value out of it. You go to gaming events, even Pro gaming events and their PCs are setup so poorly. You know… cheap power supplies or a massive graphics card and the cheapest motherboard they could get, and you’re just like, why did you…? Why? Why? You got an i7 on a forty dollar motherboard and your just …
HWBOT: If you could change one thing in Overclocking, what would it be?
Richard Swinburne: Erm.. AMD back in it. Really. I’d like to see a more competitive industry frankly. And more variety. More options. Just from a consumer’s perspective. That’s always been my way. Just to see more options, even like I say, phones, AMD, Intel, Nvidia… just to be able to overclock on anything. If there’s something with a clock gen, you should have access to it. That’s what I want to see. It could be fun.
I’d change physics. [laughs] That would be nice. I’d change physics and give more options to the industry. That’s two things… but they benefit each other.