Author: Pieter-Jan Plaisier
The freshly released fourth generation of the Intel Core processor series, codenamed Haswell, launched at Computex 2013 on June 2. Next to the usual marketing features – power consumption, higher clocks, and better performance – this CPU launch will be particularly interesting for overclockers. In cooperation with HWBOT, Intel has developed a new version of the Extreme Tuning Utility (“XTU”). The new version includes an in depth integration with the HWBOT website. This integration presents itself as a new opportunity for the community to promote, explain, and celebrate that one thing we are all so passionate about: overclocking.
How it all began…
The project kicked off in January 2012 with a couple email exchanges between Intel and HWBOT. Over the next couple of months, the conversation would bring us from a simple “can we cooperate in 2012?” to detailing the possibilities with XTU and the HWBOT site. Intel needed a platform through which they can enable consumers to start overclocking and HWBOT is always looking to increase support for the overclocking community. Integrating an overclocking software application into HWBOT to enable sharing of overclocking information sounded like a great idea.
From July 2012 until October 2012 – almost eight months ago when you are reading this – the integration of the XTU application shaped. The application had to be re-written to support and secure the new benchmark, XTU profiles needed to be secured as well. File transfer protocols had to be put in place to have XTU communicate with HWBOT. It required a lot of software development.
At the end of 2012, XTU was ready but put on hold to see it released together with the new Haswell micro-architecture.
Intel XTU, The Overclocking Software Application
Primarily, the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility is an overclocking software utility which gives overclockers a bunch of knobs and sliders to tune the system real-time in the operating system. In the ideal situation, the software and BIOS would synchronize automatically and any change in the operating system would translate into a BIOS change. This means you can fully tweak your configuration from a simple software tool.
Through XTU, you can change variables such as BCLK frequency, CPU Ratio, Ring Bus Ratio, Memory multipliers, and according voltages. Most of the settings are adjustable on the fly, but some obviously require a reboot.
The latest version of XTU, v4.1, supports CPU architectures from Sandy Bridge and up and has full integration support for HWBOT.
Analyze and Download OC Profiles Through HWBOT Integration
The most important aspect of the cooperation between Intel and HWBOT is the so-called Analyze functionality. This functionality allows K-SKU users to check the performance of their (overclocked) system and compare it with users of the HWBOT community. Based on a short benchmark and the overclock information from the XTU profile, your Analyzed XTU Profile will be put on a chart indicating how well rs is compared to everyone else. Next, you can download any profile from the HWBOT database, import in into your XTU application, apply the settings, and increase the performance of your system.
The Analyze functionality is something new. The great benefit of this concept is that it will unify the basic overclocking experience across the board (pun intended). The main objective is to lower the entry barrier for new Intel K-SKU users to make proper use of their purchase and not just have it sit without being overclocked. Via a simple benchmark and comparison feature, new overclockers can easily get access to a database filled with profiles and information. You can compare profiles online and then decide which you would like to try out. The systematic overclocking process remains the same. You will still have to go up slowly. But at least you have a helping hand guiding you through the process with useful examples.
Detect System Information and HWBOT Integration.
Another interesting level of integration allows us to use the XTU overclocking profiles to detect system information. We can extract the hardware components used in a specific profile and link them automatically to the HWBOT benchmark submission. XTU allows you to link the right hardware to your benchmark submissions instead of the manual labor it requires today.
In addition, the XTU profile will also provide extra information on the settings used to achieve a certain result. You can share frequencies, multipliers, and voltage settings with the rest of the community!
The Benchmark Integration.
Obviously, with the new Intel XTU having a benchmark included, we will also host rankings based on this benchmark. The benchmark is a straightforward click and run type of benchmark based on the popular processor stress tool Prime95. Initial testing revealed the benchmark scales with core quantity, core frequency as well as a little bit with memory frequency. Of course, the die-hard overclockers will figure out the benchmark and its exact scaling capabilities over the next couple of weeks. The benchmark time is variable depending on the system performance. Under normal circumstances, the benchmark will not take more than ninety seconds. It is a relatively quick benchmark, in other words.
Stay tuned for competitions with XTU and the XTU benchmark!
Community Opportunity – OC Workshops
This particular project has been very interesting for HWBOT. Not only did we get the opportunity to work together with Intel – rare enough to begin with – but we have also been able to study up on the complex structure of the CPU and BIOS interaction. We learned that setting a CPU core multiplier is not that simple, but is actually a complex logic that involves many variables. Add in the fact that XTU relies on the bios implementation of 3rd party ODM and OEM companies and you will understand this project has not been very easy.
However, the most interesting aspect of the XTU project is not the technical side of it. It is the new opportunities for hardcore community members to explain overclocking in a new and hopefully more down to earth manner. The Analyze functionality is perfect for this. Not only does it give you a unified and very visual overclocking experience, it also provides a clearer path into the world of overclocking at HWBOT. It allows you to make a connection between simple overclocking and the world of the die-hards, without forcing you to participate or even compare with them. You can learn how to overclock at your own pace and tempo, slowly working your way up to a more performing configuration.
Overclocking workshops are very popular nowadays. It seems that many people are interested in overclocking and want to learn. People organize such workshop activities all around the world, from Brazil to Australia, from Northern Europe to South Africa. It is our hope that with XTU and the HWBOT integration, workshops can break the trend of the low follow-through of the participants. At HWBOT, you can find guides on how to use XTU for your workshop!
Technical Limitations and Restrictions
A major problem with XTU and the level of integration it is promoting are the technical limitations. After all, it is already difficult for vendors to come up with their own fully functional software. What XTU offers is a unified solution – one that works on all boards. That means mainboard developers have to stick closely to the BIOS Writer’s Guide and official Intel guidelines. However, as you know each vendor has their own way of implementing features, going from the way they program the CPU core ratio to voltages and even memory timings. Some motherboards BIOSes do not support certain options or vendors may have locked down parts for security purposes. For example, a motherboard vendor might opt to limit the voltage range for low-end products.
It is a challenge for Intel, the mainboard vendors and HWBOT to come up with a unified solution. It takes hours to test and re-test new BIOS features and their implementations. As reward for going through the rigorous process of readying the motherboards for XTU, the products that do pass tests will receive official Intel XTU certification. This way everyone, including the community, will know what boards are guaranteed to work with XTU.
Overall, one could say the XTU Intel/HWBOT collaboration is an ambitious project. We think it is too. However, ambitious doesn’t is not per definition unrealistic. We believe in this project and the positive things it can bring to the community and overclocking in general. If Intel sells more K-SKU CPUs, that is great for them. If those buyers also start to participate in overclocking events and workshops, that is great for the community. And it is good for the top dogs, as more people will look at their results and “wow”.
In the end, HWBOT is all about strengthening the overclocking eco-system. Whether it is by addressing issues at the HWBOT website such as hardware sharing or trying out new ways to make the competitive structure more attractive, all falls together with the care for the eco-system. We have seen a significant drop in active low-level overclockers. Those people will play with their system a bit on air-cooling, but will not join any competitive overclocking long-term. They are the ones that celebrate overclocking records, but have seemingly lost the passion. With XTU, we hope to recapture that crowd and with the help of the existing community, grow the overclocking community!