What is extreme overclocking

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Extreme Overclocking is the art of trying to reach the absolute scientific edge of PC hardware performance. The most significant scientific boundary encountered when pushing hardware to its maximum, is that of thermal limitations. Extreme overclocking therefore typically involves the use of extreme, sub-zero cooling methods such as liquid nitrogen to reduce or even eliminate thermal limitations. This allows for much higher clock speeds and vastly improved performance.


In General

Extreme Overclocking can also be described as the Formula 1 of overclocking. World Record scores on the HWBOT database are almost always achieved using extreme, sub-zero cooling. In fact Extreme Overclocking with LN2 is now almost a requirement when attempting to compete at the highest levels of the Overclocking scene.

Extreme Overclocking however is also about having access to the best hardware which often requires access to substantial financial resources. Often Extreme Overclockers receive support from hardware vendors. Support with motherboards, memory and power supplies for example is relatively commonplace with Elite and Extreme league overclockers.

More than anything however, Extreme Overclocking involves huge amounts of passion and dedication. Extreme cooling with LN2 is something that requires a specific skill set including an intimate knowledge of the hardware, an understanding of components power delivery designs, the ability to physically modify hardware as well as knowledge of subzero cooling.

Extreme Overclocking Requires:

  • Access to High-end Hardware
  • Access to Liquid Nitrogen (or Liquid Helium)
  • Lots of Overclocking Experience
  • Lots of Time and Patience

Extreme Overclockers Are:

  • Highly Skilled and Experienced in Ambient Overclocking
  • Dedicated and Passionate
  • The Most Respected Overclockers in the Community


Who Enjoys Extreme Overclocking?

The HWBOT league system currently has around 1,835 Extreme League members who regularly compete with LN2 cooled PC systems. Elite league members also typically engage in Extreme Overclocking and number around 186 members. Together these two leagues represent the most experienced overclockers in the world.

Extreme Overclocking is regarded as the pinnacle of Overclocking as a sport. The vast majority of Extreme Overclockers also have vast experience of Ambient overclocking. For most overclockers, the passion for the sport begins with using regular air or water cooling to reach a stable overclock. Extreme Overclocking is typically something that comes much later.

For example: Current World No.1 Dancop was an active member of HWBOT for many years before trying LN2 cooling for the first time. In fact it could be argued that his vast experience with ambient overclocking is an indispensable asset for him today.


How is Extreme Overclocking Done?

Extreme Component Cooling

Extreme Overclocking can be characterized by the application of extreme and usually sub-zero cooling methods. Although liquid nitrogen is the most widely used sub-zero cooling method for most Extreme Overclockers, there are several types of Extreme Cooling, these include:

  • Single Stage Phase Change (-40 °C)
  • Dry Ice (-70°C)
  • Cascade Cooling (-100 °C)
  • Liquid Nitrogen (-196 °C)
  • Liquid Helium (-269°C)

There are advantages and disadvantages to all sub-zero methods. Cascade cooling can offer hours of sub-zero cooling at around -100°C, however these devices usually very loud and consume a lot of power. Liquid nitrogen is popular because it is capable of much lower temperatures. However it can be difficult to acquire in some regions of the world, it can expensive and also requires a dewar, pouring spout and thermal flasks, additional equipment that also adds cost. Liquid Helium is extremely expensive and extremely dangerous. Overclocking with liquid helium is usually only possible in a controlled laboratory environment.

Useful guide: An Introduction To Extreme Cooling (overclockers.com): http://www.overclockers.com/an-introduction-to-extreme-cooling/


Insulation and Anti-Condensation Techniques

The problem with any kind of extreme cooling is the production of water vapor as a by-product. Once the key components have been cooled to sub-zero temperatures, the system will inevitably experience condensation, ice buildup and even water vapor appearing on the motherboard. Extreme Overclocking involves the application of insulation techniques to prevent any moisture or water build up affecting the system

In fact there are several techniques used to insulate the motherboard. These include coating the board in a petroleum jelly such as vaseline or covering key areas of the board in modelling clay, artists eraser, blue tack or even nail varnish or latex. No two overclockers agree on the absolute best way to insulate a board, but each has a specific methodology that has been developed over time.

As well as protecting the board, system fans are used and strategically placed to reduce temperatures and condensation build up. Rubber sleeves are used to mount the CPU and insulate the LN2 pot, while paper towels are used to soak up unwanted moisture.

Guides:


Hardware Modding

Hardware modding is the practise of physically modifying hardware components to allow the component operate further beyond stock settings. Many graphics cards for example use power delivery components that are limited in terms of how much power can be applied to the GPU and Memory. To allow for more volts, overclockers can modify specific ICs or other VRM components. In extreme cases overclockers can solder additional components to the component to radically alter the power delivery to the component. This requires a great deal of electrical knowledge and skill. If not done properly it can very easily result in total component failure.


Memory and Software Tweaking

Most overclockers are capable of adjusting the settings of their CPU amd GPU to improve clock speeds and performance. Extreme overclocking requires a broader knowledge of lesser known techniques to improve benchmark scores. These include system memory overclocking and OS software tweaks.

At the most extreme level of competitive overclocking, system memory overclocking becomes a vital skill set. Having pushed the CPU and/or GPU to the max, memory overclocking becomes the vital difference between a new World Record and relatively mediocre score.

Memory overclocking is perhaps also the most technically demanding and esoteric of all overclocking areas. Modern DDR3 and DDR4 memory kits have a vast array of possible sub-timings, including multiple options and settings deep within the BIOS subsystem. Configuring the memory settings to as efficient or ’tight’ as possible can be a process that takes hours of patient testing and retesting.

Guides:

Extreme Overclockers also tweak and optimize their Operating System as much as possible. Specific benchmarks run better in specific OSes including older OSes like Windows XP. In general however Extreme Overclockers take care to reduce the workload of the OS to ensure maximum efficiency and the highest possible benchmark scores.

Optimizing an OS for maximum efficiency can take a great deal of time and patience, but it can also make a huge difference to a benchmark run.