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What makes a classic overclocking motherboard?

Posted on 17th Jun 2009 at 08:29 by Mark Mackay with 26 comments

Mark Mackay
It should be said that on the grand scale of everything, I’m relatively new to the world of performance hardware. Some of the guys on the team have been into PC hardware and modding since the late 1500s and a few even longer than that. I got my first PC when I was 18 (about 8 years ago now) and it took a couple of years before I became interested in modding and overclocking.

This post is all about what makes a classic overclocking motherboard, and I feel I ought to apologise at the outset to the old schoolers for not mentioning any classic Uberboards that date from before my day.

The first PC I ever built completely from scratch used an Asus P5W DH Deluxe Wi-Fi, a motherboard that won a Custom PC Approved award back in Issue 39’s (December 2006) labs test. I was keen to start learning how to overclock and wanted to get one that would allow me to satisfy my growing urge for tinkering with my CPU.
What makes a classic overclocking motherboard? A Touch of Magic: What makes a classic overclocking motherboard?
However, at the time I ordered all my kit, I didn’t have my copy of Custom PC to hand and couldn’t quite remember the suffix. I knew it was an Asus board with ‘P5’ in the title, so punched the digits into the eTailer website and searched away.

Two boards came up; the P5W DH Deluxe and the P5B Deluxe. Which one was it? I wanted to get it right, so investigated the specs a little. The P5W was based on Intel’s 975X chipset, while the P5B was based on Intel’s P965 chipset. Surely then the P5W DH with its higher end chipset was the one I wanted?

Click.

Wrong. It was the P5B that was the zomgwtf overclocker. Sure, the P5W DH was okay and it got me started and lasted for a few years. But it got me thinking - why wasn’t the board with high-end chipset the better one? Despite the fact the 975X even had an ‘X’ for eXtreme, the Asus Commando and P5B with their P965 chipsets were the boards holding world records.

What makes a classic overclocking motherboard? A Touch of Magic: What makes a classic overclocking motherboard?
A couple of years later, the Asus P5K Pro was winner of the awards, kicking PCB ass and taking names. Yet again, there were more expensive motherboards out there, but none overclocked better, so that’s the one all the cool kids ordered. It's also the board that I used to build many high-end overclocked systems when I worked for Vadim computers.

You’d think that when motherboard manufacturers released their uber high-end motherboards that it would be those that were the overclocking kings. You'd think the £260 high-end model would overclock further than the £150 budget model, but as with the two examples listed above, that just often isn’t the case.

Having talked about this to various members of the team, we're still undecided as to why this is. Is there a degree of luck involved at the design stage, arising from choosing all the myriad components that make a motherboard? Is it because there are different design teams at most motherboard companies, and some are more accomplished than others? Or is there just a touch of magic involved when it comes to separating the great from the good?

26 Comments

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Pookeyhead 17th June 2009, 09:41 Quote
I think whatever element of luck there was in years past is now thankfully no longer the case. These days manufacturers are well aware that they need to make an enthusiast board that overclocks well. They're even advertised as such these days, and have features especially for the task. They will be tested to see if they do over clock well, and then sold with their own version of zomgwtf overclocking beast branding and labelling.
Elton 17th June 2009, 09:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pookeyhead
I think whatever element of luck there was in years past is now thankfully no longer the case. These days manufacturers are well aware that they need to make an enthusiast board that overclocks well. They're even advertised as such these days, and have features especially for the task. They will be tested to see if they do over clock well, and then sold with their own version of zomgwtf overclocking beast branding and labelling.

I don't know, the relatively cheap Gigabyte EP45-UD3P and UD3R can overclock better than the more expensive X48s.

Also, look at the P5Q Pro, a pretty decent but low end board, that was destructive as well. Or the Mid-range P35 Asus(P5K something w/ Wi-fi) that surpassed some of it's more expensive brothers.

I still think that perhaps there is some luck in it, but there's other factors, like the CPU batch or the types of RAM...the list goes on.

But in terms of motherboards, I think it's just a luck guess or a golden sample, and that luck still exists, I mean even within that one model, some can get up to 4.6Ghz with no volt tweaks on an E8400, but simultaneously, others can't even touch the 4Ghz mark without instabilities, volt change or not.

All in all though, I find that those "overclocking" boards are a waste of money, I mean sure, it's an enthusiast thing, but is it really needed? Not really, same goes for those open OC competitions too.
ch424 17th June 2009, 10:35 Quote
I'd have thought that lower-end chipsets have fewer connections, so the boards that they're on need fewer traces and layers, making the board design simpler and therefore decreasing crosstalk and increasing timing tolerances, allowing for bigger overclocks. That's why different boards using the same chipset can perform differently too.
oasked 17th June 2009, 12:15 Quote
The DFI nF4 lanparty series was famous for its overclocking back in the socket 939 era.

http://lp.pcmoddingmy.com/albums/userpics/10003/nf4mod01.jpg

Still got mine running strong in my folks' computer.


Before that, the Abit NF7-S was another classic, I had a lot of fun with mine over the years. :)

http://www.pretaktovanie.sk/obr/prispevky/stg/3/image001.jpg
D-Cyph3r 17th June 2009, 12:23 Quote
The Commando is STILL breaking records even now, quite possibly the best Intel board of the Core 2 era..... I wish I never sold mine. :(
RotoSequence 17th June 2009, 12:35 Quote
Fewer features + good engineering = better clocking?

The only thing those "premium" boards seem to have is more **** that nobody will ever use.
Burnout21 17th June 2009, 14:00 Quote
the nf7-s was a good board in its own right, but the epox 8RDA3+ wiped the floor with it, it was a tad cheaper and clocked like a nutter. It also had AGP and PCI locks, not sure if abit had such ability. And it automatically unlocked the multiplier.

Proof is in the testing, friend broke down his rig with a moblie 2500+ which i bought off him, before the rip down we tried a highest clock test and could only hit 2.6GHz with twin delta's doing the cooling, memory was stock speed of 200Mhz, all this running in a NF7-s.

Popped the chip out into my cheaper epox 8RDA3+ and it screamed to 3GHz, multipler set at x15, we were sure it was a record, but googling destoyed are hopes.

Either way at the time my Socket A beast could out perform AMD's new 754 chips as i had Dual channel memory over the 754 single channel failure.



True overclocking boards should be cheap and very tweakable, the uber end boards are a waste of money. Its bad enough the common average price of a 'low end' board is now £100, 5 years ago £100 was the average price of a high end board! Now graphics card have broken even the £500 mark for consumer gaming range, and motherboards seem to break the £300.

All for what, the premium we now pay on motherboards in order to squeeze some free speed, now out weighs the benefit.

We bought cheap CPU's and overclocked them because we couldn't afford the mid-range or high end version, but now the price difference between the levels of CPU's is now added to the price of the motherboards.

Overclocking has become dare i say it, to comerical, with the likes of graphics card manufactures adding overclocked versions to there product line, at a higher cost! chargering for something that is free!!!!
ch424 17th June 2009, 14:38 Quote
Gigabyte's GA-P31-DS3L was/is a pretty awesome board for overclocking, and you could get it for ~£45 before the pound went down against the dollar.
Elton 17th June 2009, 23:58 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ch424
Gigabyte's GA-P31-DS3L was/is a pretty awesome board for overclocking, and you could get it for ~£45 before the pound went down against the dollar.

No love for the P5K WiFi?

And Remember the beastly Abit-P35 and the Legendary Nforce4 DFIs?

The best P45 overclocker so far to grace the public was the Gigabyte EP45-UD3R and the Asus P5Q series(the low end P45 ones).
thehippoz 18th June 2009, 03:23 Quote
I'd say it's all in the engineering.. but you gotta wonder if there is something to simplicity

asus did well with the intel chipset with c2d for example.. but the striker extreme using nvidias chipset turned out a bad buy.. it's probably a combo of everything- you could have probably built a mb with the very best sold state components around that chipset and have it fail against a cheap intel
Aragon Speed 18th June 2009, 09:01 Quote
"£150 budget model"

Man, you get paid way too much if you think £150 is a budget model! XD
ch424 18th June 2009, 11:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
No love for the P5K WiFi?

Just because I didn't mention it doesn't mean I don't like it... I've used an EP31 and it got rave reviews, but I've never seen a P5K.
Paradigm Shifter 18th June 2009, 12:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Burnout21
True overclocking boards should be cheap and very tweakable, the uber end boards are a waste of money. Its bad enough the common average price of a 'low end' board is now £100, 5 years ago £100 was the average price of a high end board! Now graphics card have broken even the £500 mark for consumer gaming range, and motherboards seem to break the £300.

All for what, the premium we now pay on motherboards in order to squeeze some free speed, now out weighs the benefit.

We bought cheap CPU's and overclocked them because we couldn't afford the mid-range or high end version, but now the price difference between the levels of CPU's is now added to the price of the motherboards.

Overclocking has become dare i say it, to commercial, with the likes of graphics card manufactures adding overclocked versions to there product line, at a higher cost! charging for something that is free!!!!

Complete agree. 'Overclocking' CPUs are even worse - $1000 for an unlocked multiplier 'Extreme Edition'...
Elton 18th June 2009, 20:38 Quote
I laugh at the notion that the best chips need to be $1000...

AMD's got it right though, their BE chips aren't that much from the regular ones.
Slyr7.62 19th June 2009, 07:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paradigm Shifter
Complete agree. 'Overclocking' CPUs are even worse - $1000 for an unlocked multiplier 'Extreme Edition'...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton
I laugh at the notion that the best chips need to be $1000...

AMD's got it right though, their BE chips aren't that much from the regular ones.
Yes, it's funny. Another humerous notion is the E8400 wolfdale @ $160($190-220msrp) is faster than the $1,000 X6800 dual-core, that itself was 1066FSB. I sure do like waiting a bit for tech to progress before buying.
Elton 19th June 2009, 09:52 Quote
I think it's a bit unfair to compare them as the X6800 was well, the Conroe series, not the die-shrunk and more advanced Wolfdale chips.

Still though I agree, time is technology's worst enemy, and only chumps would've bought an Extreme Chip anyways.

BTW, isn't the world-record highest OC'ed CPU a P4 or a Celeron?
capnPedro 19th June 2009, 10:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by oasked
The DFI nF4 lanparty series was famous for its overclocking back in the socket 939 era.
DFI have made some brilliant boards; most of them clock like absolute champs!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paradigm Shifter
Complete agree. 'Overclocking' CPUs are even worse - $1000 for an unlocked multiplier 'Extreme Edition'...
Anyone remember when you could unlock your multiplier by playing "connect the dots" with the tiny gold pads on top of your CPU with a pencil/conductive pen? Good times... but I must be getting old!
Elton 19th June 2009, 11:24 Quote
DFI as of now though have faded ever since the end of their great P35 boards.

And The connect the dots were much much much fun, still though, it was needless hassle.

Anyone remember the XP 3200+? Or the late FX-62? Those were legendary chips in their own right, albeit horridly expensive.
wuyanxu 19th June 2009, 12:44 Quote
Abit IP35 Pro is should be considered as classic if you want to choose a P35 board.
also, did you know: Abit was the first one to implement BIOS based overclocking
Paradigm Shifter 20th June 2009, 13:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by capnPedro
Anyone remember when you could unlock your multiplier by playing "connect the dots" with the tiny gold pads on top of your CPU with a pencil/conductive pen? Good times... but I must be getting old!

No, you're not getting old - I remember them too. :) Heck, I remember flicking switches on the motherboard for overclocking as well - ah, the heady days of getting my P75 to work at the same speed as a P120. It didn't even need any extra voltage - which was good as my mobo didn't support giving it any extra juice - just a slightly larger heatsink on the chip. (Which was a pain in the arse, 'cause the heatsink was practically glued to the CPU... I did get it off, eventually, but I didn't risk it until I had a backup processor to drop in if something went horribly wrong - I slapped a little fan on the old heatsink for a few months... but preferred the passive sink.) Of course, in those days I didn't really know what Prime95 was... so it probably wasn't torture test stable... but it never crashed whether idle or gaming (P75 @ 120MHz, 24MB RAM, 4MB Voodoo 1 = Half-life goodness...) so for my needs then, it was stable.

...

As for the fastest overclock, Elton, I believe in raw MHz it is a P4, yes. In percentage terms (which I find more impressive) I'm pretty sure it's Core 2... although I might well be wrong there.
capnPedro 20th June 2009, 13:53 Quote
Haha, speaking of extra juice, upping voltages used to comprise of whipping out a soldering iron and a precision variable resistor. Awesome overclocks required voltmods, done the hard way!
Elton 20th June 2009, 21:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by capnPedro
Haha, speaking of extra juice, upping voltages used to comprise of whipping out a soldering iron and a precision variable resistor. Awesome overclocks required voltmods, done the hard way!

I put a Variable resistor on a PS3 fan...ran damned fast too...didn't work though because the fan was computer controlled.

And those volt mods were awesome, too bad the new boards take the professional fun and the hard work away nowadays.

Anyone remember the many attempts to prevent(or at least reduce) VDROOP?
thehippoz 21st June 2009, 02:20 Quote
yep pencil mod for vdroop.. thing is the debate with vdroop is it's there by design to prevent spikes to the cpu at load- but intels chips are so rugged oc'ers found it was a worthwhile risk =] remember the multiplier unlock using conductive pen too.. my favorite mod was the golden fingers mod used on the slot a athelons to increase voltage

I made one of those and got my 600 slot a athelon running at a gig (it was the batch they underclocked because they ran out of budget chips- I cracked it open at it was a 950 :])
hardflipman 22nd June 2009, 14:59 Quote
my original pc from 96 was a gateway pentium 166. a jumper switch later and it was a pentium 200! the upgrade to the p200 which was the fastest available at that time was a couple of hundred quid. lasted years with no problems. then i got an abit bp6 and had 2 celeron 366's running at 550mhz again perfectly stable and quite possibly faster than any pentiums available at the time. overclocking is all about making your pc as fast as high end stuff for a fraction of the price in my opinion
Paradigm Shifter 22nd June 2009, 18:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by capnPedro
Haha, speaking of extra juice, upping voltages used to comprise of whipping out a soldering iron and a precision variable resistor. Awesome overclocks required voltmods, done the hard way!

Aye, but at the time that was my first PC I'd just overclocked... and taking a soldering iron to it wasn't even an option. ;)
[PUNK] crompers 13th November 2009, 12:43 Quote
its funny when you look at the boundless power the average pc has nowadays, certainly anyone with C2D upwards does not really need to OC. back in the day though getting that extra 20mhz out of your proc meant the difference between playing half-life or not, when you think about the market back then there was a lot less choice all round too. how many procs does intel have at a full launch now? i bet it was less than half that in the early 90's
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