Interview with an Overclocking Legend: Hicookie
At CES 2016, I had the opportunity to interview and overclock with the legend and GIGABYTE in-house overclocker himself, Hicookie. Before you ask, no, Hicookie is not his real name, but even in real life, he uses the name Hicookie with friends, family, and co-workers. The humble 38-year old professional overclocker has been overclocking for over a decade, and I took some time to interview the living legend.
Hicookie was overclocking at GIGABYTE's CES 2016 Ballroom for three days. Even with GIGABYTE's late arrival with non-K overclocking BIOSes (only about two weeks ago), Hicookie and Boris_sdk took four Global 1st WRs on only the first day, and on the third day, Boris_SDK took another. Everything was live streamed on Twitch GIGABYTEUSATwitchArchive.
On the second day (the 7th), I brought in my 6700K I use in all my motherboard reviews along with my 4GHz memory kit from Corsair to see what we could do with them. You can check out the GIGABYTEUSATwitchArchive for videos on the 7th, as we overclock my 6700K to 6.5GHz and the 4GHz memory to 4.6GHz. There is some valuable information we talked about at the beginning on the 7th, so the archived video acts like an overclocking guide for those looking to go extreme with Intel Skylake and Z170.
Hicookie Interview: Overclocking Past
Steve: So, where were you born?
Hicookie: Zhanghua, Taiwan.
Steve: What is your educational background?
Hicookie: I studied Graphic Design in University.
Steve: If you weren't overclocking, what would be your dream job?
Hicookie: Race car driver, but [it's] difficult in Taiwan, there are no tracks.
Steve: What was the first platform you overclocked on?
Hicookie: Back in 1998. Pentium 2, I had to use jumpers to overclock and changed core speed from 133MHz to 200MHz.
Steve: How did you learn to overclock with LN2, did someone teach you? And what was the first platform you overclocked with LN2?
Hicookie: I did myself. I ordered LN2 and bought a small tank [dewar]. First time I was very scared, I had no knowledge of LN2, and LN2 was not very popular outside of Team Japan. I think it was the P35 platform, just one year before I joined GIGABYTE. [Laugh] My first pot was my Mickey Mouse pot.
Steve: I heard from the GIGABYTE employee whose job it was to find you, that it looked like you lived in a PC store, and that you would only eat, sleep, and overclock. Is that true?
Hicookie: Yes [laughing], but now I have a wife! I met her around the same time I have been working at GBT. We have been married five years. I worked with top Taiwanese website, doing media stuff like you and overclocking. I would also join competitions and hold competitions.
Steve: So you had the ability to work at many companies, why did you choose GIGABYTE?
Hicookie: When I started, GIGABYTE was number two, I wanted to make them number one. I like challenges.
Steve: Do you still love what you do after it turned from hobby into your career?
Hicookie: Yes I love it, it's still challenging, and every new platform is new challenge. I love to see what is different in new platforms. I also love to see the effects of new technologies on performance, such as memory timings affect with DDR4.
Steve: What was your favorite platform to overclock?
Hicookie: The P45 chipset. It was a challenge overclocking the CPU, Memory, and FSB.
Steve: What was your worst LN2 OC experience?
Hicookie: Normally I do not kill parts, but with Nehalem, I killed many CPUs [laughing]. The CPU is very easy to kill, many times you will just lose memory channels, so it's a very frustrating platform. Maybe back to AMD 939, maybe it is worse since it is very easy to kill with too much voltage. I killed many Bartons.
Steve: What is your favorite benchmark?
Hicookie:SuperPI 32M, because it is easier to check out the memory and CPU efficiency.
Steve: So if someone was starting out and wanted to get into SuperPi 32M, what do you recommend they research?
Hicookie: Research Wazza, some OS registers, and read up on guides because others are secret [laugh]. I did not say it was an easy benchmark; it's very hard benchmark, perhaps one of the hardest.
Interview with a Legend: Hicookie Continued
Hicookie Interview: Current State of Overclocking
Steve: What is your home computer?
Hicookie: My baby, Z97X-SOC Force LN2 and 4770K.
Steve: That motherboard doesn't even have CPU cooler mounting holes, so how does that work?
Hicookie: Heatsink just sits on the motherboard on the bench, I don't touch it. The Z97X-SOC Force LN2 is my baby, my favorite board I worked on.
Steve: People say that overclocking is easier than it once was because of how Intel has embraced overclocking in general, is that true on the manufacturer side of things?
Hicookie: I think Intel is trying to make the newest generation easier, but the problems that you think are easier require more work on the software side. With P67 chipset, Intel changed the way the CPU can overclock. Before it was directly through BIOS but now there is OC mailbox. So we also use digital PWM, we have to put more effort on the software side, and as things become more digital more effort is required for overclocking features, making everything tougher. So it will get more challenging in the future. You think things are more simple, the new platforms require more and more effort on the manufacturer side.
Steve: So what is OC mailbox?
Hicookie: OC Mailbox has many functions, it is a group of settings and monitoring used for overclocking. Before OC mailbox, all settings were changed through BIOS, but now you can do it through OC mailbox outside of the BIOS.
Steve: So is that how the buttons work on the motherboard?
Steve: What do you think about the overclocking premium that most users pay these days?
Hicookie: I feel odd about this decision because it goes against the beginnings of overclocking. People used to buy cheap CPUs and overclock, but now must buy the good hardware. So, it might hurt PC-DIY, people could buy cheaper systems and overclock, but now they cannot do it. For me, I went from Pentium 2 and then I went to Celeron, AMD-K7, others. Imagine if I had to pay a premium, I might not be here today; I might not have been able to buy more high-end CPUs.
Hicookie Interview: On the Job
Steve: What is your favorite part of your job?
Hicookie: Designing motherboards and dealing with overclockers and of course, overclocking.
Steve: What is your least favorite part of your job?
Hicookie: Paper work [laughs].
Steve: So on average how many CPUs do you have access to for binning?
Hicookie: Maybe 100-200 pieces depending on CPU, not many. Many times [we] don't even find the best.
Steve: How do you start your day?
Hicookie: On [a] normal day we check scores on HWBot and talk to people in the overclocking circles to find out who has what so [we] know what to do. This helps set up [the] rest of the day.
Steve: Are you always overclocking with LN2? What are some other major parts of your job?
Hicookie: We usually always OC with LN2. But, we also check XMP memory compatibility on air. One major part of my job is to check XMP support for memory overclocking, on Z97 we had the highest XMP support at 3.6GHz. I also work with other teams to make products overclock better.
Steve: So do you directly deal with engineers?
Hicookie:Yes, I talk to hardware, software, and BIOS engineers. My job is to cooperate with engineers to come out with new generation of motherboards. So, OC motherboards and GTL we all work with engineers directly to make this happen.
Steve: What are the top features you have come up with and GIGABYTE has implemented?
Hicookie:OC Brace, OC Ignition, and OC Connector. OC Connector is the simple USB ports on the bench side of the motherboard, and even the engineers love these three features. Overclockers also seem to love these features.
Steve: So how do the OC circles work at your level, are you all friends who work at different manufacturers? Do you have one good overclocker friend who works for a competitor?
Hicookie: We are all friends but we all compete. Maybe Elmor [laugh].
Steve: At GIGABYTE you also work with Sofos, what is his job? Does he do the same thing you do?
Hicookie:He focuses on the very extreme overclocking.
Steve: Do you have input on the BIOS?
Hicookie: Yea! The current BIOS layout [classic advanced mode] is from me; I liked this layout the most.
Steve: What about software?
Hicookie: For software it's really GTL.
Steve: Do you ever get tired of overclocking or overwhelmed?
Hicookie: No, I don't because hardware is always changing, I work on new challenges always.
Hicookie Interview: The Future of Overclocking
Steve: So what do you recommend to first timers?
Hicookie: Go online to forums and read articles. Just read a guide and go step-by-step, maybe look at YouTube. Once you read a lot of them, you will start to understand.
Steve: Do you think overclocking is a sport?
Steve: What do you think of HWBot?
Hicookie: It's a very good website, like billboard, so people can see the records and do the study and check out what they do. It is hard for people to start because the money it takes to invest for higher points is too high.
Steve: Do you think there are more extreme overclockers than five years ago?
Hicookie: I think maybe the same. Maybe more mainstream overclockers have replaced the more extreme overclockers. Now people also do not want to talk to each other. No one wants to tell their tweaks, and even they hide scores. There is much more limited sharing of knowledge, and I think it turns people away. Also, hardware binning is also a problem. People do not even want to share the voltage for the CPU, which is crazy, and it does not help the community. Since we stopped GOOC, many overclocking competitions have also slowed.
Steve: What are your future predictions for overclocking in five years?
Hicookie:I think now more people use water cooling for their system, it [because of Intel's removal of stock HSF] pushes people to buy better cooling. The cooling is strong, so why not OC even a little? I think more people overclocking is going up in mainstream. I wish that in the extreme, more guys would come up, but it might just stay the same.
Steve: How long do you think overclocking will last?
Hicookie:Very long time, maybe forever. Look now at VR, the quality is very crap, everyone will want 4K, and then 8K, and then 12K, and you will need to overclock. People will always want more detail, and they will want to zoom in more and more.
Steve: Don't you think VR is more GPU bound?
Hicookie: Well it isn't all GPU, and you can OC GPUs too. The CPU will need to keep up with the GPU and not hold it back.
Steve: Anything you want to add to the interview?
Hicookie:Yes, if you are a new guy doing PC-DIY, you can buy the previous generation. It is much cheaper since the new generation is so expensive. Overclocking is a lot of fun, so buying the previous generation will let you have more fun without worrying about spending too much. Overclocking lets you know your system, it is not just boot up and install OS, you can actually tweak the hardware and even tweak OS. Once you make [an] achievement, then you feel good, and you will have more fun and maybe then buy the new generation. When you get into the PC-DIY, you will become much more interested in computer hardware, and you can really enjoy it.
Hicookie's Pro Tips for Intel Skylake
How to kill (or not kill) a Skylake CPU
Manufacturers typically test out the upper limits of different voltages and their effects on frequencies and CPU life. They will typically try to kill CPUs so that they can set limits for themselves and recommend reasonable voltage ranges.
Steve: What CPU VCore can be used to kill a CPU?
Hicookie: It's very hard to kill the CPU itself, can even boot 1.9v [VCore] on air, and if you stress the CPU, it will just throttle. It probably won't kill the CPU, but will rapidly degrade. But some voltages will kill components all the way.
VCCIO is going to kill the PCI-E controller inside the CPU at around 1.5v+, but the CPU will still work.
VCCPLL is going to kill the iGPU inside the CPU at around 1.7v+, if kill in seconds set 1.8v, but 1.7v will slow kill. You will see screen come out and go, and screen artifacts. Sometimes the screen will come back, and then go out.
Steve: So what other voltages can hurt?
Hicookie: Nothing I found.
Steve: What about killing DRAM? Intel said that running over 1.35v on DDR3 will cause problems, but many manufacturers have said that 1.5-1.65v with DDR3 XMP is okay through their QVL lists.
Hicookie: The CPU can take higher voltages, we didn't see an issue with this. On Haswell, we ran up to 2.4v, on Skylake we usually run Samsung or Hynix, and they will not be very stable with voltage over 1.9v, which seems to be okay, so we don't try higher voltages.
Steve: Do you have other voltage tips for Skylake?
Hicookie: VCCIO does affect the cold bug. On some motherboards, VCCPLL_OC is linked to the DRAM voltage so if you set 1.5v you might not even have a cold bug with the right VCCIO. So you should buy a gaming or OC motherboard to have a separate rail for VCCPLL_OC and vDDQ [like Gaming G1 or SOC Force].
VCCPLL_OC is external PLL voltage for CPU, inside is the VCCPLL and the internal PLL, which is default 0.9v. So, it's very simple; you need to get the external voltage higher than the internal one like the Haswell VRIN needs to be higher than VCore. So, VCCPLL_OC needs to be higher than the VCCPLL, and the internal PLL helps CPU frequency. You can increase the internal PLL in 15mv steps.
Steve: Are these extra voltages only on the Z170X-SOC Force LN2?
Hicookie: No, it's available on all GBT Z170 motherboards for OC.
Steve: So Internal PLL only helps on LN2 or air?
Hicookie: Only on LN2. Intel patched the CPU to include this setting because it was not possible to overclock over 6.3GHz. They patched microcode and added in the internal PLL offset for going over 6.3GHz.
Sneak Peak of the Z170X-SOC Force LN2
The Z170X-SOC Force LN2
The Z170X-SOC Force LN2 has not officially been released, and if what I am hearing is true, it might not be if the demand is not high from the community. Many might remember the Z97X-SOC Force LN2, the motherboard that took multiple memory frequency WRs at live competitions and was widely acclaimed as the must have board for Haswell overclocking. What made the Z97X-SOC Force LN2 special was its memory section. The motherboard had no mounting holes since they interfere with the memory traces, only had two DIMMs, and used SMT DIMMs. The lack of mounting holes posed a big issue for 24/7 use, but with the Z170X-SOC Force LN2, GIGABYTE has solved the dilemma of the mounting holes.
Yes, the mounting holes are significantly closer together than Intel's LGA1151 specification. In fact, the mounting on the board is actually AMD mounting, so it will work with current CPU pots and it will not interfere with the memory traces! You will also notice that from the waist down, the Z170X-SOC Force LN2 is identical to the Z170X-SOC Force (except no PLX bridge chip). From the waist up, there are major differences.
The VRM is in a straight line instead of an "L" shape, making it easier to insulate. All power stages are IR3553 power stages (40A), and there are three digital PWMs from IR in this picture, and there is zero phase doubling. The CPU will get eight true phases from one IR35201, and the iGPU will get four true phases from another IR35201. A smaller IR3570 digital PWM powers some extra phases for the VCCIO and VCCSA.
The OC Touch area seems to be unchanged, except for the presence of beefier memory voltage rails. The board also has dedicated VCCPLL_OC and VCCST rails. Notice how close the memory DIMMs are to the CPU socket and how much room is left between the DIMMs and the OC Touch buttons. Even when we overclocked memory under LN2, there was no noticeable issue with the buttons frosting up.
The audio section is unchanged from the Z170X-SOC Force.
The PCI-E layout differs from the Z170X-SOC Force because it does not have a PEX8747 for 3-way and 4-way SLI. In fact, the removal of this bridge would make the board much more affordable if it hits the market. The M.2 layout remains unchanged to the naked eye. I really hope that GIGABYTE moves this motherboard into the retail space. The inclusion of mounting holes is a big plus, and the removal of the PEX8747 should make the board much more affordable. Products like these are what develop and sustain the overclocking marketplace, offering real improvements over counterparts and true production differentiation.
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