AMD OC Guide - Introduction
AMD OC Guide - Terms/DefinitionsTerms and DefinitionsBefore we begin, we'll cover some of the commonly used terms used in the guide and some general definitions. After all, I have found that most enthusiasts are like me when it comes to playing, they not only want to know how to make it work, they also want to know WHY.Chipset - A chipset is defined as "a group of microchips designed to work as a unit in performing one or more related functions." As a general rule, today's chipsets consist of two parts, a Northbridge and a Southbridge. Both of these terms will be discussed later, but the two working in tandem creates a better and more efficient flow of data with fewer conflicts. Common chipsets used with the Athlon XP processor at the time of this writing include the VIA KT266A, KT333 and KT400 as well as the nVidia nForce and nForce2. SiS has one or two chipsets designed for the AMD line, but they are non-players for the most part in terms of overclocking potential.Clock Multiplier - This term will be getting a workout in this guide. The Clock Multiplier is an internal setting of the processor that is used to determine the processor speed. As an example, if you have a processor that is set at the factory with a clock multiplier of 10 and a native FSB (see below) of 100MHz, then the resulting processor speed is 1000MHz or 1GHz. Since it is a simple matter of multiplication, the name becomes a no-brainer.Double Data Rate (DDR) - Double Data Rate, or DDR as it is commonly called, is becoming a very popular concept with the computer industry lately. With speeds gaining ever higher levels of performance, there had to be a limit somewhere. So when that limit was hit, what were the manufacturer's to do? Why, they created DDR. What this does is to allow for the support of data transfers on both edges of each clock cycle (the rising and falling edges), effectively doubling the memory chip's data throughput. And even better is that all of the motherboards and the Athlon processors themselves support this feature natively. So not only can we double the effectiveness of our memory, but we can also double the speed at which data flows between areas of the motherboard too.Front Side Bus (FSB) - In simple terms, the Front Side Bus (FSB) is the data path and physical interface between the processor and the main memory. When used from an overclocker's standpoint it is generally referred to as a speed measured in Megahertz (MHz). The higher the number, the faster the data flows.Northbridge - "The Northbridge is the portion of the chipset that communicates with the computer processor and controls interaction with memory, the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus, Level 2 cache, and all Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) activities. The Northbridge communicates with the processor using the Front Side Bus (FSB)."Southbridge - "The Southbridge is the portion of the chipset that manages the basic forms of input/output (I/O) such as Universal Serial Bus (USB), serial, audio, Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE), and Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) I/O in a computer. Unlike the Northbridge, the Southbridge moves data by means of the Northbridge's PCI bus."VAGP - VAGP refers to the voltage setting of the AGP port on the motherboard. Not all motherboards allow for the adjustment of this setting, but for those that do allow for it, the benefits can be great.VCore - This is the voltage setting for the processor. This is where you can force your speeds to the next level, or completely fry your precious CPU.VDIMM - As the name suggests, this is where you set the voltage levels of your memory modules. Though higher voltages can help you achieve better overall speeds, they can also cause some system instabilities.Quoted definitions above were found at whatis.com.
AMD OC Guide - Basic StrategiesBasic StrategiesBefore we start the actual overclocking process, you should understand that there are two basic strategies for successfully overclocking the processor. These are FSB Overclocking and Multiplier Manipulation. The best results come from the use of both of these techniques together, but you can use either of them individually as well.It should also be noted that not all motherboards will support overclocking attempts. The main motherboards that will not support this type of setting adjustment are the ones from system vendors like Dell, IBM and Gateway. Though there are a lot more manufacturers who fall into this realm, this will serve to give you an idea of what I am talking about.And why would a vendor remove the ability to adjust settings like this? Support! When it comes to overclocking, there are many things that can either go wrong, or at least become unstable without proper tweaking. If a manufacturer can remove the ability to adjust speed settings beyond default, then they are effectively reducing the amount of technical support required to service their product line.Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk turkey.FSB OverclockingWhen it comes to general overclocking, this is probably the most common type of method used. In our definition of FSB we stated that it was nothing more than the data path between the processor and the memory. The speed of this data flow is measured in Megahertz (MHz). All processors have a native FSB speed. Below is a small listing of some of the more common processors and their associated native FSB speeds:
AMD OC Guide - Additional Tweaks - CoolingAdditional TweaksSo far, we have covered the art of overclocking in a very broad scope. While the concepts are solid, not every system was created equal. This section will give you some ideas as to how to create a more stable environment for your stressed system components. And remember, overclocking is a matter of trial and error. Sometimes the settings you use will work like a champ and sometimes they will just make you look like a chump. Never be afraid to experiment, but be prepared for the possible consequences if it fails. And make sure that you are intimately familiar with one setting in particular...CMOS Reset! If you don't know how to reset the default CMOS values, then stop right now and find out. This will save you a world of trouble when you finally lock down the entire system. And rest assured, if you do any real pushing of your system, you WILL lock down the system. By knowing how to reset the CMOS values up front, you won't be caught by surprise when you hit the reset button and the system just gives you a blank screen and no hardware activity.Special note: Since this is where you are likely to start playing with settings, I will remind you of the disclaimer located on Page 1 of this guide. Though slight, there is a risk of doing irreparable damage to your components. You are now entering an area that enthusiasts willingly travel, but please understand that you may be shopping later on for replacement components.CoolingWe'll start right off with one of the most important facets of the enthusiast system; cooling. Though not a tweak per se, it is vital that you have sufficient cooling in place for the entire system. Without this element at the beginning, you are doomed for failure in regards to the best possible performance of your system as a whole. Three main areas need mention and they include processor cooling, case cooling and video card cooling.- Processor CoolingIf you have frequented TweakTown for any length of time, then you will certainly have seen numerous reviews for Heatsink/Fan (HSF) units. This is the component that attaches directly to the processor to aid in the removal of heat. This heat is produced naturally while the processor is busy crunching those numbers and churning that data, but it produces even more heat when overclocked. A quality HSF is essential in an overclocked system. There are many varieties from a huge amount of manufacturers to choose from. And while the debate is still ongoing about which is the best, the bottom line is that as long as your choice is able to remove the heat produced, then it is working as well as can be expected.Just for reference sake, I will list some of the higher echelon coolers to give you a starting place for your search. Some of these coolers include the Alpha PAL8045, Swiftech MCX462, Thermalright SLK-800 and Thermaltake Volcano 7+. This isn't an all-inclusive list by any means, but it should give you a starting place for your cooling research.Something else to consider is Thermal Interface Material (TIM), also referred to as goop by many. This is the stuff that goes between the processor and the heatsink to fill in any irregularities between the two metal surfaces. Without getting into a discussion on the concepts of cooling, let's just say that it is suicide to install a heatsink without any TIM. I can almost assure you that you'll be in the market for a new processor in the very near future. Good compounds to consider are Arctic Silver III and Evergreen Technologies TherMagic.- Case CoolingI have had several people ask me why they get poor temperature readings after they went out and bought a top of the line heatsink. Nearly every time that I have been asked about this, the reasoning was inadequate case cooling. After all, the world's best heatsink can't do squat if all it has to work with is hot air!This is where case cooling comes into play. The best results are usually seen when you allow for the natural rising of heated air. If you have intake fans placed toward the lower/front portion of the case and exhausts placed in the upper/rear portions, then you allow for nature to do part of the work for you. It is also a good idea to have the same general amount of exhaust as you have intake. It doesn't have to be exactly the same, but should be at least close. This gives the HSF on the processor plenty of nice, cool air to work with while dispelling the heat.- Video Card CoolingNow why in the world would I mention video card cooling in an overclocking guide? Because the video card is likely the second highest heat producer in your system (particularly the nVidia based cards). Since heat is our sworn enemy, we need to try to eliminate as much of this element as possible to get the best results we can.Most modern video cards will already have some sort of active cooling installed when you purchase it. By active cooling, I refer to the use of electrical fans and not just the use of a metal heatsink device. Many of these cooling solutions will work just fine, but if you decide that an upgrade is in order, then you'll find several around. Thermaltake seems to have most of the market cornered where video card cooling is concerned, so you won't go wrong with either a Crystal Orb or the G4-VGA coolers.One point to remember is that the GeForce3 series and GeForce4 series video boards have different pin layouts for the fans. Double check the video card cooler you're looking at and make sure it is for your particular video card.
AMD OC Guide - Additional Tweaks - BIOS Pt 1BIOS SettingsRemember when I told you to make sure you knew where the CMOS Reset was for your motherboard? Well, this is your last chance. The following section will begin taking you into the very depths of the system board. A certain amount of care is required while delving into the very heart of your system, but with a little common sense and the aid of this guide, we should be able to get your system performing at it's very best in no time at all.The motherboard that I use is based on the Award BIOS so it may not be identical to yours. Even so, the settings and meanings are universal for the most part so should still be helpful in determining the values needed for your personal rig.Hint: It is recommended that you change only one or two settings at a time and then reboot and look for stability within the system. This way you will know what settings are the cause of any problems that might crop up.- Advanced BIOS Features
DRAM Clock/Drive ControlThe remainder of the settings under the Advanced Chipset Features may be left at default settings. There isn't anything else in these areas that will make any real difference to our performance, so we won't play with them.DRAM ClockUnder the DRAM Clock header, we'll find the option of setting our system to a base 100MHz FSB or a base 133MHz FSB. This particular board uses the VIA KT266A chipset, so these are the only choices. If you happen to use a mainboard that uses the VIA KT133 chipset, then you probably will not have these two options as this chipset didn't support the 133MHz speeds. On the other hand, if you happen to have a shiny new KT400 chipset in your board, then you may even have additional settings for 166MHz FSB settings.For our example here, we will set the value to 133MHz. This will give us the best possible range of speed settings when overclocking and a vast majority of the old Thunderbird processors will run smoothly at 133MHz anyway.DRAM TimingThe next setting that we'll look at here is the DRAM Timing. This is where you can adjust the CAS (or latency) of your memory. I won't try to get into a long-winded explanation of CAS definitions, so let's just put it in simple terms. The CAS timings are basically the number of steps required for memory to perform its function. The higher the CAS setting, the slower the memory speed because it has more steps to follow before it completes the task. Simplistic, but this should suffice to show that lower is better.Generally, the default setting here will be a value of "3". Since we want things to run as quickly as possible, we'll want to make a change here. Standard PC2100 DDR memory will usually be rated at CAS2.5 while older PC133 SDRAM will be rated at either CAS3 or CAS2. Regardless of which memory you use in your system, set this value to "2" for a trial run. Unless you have bargain basement memory modules, it will likely perform very well at the faster speeds.Hint: When you start boosting the processor speeds to higher levels, this can be an area to turn back to "2.5" or "3" values to attempt to gain higher FSB stability. Since raising the FSB also raises the speed of the memory, this will sometimes be the cause of crashes. When you first start locking up during your FSB raising venture, try setting this back a notch and try that same FSB again. Since different systems perform differently, you will need to benchmark both settings to see if the slower memory speed coupled with the higher overall system speed makes it worth your while.Also connected to this setting is the Bank Interleave. Unless your PC is truly ancient, you'll want to set this value to "4 Bank". Commonly referred to as 4-way Interleaving, this is a technique that creates an increase of the memory bandwidth by allowing the memory to access more than a single chunk of memory at one time. Try the 4-way setting first and then back off if required.DRAM CMD settingsThis particular section of the BIOS is one that will require the greatest amount of trial, error and patience. These settings cover things like memory precharge times, RAS pulse widths and delay timings. Or, if you're not feeling all that patient, you can go back up to the top setting on this screen and choose "Turbo" for the System Performance tag. But then that really takes all the fun out of the process, doesn't it?AGP & P2P Bridge ControlThis area allows you to make adjustments to the AGP settings. Without certain settings being made in the BIOS, you won't be able to access your video cards' full capabilities. The first choice is the Aperture Size. After countless debates on the topic, it has generally been agreed upon that a setting of 128MB will provide you with optimal results.Next is AGP Mode. If you have a video card that supports AGP 4x and you have a motherboard that also supports AGP 4x, then the setting here should be obvious. If you happen to have a video card that only supports 2x AGP mode, then set it as such here. Otherwise you can look forward to some very possible conflicts between the motherboard, the video card and your choice of drivers.AGP Driving Control is next up and should just be left on the "Auto" setting unless you are having some incompatibilities that point to this setting. Playing with this setting too much can easily (and probably) result in some hardcore system crashes.The AGP Fast Write setting is a personal choice. This is another one of those areas that folks will argue over all day long. The end result is this...While Fast Writes have shown to provide a little higher performance, the gains are minimal. Though not a bad thing, the use of this setting has been known to cause system instabilities in a rather large number of systems. You'll have to play with this one on your own and determine if it is worth the effort in your system. If it causes lockups or video errors, then disable it.The final two settings under this header are labeled "AGP Master 1 WS Write" and "AGP Master 1 WS Read". By default, your AGP will wait for two cycles before accessing the video board. By enabling these settings, you are reducing this to a value of "1", so are enhancing the performance of the video board. If you discover any instabilities after enabling this feature, then just change it back to the default "Disabled" setting for the sake of stablity.
AMD OC Guide - Additional Tweaks - BIOS Pt 2Frequency/Voltage Control
AMD OC Guide - Additional Tweaks - BIOS Pt 3- Voltage Settings
AMD OC Guide - Unlocking the Processor - TBirdUnlockingWe have talked previously about being able to manipulate the multiplier only if you have an unlocked processor. But what exactly is unlocking and how can you do it? Let's delve into that for just a bit, shall we?What is Unlocking?When a processor begins life, it is fabricated out of a piece of silicon. From there, AMD begins the process of creating a usable processor for your system. Depending on how advanced the manufacturing technique, they will then determine how fast the processor can run with 100% stability. Once the maximum speed is determined, they will generally throw these processors into a bin labeled with this maximum speed.But now things can get interesting. If they have a whole slew of processors that can safely be rated at 1.53GHz (Athlon XP 1800+) but have a need to provide 1.4GHz processors due to customer demand, then they will internally reset the multiplier settings of these processors to allow for the 1.4GHz speeds to meet consumer demand. Once these processors have been locked in at this 1.4GHz speed, they are released for public consumption.Simply put, unlocking is the act of overriding that factory set multiplier. Intel has removed the ability to unlock their multiplier range, but AMD has made it a relatively simple matter to play and tweak their processors. This act of unlocking is one of the major reasons (besides price) that makes the Athlon range of processors so much fun to play with. Though the Intel Northwood chips are making great leaps in outright overclockability, you just don't have the flexibility to get the most out of the processor since you can't adjust the multiplier.As to how you actually perform the unlocking, that will depend on which processor you have. The older Thunderbird chips are an absolute breeze to unlock. And while the newer Athlon XP provides a bit more of a challenge to succeed, it is still very possible and the benefits are equally beneficial.Unlocking the ThunderbirdFinal Warning! Proceeding any further in this Guide will effectively VOID YOUR WARRANTY on your processor. While time and experience has proven this to be a relatively safe procedure, there is a risk of damaging or destroying your processor or other system components. Neither TweakTown nor myself will be help liable in the event that you damage your system or components.When you were a child, you may have had the chance to play book games called Connect The Dots. If so, then you will have no problems unlocking your Thunderbird processor. Of course, even if you didn't play this game it will still be easy. Let's start off by having a look at the beginning product.
AMD OC Guide - Unlocking the Processor - Athlon XPUnlocking the Athlon XPWith the advent of the Athlon XP processors, it was thought that we wouldn't be able to unlock the processors anymore. If you use the tricks listed previously for the Thunderbird chips, then you'll have created yourself a very light paperweight. It seems that AMD got a little tricky and created an intricate electrical pathway under the processor's outer covering. This created some possible shorts in the processor if you messed around with the bridges.
AMD OC Guide - General TroubleshootingGeneral TroubleshootingStill with me here? If so then you must have had at least some measure of success during the overclocking process. But I can promise you up front that everything does not always proceed according to plan. There are sometimes a few problems that just sneak up on you and you start getting a bit anxious about it. Even the best plan doesn't always work out, so we'll try to key in on some of the more common problems that can occur during your overclocking experience and then try to provide some possible solutions to them.Before we start, it should be noted that it would be impossible to have an all-inclusive listing of problems that occur while overclocking. As I said at the very beginning of this guide, overclocking is not an exact science. There are just too many variables in both conditions and system contents to be able to list every possible error. But we can take a look at some of the more common problems.I hit the power switch and just get a blank screenThis particular problem is one that you may as well just get used to. You've just gotten through making some changes to your system settings and you eagerly hit the power button awaiting this newfound level of performance, but wait. You heard the initial beep telling you the memory check had completed. The next step is to see the Power On Self Test (POST) information go floating onto the screen. But there is nothing there!For the experienced enthusiast this is just another common occurrence, but for the new overclocker it can be nerve wracking. Usually the first thought that comes to mind is that you've killed the processor or something in the system, but this is not generally the case.When you begin making adjustments to the settings for the processor, you are in essence speeding up the speed to one that is not natively supported by the chip. Since every processor in existence has a limit as to how fast it will run, we sometimes hit that limit. It should be noted that every processor is NOT created equally, so this limit will vary greatly between different chips. The black screen comes into play when you have pushed the settings beyond what the processor will support. It just refuses to do anything at all. No POST, no boot-up, no nothing.The fix to this one is simple if you've been listening to what I've said throughout this Guide. Just perform whatever task is necessary to reset the CMOS to default values. Once this is accomplished, reboot the machine and begin again, but with settings that are not quite as aggressive. You DO know how to reset your CMOS by now, don't you?I overclocked my system but it locks up after a short timeThere can be a few different causes for this one, but the most common one is heat. Since heat is our worst enemy in the overclocking game, we need to do everything in our power to combat it. The easiest way to check for this condition is to get either the SiSoft Sandra Utility, Motherboard Monitor or an actual thermal probe. If your temperatures are running hot, then you'll need to look at some additional cooling.Another common reason for these random lockups is a power supply that just can't put out enough juice for your hungry system. If your lockups are truly random with no rhyme nor reason for when they occur, then it is probable that you are the victim of PSU that just can't cut it. The solution for this one is simple; more power. As a general rule, don't accept anything less than 350 watts in a new PSU. Though you may be able to perform just fine on a lower powered model, we're getting to a point where the extra power is almost necessary. And if you happen to have plans of case lighting in the immediate future, then the more power the better.Finally, if your lockups start occurring after making some changes to the settings within the BIOS, then this can be the cause of your lockup woes. With any luck you have listened to my advice early in this guide and have only changed one or two settings at a time. If so, then you should have no problems finding the culprit. If, however, you decided to just make a whole bunch of changes at the same time, then your best bet would be to just reset the CMOS and start over again. Experimentation and patience in this area will take you far.I unlocked my processor but can't adjust the multiplierWhen you have gone through the steps to unlock a processor but can't make adjustments to the multiplier, chances are good that you didn't get the job done well enough. Remembering that the bridges have to have a solid conductive connection, it is sometimes just a matter of having to redo the work.In the case of the Thunderbird processors, this may just mean hitting the bridges again with a pencil. In the case of the Athlon XP it could mean that you didn't get enough conductive grease across the filled in valleys. In either case, just clean off your bridge area and start over.If you used a more permanent means like super glue or solder, then all I can say is WHOOPS.When I booted my freshly overclocked system I saw some smoke come from the caseThough this particular problem is really pretty rare, it can happen. And, of course, it means that you have given yourself the perfect excuse to upgrade something within the system. Most likely it will be the processor that fries, but it can happen to any of your system components.Remember, when you use FSB overclocking, you are forcing all components connected to the AGP, PCI and/or ISA busses to run faster than they were designed to. Since a vast majority of modern peripherals can handle this added workload, it is rare that anything will go up in smoke on you.One final possible reason for this occurring is that you didn't get the heatsink fitted properly to your processor. There is a definite front and back to a HSF assembly. By installing it backwards, you can create a gap between the core of the processor and the base of the heatsink. This gap means that you aren't getting any cooling and this can cause a processor to have a meltdown in a matter of seconds.
AMD OC Guide - ConclusionConclusionSince there are such a vast number of variables in terms of overclocking, it is impossible to write about every conceivable situation. As I've stated before, overclocking is not an exact science. But for those who have enough knowledge, courage and patience, it is a very simple way to get some extra power out of your performance rig.It is important to note that not all processors will overclock to the same levels as another may. This is because of different manufacturing processes used for creating all these different chips, but you should always be able to get some additional performance out of your processor. Motherboards are also an important consideration since older chipset designs don't perform on the same level as today's DDR monsters. See what I meant about there being so many variables?But variables aside, you now have enough basic knowledge to tackle the job of overclocking. Components vary, but the ideals and principles are static. And if you have read through this guide, then you will have an understanding of not only what to do, but the reasoning behind it as well. With the information you are now armed with, you can take on the machine and win!But be forewarned...Those who enter the Dark Side seldom return.
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