Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Recent Events

So I’m sat on a tiny plane to Madeira as I write this, marvelling at the levels of “comfort” aboard this Easyjet flight. I’ve had plenty going on recently and have been somewhat neglecting my blog, so I feel this is my chance for that to change :)
About a month ago I entered the Bit-Tech / CustomPC / Asus Overclocking Summit competition on the front page of Bit-tech. To enter you just had to come up with an idea for how Asus could improve either their motherboards or graphics cards, fair enough I thought. So I dropped an email off to James Gorbold (CPC editor) about how I think Asus should try to build a stress test into their motherboard BIOS for overclock testing. And that they should look into the possibility of a GUI with clockspeed options for a graphics card bios. Since then I’ve also thought they could have one of their flash linux distros with some overclocking tools included but anyway. I entered and sure enough the deadline passed and I’d had no reply. Days continued to slip by, and I just assumed that there was no way I’d be getting a place. On the 24th of June however, I got an email congratulating me on getting a place (I think I was a reserve because the RSVP date was the 23rd :P)
We met at Gamerbase in London (An awesome place btw) and set about the day. 21 of us turned up and we were split into teams of 3 and 4. Initially we were supposed to be given a speech, but following a few technical issues connecting the Asus laptop to some tv’s :P, we started round one of the overclocking competition. Each team was given a rig with an i7 2600K, Asus GTX 560 1GB, Asus P8P67 Mobo, 4GB of Adata 1600Mhz 7-9-7-21 Ram, Adata 40GB SSD and Thermaltake: Frio, PSU, mouse and KB, all connected up to Gamerbase’s Dell monitors.
Round one consisted of posting the highest score in the Video Encoding section of the CPC Benchmark. Our team cleaned our OS of Acronis and optimised our OS for performance and then delved into the BIOS. Fans all set to max our first set of settings for 4.6GHz didn’t take, but that seemed to be because the Adata Ram didn’t like the bizarre timings it said on the side. We left it at Cas 9, and completed a run @ 4.6Ghz coming out at 3993 Points. This was a good start but we needed more, with voltages heading over 1.5v we creeped over 5Ghz. We completed a run at 5.05, 5.1, 5.15 but nomatter what we did we couldn’t get our 5.2Ghz stable. We tried silly voltages and started getting warnings from the mobo so backed off and considered our options. We had our best score at this point at around 4300 points which left us in ~3rd according to the Bit-Tech guys so we decided to try anything because we were running out of time. We eventually decided to try a 99.5*52 clock for 5.175Ghz. A bizarre clock for a sandybridge with it’s “locked” base clock but it posted so we pressed on. We were almost completely out of time when we clicked run that final time. It was our last try and the whole team was on the edge of our seat praying it would pass. We were considering waving copies of CPC at the rig to try and cool it to get it through. Our final Jesus run finished just in time and bumped our score up massively to 4403 points. That put us in 1st place overall just as time finished.
The whole team was over the moon. No one could believe we’d done it but we had. 5.175GHz. Crazy. The results were announced and we switched off our machine so it could cool before round two. In the gap we were all fed Coke and Pizza which was well appreciated by everyone, and then all sat ready for another go at the speech we should have had before. It was very interesting & the Q&A session at the end also raised some interesting questions (many watercooling related ;) which were well answered by the Asus staff present. They fielded some interesting responses about EVGA products too which was interesting, giving us a better understanding of the difference in the target market of the ROG boards and products like the SR-2 and Classified lines. After this was done, we dragged our chairs back over to the OC rigs and set about for Round 2.
Round 2 was completing a Bench run of 3DMark11 on Performance settings. Our first challenge was negotiating the Asus Smart doctor software which had a lock on what clocks and voltages you could apply. The stock clocks were 810 Core, 4008 Memory but the Asus overclocking software limited us to 910, and something else on the memory. We found the setting for fully unlocking the clocks and set to work. As a team we decided to set the CPU back to stock, figure out the limit of our GPU and then find the best settings we could get stable for the CPU. Our best solid pass was at 1035MHz, 4174Mhz with a Vcore of 1.087v which came out at 4699 points. A good start, but not good enough :P we raised the CPU clock to 5.15Ghz (optimistic :) and tried another run. We passed the first few GPU tests without problems but got a lock within seconds of the Physics test starting (which of course is CPU+GPU intensive), so we backed off to 5GHz and dropped the GPU clocks a bit and put in a score of 4802. Better but still not the best we could get. :P Once again it was Jesus run time and our best score came at 5.1GHz with the same 1035, 4174 GPU clocks. This gave us a great score of 4940 which was one of the best of the day. We spent the last 15 minutes desperately trying to get 5.15GHz and 1040MHz stable but we kept getting to same point in various tests and getting locks. We were still happy with our 4940 and were hopeful of finishing well overall.
We overheard the team next to us get a score of 4963 so we knew we were not at the top, and the Bit-Tech guys kept us in suspense as to who’d come where :) It was great fun working together and meeting new people and as much as the competition was about the overclocking it was in equal measures about having a laugh. I really enjoyed getting to know the guys on my team and we all contributed tons of different ideas without which I’m sure we wouldn’t of got anywhere near the scores we did. Finally, we were all gathered round the screens and the results were announced. Even though we didn’t get top in Round 2 we still came out top overall! (The bit tech guys attributed points to each place finish to keep it balanced) We were over the moon and being first meant we got first pick of the prizes!
On the subject of the prizes, a few people pointed out to me when we got there, that we had been told the prizes were “next gen” but as it turned out alot of the Boards and Cards were previous gen. This didn’t bother me really, as much as having some Bulldozer / Sandybridge-EX kit would of been nice, there was still a good selection of stuff. There were various Asus GPU’s including a GTX 480, a couple of 5870’s, some 6000 series cards and a GTX 560, there were also quite a few Crosshair IV motherboards, a Crosshair III, a Sabertooth P67 a Micro-atx 1155 and a Rampage/ Maximum 1156 ROG board. There was also a selection of Headsets, coolers and other bits and bobs.
As the winning team we got first pick of the kit, Since one of my GTX 280’s died I was really up for a new GPU to tide me over until the 600 series comes out. Looking over the GPU’s I decided that the GTX 480 would be the best companion for me, It may be hot and have mega power consumption, but so does SLI 280’s :P Other members of my team picked up the GTX 560, a 5870 2GB Matrix and a Crosshair IV motherboard. We were all then handed a Thermaltake T-Shirt and neck strap and then the other teams got to pick their prizes. After everyone had taken a prize there were still a few bits lying around, so they decided to pull names from a hat. It must have been my lucky day because my name came out for the Crosshair III Formula. It’s a 790FX, DDR3 motherboard which I won’t be swapping in straight away but am putting away in case my Crosshair II goes to silicon heaven or a Friend/cousin does an upgrade.
So after that it was all over! We hung around for a few minutes and chatted to the CPC/Bit-Tech guys about how we’d got our scores and then went our separate ways. Overall I’d say it was a brilliant day. To get to really thrash the life out of someone else’s kit and to make great friends along the way was brilliant. We’ve all added each other on steam and jokingly considered entering the Scan Overclocking competition (but it’s all the way up in Bolton :P) Big thanks to Bit-Tech and Asus for an awesome day. I would do it again in a heartbeat and advise anyone with a bit of experience in hardware to do the same :) I’ll add another post about life with the 480 as well but all in all, a brilliant brilliant day :D
PS. Carrying a GTX 480 and Asus ROG board on the Train is fun XD

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