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AMD Breaks Overclocking Record

What better way to show off the capabilities of a new performance processor than crushing an overclocking record?

Case fans are so pedestrian. If you’re at all serious about smashing the world record for the highest recorded clock speed on a processor, you’re going to need cutting edge hardware, loads of ingenuity, and the experience of world class overclockers. Having massive tanks of liquid helium lying about can’t possibly hurt, either. With a bit of persistence they managed to wrangle a hit a whopping 8.429GHz, topping the previous record of 8.308GHz.

AMD’s upcoming FX processor--codenamed Bulldozer--is poised to be their most impressive hardware to date. Of course I can’t tell you why, on account of these pesky non-disclosure agreements. But while I was in Austin a few weeks ago being made privy to all manner of top-secret data points, AMD’s overclocking-sideshow gave us a taste of what the new CPUs are capable of.

We’ve covered the ins-and-outs of overclocking here at PCWorld in the past. In a nutshell, it’s a balancing act: apply voltage to improve clock speed (and thus performance), while beating back the ensuing heat.

If you’re reading this on a PC, there’s a good chance the heat being generated by your CPU is being being mitigated by a network of cooling fans in your desktop or laptop. If you’re a member of the savvier set, you may have opted for a liquid cooled system.

The burning (heh) question: how far will these new CPUs go? You can’t simply douse the CPUs in freezing liquids, or risk destroying them. And conventional methods will only take you so far. Extreme overclockers get creative.

This little experiment is well out of the realm of we mere mortals. As with any manufacturing process, there’s a bit of variation between individual CPUs. Pro-overclockers Brian Mchlachlan and Sami Maekinen spent the week prior sampling a large batch of Bulldozer processors, looking for chips that performed amicably at increased voltages.

And with liquid helium running at about $5 per liter, the tanks that AMD had on hand for their testing look to cost (and I’m guesstimating here) Ridiculous dollars, before shipping and handling charges.

The overclockers designed a custom housing to maximize the amount of liquid coming into contact with a shell that’s all but grafted onto the CPU. They started off slow, with liquid nitrogen. Once temperature sensors showed that the temperature had gone as low as it could, and with the chip still chugging along merrily, it came time to switch over to the good stuff.

Increase a voltage multiplier incrementally, attempt to validate the resulting recorded clock speed in CPU-Z, repeat until the machine stalls and crashes. The tension in the room was palpable, in spite of the utter lack of visual feedback. If your eyes have largely glazed over, it’s fine: this is more akin to drag racing than traditional spectator sports: stability is the measure of a successful overclock, but you won’t be able to run any traditional benchmarks on a CPU put through these paces.

The real measure of worth here is at the lower end. These chips are tough--at least, they appear to be. Being able to to hit high clock speeds under duress bodes well for overclocking enthusiasts using traditional liquid or fan cooling techniques. We’ll know more in the coming weeks once AMD peels back some of the layers, but interesting--dareisay, cool--things are afoot.

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