Will QuadFX Overclock Decently For It's Price Tag?

Last week when I reviewed the new AMD QuadFX platform I had a limited amount of time to overclock the test system, but have recently had the chance to spend a couple days on the test system trying to get the most out of it.  In the launch day article I was able to overclock the pair of FX-74 processors from 3.0GHz to 3.2GHz by increasing the multiplier by one whole multiplier since the processors are fully unlocked. While this overclock represents a 6.7% boost in clock frequency I was hoping for more. From what I understand enthusiasts buy AMD FX and Intel Extreme Edition processors since they are unlocked and overclocking friendly!

With my attention focused on overclocking I have taken another look at the pair of FX-74 processors and tried a number of different overclocking techniques to see how the processors overclock. The test system remains the same as the previous article, so nothing has changed configuration wise.

AMD QuadFX Test System

Since the test system remains the same and was found to be stable from our previous testing we were able to go into the BIOS and disable the features not being used and adjustments to the voltages for overclocking were made.  It was around this point we started scratching our heads as the voltage options were not what we expected.

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Since we found the limit on default voltage was 200MHz by a 16 multiplier, the first thing I did was go to the 'Advanced' settings in the BIOS and configure the system frequency and voltages. The pair of Quad FX FX-74 processors operate at 1.40V right out of the box, so I figured I'd boost up the volts on the processors.  Once I tried to adjust CPU Voltage I noticed that only a 0.05V increase was available in the BIOS. Checking AMD's website out I was able to confirm that the FX-74 processor (ADAFX74GAA6DI) uses between 1.35-1.40V. I also noted for the first time that the max temperature for the processor is 56C. I promptly contacted AMD about this and they quickly sent this reply:

"That is not the spec for the CPU temp. That spec is the “Max Ambient Case Temp” so that system builders (and you) know what the ambient temp should remain below for AMD-recommended heatsinks to properly cool the CPU. Our CPUs do not have “throttling” built into them, but if they heat beyond a critical point, the processor does have the ability to tell the motherboard to shut the system off to save from overheating." - AMD Public Relations

That makes a big difference as the Quad FX system runs pretty warm!

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Running on the test bench in a room with the air temperature at 20C (68F), we were seeing the BIOS reporting 47C and 46C.  Both "Cool & Quiet" and 'Smart Fan Control' were disabled and the CPU fans were running at 100%, which is over 6,000RPM's on our test system!  With the processors sitting in the BIOS at ~47C and the fact that they are air cooled, my guess is that with frequencies this high the temperatures will increase at least 10C at load, but there is no way to monitor temperatures in Windows.  Another interesting thing I caught in the BIOS was the 12V voltage reading.  At first I freaked out, but after grabbing the volt meter and trying it on all four +12V voltage rails, none were found below 12.08V.  I'm guessing the +12V voltage reading is a bit out of wack.

Overclocking Attempt Part 2

In my previous article I was able to increase the multiplier from 15 to 16, which resulted in a 214.6MHz increase over the stock frequency.

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Wanting more out of the processor I left the multiplier at 15 and increased the Bus Speed. I starting increasing the bus speed 5MHz at a time and found that at 220MHz the system would blue screen while windows was loading.  I backed down the bus one MHz at a time and finally found that 215MHz was the highest that I could run benchmarks with full stability at. 

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Hours and hours were spent updating the BIOS, installing Arctic Silver thermal compound, playing with different BIOS settings and all that we gained was 4.4MHz! The bright side of all this is that the system was running at the default voltages, which is 1.456V according to the BIOS and CPU-Z.  This is actually more voltage than AMD recommends, but even when manually set at 1.40V it shows at 1.456V.  We the set the CPU voltage to 1.45V in the BIOS and found the resulting voltage to be 1.504V.

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With the system running optimized defaults we increased the CPU voltage and restarted the system.  When the system came back on, the BIOS showed the CPU temp increased from 46C/47C to 53C/48C. Trying to run the system at these voltages caused severe instability, which I linked to the temperature of the processors. 

How do you better cool a Quad FX platform?  No water blocks are readily available for Socket F and sticking bigger heat sinks in our system was out of the question due to space constraints. Sitting at my desk and looking out the window I found my solution.

My Overclock Brings QuadFX to the Yard

Although it is far from orthodox and practical I took the system outside and onto the patio for the rest of the time I spent overclocking it. St. Louis just had a huge ice storm and with about 3 inches of clear ice on the patio and plenty of snow I figured the nice below freezing temperatures would be the best way to cool AMD's Quad FX platform.

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Believe it or not I couldn't move any of the chairs or the table because they were frozen in several inches of ice, but I managed to get the system up and running.  Other than some funny looks from a couple neighbors looking on the plan worked like a charm.

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At stock voltages before I was hitting 46C/47C and now that the system is outside in the snow and ice the CPU temperatures dropped to 35C/31C, which is an 11C or 16C drop depending on the processor. These temperatures should be just as good as any mainstream water cooling solution, so back to the overclocking!

I wish I had some screen shots or killer performance numbers for you, but none are to be had.  Even though the CPU temperatures outside are night and day better it didn't help out overclocking one bit.  We tried getting the system to post at anything higher than 215MHz and it couldn't do it with stability. It looks like 3.2GHz is the most we are going to get out of this system!

At first I was upset when the BIOS on the ASUS L1N64-SLI WS Motherboard didn't allow for higher voltage options on the processors, but it's clear that when the system was set to 1.45V that it would break 56C, the maximum CPU temperature, at load as it was sitting in the BIOS at 53C. For enthusiasts that like to overclock, I feel it's safe to say that a pair of FX-74 processors and the ASUS L1N64-SLI WS motherboard are pretty uneventful overclockers. With that said, a pair of FX-70 processors might be very good overclockers since they come clocked at 2.6GHz and are also fully unlocked. If the FX-70's can hit 3.2GHz then those parts would be a heck of a buy for 9 and should be able to hang close to Intel's quad-core single processor offerings.

In the mean time it would be nice to see NVIDIA update their nTune software to be able to monitor the temperatures on this board.  NVIDIA has told me that ASUS doesn't have the right 'hooks' setup in the BIOS for them to get nTune to work, so they are unable to update it.  At the same time ASUS's PC Probe software also doesn't work, so both ASUS and NVIDIA have no utilities available to monitor the CPU temperatures. I don't care who is to blame, but someone needs to come up with a fix and get this utility published as it is needed. If I spent thousands for one of these systems and couldn't monitor my temperatures, I'd be pretty upset. 

I'm going to go warm up as I still can't feel my fingers from being outside for so long!