Inside Intel’s Secret Overclocking Lab: The Tools and Team Pushing CPUs to New Limits

Intel says it loves overclocking, however announcing it and proving it are two various things solely. We right here at Tom’s Hardware surely love overclocking, so we visited Intel’s Jones Farm campus in Portland, Oregon, not too long ago for an unique excursion to peer how the corporate designs and designers its chips for optimum overclockability. 

Intel’s overclocking lab has silently advised the corporate’s overclocking efforts for years and, understandably, the corporate has been hesitant to open it as much as the media. To our wisdom, we’re the first tech information outlet to seek advice from and record at the facility. As we will see under, the lab is full of next-gen equipment that the corporate is not in a position to disclose, a few of it hidden below Intel-blue lab coats for our seek advice from.

Security is an on a regular basis worry at Intel, and as a part of its usual working procedures, delicate equipment is stored in locked Plexiglas instances in lots of the construction when it’s not actively being examined. The instances are big enough to make it tricky, if now not not possible, to ferret {hardware} out of the construction left out. Inside of the confines of the OC lab, which is secure by means of a keypad access machine, the technicians can function with a bit of extra freedom.

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(Image credit score: Tom’s Hardware)

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(Image credit score: Tom’s Hardware)

Intel is surely an organization at a crossroads: After greater than a decade of dominance, it’s confused by means of AMD with its Ryzen processors that provide main efficiency in key metrics, and at ultra-competitive pricing that demanding situations Intel’s desktop PC dominance. 

Much of AMD’s merit lays in TSMC’s 7nm procedure, which is denser and extra environment friendly than Intel’s go-to 14nm node. But overclocking headroom stays a bonus for Intel, as its chips have a lot more margin between the rated spice up frequencies and overclocked clock charges than AMD’s processors. 

Make no mistake, AMD has completed an excellent task of extracting the maximum efficiency from the brand new 7nm node, however the truth stays: The trade is grappling with stagnant, if now not declining, clock charges from procedure nodes as they shrink additional, main many to query if overclocking is lifeless.

During our seek advice from, we mentioned the labs’ function and procedures, tested the equipment, requested Intel’s crew about the way forward for overclocking, and peppered them with questions on one of the vital considerations at the minds of overclockers, like secure voltage pointers and the have an effect on of overclocking on chip longevity.

Move the Bits Faster

Overclocking is all about pushing the bits within the processor sooner by means of changing it to function past the rated specs. It sounds easy sufficient, however as fanatics know, what seems to be a fairly simple workout can also be extraordinarily advanced, particularly in case you are pushing the intense fringe of efficiency.

As difficult as wringing the maximum efficiency out of silicon can also be, it is not anything in comparison to the complexity of designing and integrating that capability into merchandise that start their existence as grains of sand. Consider this: At 5 GHz, the nanometer-scale transistors inside of nowadays’s fashionable chips transfer off and on at a price of five billion instances according to 2d, and that’s not even the head of efficiency – it’s not unusual to peer speeds over 7 GHz with liquid nitrogen cooling.

Exposing that hidden efficiency to fanatics and informal customers alike gifts super demanding situations for the engineering groups tasked with making sure the billions of transistors to your chip can live on the pains of increased voltages and temperatures that come as a byproduct of overclocking.

Dan Ragland (middle) and crew.  (Image credit score: Tom’s Hardware)

That’s one of the elemental the explanation why Intel created its Overclocking Lab, a crew of engineers led by means of Dan Ragland, the Principal Engineer of Performance Tuning & Overclocking Architecture. The crew is tasked with now not handiest exposing new overclocking options to customers but additionally monitoring silicon high quality, voltage scaling and engaging in long-term rigidity checking out, all of which lend a hand the corporate fortify its processors for all customers – even those who don’t seem to be focused on overclocking.

The overclocking lab operates in relative secrecy so far as the general public is worried, however it’s only down the hallway (and to the suitable) from the place we attend Intel’s annual knowledge middle briefings, so it’s not essentially hidden inside of Intel’s Jones Farm campus in Portland, Oregon.

For our excursion, Ragland used to be joined by means of four contributors of his eight-person engineering crew that he handpicked for his or her revel in in more than one disciplines, from mechanical/thermal engineering to tool. Ragland selects from probably the greatest the corporate has to provide, however flair and exuberance are key characteristics he seems to be for when deciding on crew contributors. A keenness for overclocking is a ground-floor requirement to make the crew.

A gaggle of eight engineers turns out like a small collection of engineers devoted to overclocking efficiency for an organization with a marketplace cap of ~$250 billion, however this crew interacts with more than one different teams, from Intel’s Israel-based IDC crew all over the design levels of processor architectures to the groups answerable for energy code control and overclocking tool, amongst many others.

The crew additionally interfaces with motherboard distributors to lend a hand them optimize their platforms for overclocking, a part of which contains overclocking workshops that we’re going to quilt in a while. Intel additionally incessantly brings in main overclockers from around the globe to paintings with them within the lab to lend a hand the corporate higher perceive the demanding situations of overclocking, and deal with problems. 

We requested all over our excursion if the lab additionally does aggressive efficiency research of competing merchandise, like checking out AMD’s chips for comparability, “We’re very conscious about our festival, however we will’t say a lot past that,” Ragland spoke back.

We’ll dive in at the historical past and rationale in the back of Intel’s overclocking tasks at the following web page, then dive in deeper at the tech in the back of the scenes. 

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