Lesson 02 - Tools, Cooling, Stress Testing and Benchmarking
Before we start overclocking the CPU we need to install some tools in Windows and see where the CPU is in regards to it's cooling and performance.
The first program we need is called Prime95. You can find Prime95 on several sites for free and download the 32bit or 64bit version, depending on if you're running a 32 or 64 bit OS. If you're not sure, get the 32 bit version. It will run in both 32 and 64 bit operating systems. Just extract the files into a folder using your favorite unzipping tool, I'll use the one built into Windows and run Prime95.exe.
It will default to the Run a Torture Test dialog. To stress test the CPU we can use the Small FFTs setting. To stress test the RAM and CPU we'll be using the Blend setting. For now we'll close the Tortue test window. To get it back Click Options and Torture test. If you minimize Prime95 it will go down to the system tray. We'll click File and Exit for now.
Another useful tool is a timer. You are going to need to run Prime95 to stress test the system for several minutes at a time. Prime95 doesn't have a built in timer so go to Google and do a search for orzeszek timer. Scroll down and click to download it. Extract the zip file to a folder and run the exe. If you get an error it means your running Windows XP and you don't have the .net framework 3.5 installed. orzeszek timer needs this to run so go to Google and search for .net framework 3.5. The first link should be to Microsoft.com. Click Download and then Start Download. Install the program and run orzeszek timer again. It's a very simple program. You type in the number of minutes for the countdown and press enter. It will count down to zero and play alarm sound. If you right click anywhere in the box you can change the volume or turn off the alarm. I'll close the timer for now.
Another stress tester we'll be using is called BurnInTest. You can download it from www.passmark.com. We'll click Download. There is a standard and a pro version and 32 and 64bit versions of each. We'll download the Pro, 64bit version. The Pro version has the most options for testing. There is a 30 day trial before you buy which is plenty of time to test one system. Just run the exe once it downloads and install it. We've already installed it on this system so I'll launch it.
To test the CPU we'd click this down arrow and choose CPU Coverage. To test the RAM we'd choose RAM. If you've installed the Standard version you can get to the same test by clicking Quick Tests and CPU Coverage or RAM. Both the CPU Coverage and RAM tests will run through a series of cycles and then either say pass or fail. We'll close BurnInTest for now.
Another useful tool is CPUID. You can get it at www.cpuid.com. Download the latest exe file, run it and install it letting it put an icon on the Desktop. CPU ID lets us see information on the CPU, memory and motherboard from within Windows. The CPU speed. The multiplier, reference clock and HT Link speeds, the voltage going to the CPU. All useful information.
We're also going to need a way to monitor the CPU temperature. A program called Core Temp will do the trick. You can find it at www.alcpu.com. It comes in 32 bit and 64 bit versions. Get the one that matches the bit level of your operating system or get the 32bit version if you're not sure. Just extract the files into a folder using your favorite unzipping tool, I'll use the one built into Windows and run Core Temp.exe. It tells us the temperature that each of the CPU cores is running at in degrees Celsius.
It also keeps track of the minimum and maximum temps, lists the CPU type, it's MHz, the ref clock and multiplier being used to get that speed and the load on the CPU. When idling in Windows the load will be low because no CPU intensive programs are running. When we give the CPU cores something to do, the load will increase. If you have Quiet and Cool enabled in your BIOS and the Balanced power setting enabled in Windows Vista or 7, when the load drops to around 0% the multiplier will automatically be lowered, slowing down the CPU and saving power. As soon as you give the CPU something to do it will raise the multiplier. We're going to disable these power saving features.
While we are doing a overclocking tests, trying to get the CPU to run as fast as it can we are going to disable these power saving features in the BIOS. This will make sure the stress tests we put the CPU through a very thorough. We want to put the CPU through the worst possible circumstances to make sure the overclock is stable. Having the power saving features on would give the CPU a break and that's not what we want. After we reach our maximum stable overclock we will turn the power saving features back on to save electricity and extend the CPU's life.
Prime95 Stability Test
Let's go back to Prime95. We want to choose the Blend option to stress both the CPU and RAM. This test is to confirm our system is stable at stock settings and to see how hot the CPU gets at stock settings. Our CPU has 4 cores so Prime95 opens a Window and runs the stress test on each core. If the test fails changing these green icons read and give an error here, the system freezes, blue screens or reboots the system is unstable. If you walk away from the computer for awhile and come back and it's sitting at the desktop it means the test failed and the system rebooted.
The test has been running for 20 minutes. If we look at Core Temp the maximum temp was xxC. The temp spiked to XXc and then leveled out at XXc. This happened because by default the CPU fan runs at a slower speed when the CPU temp is low. When the system detects higher temps it speed up the fan, dropping the temperatures. We're going to set the CPU fan to always on high while we test. I'll write down the minimum and maximum temperature at stock settings.
To see how well the system is performing at stock settings, as well as an additional stability test, we will go to www.futuremark.com and click Benchmarks. 3DMark Vantage is the newest version, but it only allows you to see one benchmark result before paying for the full version. Scroll down and you'll find 3DMark06. It runs in Windows XP, Vista and 7. 3DMark06 will push the CPU to it's limits and give us a benchmark we can use to compare the performance with the current stock settings to the performance after we overclock the CPU. This isn't necessary in overclocking the CPU, but it is interesting and satisfying to see the improvements. Once it downloads just run the exe and install it. We've already installed 3dmark06 so I'll fire it up.
Before we run the benchmark its important to close down as many other running programs as possible. Even your browser can take up 10 to 15% of the CPU's time and this can effect the benchmark score. What ever you do just try and make sure the programs running are consistent between now and the next time you benchmark, after you overclock, to give as true a comparison as possible.
The free version of 3dmark06 doesn't allow you to select only the CPU tests so I'll run the standard benchmark. This tests the video card as well.
The tests take about 10 minutes to complete and in 3dmark06 this CPU score with stock settings is xxxxx. I'll also make note of the memory test score at stock settings.
Before we go into the BIOS to learn about all the overclocking related settings we need to talk about BIOS upgrades. If your motherboard is using an early version of its BIOS you may have trouble overclocking. Symptoms to watch for are inconsistent results when you try to overclock. For instance if you're are trying to find your motherboards fastest ref clock speed and you think you've found it, the system is stable so you take a break for a few hours. When you come back the system isn't stable at that same ref clock speed. You might need a newer version of the motherboard BIOS.
It's probably best to go ahead and make sure you have the latest BIOS. To find the latest version you need to go to the motherboard makers website. You can find a BIOS update in the Support section and you can usually also find it by going to the product page and clicking on a BIOS link. How you upgrade the BIOS varies by manufacturer. All motherboards will let you upgrade the BIOS using a utility inside the BIOS. You either load the BIOS update file from the folder you downloaded it to on your hard drive or you can save the file onto a USB thumb drive and load the BIOS from there. Most motherboard makers also give you the option to update the BIOS while in Windows using an extra program you download from the makers website. It's a good idea to make a backup of the current BIOS just in case you need to go back to it. Not all BIOS updates are good so keep backups of each BIOS you use including the one that shipped on the motherboard so you can go back to the last good BIOS version if you need to.
In the next lessons we will go into the BIOS, go over all of the overclocking related settings and prepare the BIOS for overclocking.