|ASUS M4A88TD-V EVO/USB3 Motherboard|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Motherboards|
|Written by Bruce Normann|
|Thursday, 15 July 2010|
Page 7 of 16
ASUS BIOS and Overclocking
It seems like Intel, AMD and NVIDIA can't help themselves. Every new product line they introduce seems to have a built-in capacity for higher clock rates. In this very aggressive semiconductor marketplace, it seems there is a soft spot for conservative speed ratings. It's not like this is a big secret anymore; ever since enthusiasts started getting 100% overclocks on the Intel Core2 Duo chips with decent air cooling, it seems the whole world is in on it.
ASUS makes it easier and easier to achieve those overclocks with each new major release of their BIOS. For several years now, the core functions required to maximize the performance of your PC have been contained on the "Ai Tweaker" tab of the custom AMI BIOS. There are several ways of tweaking the performance. CPU Level Up is the simplest; it just bumps up your BIOS settings to the next higher level processer specs. If there isn't one, you can jump up to the next tier; got an AMD Phenom II X4 945 and you want a 965? Just do it, as they say. The OC tuner takes a more deliberate approach, and goes through a sequence of repeatedly raising clocks and then testing for stability. It's a well established process that most people would do themselves, manually. With OC Tuner, it's automated. Lastly, there is support for utility programs that run in Windows and can speed up the effort by eliminating the repetitive rebooting process.
I'm a manual overclocker at heart; it's how I learned it the first time I did it, and I'm most comfortable when I have full control. Yes, it's just an illusion, but humor me..... I also get annoyed with machines that don't think the way I do. For example, if I'm running benchmarks, I can't have AMD's Cool'n'Quiet slowing the CPU down at the exact moment I press the button to start a test. The lag isn't that much, but it's never consistent. The same goes for ASUS' fantastic new feature called "Turbo Unlocker", which dynamically increases each core frequency by up to 500 MHz, to speed up performance based on CPU load. Nice! Great! Love it! It's wonderful that ASUS has one-upped AMD by bringing this kind of functionality to all the Black Edition CPUs instead of just the new X6 models that currently get "Turbo Core". But once again it doesn't do it exactly the same each and every time, and it screws up the benchmark scores.
In order to reach the full potential of your system, it is usually necessary to adjust some system voltages. Once again, everything is accessible in BIOS, with either the automated processes I discussed above, or with fully manual adjustments. All the basics are here, and I especially like how the current voltage is displayed; it gives you an idea of the default voltage without having to go look it up on some obscure website, if you can find it at all.
Ultimately, I decided to perform the testing for this article with two different overclocks. One was achieved with the default settings for everything. All I did was set the memory to the correct speed and timings, and adjust the base clock and multiplier for the CPU. With these few, simple changes I got a stable overclock of 3.8 GHz on the CPU, which is a decent bump up from the default of 3.2 GHz.
After I completed testing with that configuration, I turned the CPU Offset Voltage up slightly, and then bumped the CPU up to 4.0 GHz. I tried getting 4.1 GHz and 4.2 GHz, but was never able to get the system completely stable. I'm sure with a bit of research and tweaking I can get 4.1, but 4.0 GHz is a nice round number; a milestone, if you will. Core temps on the CPU never got above 40C, so I know there was some headroom left, but I didn't want to risk instability. It's a real heartbreaker to get to the last test of the day and find out that it's the only one that crashes your system with its great new settings....
The 880G Northbridge, and ASUS' M4A88TD-V EVO/USB3, make some compromises on PCI Express 2.0 connectivity for the graphics system that limit the uses of this board to more of a mainstream market segment. It is priced that way too, and if you choose your system components wisely, you can avoid those limitations and build a very competitive gaming rig for a bit less money. Take the money you save on the motherboard and CPU, and go to town with your choice of video card. That's the hot ticket for gaming performance.
Please stick around for the next section, as we proceed with testing. We'll focus mainly on CPU and system-level tests, but at the end there are some gaming benchmarks to show how well this low-cost platform compares against some stiff competition.