Liquid nitrogen flows at MSI's CES overclocking event


— 11:41 PM on January 10, 2011

Speed was the name of the game last week at MSI's Master Overclocking Arena 2011: Americas Final. The event was hosted at the Pole Position indoor kart racing in Las Vegas as part of MSI's CES festivities, and brought together 20 top overclockers (in the form of two-man teams) from both North and South America. When attendees weren't busy measuring liquid nitrogen to bring their CPUs down to a frosty -160°C, they were careening around the track at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour in electric go-karts. Sadly, none of the overclockers were allowed to unleash their homebrew electrical engineering on the karts.

In case you missed some of our previous coverage, MSI's overclocking events are strictly controlled competitions, with each team receiving the same set of PC components and an unlimited supply of LN2. Though the overclockers were allowed to work with their components prior to the event, there were restrictions on permissible modifications.

For example, teams could provide their own overclocking gear like coolers, copper containers, thermometers, and multimeters. However, all of the PC components (even USB flash drives) were provided by MSI. Should a motherboard or graphics card die during the competition, MSI would provide one replacement of each. If the team toasted the same component again, they were done for the day. It's worth noting that throughout the competition, not a single MSI component died.

Here's what the competitors started with:

  • Motherboard: MSI Big Bang XPower
  • Graphics card: MSI N580GTX GeForce GTX 580
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-980X Extreme
  • Memory: 6GB Patriot Sector 7 PC3-16000
  • Hard drive: Western Digital VelociRaptor WD3000HLFS
  • Power supply: Antec CP-1000

The competition itself consisted of three main phases: a 90-minute period of assembly and tuning, followed by two-and-a-half hours for teams to get their fastest possible SuperPI 32M time, and finally three hours to perfect their 3DMark 11 score. When both competition rounds completed, a weighted formula determined the overall winner.

Round one began with every team struggling to maintain a stable overclock, perhaps being a bit too ambitious and looking for a winning formula right away. However, none of the systems were booting into Windows, and every screen was blue: either in the BIOS for tweaking or at Windows' Blue Screen of Death.

Eventually, teams either scaled their overclocks back or tweaked their methods, and times started flying onto the leaderboard. Team Over the Edge (consisting of Dentlord and Patch) jumped into the lead with a time of 6 minutes and 38 seconds provided by their Core i7 980X running at 5.8GHz. But they aspired for more, and by the end of the round ended up at a clock speed of 5.99GHz and a time of 6 minutes and 26 seconds, securing them the lead for the first segment of the competition. However, Team OCAlliance (made up of members Romdominance and Splave) was close behind with a time of 6 minutes and 31 seconds, guaranteeing tight competition for the second round.

Round two was a much more exciting and contentious affair. Teams quickly began turning in impressive 3DMark 11 scores, with first place trading between Team Pure and Team OCAlliance. Less than an hour into the heat, word came over the intercom that Team OCAlliance recaptured first place by posting a new world record for 3DMark 11. Ironically enough, it was a record held by Team OCAlliance's very own Romdominance. Team OCAlliance didn't stop there, however, going on to break their previous world record four times over while securing their position atop the leaderboard with a final 3DMark 11 score of 9213. After all of the number-crunching from the two rounds was complete, Team OCAlliance was able to edge out Team Over the Edge for first place in the MSI MOA 2011 Americas Final.

Having never been to an extreme overclocking event, I had a preconception that overclockers fostered an insular, competitive, and exclusive community. However, my time spent at MSI MOA 2011 completely turned that notion around. What I witnessed was a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect not seen in many competitions. Teams were constantly walking forth between each other, congratulating each other on new scores, and sharing tactics.

No doubt every person there wanted to win, but I got the sense that every team there knew that they were competing in order to further their craft, not for personal accolades. In fact, most of the competitors from the United States were all from the larger OCAlliance organization, the highest-ranked overclocking team in the U.S.

Romdominance and Splave will eventually go on to Taipei to face the champions from other MOA 2011 regional events in the hopes of determining the world's best overclockers.

   
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