Gigabyte's Open Overclocking Championship 2009


The Core i7 gets a dose of liquid nitrogen
— 12:43 AM on May 1, 2009

For enthusiasts, overclocking is generally a matter of cheaply exploiting the "free" clock speed headroom in otherwise inexpensive hardware. With a little luck, an aftermarket air cooler, and perhaps a smidgen of extra voltage, wringing higher clock speeds from today's mid-range hardware is actually pretty easy. It's not an expensive endeavor, either, especially when one considers the additional performance that can be unlocked with even modest clock cranking. There's a certain smug satisfaction in knowing that you're getting better performance than you've paid for, too.

While this sort of easy overclocking is popular, the best air and even water-cooling solutions aren't going to break any performance records. To reach the sort of clock speeds necessary to compete with the highest scores in Super PI, 3DMark, and other popular benchmarks, one needs the sub-zero temperatures only possibly with truly extreme—and ultimately impractical—cooling solutions.

Of course, practicality matters little to the unique breed of overclockers that dominates the benchmark leaderboards. These are competitive overclockers, and they're all about records and bragging rights.

At the moment, most of the overclocking and benchmark records are held by systems running on Asus motherboards. That's no surprise considering that Asus has long been favored by overclockers and enthusiasts in general. However, in recent years, Gigabyte's motherboards have generally been every bit as good as the Asus standard. In fact, in some cases we've found them to be even better.

Determined to get its motherboards in more record-setting systems, last year Gigabyte kicked off a series of extreme overclocking competitions dubbed the GOOC, or Gigabyte Open Overclocking Championship. The North American finals for this competition were held in Los Angeles last weekend, with the winner slated to compete in the world finals in Taipei, Taiwan during Computex this summer.


The requisite group shot

Gigabyte invited 13 overclockers to this North American final—a dozen from the US and one Canadian—and unleashed them on a collection of cutting-edge hardware, including Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD4P motherboards, GeForce GTX 260 graphics cards, and Core i7-965 Extreme processors, Kingston DDR3-2000 memory, X25-M solid-state drives, and Enermax Revolution85+ kilowatt PSUs.


One of two LN2 tanks on-hand for the event

Oh, and about a cubic assload of liquid nitrogen.


Fugger's fearsome cascade rig

To keep things fair, each overclocker's system components were assigned randomly. The competitors were allowed to bring their own cooling gear, though, and there was quite an array of approaches—and lucky charms—on display. XtremeSystems owner Fugger (Charles Wirth) and winner of last year's freestyle finals was at the event with a beastly cascade cooling rig capable of maintaining much more stable temperature levels than the standard liquid nitrogen pots used by the rest of the field. Fugger wasn't actually competing, though; he'll still be at this year's finals in Taipei.

Rather than simply challenging competitors to hit the highest clock speeds possible, Gigabyte scored the event based on a combination of Super PI and 3DMark06 performance. 3DMark counted for extra, with points awarded for both the overall and HDR/SM3.0 scores.

Titon (Vachira Khowdee) posted the high HDR/SM3.0 score with 10,385 points. Sno.Icn (Jeremy Clifton) scored slightly lower in the HDR test, but his overall 3DMark score was the highest at 24,869 3DMarks. Miahallen (Jeremiah Allen) took the Super PI contest with an 8M time of 30.969 seconds thanks to an impressive Core i7 clock speed of 5.12GHz on only 1.472V—not bad for just a couple of hours of setup and tweaking time.


Miahallen takes first overall

Miahallen posted a solid performance in 3DMark, allowing him to finish first overall. Sno.Icn finished second overall, with Maxi (Mark LeaMaster) sneaking into third place. For their trouble, the top three took home hardware from Gigabyte, Kingston, Enermax, and Intel. Miahallen also won a round-trip ticket to this year's Taipei finals. And, in a nod to how luck always plays a role in overclocking, Intel offered up an X25-M SSD the two competitors with the lowest scores.

Although the competition officially ended on Saturday, Gigabyte kept the liquid nitrogen flowing on Sunday to allow competitors shoot for records of their choosing. No new performance standards were set, but perhaps we'll see some records fall at the Taipei finals this summer. TR

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