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Gigabyte's Open Overclocking Championship 2008

No other tournament has as much liquid nitrogen or as many 3DMarks

In America, it's common to see people getting excited about tournaments of all kinds, whether they're based on physically demanding endeavors like sports or intellectually challenging pursuits like game shows and gambling, which also have a healthy dose of random chance. One thing we're not used to, however, is coverage of the nerdiest of pursuits, such as remote control competitions and professional gaming.

When I first heard of overclocking competitions, I was skeptical. I knew they existed, but I figured they were limited to an outrageous few with access to exotic cooling methods, like phase changers and liquid nitrogen, and custom-hacked hardware, like voltage-modded motherboards and graphics cards, not to mention more money than sense for processors like Intel Extreme Editions. I also figured the most recognition competitors got for their accomplishments was posting scores on benchmarking sites like 3DMark's Orb or obscure forums that receive an influx of new posts each time a faster piece of hardware comes along.

To my surprise, this arena isn't puny by any means. Gigabyte has turned friendly competition into a full-fledged international championship, using eleven regional events around the world to wring out the best from the rest when it comes to overclocking. The inaugural Gigabyte Open Overclocking Championship, or GO OC 2008 for short, took place September 25th in Taipei, Taiwan, and we were there to witness the madness.

The setup
Over 40 participants were invited to the final competition, but as in any coordinated event this large, a few people, including some favorites from Greece and Germany, were unable to make it. In the end, 23 teams arrived representing 20 countries. Most of the teams had two members, but a few showed up with only one. The teams were pitted against each other in a full day of overclocked benchmarking with different applications, followed by a round of freestyle record attempts.

Event Schedule
Registration: 7:30 AM — 8:00 AM
System Setup: 8:00 AM — 11:00 AM
Opening Ceremony: 11:00 AM — 11:20 AM
Final Presentation and 10 minute break: 11:20 AM — 11:30 AM
Round One — Everest (Bandwidth) 11:30 AM — 11:55 AM
Round Two — Super PI: 12:05 PM — 12:30 PM
Round Three — 3DMark 2001: 12:40 PM — 2:00 PM
Round Four — 3DMark 2006: 2:10 PM — 3:30 PM
Award Ceremony One: 3:30 PM — 4:00 PM
Setup for Freestyle: 4:00 PM — 5:30 PM
Freestyle Contest: 5:30 PM — 7:30 PM
Award Ceremony Two: 7:30 PM — 8:00 PM

The venue for the event was Taipei's Grand Hyatt hotel, which is literally right across the street from the famous Taipei 101 tower—the world's tallest completed skyscraper. The event was held in the largest conference room the hotel offered.

Every contestant was supposed to submit a photo that was showcased on this massive poster

Given the number of countries involved, I was particularly interested in getting a feel for how popular overclocking and technology in general are around the world. Considering the enthusiasm teams from Asian countries showed at the event, it certainly seems like North America is a little more timid in this regard.

South Africa's participants and media

Tension was nowhere to be found before the event as participants mingled in the foyer outside the conference room, reminiscing about the days of the Celeron 533A or talking about the records they were planning on breaking during the competition.

The Scandinavians. SF3D there on the left would like it known that he's from Finland,
even though he was on team Sweden-2

Much to my surprise, almost all the contestants already knew each other, either from previous events similar to this one or online forums like Xtreme Systems. Xtreme Systems owner Fugger was at the event competing on team USA-2 with fellow forum favorite Vapor.

Each team's table was fully stocked with hardware and other necessities for extreme benchmarking

The necessary logistics were handled very smoothly by Gigabyte, which had each workstation decked out with top-of-the-line enthusiast hardware and a few essentials, including paper towels and a thermal mug for holding liquid nitrogen.

Quad-core, unlocked, 45nm QX9650 engineering samples were at the heart of each system for the main event

The CPUs were hand-picked by judges and fellow enthusiast Hicookie and pre-tested for performance to ensure that no team would have a significant advantage or disadvantage due to the luck of the draw.

These poor GA-EP45T Extreme motherboards didn't have a clue how badly they were about to be abused

Where possible, the system hardware was Gigabyte's own, including the motherboard, Radeon graphics cards, and even a 1200-watt modular power supply.

The competition graphics cards were Gigabyte Radeon HD 4870s with 1GB of GDDR5 memory

The memory, however, was provided by Corsair. Western Digital offered up a speedy VelociRaptor hard drive for each team, as well.

Corsair provided each team with two 1GB sticks of Dominator DDR3 memory rated for speeds up to 1800MHz

ViewSonic graciously donated a multitude of 22" 1680x1050 monitors to round out the competition platforms.

You know things are going to get serious when you see eleven full-sized tanks of liquid nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen, more affectionately called LN2 by most attendees, was the star of the show for providing temperatures as low as 160 degrees Celsius below zero before rapidly boiling at -149°C. The handling of the LN2 was split between members of Gigabyte's staff, a few qualified technicians, and generally one member at a time from each team.

All the contestants got together for a group shot before the competition officially began

A stage complete with spotlights and an audio system fit for a small stadium set the mood for the opening show, with cheerleaders shouting "Go.. O.. C.. GO OC" and laser lights scurrying around the expansive conference room.