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Dear PC Industry: Please overclock responsibly

We're putting the PC industry on notice about bad overclocking.

Dear PC Industry:

During the past two weeks we've tested three desktops with ambitiously overclocked Intel Core i7 920 chips. Two of those have failed Prime95, a publicly available benchmark designed to test CPU stability. One desktop last week blue-screened within two minutes of a Prime95 run. This afternoon, a PC that came overclocked to 3.73GHz throttled down to 2.4GHz (below the 2.66GHz stock speed for the 920 chip) after about 10 minutes.

Please overclock with care. Intel

We've seen the Core i7 920 chip overclocked successfully. A chip bumped up to 3.88GHz in a system from AVADirect passed an overnight Prime95 run last week with no throttling, and at reasonable temperatures. That it's possible to squeeze $700 worth of performance from a $250 CPU is exciting for you and for your customers. However, as should be obvious, overclocking a CPU shouldn't come at the expense of system stability.

Call us foolish optimists, but we won't name names of the systems that failed because both of you had plausible explanations. The blue-screened desktop had been shipped multiple times to multiple review outlets. Neither shipping nor reviewing is a particularly gentle process.

The PC that throttled down came with what you told us was an outdated BIOS. You're not selling this PC yet, so we're willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. We look forward to trying out the new BIOS you said you'd e-mail us.

So, PC Industry, consider yourself on notice. We weren't too concerned about your previous overclocking attempts that went 10 or 20 percent above stock. Now that you're aspiring to 50 percent performance gains, we're going to require two things:

  • You must acknowledge on your Web site that you offer CPU overclocking, and that the speeds you can achieve will vary from chip to chip. Most of you already do this.
  • Your overclocked PC must be stable enough to survive a 24-hour run of Prime95 in our lab.

If you fail to declare that you overclock and the limits thereof on your Web site, we will decline to review your PC above its stock component settings. If you send it to us anyway, we can send it back or clock it down, your call. We'll take failure to complete Prime95 on a case-by-case basis. Repeated failure will very likely result in a public reprimand.

We're happy to answer any questions you might have, and we know you can sell overclocked PCs responsibly.

Good luck,