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Overclocking, Or Maybe Not

System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: $2000 Performance PC

We recommend a continuous core limit of 1.38 V or less for Sandy Bridge-based processors, and a peak voltage of no more than 1.40 V on a regular basis. This recommendation is based on a vast number of processors we’ve seen live a long time or die rather quickly.

And yet, we test motherboards at 1.35 V CPU core due to problems we’ve experienced with certain voltage regulators taking out our precious CPUs when overstressed. Gigabyte’s board had no power issues in our review, so it should have been good for the increase from our award-winning press sample's 1.35 V to the 1.38 V asked of our retail purchase, right?

Unfortunately, we could not get the system to run reliably at 1.38 V. It behaved as though it was overheating, even though CPU temperatures remained well below the Sandy Bridge architecture’s high thermal threshold.

We can only guess that it was the voltage regulator that was overheating, and that makes sense because only half of its MOSFETs were covered with a heat sink.

We couldn’t even reach the 4.55 GHz frequency we achieved in our original review without slamming headlong into stability problems. Although we saw 4.7 GHz was seen, that clock rate couldn’t be maintained without blowing a high-pressure fan directly onto the motherboard.

Our memory encountered similar overclocking restrictions. Though we were able to shorten latency to CAS 8 at its rated DDR3-1866, increasing the base clock by 2% limited our timing optimizations to a change in tRAS.

The final overclock of 4.48 GHz is sure to hurt the value rating of our overclocked configuration, and we can only hope to achieve similar average performance to the previous build, even after the graphics card upgrade.

A memory data rate of DDR3-1901 is similarly disappointing for these DDR3-1866-rated modules.

Worse still, we were completely unable to overclock the graphics cards. Then again, with a stock GPU frequency of 772 MHz, we didn’t see the point of trying anything less than the 800 MHz we used when the system crashed repeatedly. More voltage might have helped, but the risk of using a higher voltage setting doesn't offset the minimal potential reward.

We even tried overclocking the graphics memory, and these cards crashed after only a 16 MHz increase. We speculated this might happen earlier in the piece, so we simply gave up trying to overclock EVGA's most entry-level GeForce GTX 580s.

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