We regularly do large scale CPU testing in our own labs, particularly when we spin up CPU reviews with upwards of 15 chips in a test pool, so we know that selecting the right equipment, and having a lot of it, is imperative. That makes the OC lab tour all the more interesting, as we had the opportunity to poke around Intel's labs and compare notes.
And, of course, there's the eternal question that has spawned perhaps millions of heated forum exchanges: What's the best TIM (thermal interface material)? Intel probably wouldn't wade into that debate, but we asked the company what it uses in its own lab, and it turns out the company uses multiple types of TIM, largely dependent upon the testing it is doing.
Intel's lab has a $2,200 "tub" of Vince "Kingpin" Lucido's KPX, so it's obviously one of the go-to solutions, along with plenty of Thermal Grizzly's Kryonaut and Conductonaut. The company also uses an Intel-designed formula that is made by the third-party company Shin-Etsu. The blend isn't available to the public, but it doesn't seem to be the lab favorite and was mentioned as an afterthought.
Surprisingly, but not really too surprisingly given that this author thinks they're great coolers, Intel uses Corsair H115i coolers for testing in its lab, and there are plenty of them interspersed throughout. We also use these same coolers for CPU testing, and like Intel, we've found them to be very durable and hold up well to constant processor re-mountings. Intel uses the H115i for standard water-cooled overclocking testing but steps up to custom loops for overclocking HEDT models.
Intel's building has its own cool water supply for its various labs, but the overclocking lab uses a more powerful water chiller of its own. The chiller distributes water throughout the lab via two large tubes that extend along both sides of test benches, which you can see behind the monitors. Lab technicians can then simply plug into these chilled water supply lines at multiple stations inside the lab.
Interestingly, the overclocking lab's chiller is cooled by the building's cold water supply, meaning that there are two separate cooling loops in the lab. That allows the chiller, which creates its own waste heat, to be cooled via the central cooled water supply instead of exhausing that heat into the lab.
The company also has a piece of gear named The Medusa that we would absolutely kill for. The unit, pictured above, is a custom-made Peltier cooler that allows the company to keep a processor at a set temperature regardless of load. Intel designed this thermo-electric cooler and has used it worldwide in its facilities for roughly 15 years.
The unit has a Peltier thermocouple that, once attached, will keep a processor at the specified temperature (say, 60C) under all conditions. This unit is also cooled via the building's cool water supply. Among many other uses, this type of cooling solution comes in handy for testing systems that may not be easily cooled due to a lack of conventional cooler mounts. For instance, it was used extensively for Hades Canyon testing.
If you're swapping motherboards constantly, a solid test bench is a must. Again, like us, Intel uses the Open Benchtable (OBT) as it's go-to mount for motherboards.
After years of searching for the best open-air test bench, even going back to the heady days of Danger Den torture racks, we can attest that the OBT is the best open-bench option for testing CPUs. You mount motherboards with a peg-like system, so there are no fasteners required when you swap out gear: You just pop the motherboard on and off when needed, but it remains firmly in place without fasteners.
The OBT also folds flat and can be thrown in a suitcase for travel, which is handy for Intel because it's technicians have to set up for demos and often run tests in hotel rooms and remote locations. It's also handy if you're a CPU reviewer because we often test in hotel rooms to meet NDA deadlines while covering trade shows or events (you'd be surprised how often that happens).
We can also see one of Intel's many thermal imaging units that it uses to spot hot spots and diagnose various issues with motherboards.
We counted four oscilloscopes in the lab, but this model stands out. The Tektronix MSO 70404C mixed signal oscilloscope is the most powerful model in the lab and runs about $68,000. This scope can cover up to roughly 8 GHz, which allows the engineers to examine and debug really fast interfaces, like the overclocked memory bus. The rest of the scopes are a bit more pedestrian ($20,000 range).
Interestingly, this model runs Windows, so Intel's security team had to work it over and install software to keep things tidy from a security perspective.
Intel makes plenty of alterations and modifications to motherboards to further its overclocking pursuits, both to its own internal designs and those from third-party motherboard vendors. As such, the lab has a rework station and an expert technician that can fix "just about anything." That also comes in handy during the company's overclocking workshops with motherboard vendors.
- PAGE 1: The Overclocking Lab
- PAGE 2: The Beginnings and Mission of Intel's Overclocking Lab
- PAGE 3: Pouring LN2, the OSHA Way
- PAGE 4: TIM, Coolers, The Medusa, and Other Intel Lab Gear
- PAGE 5: Validation Boards and Overclocking Bootcamps
- PAGE 6: VRM Supercooling, PCH Swapping, and Internal Tools
- PAGE 7: 'Safe' Overclocking Voltages and Techniques
- PAGE 8: Is Overclocking Dead?
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