Secrets of the extreme overclockers

How the pros manage 8GHz and beyond

For each new graphics card with overclocking potential, Clapham reckons there are probably only about five or six people in the world who'll probe it thoroughly with a multimeter, in order to reverse engineer some kind of schematic for discovering which pin does which on the card. "Easy points and silverware don't interest me," Clapham says, "if the benching doesn't teach me something, as far as I'm concerned, I'm just wasting my time."

Having said all that, there's an obvious competitive element to the hobby, too. It's telling that Clapham describes overclocking as a "sport" rather than as a hobby.

"One or two clockers – who will stay nameless – don't cope especially well with being beaten," he admits, "And might rock the boat every now and then, but there'll be people like that in anything competitive sport."

For the most part though, there's a lot of camaraderie among the community: "A lot of the old-hands know each other and are willing to help each other out, even if it means they'll get beaten as a result," says Clapham.

How do the world's best keep track of their status? There are literally hundreds of dedicated forums and groups like Benchtec UK, who meet online and in real life to share tips and test their prowess. In lieu of any 'official' database of rankings, the two best sites for keeping track of who's who and have achieved what, are The Overclocking World Record Database and the more community oriented HWBot.org.

The difficulty for both of the most popular sites is attempting to independently verify scores. There just isn't the infrastructure to double-check every screengrab that comes through, which shows a processor running at an outrageous speed, and the occasional porky pie slips through.

Wheedling out the cheaters is very much a Web 2.0 activity – the community generally does a good job of self-monitoring for obvious fakes, and can often detect a discrepancy between knowledge shown in forum postings and claimed achievements. "Some people want insta-success," observes Clapham, "And they often don't realise the ridiculous amount of time and money involved in building up a reputation and the abilities to do what the top overclockers do, so they find another way. They always get found out over time, though."

One thing that's remarkable about overclockers is that they can always find a new goal to pursue. There's a flurry of activity around the initial launch of any new platform, but even once scores start to peak there are people prepared to push things just a little bit further.

And the sport itself is booming – in many ways this year has been a major breakthrough for its recognition. Overclocking is nothing new, but there are signs that the manufacturers are starting to pay more than lip service to the people who buy more than one motherboard a year.

The last few months have seen a flurry of sponsored showcases, from NVIDIA inviting k|inp|n and Yasukazu 'duck' Shimokawa to demonstrate their skills on the green one's hardware at the most recent press launch and at big day tournaments hosted by other brands.

In terms of tournaments, the Advanced Overclocking Championship (AOCC) is the largest gathering of big names so far, and it's the most serious attempt to turn overclocking into a stadium sport. The 2008 contest took place in Hong Kong in July, with headline sponsorship deals from Intel, NVIDIA and Asus.

A further, but smaller competition was organised in Berlin in August of this year, using the AOCC brand, but competitors were limited to using Asus kit as part of the company's pre-X58 launch promotion.

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