RealTime IT News

AMD Moves to Woo Overclockers

Beijing 2008

A CPU's clock speed -- the rate at which it executes instructions -- combines the system bus speed with a multiplier that signifies the number of cycles executed each cycle. A 2.4GHz processor, for example, might run at 200MHz with a multiplier of 12, meaning that 12 clock cycles are executed at 200MHz for every cycle of the CPU.

By tweaking the clock, multiplier and system power, overclockers hope to get more power out of their system than it's supposed to offer. The downside to any tweaking, however, is that pushing components beyond their rated limits can make a system unstable -- but enthusiasts feel it's worth the risks.

"They feel like they are getting something for free. That's why they do it," Adam Kozak, chipset product marketing manager for AMD, told InternetNews.com.

As a result, don't expect to see the 790GX in business computers like Dell's Vostro line or Lenovo ThinkPads. It's purely for the hobbyist market, which is often willing to spend extra to squeeze out additional performance from their systems -- a fact that could help AMD (NYSE: AMD) in its sweeping effort to right itself.

Neither AMD nor Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) have tried to stop overclocking of their processors, but neither has officially condoned it, either. Instead, it's often a source of great amusement to both to see how far hobbyists will go in risking turning their CPU into a charcoal briquette. In AMD's case, it decided to make the process a little safer.

"This is what gamers like to do," Kozak said. "We can either ignore it and have an underground scenario where things are happening we can't control, or we can offer the right tools and not control it but at least say, 'Here's how to do it,' and we can market it as a gamer-friendly type of product."

The 790GX chipset is actually the product of ATI Technologies, which AMD bought in 2006. Having the two firms integrated was a huge help in getting access to technical information, Kozak said, making an overclocking-friendly chipset possible.

The AMD 790GX, designed for its Phenom processors, features what the chipmaker calls Advanced Clock Calibration for tweaking the settings on the CPU. The 790GX not only allows for enhanced performance, but also a computer can be underclocked to drop it into a lower-power state to cut down on energy consumption and heat.

The Catalyst software that comes with an ATI chipset also will have built-in controls for dropping the computer into a low-power state, and will integrate into Windows Vista's power management controls, Kozak said.

The 790GX also supports ATI's Hybrid Graphics Technology, which allows both discrete and integrated graphics at the same time. This is meant for the laptop market, since there is a marked difference in power consumption between integrated and discrete graphics.

When operating off the battery, a laptop can use integrated graphics, which aren't as powerful but don't draw as much power. Once it's plugged into a power outlet, the laptop can switch to discrete graphics for high-end graphics.

The AMD 790GX chipset also offers 1080p HDTV video and support for advanced video codecs like VC-1, MPEG-2 and H.264.

Motherboards featuring the 790GX are expected to be available today from major motherboard vendors like Asus, Gigabyte and MSI.