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Intel Preps Overclocking Software

Intel Thursday said it is preparing its next generation testing tool that lets you control the performance levels of desktop PC processors including the shunned practice of overclocking.

Called the Intel Desktop Control Center, the software tool replaces the Intel Active Monitor to perform stress tests and measure the impact of system configuration changes. The graphic interface on the console also displays various systems including temperature, speed, and usage percentages.

After using the new, the company says an end user can verify system stability and check performance gains without rebooting into the BIOS. The settings can then be stored as presets to shift between "quiet operation" and "gaming mode". The software is expected to debut it in the fourth quarter of next year. A class specifically on the topic of Intel's Desktop Control Center is scheduled at the Intel Developer's Forum next month in San Jose.

Overclocking (also known as speed margining) is a popular technique for eking out a little more performance from a system. In many cases, you can force your CPU to run faster than it was intended simply by setting a jumper on the motherboard. Overclocking does come with some risks, including over-heating, so experts say you should become familiar with all the pros and cons before you attempt it.

Intel spokesperson George Alfs told internetnews.com the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company does not advocate overclocking because, "it may invalidate the warranty" but did say software utilities like this are fairly common in the industry.

"We allow certainly system integrators to test out their applications in a 'burn in mode' where they can run it at a higher speed for a while just to see if their applications are running correctly."

The new software is planned specifically for two boards running Pentium 4 chips with Hyper-Threading: the D875 PBZ (known internally as Bonanza) and the D865 PERL (no relationship to the computer language of the same spelling). The boards also support 800MHz bus speeds and Dual DDR as well as support for integrated RAID configurations.

In addition to system integrators, Alfs said that the tool would also be available to the "enthusiasts" crowd, but said Intel would be hesitant to automatically replace any burnt chips damaged by its own software.

"It would have to depend on the scenario," he said. "Often vendors have engineering samples, but for other users it would depend on the circumstances.

Widespread Practice
The most common problem of overclocking relates to bit errors and data corruptions. Usually, chipsets and/or hardware components which need the system clock frequency for computing operations may incorrectly interpret electrical signals between "1" and "0" due to timing violations. More serious problems of over-clocking relate to advanced chipsets, which use a random number generator (RNG) for security applications such as cryptography, digital signatures, and protected communication protocols.

The other major problem, according to Intel, is that "unscrupulous" resellers and/or distributors may purchase less expensive processors that are rated at lower clock frequencies and then remark those processors at higher clock frequencies for resale at higher prices.

The practice of overclocking is becoming a mainstream business. Scores of Web sites like the Overclocking Store, and Extreme Overclocking offer tips and sell products that help computer users go beyond a chip's designated speed. Even internetnews.com sister sites Sharkey Extreme and SysOpt.com have pages devoted to teaching people how to boost a system's performance.

In its defense, Intel does have a patented technology designed to automatically shut down a system before an overworked processor burns it up.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the No. 1 chipmaker patent number 6,535,988 on March 18 for use in future Intel products.

Alfs said the company does not use any of the patent technology in its CPUs yet but the chips do anti-remarking features (locked multiplier and other things).