Office computers are hardly ever overclocked, but according to our performance tests value CPUs can easily find their way into simple home systems. And it will definitely be of interest to home users whether their platforms can work in non-nominal operational modes.
Nevertheless, we decided to veer away from our traditional overclocking methodology in the today’s test session, as we tried to adapt this procedure specifically for inexpensive home systems. This “adaptation” included two things. First, we didn’t use any high-performance CPU coolers, because their price is incomparable with the price of the low-end CPUs. We used default boxed cooling solutions during our overclocking experiments. Second, we overclocked without increasing the processor core voltage. The thing is that low-end mainboards often do not have the option for that at all. Besides, overclocking without CPU Vcore increase allows keeping all processor power-saving technologies up and running, which doesn’t affect the energy-efficiency of the platform and doesn’t cause any cooling or acoustic issues.
For our experiments we chose two most overclocking-friendly CPUs based on the latest 45 nm cores. They were AMD Athlon II X2 215 and Intel Celeron E3300. Their specifications suggest that they would be the most interesting solutions for overclocking as they offer the best combination of hidden frequency potential and price.
And our supposition proved totally right. The first CPU, AMD Athlon II X2 215 did very well during our overclocking tests. Without touching any voltages, we could easily push its frequency from the default 2.7 GHz to 3.6 GHz.
In this case the overclocking approach was extremely primitive: we simply increased the clock generator frequency from the default 200 MHz to 267 MHz. The only multiplier that we had to lower in this case was the memory frequency multiplier. The frequencies of the HyperTransport bus and North Bridge integrated into the processor increased in proportion to the clock generator frequency, but it didn’t cause us any problems.
As for Celeron E3300 processor, things didn’t go as smoothly. We used to overclock this processor to 4 GHz, but we had to significantly increase its Vcore and use a high-performance air cooler. Now, without any Vcore increase and with just a boxed CPU cooler, we could only get it to work stably at 3.12 GHz, which is, however, 25% overclocking.
To achieve this result we raised the FSB speed from 200 to 250 MHz and changed the memory frequency multiplier.
As for the performance of our overclocked processors, the gain was generally proportional to their frequency increase. However, even though we managed to overclock AMD Athlon II X2 215 by 33% while Intel Celeron E3300 only by 25% didn’t make AMD solution an indisputable performance leader.
Yes, overclocked Athlon II X2 215 is a definite winner in many benchmarks. For example, it performs very well in games. However, there still remain a lot of tasks where Celeron E3300 doesn’t give in and retains a convincing lead.
I would also like to mention a pretty attractive option for economical enthusiasts – AMD Sempron 140. The thing is that these processors are based on original dual-core semiconductor dies, similar to those used in Athlon II X2 processors. From a practical standpoint it means that Sempron 140 may be transformed into a dual-core processor due to a well known trick with ACC technology activation. This is the reason why Sempron 140 may be of particular reason for those users whose budget is extremely tight, but they nevertheless want to have a more or less up-to-date system. Unfortunately, it is not all so simple in reality. Very often low-end single-core processors are built on defective dual-core dies, which can’t work stably with the second core activated. We came across a die like that this time: Sempron 140 available in our lab passed the POST, but couldn’t even load the OS. That is why even though the buying a dual-core CPU in the form of a Sempron 140 processor at a “ridiculously cheap” price may seem like a great idea, it is important to keep in mind that activation of the second core is not a guaranteed 100% success. That is why you can only consider this option as a bonus available to the luckiest users out there.