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Hardware Hacking Hardware Technology

ASUS Secretly Overclocking Motherboards? 229

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the not-so-secret-anymore dept.
Hubert writes "It seems that the motherboard manufacturing industry is getting a little bit too competitive now that ASUS and many other manufacturers are secretly tweaking and overclocking the motherboard in default BIOS settings." A front side bus that's a mere 2 MHz faster may not seem like much of a tweak, but it's just enough to gain an edge over the competition.
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ASUS Secretly Overclocking Motherboards?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:31AM (#13361392)
    Who cares?
    • Yeah, it's early in the morning out here, but even after two cups of coffee, I'm unable to figure out how a first post can get modded redundant. Help me out here.

    • It has caused my memory to run at more conservating timings in the past. That was really annoying.
    • The point is, sometimes it isn't stable.

      FWIW, I have 3 ASUS motherboards at home working right now - A7M266, A7V600, A7V600-X. I've also recommended ASUS boards to friends.

      However, I've had more than one case where things being run just slightly out of spec caused instability. For example, a stick of PC2700 RAM. Should work fine in a 333MHZ FSB board - that's what it's designed for. Unfortunately, it turns out this particular stick is *very* close to spec - it runs fine at 333MHz, and starts getting intermi
  • Sweet (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bit_Squeezer (824571) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:31AM (#13361396)
    Saves me the trouble
  • by Recovering Hater (833107) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:34AM (#13361404)
    Pair this story with the little quote of the day "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Coincidence?
  • Article? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:34AM (#13361406)
    Sorry. Is there an article linked? I saw some preamble and some advertising and some gratuitous web dross, but an article? I'm afraid I missed it.

  • by Tango42 (662363) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:36AM (#13361412)
    Is it really overclocking if the manufacture does it? Isn't it just deciding the default settings? Components aren't made with a built in correct speed - there is a certain speed that going above means you've overclocked it. They decide the level of stability they want and set the components accordingly. All this means is that they've decided that stability is slightly less important in comparision to speed than they had decided previously. It's not overclocking.
    • by EiZei (848645) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:38AM (#13361420)
      Last time I checked the "default" FSB was decided by chipset and CPU makers, not by mainboard makers.
    • by Zo0ok (209803) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:42AM (#13361432) Homepage
      All this means is that they've decided that stability is slightly less important in comparision to speed than they had decided previously. It's not overclocking.

      They are running the bus faster than specified, so all PCI devices, the CPU and the memory will run faster than specified. These other compontents are typically from another vendor. This is overclocking, per definition, I'd say.

      • While I don't dissagree that it is overclocking...

        Nothing but the cpu will be accelerated because for the last good many years, PCI and other bus's on motherboards have had a gated connection to the front side bus (FSB) which means they will run in spec despite overclocking.
    • by TheGreatDonkey (779189) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:51AM (#13361453)
      But when I purchase this motheboard from newegg, designed as a package with all those components together, and it is advertised as an 800Mhz FSB, I certainly understand there is a certain margin of error. A 2Mhz deviation may fall within expected safe parameters, but this deviation also affect other components - i.e. from the article, the processor runs 33Mhz faster, and memory is running at roughly 3Mhz faster. Further, manually scaling the speed up on this mobo, the article states it consistently is 2Mhz above the supplied number. If I want those components to run faster/hotter, then let me be the one choosing to do so, or advertise your motherboard for what it is - an 802Mhz FSB. This just opens up a whole pandoras box, so least they could be honest - and let ABit come out with an 804Mhz FSB next.
      • The biggest fall out of this is, of course, the PCI bus, which is (and always has been) pretty sensitive to bus speeds being right around 33MHz. I've had machines that wouldn't boot due to the PCI clock being at just over 36MHz, (as RAID cards tend to be PCI based ;) which, following your metric, is barely half over the "safe" parameters.

        It does kinda matter, but I don't care. If it won't work, I'll just ship it back and buy a new board from another manufacturer who doesn't like to tinker just to win on
        • most chipsets now support floating dividers for PCI/AGP/PCIe/IDE ect that keep the derived clock frequency withing a mhz or two of spec.
          Intel tried to not do that with 915/(and I think)925, which did hinder overclocking early on, but most motherboard manufacturers, at least the ones concerned with the overclocking / tweaking market managed to hack their own locks on the PCI ect frequency.

          There are still some early K8 chipsets (K8T800 and NF3 150) that don't support locks, but I think that's about it.
          Besides
      • by adolf (21054) * <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Saturday August 20, 2005 @12:12PM (#13362058) Journal
        In other news about manufacting tolerances: Resistors spec'd at 5% tolerance are found to consistantly be 5% less than their stated value, in order to save money on raw materials.

        Unless the PLL in the motherboard is periodically recalibrated using (for instance) NIST, there's no way in hell that it's ever going to be accurate.

        Furthermore, all of these motherboard tests are based on whatever the computer's RTC thinks is reality, but we all know that those drift all over the place. If 1 second != 1 second (and it never does, save for machines properly synchronized to NIST using NTP or somesuch), then the test is meaningless anyway.

        Think about the process a bit, and you'll see that there's essentially zero control in the typical PC reviewer's test enviroment (which seems to consist, primarily, of a kitchen table and a digital camera). Components change with time and temperature and voltage, and there's no such thing as a stable consumer-grade clock.

        That all being said:

        If a part advertised to run at 800MHz actually appears to run at 802MHz, we're talking about an error of only .25%. And that, sir, is a fine margin for a consumer product, being damn near spot-on.

        I mean: If you bought a 200 horsepower car, would you be upset if it only produces 199.50 HP? What if it actually made 200.50 HP?

        0.25%

        If you complained to Honda, or GM, or somesuch, do you really think you'd be taken seriously?

        I mean, geez. For fuck's sake, grow up. It's one-quarter of one percent. Try measuring a "pound" of flour, or a "gallon" of milk, or a "liter" of Pepsi sometime.

        ("Dear Wal-Mart: I recently purchased from your store a gallon of milk. When I took it home and measured it using my graduated cylinders, I found that it was actually 1.0025 gallons, which is clearly not as advertised. Unless I happened to miss a sign reading "Milk values are specified to a tolerance of +/- 0.25%," I want my money back. Thank you.")

      • That's all true - it might be unwise or even "bad" to increase the speed in this way, but it isn't overclocking.
      • Actually the board only runs at 200mhz (or 202mhz if your asus), look up quad pumped to understand more.
  • Reference Clock (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zo0ok (209803) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:37AM (#13361414) Homepage
    This may be a stupid question, but I wonder: what reference clock is used. It appears the values compared are obtained from simply reading the MHz-value in a Windows dialogue. What says 200MHz on one board is exactly the same as 200MHz on another board anyways? How accurate are the clock-cycle-generator on a MB? I can just tell that the clock of my PC is very inaccurate, compared to my waist-watch.
    • A waist watch FYI, the frequencies of the clocks on computer boards would typically be accurate to about .001% or better. A clock difference of 1%, such as that seen, would be huge.
      • But then again, the clock source for the on-board real time clock, which was likely used to obtain the timings of the system clock, may not be that accurate. Grandparent is correct in questioning the accuracy of the clock reported in CPU-Z. I wouldn't think it would be off by as much as 1%, though. That would be about 14.4 minutes per day of error.
        • Well, not per day, but I've had that sort of drift on previous machines per *week*. I thought it was horrible really. I mean, we can make a $3 walmart clock that can keep better time.

          Anyway's, I haven't noticed this on my A64 board, I wonder if it's because of a change in the way those things work for the "speed-steping" or whatever AMD calls it.
        • Usually, there is a separate 32kHz crystal attached to the south bridge on a motherboard that is used as a fixed reference for things like this.

          -prator
    • Interestingly, when the motherboard is *overclocked*, the 2% increase is continued. However, when it's *underclocked*, say to 199MHz instead of "200"Mhz, then the speed suddenly matches what it's supposed to.

      So... doesn't sound like a reference clock is the problem to me!
    • First, the real-time clock in your PC has absolutely nothing to do with the clock generators. Second, it's a PLL clocked from a crystal, which should be _very_ accurate. An error of maybe a few kilohertz would be very significant, and 2MHz is a huge inaccuracy.
      • That's backwards. 2MHz is a small error, a few KHz would be a huge error. Mhz is faster cycles than KHz. Otherwise you are right, the chip timing is driven differently than the "wall time" clock on your PC.
        • So 202 000 000 - 200 000 000 is a smaller number than 200 002 000 - 200 000 000?

          Two million is more than a few thousand. We're talking a difference of 2 Mhz compared to a difference of a few kHz here, not absolutes.

    • This may be a stupid question, but I wonder: what reference clock is used. It appears the values compared are obtained from simply reading the MHz-value in a Windows dialogue. What says 200MHz on one board is exactly the same as 200MHz on another board anyways? How accurate are the clock-cycle-generator on a MB? I can just tell that the clock of my PC is very inaccurate, compared to my waist-watch.

      You clearly have no knowledge of what you speak about. A crystal can give a very accurate clock. Also, it is

  • Warranty (Score:5, Funny)

    by Takumi2501 (728347) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:37AM (#13361417)
    Cool, now the warranty's been voided out of the box. :)
  • by digitalderbs (718388) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:38AM (#13361419)
    Theoretically, the reason it's a problem is because it invalidates the benchmark.

    Suppose another motherboard was actually faster than the ASUS, but decided to not overclock. If it had overclocked like ASUS, it would have outperformed the ASUS motherboard (hypothetically speaking).

    I don't think the situation is bad now, but it could end up like video cards (Nvidia vs Ati and driver optimizations). The result is that benchmarking will no longer be useful because the comparison is between an apple and orange.
  • by mickwd (196449) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @09:40AM (#13361424)
    "A front side bus that's a mere 2Mhz faster may not seem like much of a tweak, but it's just enough to gain an edge over the competition."

    People need to learn to read graphs. "Best" is too often judged on speed, to the exclusion of other important factors. And too often, performance graphs in magazines and articles are drawn to exaggerate the differences between the worst-performer and the best performer, when the actual performance difference may be 1% or 2%. In terms of PC performance, neglibible.

    But a 2% performance improvement may make the difference between a component or system being labelled as "disappointing" and "out in front" by a lot of dumbed-down magazines and online articles.

    If only people were better able to keep a sense or proportion, and view performance tests with a little more intelligence, manufacturers wouldn't be so tempted to pull silly stunts like this one.
    • But a 2% performance improvement may make the difference between a component or system being labelled as "disappointing" and "out in front" by a lot of dumbed-down magazines and online articles.

      ...which is especially moronic if the 2% speed gain is accompanied by, say, a 10% reliability loss.

      Unless one's in some race where second-place equals also-ran, most computer users would gladly give up a little performance to get a machine that never errs. (And that is the curve-behavior in the "overclocking" re

    • But a 2% performance improvement may make the difference between a component or system being labelled as "disappointing" and "out in front" by a lot of dumbed-down magazines and online articles.

      That's one reason I don't frequent "hardware review" sites anymore. Another reason is that they don't show the origin, to show that 1% doesn't make a noticible of difference.

      That and the fact that only 25% of the average page they send is actual content, the remaining 75% is split between ads and an excessive menu s
  • then the product is not of merchantable quality and you can sue their ass off. If the system's still stable, then what's the problem?
    • then the product is not of merchantable quality and you can sue their ass off. If the system's still stable, then what's the problem?

      I am not familiar with the American Legal system , but here in England there are substantial costs involved in a civil case(unless you go to a small claims court).Would it make sense to go to court over a few hundred quid?

    • Yes youre absolutely right, and by the way what OS is the dominant right now again?

      *snicker*
  • I've seen this before. For a few years now various motherboards have been discovered to be not exactly on the mark with the FSB.

    Hell, my own A8N-SLI Deluxe varies vetween 1995 and 2015 MHz while set to 200x10.
    • My A8N-E had an even stranger problem. I had no floppy drive in the system, but if I disabled the floppy in the BIOS, the FSB would randomly set itself to 201 or 216Mhz no matter what FSB I set in the BIOS. The POST screen showed the correct speed, but once I booted into Windows or Linux it showed 201 or 216. I never bothered asking ASUS about it. From posts in hardware forums it doesn't seem like ASUS cares much about BIOS bugs.
  • Geez (Score:2, Informative)

    by skomes (868255)
    Who writes this stuff? This is very very old news. MSI began this stuff http://www.tomshardware.com/cpu/20030522/ [tomshardware.com]
    • Re:Geez (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dorzak (142233)
      ASUS was doing this on their K6-2 Motherboards in 1999. P5A was overclocked out of the box.
  • I have a feeling that Intel and a few other parts manufacturers are going to decree that this voids their warranty.

    And the fact that this is done out of the box and without the user's knowledge, yes, its a bad thing.
  • This isn't even news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cylix (55374) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @10:20AM (#13361527) Homepage Journal
    I guess everyone missed out on the countless number of times Tom's Hardware has stated this.

    I haven't read any recent articles, but I don't see why they would stop mentioning it.

    It's not new, it's been this way for years and then they get that juicy 2% difference in performance.
  • by panurge (573432) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @10:25AM (#13361548)
    People saying "Hey this means the CPU is being overclocked 33MHz, that's a lot."

    Er, no. It scales. It's still only 1% of the reference clock speed,assuming we have a 3GHz or above CPU, and any CPU manufacturer that tried to release CPUs that were exactly marginal on stability at the designated clock frequency would soon be out of business.

    My own usual experience, back in hardware days, was that a lot of old boards were badly designed and had out of spec built in delays, but that the tolerances built in to the main components allowed them to keep going regardless. This was as true in the days when EPROM had a claimed access time of 450nS but the board only gave it 400 from address and chip select going stable, to this case where the deviation is quite small.

    To be really tedious, I'm going to point out that the defined frequencies are not what really matters. What matters is the access time, the time between the input parameters going stable (i.e. address, chip selects etc. staying below the zero threshold or above the 1 threshold) and the actual point at which data is either read from or latched into a register. This is governed by four main factors - chip to chip variation, clock frequency, supply voltage at the chip, and die temperature, and that is as true for latches and registers as well as for memory and processors.

    Therefore, if manufacturer A is confident that all the system delays on his motherboard are consistently within the maximum safe values by a determined amount, he may perfectly well be able to drive the clock speed a little higher than manufacturer B, whose process variations are greater or who has a less well designed board. The actual time available to the bought in components to write or read data may be greater than on manufacturer B's board, despite the higher clock speed.

    Personally I do not go in for overclocking- I work for a company that now standardises on AMD64 boxes and, for our work, performance is no longer a real issue - but there is nothing in principle wrong with it. It's just like auto making, where some manufacturers release models using the same engine but slightly different torque curves and outputs, for whatever reason. They don't change the water pump and the gas pump just because one model is rated at 98BHP in one market and, because perhaps of slight variations in fuel quality, 100BHP in another market.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 20, 2005 @10:27AM (#13361557)
    Some points critiquing this review:

    * He's measuring using software. The error margin of software methods to measure this kind of thing dwarf 2% and head into the 6% range; typically more so with voltage measurement, which motherboards tend to measure about 0.1V lower than they really are; but for this kind of thing, we should demand testing with a correctly calibrated and maintained hardware frequency counter. I don't think CPU-Z qualifies to measure a change that small reliably.

    * This is normal, and within expected tolerances; it's only running a bit high because the natural wandering of his motherboard's PLLs is a little high, and it's only 33MHz above because it's being rounded up when locked.

    * Each individual motherboard will have a slightly different clock. Some vary WAY more than this. And only one motherboard of each model tested. That isn't statistically significant, particularly as this is an issue which will vary from individual motherboard to motherboard, as it relies on the tolerances of the clocks. He needs to take a lot more samples; over 100 really; and graph a bell curve from that.

    * Also - only one control?

    Furthermore, I think this reviewer simply doesn't understand the default settings of the motherboard. He's letting it select sensible defaults, then complaining they're not as sensible as he'd like. He's complaining that his particular motherboard is a little bit out on manual settings, but really if he's that concerned about such a small change, why isn't he testing using hardware?

    I think the memory timings can be put down to ASUS's "AI". This is a motherboard feature... and it can be disabled. ASUS's concept "Normal" or "Slower" is a very small push, but if he wants to run truly at stock like a paranoid, use "Disabled", Manual timings on memory, and lock the PCI speed to 33MHz. That goes particularly for the PEG Link Mode. This is normal and expected behaviour for an ASUS (and everyone else).

    However, the fractional overclock is actually well within what would be considered normal tolerance. 6% at worst, and that's only on the PCI bus if you didn't lock the PCI bus clock (but in fact it _does_ lock the PCI bus clock, he just didn't measure that bus).

    If this caused any problems with system components, the components would not be binned at this level, as for example CPUs are required to pass all self tests at over 10% over a given bin speed to actually make the bin (to reduce returns and DOA); less than that and they will go into the lower bin, because there's a question mark about their ability to perform consistently at stock.

    So yeah, his motherboard might be (according to software) running a trifle high; but only 1.1%-1.2% high. Woo, his motherboard's within normal tolerances. Whole lot o' nothing, from a guy who just wants blog traffic.
    • natural wandering of his motherboard's PLLs

      Clueless! The output frequency from a PLL is determined by the input frequency (precise to better than 0.01%) and counters in the PLL (absolutely accurate). Any deviation in the output frequency is very short term and is called jitter. Although there is a place internal to the PLL where the frequency is controlled by a voltage, that place is inside the loop and does not affect frequency measurements.

  • by thegoogler (792786) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @10:31AM (#13361566)
    i have an asus P4P-800e deluxe motherboard, and it runs stock at a 808mhz fsb, now thats a farely old mobo, 865pe chipset. from about 2002.

    i always just thought it was just that the timing crystals/chips they were using were cheap and inaccurate, but i guess not. or maybe this is just the old "never attribute to malice what can be easily attributed to lazyness"

  • Since it was apparently quite easy to find the overclocking, and it is probably difficult to hide it from plain sight -- perhaps the reviewers should be routinely verifying all the clock rates & timings before they run their benchmarks. Instead of simply saying that "Motherboard A performed better than Motherboard B at the default settings", they should be saying "Motherboard A performed better than Motherboard B" with all clock rates and RAM timings set to stock specifications." And if they cannot se
  • Few motherboards are set exactly to 200MHz, or whatever mhz they are to use for an exact clock. You simply set them to the correct one. Of course 1MHz off doesn't matter much in the grande scheme of things, but I've seen as high as 4MHz off before. New news this is not even close to being. They should have checked the MHz before they even started benchmarking. It has been widely reported for years, but then actual news I submit goes rejected. Adios the good old days of /.
  • I seem to remember articles as far back as 2000 discussing ASUS' penchant for minor OCing to improve performance. My old KT133-based Asus board, for example, ran a 135mhz FSB, and many a thread in support forums mentioned that this was common practice for performance reasons.

    This was not a case of crystal timing being off, either; many, many people had similar settings and it was agreed that this was Asus "Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge" marketing system.
  • ...since they've never allowed any kind of overclocking.
    The conservative choice.
  • Won't this potentially start an arms race? Sure, it's only 2MHz now, but then the other mobo manufacturers may decide to add a 5MHz boost to put their boards back in front. Then ASUS will have to add a 10MHz boost, and so on.

    I think the issue here isn't whether 2MHz is significant per se, but that it forces everyone to start to drift further and further away from the rated speed. Eventually this process is going to result in distortions that *do* matter.
  • I went to the site, but couldn't find the content. Just an introduction and ads. Lots of ads.
  • I believe the other motherboard manufacturers usually add this as an overall setting that can be enabled or disabled in the bios--Gigabyte for example, has a "Top Performance" setting. By default it is OFF.

    ASUS on the other hand is being sneaky. You set speed settings to "Auto" or "Normal" and you get overclocked anyways. The only way to turn off the overclocking is "Slow."

    As the article noted, this is primarily for synthetic Benchmark cheating.
  • Stupidity alert (Score:4, Insightful)

    by janoc (699997) on Saturday August 20, 2005 @01:57PM (#13362717)
    Folks, do you realize that the manufacturing tolerances of the oscilators and crystals driving various bits and pieces of your machines are in the range of 1-2 MHz for every 100MHz oscilator? Obviously not.

    It is completely normal to have an oscilator labeled as 200MHz (e.g. driving FSB) which has real frequency (measured) of e.g. 199.8MHz or 202MHz. That is all in tolerance, because - surprise - the exact frequency doesn't really matter for this application. What matters is stability of the frequency, that's why a crystal oscillator is used in the first place. The frequency has to be in the range permitted by the chip maker's spec and you have to be careful if you need to divide the clock somewhere to have integral ratios, but whether it is a bit higher or lower makes really no difference.

    So all this brouhaha is bull - the difference between the set 201MHz and real 203MHz could very well be just that that the machine cannot set arbitrary frequency (hint - integral frequency division ..) so it sets it to the nearest integral value possible.

    Of course, an evil conspiracy by ASUS is an easier explanation instead of using your own brain.

    • Re:Stupidity alert (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jaime2 (824950)
      Have you ever bought an oscillator? Here is an example: http://www.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksus.dll? PName?Name=300-8079-1-ND&Site=US [digikey.com]

      Notice that it is a 33.3333MHz crystal. This implies an accuracy of around 0.00005 MHz and is fairly typical of crystal oscillators. You can also buy a 33.3330MHz (not 33.333Mhz, but actually 33.3330MHz) one from DigiKey. Seriously, they sell them that close together.
    • I would like to add to this with my personal experience due to an agreement.

      Normally when I rebuild my PC, I love to benchmark my PC with Futuremark and compare the resaults online for the-hell-of-it. What was so shocking was that my AOpen board was clocking my 2.8Ghz CPU with a FSB of 199.5Mhz and as such the CPU was clocking in at 2,793Mhz. Regardless, my PC managed to edge out over the top 5% as the fastest PC in it's class. Keep in mind that this is the EXACT CPU (and clock), GPU clock, memory timing, a
    • Where do you get your crystals? I'd expect 500 ppm (0.05%) or better from the worst grade crystals. More typical is 100 ppm (0.01%) for low grade crystals.
  • I want to know exactly what my computer is doing.

    Remember that time and place when you could tell people who didn't know how to use a computer "A computer is just a stupid person who does EXACTLY what you tell them" ???

    Now it seems they are doing things without us... well the companies that make them...

    **glares at his mobo.... (mofo) **

  • My no-name 350 MHz Pentium II should have had a 100 Mhz FSB. The default setting was 103 Mhz in the BIOS, making the default system a 360 Mhz system. The BIOS had five settings for the FSB speed. 66 MHz, 100 Mhz, 103 Mhz, 107 Mhz and 117 Mhz. The low three speeds were stable. 107 Mhz tended to run for most of a day, and then would crash. If the system was powered off and allowed to cool, the 117 Mhz setting would run find for about 10 minutes - just long enough to run a quick benchmark.
    The Pii died -
  • I'm sure there's reason to get excited about Mhz and the possible 'moral' implications of a marketleader 'cheating', but I'll get real excited when a marketleader PC-pasts builder decides to move away from that wretched smelly BIOS based architecture. Surely companies like ASUS are large enough to start designing innovative platforms using commoditiy parts?

    Via has been doing it to some extent with Mini-ITX, iWill did some interesting stuff with the dual opteron ZMAXdp... I challenge ASUS to come up with a s

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