Is overclocking over?

Extreme Tech (via Slashdot) asks if overclocking is over. It’s an interesting question. It has a long and colorful history. But maybe it is history.

I have a 4-core machine whose cores can all run at a top speed of over 3 GHz. And it’s a midrange PC at best, these days. The only time I ever push its CPU usage is when I’m encoding video. Web pages that bring a P4-class machine to its knees momentarily bring this PC’s CPU usage to 10%.

Not being a gamer, I haven’t had any reason to overclock in years. In fact, even back in 2000 I was recommending against it. Bad things can happen when you overclock.
The amusing thing to me is the extreme measures people are taking to break records, like liquid nitrogen cooling. If we’re going to do liquid nitrogen cooling, then why are we even messing around with silicon? When you’re willing to go to that measure, you can start thinking about superconductors.

But like the article says, even if there’s little point in overclocking a desktop PC anymore–and I’ll agree that usually it’s not worth the risk–the phenomenon is going to migrate to tablets and phones. A Nook Color running Cyanogenmod is nicer at 950 MHz than at its stock speed. Web pages that bring a P4 desktop PC to its knees do even worse on a tablet, seeing as the tablet has less overall processing power. Why’s there an app for everything instead of a bookmark? Because a tablet struggles to render the desktop PC versions of Facebook and Twitter.

As nice as it is to lounge around with a one-pound tablet, the experience isn’t nearly as quick as a good desktop PC. A high-end tablet would be better, but at a price, and still not as fast as my dual-core laptop that dates to 2005 or 2006.

So I think there will be a niche that will be overclocking tablets and phones for a long time. Would they be better served by using their tablets for the things a tablet can do well at stock speed, and using an ordinary PC for the rest? Probably.

Then again, there are people who buy $40 AMD Semprons and overclock them, turning them into the equivalent of a $65 Athlon II. That I understand less.

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