rAge Cape Town 2016: Interview with HWBot’s Timothee Pineau (Part 2)

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In part one of my interview with Timothee Pineau, HWBot’s project development lead, I learned about the ways in which they’ve had to structure their approach with the OC World Tour to fit the different countries they visit, and how different newer generations of overclockers are. Our interview lasted over thirty minutes, with the off-mic talk going up to an hour, during which we discussed the future of overclocking, the changes they’re introducing into the community through OC TV, and why things need to change to improve the engagement among new or younger viewers. This is my second half of that interview. We pick up where we left off, with Timothee and I thinking about how overclocking could be made into an event that deserves as much attention as eSports.

NAG: The landscape for overclockers hasn’t dramatically changed in the last few years, and everything is mostly the same as it was before. We’re still benching CPUs, GPUs, and RAM in the same way. Is there any development or software that you can think of that could change the face of overclocking entirely.

Timothee Pineau: What is missing, if someone feels creative enough to do it, is a benchmark that lets people compete as a team instead of individually. Like multiplayer, where you’re not alone benching the machine, or a combined score of the team is used on that machine. There are benchmarks for server farms that are used in the server industry for video rendering, for example, where they look at how individual servers on the racks add or detract from performance.

So it would not seem that much different from gaming in a multiplayer match, where one guy performs best on the CPU side, one guy gets the GPU, one guy gets the memory, which all contribute to the team score, and you could have a team captain who could A-OK certain decisions and figure out where the strengths of the team lie to come up with the best overall score. This of course is not done yet, and I don’t know if anyone sees the “gamer” aspect of overclocking like I’ve described here…

NAG: I’ve often thought of overclocking for other aspects of technology, like an “overclock” for networking. You can find ways of tuning hardware and cabling and cooling to get the best possible speed or latency from routers that have their processors overclocked and so on.

TP: Yeah, yeah. You could buy a Cisco router and overclock it, no problem. I think that could be interesting.

NAG: You’ve got integration with overclocking software like Intel XTU, which plugs into HWBot and has a benchmark. Are you guys looking to do any work with AMD or NVIDIA on getting something similar going?

TP: We reached out AMD, actually, but we never heard back. AMD has the software, they have Overdrive, which is really the ideal integration platform that we want. Right now AMD Overdrive has CPU and GPU controls and has a benchmark that you can run. To integrate with us, we’d need to know how the benchmark works and calculates scores, in order to find a way to validate scores in a way that is fair, and it’s all very possible. But it’s not something that’s taken off at all, and other software fills in the gap for now.

NAG: I imagine that it’s the same for NVIDIA as well?

TP: For graphics cards, actually, it’s a very different setup. AMD and NVIDIA don’t deal with HWBot at all on any sort of basis. Every time we talk about graphics cards, we talk to the vendors directly. So we talk to MSI, we talk to Gigabyte, to ASUS… although that’s really just for stock photos! Otherwise there’s nobody, really, who works with us the same way Intel does. With Intel we talk more and more, and we’ve had a very good relationship since we started XTU. And this has grown to include sponsoring events and hardware for events like this one. As we go on the world tour we’re seeing more interest from other vendors as well.

NAG: But that’s a recent change, right? I remember when Intel had their Skulltrail boards and they were genuinely interested in overclocking using their hardware.

TP: Its true that there was this appreciation, or enthusiasm from them. I think mainly the reason why is because the guys working on those boards at Intel were really enthusiastic about what they could do. And in between, well, I think enough people moved around the company that that initial enthusiasm died. This was many years back when HWBot was just starting out as an actual company rather than a community, and we weren’t considered seriously by anyone, and Intel chose that moment to stop making those boards. We’re getting back to that point now with our partnership though.

NAG: In the back of my mind, when I see a Skulltrail board I always wonder what could have been if Intel had continued making them, and how that would have morphed software like XTU to work with the CPU and motherboard.

TP: Well it’s interesting that you mention that because there are specific hooks that Intel exposes in XTU that motherboard vendors can support in the BIOS. That’s up to the motherboard manufacturers to integrate and support, and that’s why on the same CPU with XTU it’ll work a little differently because the motherboard is not always the same. That’s a work in progress with the vendors and of course, the vendors have a lot of motherboards, so prioritising which board gets the most support for XTU is a very consuming process. But with Skylake, pretty much all the important brands are on board with this, so it’s looking really good.

NAG: So out on the floor you have your Extreme OC championship, with all the hardware from Intel and MSI and you’re using lots of LN2. What’s different about this setup?

TP: We improved the format from last year, which I think is a better competition. We decided to go with the 1 vs 1 matches, where you have the overclockers facing each other and running against each other for a shorter amount of time. We tried this before last year with our amateur overclockers and it was quite well received. The amateur competitions are very flexible, so you can use them as guinea pigs to test out new ideas and they won’t have any problems with it. We’ve added this to the Extreme competition, for the pros, where the whole event lasts three hours, where they have three benchmarks. It’s very similar to the old-style model, and we use these qualifiers to get a ranking for the top four, or five, or eight, however many people, and that ranking is used to assign the overall matches for the quarter-finals or semi-finals.

So here we don’t have so many overclockers who do the extreme overclocking in South Africa – we only have four contestants. In Europe, where it’s much, much bigger, there we’ll use this system to run our quarter-finals to allow more people the chance to get into the top eight for their event.

[side note: Basically, as Tim later explained, this ranking system for the competition determines your skill level and pits you against people with similar or higher skill. As far as I understand it now, this allows for two pros to face off each other at the end, or even have a David-and-Goliath-style battle between a seasoned pro, and a new competitor who might not be as well-known.]

NAG: Could you not have done a Round-Robin type of setup where everyone starts out at the same level, and have the competition slowly work itself out organically from there?

TP: We could, and we looked at that. The problem with it is that this doesn’t make the matches entertaining. A big problem with overclocking is that people go, “Oh yeah… but not many people watch that?” It doesn’t really attract a crowd, and a big part of that is because it’s boring and too long. When you have the competitions with everyone running at once, it’s just a big match and there’s nothing interesting going on. If you have a commentator looking at all the settings the teams are doing at the same time, and trying to provide coverage on that.

NAG: And at the end of the competition all you have is a list of who placed where and there’s nothing that shows how much work went into it.

TP: Yeah, yeah. And there’s no “spectator mode” either like you get with eSports. So, we work with the OC TV guys to figure out the best way to do that, and for now the best solution is that we have to capture the PC screens, split the output before we can capture it, and be sure that it doesn’t impact anything on the competition side. We can’t use capture cards on the systems and we can’t use USB capture cards either, because the guys constantly are changing resolutions to suit the benchmarks or rebooting their systems.

We only got that figured out with a hardware solution this year, so now we can do 1 vs 1 matches with constantly changing resolutions and framerates, and at the same time have those captured and display that on two screens, so now people could walk past the stand and watch the match just like anyone online can.

NAG: That’s really cool! And that looks like nearly all the questions I had for you. What advice you can give to amateur overclockers who’ve gone to the workshops you host, who want to get into overclocking as a serious hobby, and are looking at what hardware they need to get started?

TP: The easiest is always start with what you’ve got. Don’t buy something just because you want to start getting into it, unless you have a processor that is locked and you cannot change anything on the motherboard… then you’ll probably get depressed and your scores will go nowhere, which will be very sad. If you have a laptop, that makes it even more difficult because that is not overclocking friendly. Even with a laptop that has one of those new unlocked processors, those are not going to be as great because of the limitations of the device like the cooling capacity, or the power available, or access to the components. If you can start at all, start with your current machine.

If you have to buy something to use, start with something cheap. You can buy something like the Pentium G3258, which are really good. They’re cheap, they can be overclocked, and they’re really fun to play with even on stock cooling. You can go from 3.4GHz to 4.5GHz just on the stock cooler and everything is fine! We’ve seen and used them in places like in Brazil where the ambient temperature was 30° Celsius and very high humidity, and the guys there were hammering those chips to 1.6v and even 1.7v on stock coolers. So those are really fun to play with, very safe, the motherboards using the Z97 chipset are cheaper than Z170, and the memory is also a bit cheaper too.

NAG: And finally, since you mentioned it, do you think laptop overclocking will ever be mainstream for competitions, or just a weird, fun exercise for the future?

TP: I think it’ll stay a weird, fun exercise for now. It’s really expensive, for a start, and those systems with K-SKUs start at around $1500 if I’m not mistaken. It’s not the laptop everyone buys to begin with, no no, and there are other things like where you put the pot! [for LN2] The other problem is that the BIOS systems are limiting the potential of these machines because they’re not UEFI. The vendors know that if this is available that people will overclock their laptops and they want to make sure you don’t go over that thermal limit.

NAG: I think the EVGA SC 17 is the only one to have a full UEFI BIOS with overclocking controls.

TP: Yeah, and that’s weird! ASUS laptops still have this old text BIOS and I’m not sure why they chose to do that. EVGA seem to be the only ones who’ve thought about the overclocking and they use it in the way we used to see on MSI laptops with that button they had near the keyboard which would force the CPU clock up by a few hundred MHz. Basically like those turbo buttons you had on old cases. It does allow you to overclock, but it only goes up to a certain pre-defined limit, and going over that is not recommended.

NAG: Awesome. Thanks for your time!

TP: Thank you!

Catch up on the results from the HWBOT World Tour Cape Town leg here.

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