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More Voices In My Head

Jazzer explores the world of overclocking in his now famous tutorial.

There's something intensely greedy about the soul of the average hard-core gamer. No matter how sleek and powerful our brand new card or chip is we can't help wondering if we can boost it's performance just a little. Even if we can only get a 5% gain in performance, we feel good about ourselves. That's right, I'm talking about overclocking. That rather insane practice carried out by thousands everyday on perfectly good hardware. Some people are trying to get their aged machinery to do things it was never intended to do. Others are simply speed-junkies, tinkering with the fastest kit available to make it even faster. Either way, overclocking is A BIG THING nowadays and we at TAGOR aren't going to ignore it. (Certainly not! We embrace it! - ED) So... That's right, here's our very own overclocking guide for all those inadequates and speed-freaks out there. Read it, you might learn something.

The Beginning

The time was 4.30pm, the date - Christmas Eve of the last year of the twentieth century. It was horrible in Oxford Street that day. Come to think of it, it's always horrible in Oxford Street. The shops were in overdrive and packed to the ceiling with last-minute ditherers. I had other things on my mind though - I was on a mission. I had 250 to spend on upgrading my system and I knew exactly where to go and what to buy. A certain well known discount computer store was my destination and a GeForce and Soundlbaster Live! 1024 Player (or Value) was my aim. Public transport was in a terrible state and the crowds were even worse but I knew what had to be done so I got on with it. Through the melee of tourists and masochistic shoppers I forged a path towards that certain well known discount computer store. Damn, I'd forgotten how long this street was, I thought to myself. This was taking ages. I'm cold. I'm tired. My girlfriend will miss me if I die here. Never mind that, I said to myself, you've got some serious hardware to buy.

The Beginning of the End

On getting home I resisted the temptation to rip all the boxes open in an orgy of excitement. I was going to savour this. This was the biggest upgrade I'd made since swapping my P166 MMX for a PII 400. No, it wasn't quite as exciting as my first open-air blow job but it terms of gaming, it was a delicious prospect. I relaxed with a cup of tea and a cigarette. Half an hour later and fully refreshed I decided it was time. I picked up the plastic bag containing my brand new goodies and approached the PC...

Installation was virtually seamless on both cards apart from having to reset the PC BIOS to disable the onboard soundcard. Man, was I glad to get rid of that. I HATE onboard cards. Like winmodems, politicians, and women who insist on padding out inadequate breasts with toilet paper, they hold a special place of disdain in my heart. That aside, all was well with my new cards and I set about trying out my games in all their new splendor. Everything was just dandy. For a time, anyway.

A couple of days and a benchmark or five later I was getting to know my new toys. My PII 400 had never known such performance. Framerates were through the roof and I could now hear sound affects previously unavailable to me from my pre-EAX Ensoniq. Thief was transformed from a masterpiece to a masterpiece with EAX. Rally Championship was a wonder to behold. It was like having a whole new PC. I was in love again.

Honeymoon Blues

Unfortunately, as with all new and intense relationships there comes a time when you start seeing some cracks in your previous vision of perfection. You might look across one morning and realize that their dimensions could be a little more generous or you suddenly start noticing their strange personal habits. Whatever it may be, there's a point where you have to come to terms with the reality of your new partner, warts and all. As it was with me and my new toys. Sure, I'd never had it so good. I'd made the biggest upgrade possible without changing the CPU. But I couldn't help thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could have more. My greedy heart nagged me. Was it possible I'd settled for second-best or was I just worrying over nothing?

Pre-Op Tension

After much soul searching and a few sleepless nights I'd made my decision - I was going to force my baby into having an operation. Besides, it was for it's own good, I told myself.. It would thank me for it. After a little research online I made up a list of necessary equipment and dashed to the shops. An hour or so later, laden with plastic bags of all shapes and colours I made my way back. Unfortunately on the way home I suffered a moment of doubt. Do I really need to do this, I wondered? What if something goes terribly wrong and it turns out a freak? Supposing I overheat it terribly and it ends up a gibbering wreck that only functions at 4Mhz? Will I be able to forgive myself? I pulled myself together and with my mind made up, rushed into my flat and got things ready for the big op.

Careful With That Knife Now

Peering into the guts of my PC I gazed upon my beloved. All shiny and new, it lay there innocent to what I was about to put it through. But I'd made up my mind - I needed more from my Soundblaster! The GeForce had performed even better than expected but I knew my Soundblaster could give me more. 1024 voices wasn't enough; I wanted more and dammit, I'd find a way to get it. So, without further hesitation I gently guided the card from it's slot. I can't be sure but I could swear I heard a little click as I released the card from the motherboard. A last plea for mercy? No, I thought, it was just nerves getting the better of me.

You see this was my first forage into open-silicon surgery. I wasn't about to let something like common sense stop me though. I had a heatsink and fan that needed fitting and by God I was going to get the job done. A last minute check of my equipment and I was finally ready to commit.

Having laid out a space on the coffee table for proceedings I set about attaching the heatsink/fan combo. Seeing as there's precious little cooling on an ORDINARY Soundblaster Live! card I was spared the task of removing any heatsinks or fans. That said, the profile of the Soundblaster is a lot more 'bumpy' than say, your average graphics card for instance and this presents its own problems. It was obvious that as things stood there was no way for the heatsink to lie flush to the main chip. Save ripping off half of the components on the board I would have to come up with a way of allowing the heatsink complete contact with the chip. After consulting The HeatSink Guide I had the solution - a step block.

Stepping Block

As you can see, the step block gives the height needed to allow the heatsink and fan to lie flat on the chip. This is a good thing, take my word for it. A sharp sniff of some thermal glue and quick consultation with the elephant sitting on my shoulder later and I was done. Now, I could go on for ages with technical nonsense but there's far better and more informed sites specializing in that sort of thing, so I'll skip it for now. Instead, here's a picture of the resulting supercharged Soundblaster Live! 1024 Player with heatsink and fan combo.

SoundBlaster Live! with cooling fan!

Impressive, huh? I thought so too. Now, the more pedantic amongst you may notice that the heatsink and fans overshoot the edge of the card. I admit, I got my calculations a little wrong there but that was soon fixed by cutting a hole in the side of my PC tower. The benefit of this is the increased airflow inside the PC allowing for even more efficient thermal radiation and therefore, an even cooler chip! In order to fully utilize the new potential of my card I also decided it needed a little more in the way of power. After messing around with minor tweaks I realized that the only complete solution would come from a direct mains link. Cable inserted and plug wired, I sat back and viewed my work. Now all that was left to do was overclock the card...

Go On, Give us a Tweak

Having rebooted the PC I checked on the status of the card. I ran through a few tests and thankfully everything worked just fine. Allowing myself a moment to be rather too pleased for myself I went about overclocking the card. Heading straight for the control panel I called up the additional Soundblaster Live! properties box. Having never seen this before I was a little surprised and for a moment thought it the result of inhaling too many fumes from the glue earlier. Amongst the many new functions that had suddenly sprouted from nowhere was A3D support. Amazing what voltage can do for you, I thought! Undeterred, I went about ticking all the boxes I could find. Below is a snapshot of the control panel.

Creative Control Panel!

As is often the case in these scenarios, I was slightly overcome by amount of options available. Still not convinced I was seeing right I checked the tube of glue (which was now stuck to my nostrils). No, I was fine. Pressing on through the various tabs, check-boxes and buttons I was finally ready to commit to a new standard in PC audio. Predictably, a reboot was needed.

As I sat through the multicolored light show that was the PC BIOS boot-up sequence (which I'd also noticed for the first time) I was getting more and more excited. If this worked, I thought, I'd be the envy of every PC owner in the land. Who knows what I could do next? Maybe I could make my own human being? Suddenly and violently, I was interrupted by the loudest, most terrifying bang imaginable. It was my Windows startup wav, a recording of thunder that pans from right to left across my speakers. I seemed to be stuck fast to the back of my chair by the incredible sound and at one point one of my satellite speakers shook so violently it took off from the desk and hit me square across the head. As the sound died down I collected myself and went looking for a bandage.

Needless to say I was impressed. With care to turn the speakers down I went about testing my new Ultra-Bastard of a card. I won't go into too many details as the benchmarks below give a more accurate account of the technicalities. I will say however that the card has gained many an interesting ability. For instance I am now able to listen to my neighbour's telephone conversations through my PC speakers. At first it I thought it was a freak accident but with a little tweaking of the Soundblaster control panel I found it was very easy to intercept telephone calls, faxes and even data transmissions made within half a mile of my flat. Games have also taken on a new life. One of the oddest effects is that my GeForce and Pentium II now sometimes lag behind my Soundblaster. In extreme circumstances I'm able to hear what's going to happen in a game about 3 minutes in advance of it actually occurring. This can be disorientating to say the least but I'm learning to use it to my advantage.

Performance Chart! Performance Chart! Performance Chart!

The Morning After

Overall, the question is, would I recommend you overclock your Soundblaster? Well, it's a matter of taste I suppose. If, like me, you want the ability to hear random radio transmissions along with time-defying game sound then go ahead. Of course, if you care more about personal safety then I would have to advise against it. In the end it all comes down to how greedy you are. If simple 3D audio and good old EAX/A3D isn't good enough for you then it might be something you'd like to think about. If on the other hand, the possibility of blasting yourself and your PC into next week doesn't appeal, then look elsewhere for your kicks. Now, I must leave you I'm afraid - I think my soundcard is picking something up from the other side......

Later,
Jazzer

(disclaimer) - I hate to do this but in these times it's probably a necessity. Please note, the above article was a joke, ok? I know, I know but there's always one and he's the one that worries me. So, again, if you even think about doing anything like the above we are not to blame for any horrible consequences. Playing with wires, cables and suchlike is dangerous, as is glue-sniffing. Look, it's your own damn fault if you do something this stupid. If on the other hand you do succeed in overclocking your soundcard and getting 4 and a half million voices out of it, we'd probably like to hear from you. If only so we can point and laugh at you.
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