CES 2011: MSI's Master Overclocking Event; Operation Las Vegas - Shows and Expos 4

In a Go Kart facility just off to the side of a major casino in Las Vegas there were speed records being broken that had nothing to do with lap times.  MSI’s latest Master Overclocking Event was taking place, the latest in a world wide series of overclocking events designed to eliminate all but the absolute best of the global overclocking community.
CES 2011: MSI's Master Overclocking Event; Operation Las Vegas - Shows and Expos 5

Each of the contestants were given the exact same hardware by MSI and were also provided with BIOSes for both the motherboard and graphics card which had to be flashed onto the boards then and there.  That levelled the battlefield’s initial conditions and after that it was up to the knowledge, skills and tools of the participants to get the most out of their hardware. 

All of the participants brought their own specialized box of tricks as this was not the first time these teams have overclocked competitively.  Many tools were common amongst all of the participants like Vaseline, silicone spray cans and clay-like insulation substances.  These are key in preventing condensation from forming inadvertent conductive paths; when you are cooling with LN2 that is a crucially important consideration.  Other tools were less prevalent, such as tools allowing voltage mods and the like to be applied to the PCBs quickly and with a high degree of success.

The participants themselves also varied as much as the tools, there were overclockers from all over North and South America, with diverse backgrounds.  The one thing that all shared was a dedication to overclocking and a desire to get the best scores so that they can show off their stuff at the global finals.

Each team started from scratch and had several hours to assemble not only the base system, but also to apply protection, modifications and most importantly the pots that will hold the liquid nitrogen.  Once the time elapsed for the system assembly there were two time limited tests to run.   A loop of 24 SuperPi tests had to be completed in the least amount of time to win the CPU overclocking portion for 40% of the final score and a full run of 3DMark 2011 on performance settings were used to score the GPU portion which accounted for 60%.   You could run the tests as many times as you could manage in the alloted time, but the tests had to be completed within the time limit for the scores to count.  That became very important as the contest ran on as BSOD and reboots became common place once the silicon was being pushed to its limits.

During the CPU testing, most teams opted to use an unmodified GTX580 to ensure that any system instability would be directly caused by memory timings or CPU speed settings.  You do not want to be having GPU related crashes during a SuperPi run; instead you want to be able to limit the system variables to speed and voltage.  Any successful tests results were confirmed by MSI’s judges and a screenshot was kept for the final tallying.

Once the clock started the LN2 started to be poured and it never stopped until the final seconds of the contest.  For those who have not played with liquid nitrogen, it has a boiling point of -196 °C which means that even without the added heat of the CPU the nitrogen was constantly boiling off and needed to be refreshed.  MSI provided 7 large canisters of LN2 and the contestants were well into the 4th by the end of the contest. 

As the CPU portion of the tests ran on we began to see some separation in the pack as three teams began to post faster and faster results.  Patch and Dentlord of Team Over the Edge headed for the top with Splave and Romdominace of Team OCAlliance and GHZ and Gautam of Team PURE close behind.  Voltages slowly came up along with the CPU speeds and crashes became more and more common.  In some cases the teams had to resort to blowtorches to bring the pot and CPU’s temperature up high enough to be able to successfully POST before more nitrogen was added to keep the temperature cool while operating, a strange sight to behold.  In the end it was Over The Edge that took the CPU portion with a combination of incredible skill and a CPU that just did not know when to quit, finishing a successful run in 6 minutes, 26.257 seconds.

Once the CPU portion had been fully completed and recorded, it was time to strip off the stock GPU cooler and replace it with the customized pots to hold the nitrogen. For the spectators of the MSI MOA this benchmark provided a bit more eye candy than the raw numbers of the SuperPi portion, as well as doubling the clouds of evaporating nitrogen to admire.  Most participants kept the best stable CPU speed from the first portion of the contest as they began to overvolt and overclock their GPU.  That provided an advantage to the previous top three teams as they sported the highest CPU overclocks which helped them boost the performance of the GPU.  In almost no time at all there were scores approaching the 9000 mark and four teams blew through the current world records and three headed up above the 9000 point mark.   Then the new results started to slow as the silicon hit the limits of what it could manage and even increasing scores by a handful of points became difficult and tended more towards crashing the system during Graphics Test 3 than providing a successful run.

At this point it was Team OCAlliance in the lead; while their CPU speed never matched that of Team Over The Edge, their GPU soldiered on at higher and higher speeds, finally capping at 9213 points.  When the fog cleared, even the team in 4th place could smile knowing that they had smashed the previous 3dMark scores for the GTX580.  A bit of verification later and MSI crowned OCAlliance the $1500 winner of the North American MOA event, with second place Over The Edge a measly 2% behind and $1000 richer and Team Pure in third with a $500 prize. 

You will be able to see video highlights of PC Perspective’s experience at MSI’s Master Overclocking Event; Operation Las Vegas in the near future and make sure to keep an eye on MSI’s MOA site for the results of the Global Finals.

CES 2011: MSI's Master Overclocking Event; Operation Las Vegas - Shows and Expos 6