As impressive as the Roboclocker is, at one point I believed that there was still some fun to be had with the old-fashioned way -- be it for the challenge or purely for the cool visuals, especially when you're pouring the supercold liquid in front of a crowd. Given how relatively easy it went for me last year, I (foolishly) agreed to try and manually replicate the same CPU-overclocking success on a near-identical PC configuration, only to end up more frustrated than before -- even with the help from another extreme overclocker.
You see, the main challenge this time is that I'm dealing with an 18-core, 36-thread beast, which is a huge leap from last year's quad-core chip in terms of power consumption and sensitivity to variables like temperature. According to my instructor Joe "Steponz" Stepongzi, this particular piece of Core i9-7980XE has managed to reach only 5.6GHz max -- just 100MHz shy of the record on the higher-quality piece inside the Roboclocker. Either way, the silicon draws close to a whopping 1kW of power at around those speeds, making it more susceptible to permanent damage due to poor insulation or rapid temperature increases.
On that note, Steponz kept me on my toes by occasionally -- and hopefully jokingly -- asking if I had $2,000 ready, in case I did end up ruining his precious processor.
"I have an 18-core that I killed, and it hurt that day ... it really hurt that day, it's very sad," said Steponz. "When you do this all the time, and you go through a lot of chips and you try to find the best chip; and when you kill that chip, and then all your other chips are subpar from that chip, you shed a tear on that one."
With Steponz manning the tuning utility program and benchmarking software, I followed his instructions to pour liquid nitrogen into the Kingpin Cooling T-Rex pot. We started at -80°C/-112°F and went from the 4GHz stock clock speed to 5GHz as a warm-up, with the mesh -- Intel's new chip architecture for letting the cores directly communicate with each other -- also bumped from 3GHz to 3.8GHz. Then we went down to -95°C/-139°F, and as I improved my pouring technique to keep the temperature steady, we successfully jumped from 5GHz to 5.5GHz in our third run.
Alas, we didn't have much luck reaching this chip's 5.6GHz record over my remaining five attempts. Compared to last time, this Core i9-7980XE chip was a much harder animal to tame, largely because I had far less leeway with the temperature -- I kept over-pouring and freezing up the system, as this particular chip hits its "cold bug" when it goes below -104°C/-155.2°F.
Last year's Core i7-7700K, on the other hand, doesn't have a cold bug, meaning even a full pot of liquid nitrogen -- lingering around its -195.8°C/-320.4°F boiling point -- won't freeze it up. It's no wonder that I'm new to this over-pouring problem.
Because of the cold bug, I had to whip out the blowtorch to bring the temperature back up to -70°C/-94°F -- this chip's "cold boot bug" temperature -- in order to reboot the system. This was followed by the addition of liquid nitrogen to cool the chip back down before I could start overclocking again. Repeating this process cost me both time and countless flasks of liquid nitrogen.
Worse yet, in our final two attempts, the CPU-Z validation tool failed to show the correct clock speed. Steponz reckoned that this bug was likely to do with a buildup of water within the rig because of the high humidity in Taiwan (Come to think of it, I also accidentally dropped some ice into the pot in two occasions -- I forgot that there would be an icy build-up at the bottom of the liquid nitrogen flasks.)
Fixing this instability would normally require heating up the rig for a complete teardown and drying the parts before putting them back together. You'd then run with default settings first to make sure that all is fine before finally cooling the rig back down for another overclocking attempt. But time had run out, and we had to call it a day, which was just as well, given my dying patience.
Now, I have to agree with Kingpin: Our time is better spent on fine-tuning the systems as opposed to repeatedly pouring liquid nitrogen (and refilling the flasks) while risking all sorts of setbacks due to human mistakes. I naively assumed that conventional extreme overclocking would still be fun, but the Core i9-7980XE has proved to be a party pooper for me. And that's just one chip. I can't imagine myself following Kingpin's footsteps and overclocking four GPUs simultaneously by hand.