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Prices and guide last updated: December 12, 1998
Written by: Dan "Tweak Monkey" Kennedy
Prices are taken from Pricewatch.
The main purpose of overclocking your computer is to gain performance without having to buy new hardware. So in a sense, you're overclocking because you want more performance out of your current computer, and you probably don't have much money to do it. Or, maybe you're looking to buy a PC, and you're running short on money, so you want to buy the best machine you can for the little cash you do have. This section was designed for people looking for the newest hardware to buy for one purpose: overclocking.
Price isn't everything
Although price is the main concern, you shouldn't just go out and buy the cheapest equipment. It has to be quality if you're going to run it at higher speeds than it was spec'd for. You have to learn to look for the cheap -but effective- solutions.
You can pretty much go buy any CPU out now and overclock it. But which ones are cheap and can be overclocked enough to make them well worth the money? Well, there are a few that come to my mind.
Celeron 266- Estimated U.S. street price $75
The original Celeron 266 probably increased the number of overclockers world-wide by an amazing percentage. The only difference between a Celeron and a Pentium II is the lack of L2 cache on the CPU itself. What does L2 cache do? In business applications, a lot. But it games, not much. The Celeron 266 is generally locked at 4x multiplier. This means, if you can increase the bus speed to 100 MHz or so, the Celeron 266 will be running at 400 MHz. The best part is the CPU will not be too hot. The reason is because the L2 cache (primary source of heat in Pentium II processors) is not present. The highest I have seen a Celeron 266 is 448 MHz (112 MHz x 4). I have seen several at 400 MHz (100 MHz x 4). I have heard reports of people getting these up to 533 MHz (133 x 4) but stability remains in question. At speeds as high as this your video card and ram will be severely stressed. Anyway, you buy a Celeron 266 and you'll almost definitely be able to get it to 400 MHz.
Which models to look for:
Step SL2QG, SL2TR, SL2YN
Celeron 266- Estimated U.S. street price $70
The Celeron 266's time is gone. The price of the 300a has dropped so much that the original L2-cacheless Celeron is useless now. For about the price of a 266 you can get a 300a, which performs not only better, but will reach higher speeds.
Only take a 266 if you can get one for nothing.. or there isn't a 300a in sight.
Celeron 300- Estimated U.S. street price $85
The Celeron 300 was not quite as famous for one reason. It too was locked at its multiplier, but in this case it was 4.5. The difference between a 4 and 4.5 multiplier can mean the difference between success and failure. I highly recommend the 266 over the 300. The highest I have seen a Celeron 300 is 463 MHz (103 x 4.5). I have heard of quite a few cases of 450 MHz (100 x 4.5). One person told me they had theirs at 600 MHz (133 x 4.5). I consider this close to impossible. I've also heard of a few cases of a 504 MHz (112 x 4.5)
Which models to look for:
Celeron 300- Estimated U.S. street price $75
This one is even worse off than the 266, because the 4.5 multiplier lock. There are infinite reasons to buy the Celeron 300a over this and the 266.
If you're stuck with a plain Celeron 300, you're not in too bad of shape. Put a large cooling fan on it and run it at 450 MHz, and things will be alright.
Look into purchasing a 300a
Celeron 300A- Estimated U.S. street price $150
The Celeron 300A is another miracle worker. Sure it may be locked at 4.5 multiplier, but that's not the important thing. The main reason to consider the 300A over the 266 or 300 is the fact that it has 128 K of on-die full speed L2 cache. The normal Pentium IIs have 512 K 1/2 speed cache. With only 128 K of full speed cache, the Celeron 300A can meet or beat just about any Pentium II if they are at the same clock speed. The full speed cache makes all the difference. Applications perform just as well, as do games. Overclocking the Celeron 300A has proven to be a bit more tricky than the Celeron 266. Regardless, I've heard of several instances of 504 MHz (112 x 4.5), a ton of people who made it to 450 MHz (100 x 4.5) and almost anyone should have at least hit 373 (83 x 4.5) or 333 (75 x 4.5). It is an awesome CPU and is worth the extra dough if you have it.
Which models to look for:
Step SL2WM, SL2YP
Celeron 300A- Estimated U.S. street price $75
Right now, the best CPU to buy for overclocking is undoubtedly the 300A. The price has been cut in half in only six weeks, and the CPU remains the same. Buy one of these, set the voltage to 2.1v or 2.2v, and you'll almost always reach 450 MHz. The performance is equivalent or better than a Pentium II 450 on almost all games because of the 128k of full speed L2 cache.
Overall, this CPU is highly recommended for anyone, whether on a budget or not, because this may be one of Intel's last super-overclockable chips and is amazingly low priced.
Celeron 333A- Estimated U.S. street price $185
The Celeron 333A isn't a totally bad choice, but the 300A is a better one. The multiplier is locked at 5, the highest and least likely for success. If you plan on overclocking to only 375 MHz (75 x 5) or 415 MHz (83 x 5) it may be possible. I doubt 500 MHz (100 x 5)+ would happen, and if it did, stability would be in question. If you're not an overclocker then this is a damn good CPU for the price.
Which models to look for:
Celeron 333A- Estimated U.S. street price $90
Since the 333A has dropped in price by over 50%, it too is now a great choice for overclocking.
If you have the ram, hard drive, and motherboard to support it, this CPU should reach 415 MHz @ 2.1v without problems. If you're feeling really spicy, go out and buy a large cooling fan (preferably double/triple) and run it at 100 x 5 (500 MHz)+ by setting the voltage to 2.2v or 2.3v (this would be a rare occurrence, but it's worth a try). It's a nice shot for the price, and if you can't reach 500 MHz, 415 should still be no problem.
Pentium II 350 MHz - Estimated U.S. street price $225
You're probably asking why on earth the Pentium II 350 was included, right?
Team this CPU up with an ABit BH6 motherboard, a good 3 fan cooler (try Net-N-Dude's Glacier 4500), put the voltage to 2.3v, and set the clock speed to 100 x 4.5 for a Pentium II 450 with decent stability. Since the BH6 can override the clock multiplier lock, you can run it at 4.5 instead of 3.5. The only major problem here is heat, hence the recommendation for a good 3 fan cooler. If cooled properly, this is a powerful combination, and a cheap way to get a Deschutes Pentium II 450. If it can't reach 450 by using the multiplier, try 4 x 100 (400 MHz) or 4 x 112 (448 MHz).
Pentium II 300 MHz SL2W8 and family - Estimated U.S. street price $260
Whatever happened to the SL2W8s?
My SL2W8 is still working without any problems at 450 MHz, and it runs cool as necessary using the Glacier 4500. But I was lucky. I purchased the SL2W8 at the right time and it had 5 ns cache (spec'd for 200 MHz - Pentium II L2 cache runs at half-clock speed)
Don't go buying an SL2W8 now.. as you'll just get a Pentium II 300 that won't run much faster than 83 x 4.5 (373.5 MHz)
Go for the Celeron 300A over this one.. there's no reason to take the risk this late.
BTW- Look at the price.. I think we (Tweak3D) alone drove up the prices of these CPUs by promoting Accubyte and Dallas Memory International when this whole event occurred... and they never went back down.
Pentium II 333 MHz SL2TV - Estimated U.S. street price $230
The SL2TV was supposedly another miracle similar to the SL2W8, and I believe it is the CPU used by STEP ThermoDynamics in their "guaranteed P2 500 system" (is that legal?)
I never did find a P2 333 with S-spec #SL2TV, but I have talked to a few that have. Out of ten people I talked to, only one even claimed that 500 MHz (100 x 5) ran without problems. Therefore I do not recommend you go for this over the Celeron 300A (again).
There are a ton of other great CPUs for overclocking, but for the most part these are the cheapest and most reliable for the cause.
You need SDRAM. You shouldn't bother overclocking with EDO ram.
If you have non-PC100 ram, expect the highest stable bus speeds to be 75 or 83 MHz, possibly 100 MHz if you have really good memory.
If you're looking into some serious overclocking including 100, 112, 124, or even 133 MHz bus, your best bet is to go buy some PC100 ram. Most PC100 ram will handle up to 112 MHz. Some better ram can do 124. Very few can do 133 MHz stable. So it's time to see what you want. If your motherboard or CPU will not handle 112 MHz+, then you shouldn't bother looking into the best ram. It will cost you more. Remember, the point of overclocking is to save money.
Generic PC100 64 MB - Estimated U.S. street price $80
For most people this memory should be adequate. It will handle 100 MHz and possibly 112 MHz+. If you don't plan on using any higher bus speed you shouldn't consider anything more expensive.
Corsair PC100 64 MB - Estimated U.S. street price $110
Corsair PC100 will probably handle 124 MHz, but I doubt it will do 133. 112 MHz should be very stable.
Mushkin 64 MB - Estimated U.S. street price $97
From what I've seen, Mushkin has proven to be the best ram for overclocking. In almost all cases, the ram was stable at speeds of up to 133 MHz CAS 3. This is for some serious overclocking.
Check it out at http://www.mushkin.com.
Is CAS2 worth it?
You've probably heard the hype. CAS2 is higher quality ram. It will usually do 112 MHz without any problems, and is the only way you can get 124 or 133 MHz to run stable. The generic ram may have CAS3, which is fine for me at 112 MHz. Some of you may not even need to go that high, so CAS2, I believe, is only worth it if you want to use 112 MHz+.
Without the right motherboard, any of the above is useless. If you take 128 MB Corsair PC100 ram & Celeron 300A and try overclocking it on (let's say for example) an EpoX motherboard (sorry all you faithful EpoX guys, mine sucked :) ) and try overclocking you will most likely fail. The motherboard is one of the most important parts of your overclocked system! A few important aspects to consider are supported bus speeds, voltage set, jumperless, stability, clock multiplier override, and size.
What you should buy:
ABit BH6- Estimated U.S. street price $94
This is one of the cheapest BX motherboards out there, and most people believe it is the best. It is not only very stable, but it supports 66, 75, 83, 100, 112, 124, and 133 MHz bus speeds. It has adjustable voltage (very handy) , is small, and is jumperless (you set up everything through the BIOS). To top it all off, the motherboard allows you to override most clock restrictions and set it to what you want. So you could set your P2 350 (100 x 3.5) to run at 400 (100 x 4) without touching the bus speed. Also it has 5 PCI slots. This is a fantastic motherboard and is the #1 choice for most people.
ABit BX6- Estimated U.S. street price $107
The BX6 is the older of the 2 ABit motherboards mentioned here. The size of the ABit BX6 is monstrous, and is hard to fit into some cases. The BX6 also does not support 124 MHz bus speed, making the next step up from 112 the unlikely 133 MHz. Also it doesn't have the clock override feature, costs a bit more, and features 4 PCI and 3 ISA instead of 5/2. It have all the other features though, and may be a bit more stable because of some incompatibility problems with the BH6.
ASUS P2B- Estimated U.S. street price $128
If you have the money, this is also a great motherboard. It supports all bus speeds (some through hidden configuration) but has jumpers, which I dislike. It is however a very stable board and can really pump out some power.
AOpen AX6B- Estimated U.S. street price $116
Also pricey, this and its little brother (the AX6BC) feature some of the best stability and performance. Also they have jumperless speed configuration, and support numerous bus speeds. The BH6 is still a better choice in my opinion.
What you should NOT buy:
Intel obviously does not want their CPUs overclocked so they have their motherboards nearly overclock proof. You cannot increase multiplier or bus speed. Stay away from them.
Any motherboard that does not support other bus speeds
If a motherboard only supports 66 or 100 MHz bus speed you should not buy it for overclocking. You will miss out on all in between and probably not be able to reach any over spec speed. Included in this is anything made by Compaq, Packard Bell, Hewlett Packard, or sometimes Gateway 2000, Dell, and others.
These are the primary ingredients to overclocking. You miss one thing you probably can't make up for the others without it.
For about $300 you can build a great system using the above mentioned. My personal recommendation for the most power for the money is a Celeron 300A, 64 MB generic PC100 ram, and an ABit BH6. The total cost will be about $250, and it will almost surely reach 450 MHz (100 x 4.5). Use the money you saved for a nice 2 or 3 fan/heatsink combo to make sure it stays cool.