When Intel launched its Westmere-based line-up this past January, one of the more interesting models released was the Core i3-530. The big reason was its budget $120 price tag. But if there’s one thing that can make a budget chip interesting, it’s overclocking, and fortunately, there’s huge potential where this chip is concerned.
Before discussing results, let’s take a minute to briefly discuss what I consider to be a worthwhile overclock. As I’ve mentioned in past content, I’m not as interested in finding the highest overclock possible as much as I am interested in finding the highest stable overclock. To me, if an overclock crashes the computer after a few minutes of running a stress-test, it has little value except for competition.
How we declare an overclock stable is simple… we stress it as hard as possible for a certain period of time, both with CPU-related tests and also GPU-related, to conclude on what we’ll be confident is 100% stability throughout all possible computing scenarios.
For the sake of CPU stress-testing, we use LinX. Compared to other popular CPU stress-testers, LinX’s tests are far more gruelling, and proof of that is seen by the fact that it manages to heat the CPU up to 20Â°C hotter than competing applications, like SP2004. Also, LinX is just as effective on AMD processors. Generally, if the CPU survives the first half-hour of this stress, there’s a good chance that it’s mostly stable, but I strive for a 12 hour stress as long as time permits.
If the CPU stress passes without error, then GPU stress-testing begins, in order to assure a system-wide stable overclock. To test for this, 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme test is used, with the increased resolution of 2560×1600, looped nine times. If this passes, some time is dedicated to real-world game testing, to make sure that gaming is just as stable as it would be if the CPU were at stock. If both these CPU and GPU tests pass without issue, we can confidently declare a stable overclock.
Long before sitting down to overclock the i3-530, I had a good feeling that I was going to accomplish something great. But who could blame me? Even a novice nowadays can pull off a rather impressive overclock with ease, and I’m proof of it. As much as I like to overclock, I don’t like to dedicate an entire week to a single one, and I’m sure there are many like me who just want to find that sweet spot, and stick with it.
As I usually do, the first overclock I wanted to hit was one that required absolutely no manual voltage increase. While the motherboard will take it upon itself to increase the voltage, I’m fine with that. I only want to see how far I could go only by increasing the BCLK, and of course the DRAM multiplier if things got a little too high there. After spending a couple of hours tweaking, this is what I found to be LinX stable:
That’s right… a clean 3.5GHz overclock, or about 570MHz above stock. It’s not too shabby, that’s for sure, given it took almost no effort to achieve. It’s extremely nice because the stock speed leaves a bit to be desired (as we saw in some tests), so this little boost is a gift that takes almost nothing to earn. But of course, the obvious goal would be to take things a bit higher, and see if we could hit the standard 4.0GHz clock speed everyone likes to see nowadays. Well, that was no problem, either:
The voltage I used here was 1.3125v. That’s a fair bit more voltage than the stock i3-530 (which hovers around 1V – 1.05V, but it’s still in safe limits. Plus, it’s hard to actually hit the temperature threshold given that this is a dual-core, not a quad-core. That’s no doubt part of the reason I managed to surpass 4.0GHz for once and have it remain LinX stable, 4.12GHz to be exact.
With 4.12GHz stable, the obvious question is just how much of a benefit does it offer in the real-world, and to help explain that, we have it all in the table below:
Intel Core i3-530 2.93GHz (Overclock: 4.13GHz)
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As expected, there are some sweet gains all-around here, with an average performance boost of about just under 30%. I would of course not entirely recommend running such a high overclock 24/7, but for those that don’t mind the stress on their CPU, at least the capability is there. Personally, I’m one of those guys would overclock a CPU lke this to 3.8GHz and leave it, just to keep it in the “safe zone” (as in, minimize the chance even further of a crash down the road, despite it being LinX stable).
As far as the overclock itself goes though, Intel once again delivers.