Thursday, February 1, 2001

The fast and the furious: an introduction to overclocking


By Paul Gowder

Eventually, if you're a Palm device user in contact with other users through the Internet, local PUG (Palm User Group), or the general geek community, you'll hear about overclocking. You might have heard of overclocking before, but not in the Palm context.

For many years, desktop computer users have been overclocking their processors, pushing them to run at faster speeds than they were labeled, to squeeze more performance out of their old chips. For example, a Celeron 366 Mhz chip could be run at 500 Mhz, possibly saving the user hundreds of dollars. This was not without its drawbacks. First, it was (and is) very difficult, out of the range of all but the most technically adept users. Second, lower speed chips were sometimes not suitable for the higher speeds users pushed on them. The chips would then overheat and be destroyed. Many users accepted these risks and pushed their computers to the limit. Now this technology has reached the Palm OS platform.

As you begin to explore the potential for overclocking your own device, you'll probably have many questions. You'll probably ask yourself: "What is this fantastic creature?" "How does it behave?" Finally, "Where can I get one?" Well, you're in luck. I intend to answer every one of these questions and more in this article. When you're finished reading, you'll have a basic knowledge of how overclocking works. You'll know the pros and cons of overclocking your Palm device. Finally, you'll know what programs are useful in speeding up your device and which ones are the best. Read on!

The hows of overclocking

The first thing you need to understand is the difference between "overclocking" and "wait-state tweaking." Each of these terms describes a way to make your device do various tasks faster. Many "overclocking" programs do both, but, for clarity's sake, I'll use the term "overclocking" in its narrowest sense.

The specific technical details of overclocking are beyond the scope of this article. This is mainly because they're beyond my own technical capacity. I've pieced together this article mostly from my own limited technical knowledge. However, the most specific details have been derived from the documentation for Afterburner 3.0 (for overclocking) and Cruise Control (for wait-states). We'll take a closer look at these two applications later.

Overclocking on the Palm device is much like overclocking on a normal computer. In the most basic sense, overclocking makes the processor run faster. As I understand it, the CPU (Central Processing Unit) has an internal "clock" which regulates its operations. Raising the frequency of this clock (in megahertz) will increase the speed of operations that use the CPU (i.e., everything). Likewise, lowering the frequency of the clock will slow the CPU down.