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Should I Overclock My Pro Audio PC?

by / Wednesday, 19 July 2017 / Published in Tech Talk

I (Brian) get this question a lot here at PCAudioLabs; “Should I overclock my pro audio PC?”

This, along with the question of, will it increase performance, are the most common questions that clients ask when configuring a pro audio PC.

Firstly, no,  you don’t have to water cool your PC to get great performance. We tweak every PCAL pro audio PC for the maximum performance so you get the most bang for your buck. The clock speed (which affects the number of operations per second, number of tracks in your session, latency, and other factors) of your CPU will be optimized to give you the most power from your CPU based on the PCAudioLabs Pro Audio PC configuration that you choose.

Secondly; water cooling is not necessarily better than air cooling, as it all depends on the system and how you’re going to use it. If you’re going to be rendering massive videos or audio sessions, water cooling your CPU could certainly help your workflow. If you’re going to be working on some large sessions but won’t be pushing the limit too often, you probably don’t need to water cool  your pro audio PC. It all depends on what you need to do, and that is a good reason to give us a call  to talk about your needs when configuring your Pro Audio PC.

Thirdly; it’s safe to say that a water cooled pro audio PC will always run cooler than an air cooled one, but keep in mind, this is all dependent on your configuration. If you’re not sure what you need out of your system, it’s best to call us to discuss your needs.

A little information about water cooling your pro audio PC

The Noctua-branded air cooler that we use in our OB-1 Pro Audio PC is TDP (thermal design power) up to 140w. The TDP of the new Intel i9 series CPUs (such as the i9 7900x) is 140w.  This is the maximum amount of heat generated by a CPU that a cooler is made to dissipate from the CPU in regular operation. We pair up our coolers with the proper CPUs and configurations when we build our PC configurations, so that we know that you’re getting the right configuration for what you do. We don’t use stock coolers with any of our systems MC10 and above. We only water cool  our Desktop tower systems,  and not our rackmount systems. We do not water cool the CR series pro audio PCs, nor our PreSonus certified PCs or our MC Micro PCs. Laptops are not water cooled, naturally.
The average Intel CPU has an idle temp of around 120F, and a load temp of around 160F. The highest that a CPU is usually pushed is 200F, although we don’t like to push CPUs constantly to that temp, as it could damage the CPU over time. It is not common for a CPU to sit at that temp for very long — usually only during render processes, or in very large sessions. Otherwise, most CPUs will sit around the 150-160F mark, which is more than adequate for most computing and for the Noctua professional air coolers that we use in the OB-1 series of PCAudioLabs Pro Audio PCs.
If water cooling is brought into the mix, you can expect a lower temp on both idle and under load, but under load is specifically where you can see a lower temp, usually around 180F at a full-tilt turbo-boosted load — so, in the case of the i9 7900x, a speed of 4.5GHz, which is the maximum turbo-boosted speed for that specific CPU.
Turbo-boosted and/or overclocked CPU speeds differ based on the CPU, and the configuration. We do not overclock to the max — if we do overclock, we only overclock for stability first.
We don’t overclock our CPUs unless that is requested from a client, and when we do, we build for stability first and foremost. We have configured many overclocked systems for customers, and depending on the system, we have brought 3GHz CPUs (such as the  Intel 6950x CPU) to 4GHz, and other configurations. It all depends on the request and what someone wants in their system, and what that system will be used for. Our systems are purpose-built, meaning that we build for the needs of our customers. This is why it is best to call us to  discuss your specific needs in a Pro Audio PC.
So, should I water cool my Pro Audio PC? 
So far, I don’t see any reason that air cooling won’t be adequate to cool the new series of Intel CPUs, just the same as we have been air-cooling Intel CPUs for many years. Typically, as CPUs get to be more powerful, they also usually get to be more efficient, use less voltage, and emit less heat. This usually means that overclocking can go even further, but that doesn’t always mean that we would, as we build for stability to ensure that sessions don’t drop out and that Windows doesn’t crash.
You should choose water cooling if you want to ensure that you have an even lower average temperature of your CPU, but you do not need to choose water cooling to ensure that your system runs flawlessly. The majority of PCAudioLabs Pro Audio PCs are air cooled, without issue, and are very powerful and running very large sessions everyday.
If you want to increase the clock  speed of your CPU, and potentially lower the amount of time it takes to do certain tasks, water cooling is always a sensible option in a Pro Audio PC.
If you have questions about water cooling your Pro Audio PC, please call us today: 615-933-6775.
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