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Week in Tech: Intel Overclocking, Bonkers-Wide Screens

Don't sling your old CPU on eBay just yet. Too many Rumsfeldian known unknowns remain, never mind the unknown unknowns. But the known knowns suggest Intel is bringing back at least a slither of overclocking action to its budget CPUs. It's arrives with the incoming and highly imminent Haswell generation of Intel chips and it might help restore a little fun to the budget CPU market, not to mention a little faith in Intel. Next up, local game streaming. Seems like a super idea to me. So, I'd like to know, well, what you'd like to know about streaming. Then I'll get some answers for you. Meanwhile, game bundles or bagging free games when you buy PC components. Do you care? I've also had a play with the latest bonkers-wide 21:9-aspect PC monitors...

Easier overclocking with Haswell?
So, Intel's Haswell chips and overclocking. Never a fan of the extreme overclocking, it's still always made sense to me to overclock where it was easy, safe and gave you something tangible to suck on in terms of frame rates.

A few years ago, squeezing out an extra GHz or so from an Intel chip was pretty much the norm. You could buy a budget chip and have a high end experience. It was a no brainer. With Intel's current chips, Intel has overclocking on lockdown. It is possible with some hardware combinations, but strictly on Intel's terms.

Well, the latest news is that things are looking better with the new Haswell chips, due out on June 2nd. The elevator pitch is that it's a new architecture rather than the same old bits shrunk smaller thanks to tinier trannies, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, with Haswell Intel is opening up the baseclock a bit. The details of how Intel has changed access to oveclocking in recent years are complicated and boring. But the dumbed down version is that mucking about with the baseclock became problematical when Intel started putting more and more gubbins onto the CPU itself, like the PCI Express controller.

Things got worse when Intel more or less clock locked the whole chip, tying all the elements together. Overclocking the baseclock ramped up frequencies everywhere. Game over unless you bought a premium priced chip with an unlocked multiplier.

The things I sit through for RPS...

For Haswell, it seems Intel is offering a selection of baseclocks. Along with the default 100Mhz setting, 125MHz and 167Mhz will also be on offer. These are divider-enabled numbers, so the rest of the chip is unaffected.

Admittedly, those are pretty coarse steps in frequency. And I'm not entirely clear whether this will be offered on literally all Haswell chips and whether you'll need a fancy motherboard with a high end version of the upcoming 8 Series chipset to have your fun.

But it's worth remembering that mid range Intel chips have a modicum of multiplier overclocking access. And as before, there is actually a little scope for tweaking the whole chip by a few percentage points. Put all that together and it certainly seems like there's hope for something resembling the good old days of giant-killing budget chips.

OK, it's all a bit complicated and it would be infinitely preferable for Intel to just let us do what we want with the hardware we've paid good money for. But the end result might be pretty much what I'm after. A high end experience for relative chump change.

Good for graphics, too?
As it happens, Haswell is also interesting on the graphics side. Again, all the details aren't out yet, but all the indications are that it's a major step forward for integrated graphics, especially for mobile. The top version of the graphics core is expected to be around the same as Nvidia's GeForce GT 650M mobile chip.

Die Nvidia GeForce 650M, die. That's german for, "The Nvidia GeForce 650M, the."

If so, that's going to make budget gaming laptops pretty interesting. And cheap. Hopefully, anyway. Watch this space. I'll dish the details on Haswell graphics as soon as the evil NDAs lift.

And so to streaming...
We touched on this briefly before, but the idea of having a single PC that can stream games to any device in your homestead sounds pretty damn sexy to me. But there are plenty of unknowns. One thing that concerns me is the risk of, for instance, Nvidia locking it down in some way. There's talk of Nvidia requiring a Tegra device to enable streaming, which would be a pity.

Now we know why it's called Shield

Fortunately, AMD is now making noises about getting in on the action and a little competition always helps keep things open. Anyway, put your thoughts, hopes and fears below and I'll pump Nvidia and AMD thoroughly for information.

Bundle or bung?
Finally, a couple of side issues. Game bundles are something that the graphics card makers have been giving me the heavy messaging treatment of late. AMD recently extended its Never Settle Reloaded bundle to include Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon, for instance. The bundle kicks in a little further down the range, too. It's even a retrospective deal. If you've previously cashed in a Never Settle Reloaded deal, you can pick up Blood Dragon gratis (full details here).

I suppose it depends on what you make of the titles on offer. But Bioshock Infinite is on the list for some cards, so it ain't entirely shabby. But do you care? I'm told bundling is wonderful. You decide.

Stop that, it's silly
I've also had a little play with one of the new generation of ultra-wide PC monitors. I'm talking 29 inches, 21:9 aspect ratio and 2,560 by 1,080 pixels. As far as I know, they're all using the same IPS panel, at a guess made by LG. So they should all look fairly similar.

The basic image quality of the Philips effort I reviewed is rather lovely as you'd expect from a modern IPS panel. And it's hilariously, bizarrely wide. An obvious observation, but these things really are pretty dramatic.

They're great for feature films, obviously. It's nice to see all four corners of the display filled for once. But PC monitors, frankly, are piss poor value if watching movies is the main concern.

What they're not great for is normal PC fare. Vertical res really counts for pedestrian stuff like browsing the web, and you've got no more than a basic 22-inch panel. Instead you get loads of what is often superfluous width.

Wider than two extremely wide things. In a pod.

These new 29 inchers also beg the question of what's too wide for comfort. Actually reading text located at the extremities of the panel feels distinctly sub optimal to me.

But whether 21:9 works for games is the really interesting question. Currently, I don't have the answer. I thought it was a hell of a lot of fun. But I also fear the novelty factor and when it will wear off. There are practicality concerns when it comes to on-screen menus, too. It could work really well. It could be ridiculous depending on how you like things set up and how configurable a given game is.

It's also worth noting this brave new 29-inch gen is pretty aggressively priced. A little under £400 appears to be the norm. OK, that's hardly throw away money, but it's just attainable enough to be interesting. I've probably gone mad and these things are a passing fad. But I can't deny it. I found superwide gaming strangely compelling. Would I actually buy one? Nope.

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Jeremy Laird