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Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0

After many years, Intel has finally updated their turbo boost feature in their processors, which allows their chips to run at much higher clock speeds until certain power and temperature limits are reached. For X99 and Broadwell-E CPUs, a driver and software utility will allow users to target applications to run on the highest performance processor core, making the best and most efficient of individual CPU cores that have had their clock speed increased by the CPU’s Turbo boost feature.

To the best of our knowledge, this is purely a software override for Windows task manager and involves no hardware or firmware. The user could achieve a similar result using the existing windows controls but it would be too overwhelming to manage.

With Broadwell-E bringing little to the table (it does not have the updated graphics of desktop and mobile parts), Intel had to do something to enhance the appeal of the new Extreme Edition parts, especially as they are clocked lower than the popular mainstream i7-6600 and 6700K which can run up to 4.8GHz when overclocked.

Most of Intel’s modern processors since their 1st Gen Core-i series (Nehalem) have included turbo boost technology, a feature which allows the CPU clock speed to run higher and faster provided certain limitations such as time, power or heat are not exceeded.

Provided the processor is within these performance envelopes, it should run as fast as possible. AMD also provides similar technology but this story will focus on the Intel’s Desktop implementation. Turbo Boost is not available on cheaper processors such as Pentium or Core i3.

Turbo Boost 1.0 as implemented on 1st Gen Core provided a very small increase on desktop processors, clock speed could only step up a few bins/multipliers (steps)

Later processors with Turbo Boost 2.0 provided a larger boost in turbo performance, with up to 500 MHz increase for Desktop Processors, and for some mobiles 1GHz or more such as for Core-M CPUs. In this case, it was a practical feature out of the box, to provide that much performance increase and for overclockers, it was simply a dream as it provided an inside as to how much safe headroom a processor had for the user to overclock and push to or past that point.

Before we dive into what Turbo Boost 3.0 is, a few points need to be clarified for those who are not that in-depth into PC components and performance tweaking. In our travels, we have encountered individuals and companies who are still confused about Turbo Boost is

  • Regardless of the generation, Turbo Boost has nothing to do with ‘overclocking’. It is an out of the box, bullet-point marketing feature for the processor to provide extra performance. Some people incorrectly interpreted Turbo as the speed they could attain if they manually overclocked their system.

  • The clock speed that Intel advertises in its specs or on the box is the worst case or base clock, and the processor normally runs at higher speeds. This is illustrated in the below table

Unlocked Processor
Turbo Boost Speeds (GHz)
Uncore/Base/Advertised 3.5 3.5 4.0 3.0
All Core 3.7 3.7 4.2 3.3
Single Core 3.9 3.9 4.4 3.5
Multi Core Enhancement Option => 3.9 => 3.9 => 4.4 => 3.5

How to read the table.

The first row is the clock speed Intel advertises, eg ‘3GHz up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost’ it is also the speed that parts of the processor that are not the CPU cores, such as the Bus and the Cache run at, also called the ‘uncore’, i.e. not-the-core. The Speed is also the failsafe speed for when the processor decides to switch off turbo boost if the processor is overloading or overheating.

  • The All core speed is the Turbo Boost Speed that the processor will run all the cores at with a heavy software load, providing no limits are met. For example, when encoding a video the quad-core parts will run at 3.7GHz or all Eight/Ten Core CPU model will run at 3.3 GHz
  • The Single Core speed is the Turbo Boost speed that the processor will run a single core at when the software load is light and only needing that one core. For example, iTunes is largely single threaded and can only use one core, so the CPU will run one Core at 3.9 GHz and the other cores sleep at lower speeds.
  • Most Z/X series motherboards meant for the unlocked Intel Processors will let the user override the Intel Turbo settings, sometimes by default. This means the board will run all of the processor cores at the maximum turbo speed depending on the model, eg 3.9GHz, 4.4 or 3.5GHz all core. This provides a boost in performance over the Intel settings at the expense of slightly more heat and power draw. On top of this, the user may overclock their unlocked processor in any mode, and can run say at 4GHz all core if they wish. This is often called MCE/Multi Core Enhancement by the board vendor.

The addition of Turbo Boost max 3.0 software is to control which apps and in what priority those apps use the faster cores as described in point 3.Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 utililty for X99 and Broadwell-E

Applicable only for the X99 chipset motherboard platform, and likely locked initially to Broadwell-E. Turbo 3.0 includes a device driver and application for 32/64bit Windows (32bit, really?? 32bit is useless for any modern performance platform) to prioritise and control which applications are executed on the CPU’s fastest core.

This software is not for 6th Gen Skylake as it will not install on Skylake/Z170. Besides, there has been no advertisement of Turbo 3 for 6th gen. There is a possibility that after Broadwell-E launches Skylake may receive this software if Intel are generous and there are no major changes in the CPU’s thread scheduler or programmable areas. Kaby Lake likely then? Get onto it Intel…

What is not clear here is whether Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 is simply the release of this utility for enthusiasts, with the underlying hardware unchanged and still compliant with Turbo Boost 2.0, or if the is an underlying hardware change and the operation of turbo boost and how the clock speed of individual cores within the CPU has changed. Intel would not elaborate.

What is clear though is that there is still confusing to users and in the marketplace about what turbo boost is, which CPUs support it and how it really works. This is something vendors need to address quickly.

On face value, this utility is somewhat of a gimmick as I don’t see heavy adoption. Those who would want to tweak and tinker would likely have engaged all-core overclocking anyway, which synchronises the same maximum speed to all cores, rather than prioritising a few cores which are the default behaviour. In fact, some motherboards will enable synchronous all-core overclocking automatically when XMP memory is enabled.

As a power user/enthusiast/overclocker/professional idiot, I personally have little use for the Turbo Boost 3 software and I think many other enthusiasts would not either. Boards from ASUS and MSI will automatically run the CPU at all core turbo, usually when the XMP memory profiles are enabled, making all the cores run at the same synchronised speed and making the Turbo 3 utility useless in this scenario.

Intel should take this technology and, enhance, evolve and refine it and integrate it into Windows so that future CPUs can benefit, rather than a box marketing bullet point which many will not use.

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