First Impression: Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility

Maximum PC Staff

Intel’s new Extreme Tuning Utility streamlines the user interface for tweaking your motherboard and CPU, and is pushing for widespread adoption among motherboard makers.

High end motherboards from Intel have long shipped with their own tweaking tool, the Desktop Control Center. However, that tool always had limited capability, especially when stacked up against similar tools from other motherboard makers, like Asus, Gigabyte and MSI.

While on the surface, DCC was limited, the underlying engine wasn’t. So Intel engineers went back to the drawing board and developed a new interface called the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, or ETU for short. The coolest thing about ETU, though, isn’t that Intel has a new tweaking tool for its own motherboards – ETU will also be available on 3rd party boards and systems from Asus, Dell and others.

For ETU to work on a system, several layers need to be implemented:

•    A BIOS friendly to the ETU middleware API (which is informally known as “Intel XTU Service”) needs to be available.
•    Supported Intel CPUs and Intel chipsets. While XTU 1.0, with DCC layered on top, worked with Intel’s own P45, X38 and X48 boards (socket 775), ETU is
•    Watch Dog Timer. This is a combination of external hardware plus logic built into the chipset. Intel notes that watch dog timers will be fully integrated into next generation chipsets.
•    An application layer (GUI interface) on top of the middleware. This can be customized by OEMs to their own look and feel, but changes by reskinning are limited; fully realized UIs different from Intel’s look will require significant coding.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at the ETU.

Running ETU

When you first run ETU, you’ll be looking at a web-like interface that gives you tons of detail about the underlying system.

The interface is laid out in discrete panels, with the main adjustment panel in the center, menus on the left, column detail on the right and monitoring data on the bottom.

You can manually tune parameters via sliders or actually changing the numbers. If you have an unlocked CPU (Intel Extreme Edition or K-numbered parts, like the Core i7 875K or Core i5 655K), you can alter all parameters, including turbo and non-turbo boost multipliers.

If you’re using ETU with a locked processor, you can still change the memory multiplier and the BCLK (base clock). In both cases, you’ll get more aggressive settings and a little more flexibility if you’re running Intel XMP certified memory, which offers multiple profile settings built into the module SPD.

ETU also features an autotuning capability. It’s surprisingly flexible, offering three levels of aggressiveness for voltage settings. You can also specify how long the tuning can take, which really defines the stress testing period. This ensures the final setting is stable. You’d never use autotune to try to hit really high clock speeds.

We played around with Autotune, using the “Slightly Over Specifications” setting and were able to hit overclocks of about 7% -- it looks like “slightly” is a euphemism for  “really, really safe settings.”

Image: autotune.jpg

When you use autotune, it keeps logs of everything it does. So you can scan through the logs, which lives in \ProgramData\Intel\Extrme Tuning Utility\Logs. Note that ProgramData is a hidden folder on your boot drive, so you either need to set up Windows Explorer to show hidden folders, or just type the folder name in the Explorer breadcrumbs bar.

Whether you tweak manually or use autotune, you can save profiles which you can load at any time.

Multiplatform ETU

It’s all well and good that Intel has a useful tweaking tool for their own motherboards. But ETU will also be available for other manufacturers’ boards as well. Asus is offering it on their P7X58D Premium and all versions of the P7P55D. If you have one of these Asus boards, you can give ETU a whirl by downloading it from the Asus support site (http://bit.ly/bx4NDi. )

Note that you’ll need the latest BIOS update. In the case of Asus boards, you’ll have to go into BIOS setup, get into the AI Tweaker screen and change “Asus/3rd Party UI Priority” to the 3rd party setting.

Acer and Dell will be making ETU available for their high end gaming boxes – the Acer G7750 and Dell / Alienware Area 51 and Aurora PCs. Clevo will be adding it to their X8100 high end gaming laptop. Other motherboard makers are in discussion with Intel.

It’s worth pointing out that AMD has had their Overdrive tool, which also supports multiple vendor boards, though you’ll need to get that direct from AMD. Even the look is somewhat similar, though Intel’s looks a little cleaner and more logically laid out.
Having a universal tweaking tool for Intel-based system that’s not tied only to Intel-made motherboards is a big step forward. Given the somewhat arcane language used by some tweaking tools, using ETU is like a breath of fresh air. If you’ve got a supported motherboard or system, it’s worth checking out.

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