Intel processors have never been simple, but they definitely used to be simpler. In the endless journey to provide more performance, successive generations of CPUs have brought higher frequencies and more cores. As frequencies leveled off, however, other methods to increase performance emerged with various technologies that dynamically alter the speed of the processor (i.e., give it a “boost”). As this is a topic that is often misunderstood, it seemed like a good idea to provide a brief overview.

Base Frequency

The definition of the base frequency has evolved over the years, but these days it refers to the guaranteed clock speed a CPU can maintain with full utilization within predefined heat and power limitations (and does not rely on any sort of boosting technology). While base frequencies used to be fixed, CPUs now routinely underclock themselves automatically to conserve power and stay cool, and then increase to a higher frequency quickly when needed—but only as high as their stated base frequency. To go higher, you need a boost.

Max Turbo Frequency

When people mention the boost clock of a processor, this is typically what they’re referring to. The max turbo frequency is the maximum frequency at which the processor is capable of operating using Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. This gives a burst of speed to a core or group of cores, and depends on a variety of factors.1 Processors routinely enter and exit “boost mode” automatically throughout various computing tasks. Although Intel provides the max turbo frequency of only a single core in a CPU’s specs, all active cores can get a boost as well, and the frequency at which they boost tends to go down slightly as you add cores, and maintains the same frequency across all of them. One notable exception to this would be Intel’s current flagship processor, the i9-9900KS, which provides a boost clock of 5.0 GHz across all 8 cores consistently. Compare this to their previous flagship, the i9-9900K, in the tables below.




Intel® Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0
Yet another way to get better performance is with Intel® Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0, which works on top of Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. Each individual core on a given processor varies slightly in its performance capability. This technology takes advantage of that fact by identifying the best performing cores and increases the frequency on just those cores (again, based on several factors like power and thermal headroom), and can provide significantly better performance on single-threaded workloads. If you’re looking for this feature, you’ll need to grab a workstation with a Core X-series or Xeon W processor.
Technologies Galore
This only scratches the surface of the various technologies that go into Intel CPUs. For example, I didn’t mention Intel® Speed Shift Technology, which is designed to boost the speed of short, single-threaded workloads like web browsing. Or Intel® Deep Learning Boost, which boosts the performance of deep learning workloads. Or Intel® Smart Cache, which reduces latency by dynamically allocating shared cache to each core based on workload. Or the latest one, Intel® Thermal Velocity Boost, which provides up to an additional 200 MHz if the CPU is under 50 degrees Celsius. Over time, all these technologies have the cumulative effect of creating some of the most powerful and intelligent processors in the world.  
You may have noticed that these boosting technologies work best when the processor is nice and cool. If you want to get your work done fast, it’s important to have a premium cooling solution. At BOXX, we liquid-cool our CPUs, which provides lower thermals for higher performance. We also use the highest quality power supplies and motherboards because they provide the most reliable power to internal components like the CPU. Are there cheaper alternatives? Not if you want the best. If you’d like to know how a BOXX system can accelerate your workflow, check out our website or consult with a BOXX performance specialist today.

1 Examples include: type of workload, number of active cores, estimated current consumption, estimated power consumption, and processor temperature.

2 Source.

3 Source.