Overclocking - the activity of freely increasing your computer's speed by tweaking underlying system settings - has always been something of a dark art. While many of us have dabbled over the years, the need to constantly learn the intricacies of each new architecture, the occasional disasters (if ever there was a task that typified the phrase "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing", overclocking would be it), the limited benefit for potentially a lot of work, and the simple fact that computers (or more specifically CPUs) are plenty fast enough now without overclocking means more often than not we just let things be.
It's no surprise, therefore, that many of the PC component manufacturers have, over the years, been trying to make overclocking more accessible. Whether through simple overclocking applications or hardware additions like BIOS reset buttons and POST displays. Few have really caught our attention though. That is, until we saw the Zotac Nitro.
First unveiled at nVidia's corporate shindig, nVision, this little plastic device plugs into your PC using a conventional USB connection and can be used to overclock any Zotac graphics card (and a few others besides, as we'll see later) at the touch of a button and it promises to make overclocking easier than ever before.
The unit itself measures 138 x 81 x 21mm, which makes it just about the perfect size to fit snugly in the hand. It's made of a rather garish looking orange plastic, which I guess you'll either love or hate. Personally I would've preferred something a little more understated.
The screen uses Vacuum Flourescent Display (VFD) technology so, unlike an LCD screen for instance, it can't be used to display any old data. Instead the various letters, numbers and symbols are fixed. This obviously limits its potential longevity if future graphics cards use different speed measurements to current cards and also means the Nitro can't be modded to display other information. Also, we would've preferred to see numbers being used for the temperature and fan speed scales rather than the meaningless bar graphs. Characters, though, are bright and large, making them easily readable from a good distance and viewing angles are also very impressive.
A neat white plastic stand is included with the Nitro. It's got a good weight to it that combined with the rubberised bottom ensures the Nitro is held nice and securely, which is more than can be said for the token stands you get with some products where just the springiness of a USB cable is enough to knock the product over.