What is the Silicon Lottery?
CPUs of a particular series, model or brand are not exactly identical. Some overclock better than others. The lottery means you have more luck than others and got a good CPU for overclocking. There is no way to predict until you reach the upper bounds of overclocking.
When chip manufacturers like Intel, TSMC, UMC, GF, etc. make wafers, there are slight variations in material quality across the wafer surface, there are local variations in how the lithography, metal vapor deposition, photoresist chemical deposition, etc. are done and this can yield a significant contrast between how good the best chip of a given batch will perform versus how bad the worst chip of the same batch will perform.
Things can go wrong or not perfect in the fabrication/Lithographic process. I guess you can say it’s like a batch of cookies. Some are better than others. Also, it’s been said that chips cut from the middle are better than chips from the edge of the wafer.
Winning the Silicon Lottery!
When you buy “K-chips”, you are playing the lottery: you are guaranteed a chip that performs at least up to stock K-chip standard but you have absolutely no way to know beforehand how much farther beyond that your specific chip can go under any given circumstances beyond stock conditions. That’s the chip lottery. Some i5/i7 3xxxK/4xxxK may max out at 4.2GHz while others may hit 5GHz. Some may require [email protected] to get to a given clock rate while others may require [email protected]
A CPU die is made out of a disc of silicon. The closer to the center of this disc you get, the better the CPU made out of it will be.
For example, a Celeron is an outer edge, and an i7 is the near the middle.
The silicon lottery usually refers to overclocking limits. A better overclocking CPU is considered “Winning the Silicon Lottery.”
*CPUs have variances in how they overclock. No two OC the same. Therefore, a term is coined for it.
What is Binning a CPU?
When CPUs are manufactured they go through a process of rigorous testing to make sure they can run stable at their labeled clock speed and so on. To maximize profit, chip manufacturers test and sort chips based on various criteria such as leakage current, power draw at key frequencies, salvageable defects, etc. to decide which product range the chips fit best in.
During this testing, the CPUs are separated by different thresholds. This process is called binning. The higher they are binned, the higher you can usually overclock.
If you take two i5 8400s for example and put them against each other there is a chance that one will perform better then the other. That is the silicon lottery. However, it mainly pertains to chips that can overclock. Let’s say for example you took those two 8400s and make 8600ks. The one that performed better as a locked chip would most likely overclock better. So Intel would make the better chip an 8600k. This is called binning. Now as far as which chips are best which ones are worst on the binning scale, Generally the cheapest chips are the crappiest ones.
Binned generally means tested for how good they are. Manufacturers bin for quality control to make sure a few sample chips out of hundreds made in a lot (ram, storage controller, pch controllers, video controllers, voltrage regulator modulators, cpus, etc) aren’t sub-par, they may bin a ton of them and then divide the lot and sell some at higher prices as faster models and lower performing models as lower speed, cheaper models (ie AMD does that, they basically only make one or two cpus at a time but they bin them and create hundreds of chips for varying price points, sometimes they even intentionally lock or slow down good chips to meet demand), and sometimes you have people like us who will bin a bunch of chips for overclockability.