Overclocking, defined as the process of increasing a component’s clock rate, is often applied to a CPU or GPU in the goal to improve performance by producing more operations per second. A CPU comes from the factory set to run a certain maximum speed; this speed is typically selected and tested to achieve a balance of performance and reliability while ensuring that the system’s cooling is adequate to deal with the generated heat. However, for those who enjoy taking things to the next level, the factory speed settings can be increased, offering a simple and effective method for getting the most out of your current hardware.
Should You Overclock?
In the distant past, overclocking was far more vital in the goal of having a performance-based system, as the availability of custom parts was limited and the sophistication of CPUs was lacking. Currently, there is a wide range of high-performing CPUs and GPUs available for one to choose from and many of their stock clock speeds are more than enough to run even the most resource-demanding games and programs. Depending on your rig’s build, you can possibly not even notice the benefits of overlocking, as there are several other bottlenecks your system might have to face, such as being limited by your outdated/low amount of RAM or using a mechanical hard drive (HDD) instead of a solid-state drive (SSD). To summarize, yes, overclocking can awaken your hardware into the beast that it can be, but before doing so, look for other areas of possible improvement before pushing a device beyond its intended usage (your CPU’s warranty will thank you).
Can You Overclock?
Before I get into how to overclock a CPU, I wanted to explain the possible concerns and issues you may run into. First, not all CPUs can be overclocked. Various motherboards and Intel CPUs have locked multipliers, preventing any form of tampering with their stock settings; while this is unfortunate, they probably locked them for a reason (lower-quality devices which wouldn’t handle the abuse well).
Beat the Heat
CPUs and GPUs produce a significant amount of heat simply running at stock speeds, so naturally, having these devices run faster will produce more. In most cases, I would never use the stock cooling system that your computer came with, unless you purchased a gaming computer with a complex cooling system in it already, preferably liquid. Aside from placing an advanced CPU cooler in, I would ensure you have proper intake/outtake fans installed, have a method for monitoring the temperature of the CPU, as well as thoroughly cleaning all dust/debris out of the computer. You don’t have to be a pro to have excellent airflow. One more thing to consider, ensure you have enough available power to fuel your cooling system and the overclocked CPU. Upgrading your PSU at this time is highly recommended.
To Overclock an Intel CPU:
- Research CPU Stability
After you have ensured that you have adequate power and cooling, the first step is to find out what the CPU is stable at idle/max load. Several third-party programs can handle a stability check, as well as many that can come built-in your computer. At this stage, you will also want a program that can monitor the temperature of the CPU, as mentioned before. A program I recommend for Intel processors is Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility; this program will allow you to bypass overclocking with the BIOS and simplify all other steps.
- Check Core Temp
Once you have your temp monitoring software running, start to understand how hot your CPU currently runs during normal operation. I find keeping a log is a great method, as you can reference it later to see the increase of temperature that overclocking generated.
- Stress Test
Next, you will want to benchmark your CPU (at stock speed) to see how hot it runs at 100% capacity. Ensure you check each of your core temps with proper monitoring software. A stress test should run for at least an hour; if you run into any problems running your CPU at 100% for that time, you are definitely not ready to overclock it!
- Overclocking Time!
Depending on what you program you decide to use or if you are going to perform this change in the BIOS, these steps will differ a lot.
Restart your computer and enter the BIOS, then find the overclocking tab. Reliant on how far you are going to push your CPU, you may want to first try to enable auto-overclock, where your motherboard will do the majority of the work deciding when to overclock the CPU. However, if you are increasing your CPU’s speeds significantly, auto-overclocking won’t be an option. For manual control, you will want to adjust the CPU ratio/multiplier for all cores of the CPU. Next, you will want to save your changes, exit the BIOS, boot into Windows, open your CPU temperature monitoring program, and run a few tests (torture, blend). If your CPU is stable for at least five minutes, you can play around with increasing the multiplier. To find the limit of your overclock, simply increase the multiplier by one and reboot until you get a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) or your CPU begins to throttle itself. Next, to overcome the blue screen, you will need to get back into the BIOS and change the CPU voltage mode to ‘fixed’ and increase the voltage by 0.01 volts at a time. I would research what voltage is recommended as it can save time and reduce stress on your system. Once you find the right voltage, your PC will successfully boot, and then run another stress test. Finally, you will want to benchmark your new CPU to ensure a stable overclock. I would recommend at least a few hours.
B. Intel CPU: Extreme Tuning Utility
If you chose to go with the Intel program to overclock, the steps are much more straightforward, although the process is somewhat the same. You will want to modify multipliers, voltage, test, and repeat, all by following the general outline of the steps for the BIOS mentioned above.
Hopefully, this article sheds some light on what overclocking is, what it can do, and how to do it. Please do not hold me responsible if you damage your PC, I am merely the messenger. Good luck!