How To Overclock Your CPU
Overclocking can be daunting and seem complex, but it isn't. We're here to make sure you do it right.
Knowing how to overclock your CPU can be a useful piece of knowledge, as long as you know about the risks involved when overclocking. Whether it be your CPU, GPU, or even RAM, overclocking helps you get the most out of your components – and perform stress tests.
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Overclocking anything can sometimes be scary for someone who doesn’t know how, as the prospect of ruining a component is a very real risk. But maybe you just can’t afford to upgrade your CPU right now, and it’s chugging along struggling to run your new favorite game. You may feel as if your first time overclocking will be a little tricky, but it’s relatively simple when following these steps. It’s been made even easier by manufacturers over the years. So, here’s how to overclock your CPU, and everything you need to do so.
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Overclocking a CPU is simply the process of increasing the speed or the core’s multiplier, increasing the efficiency and speed at which the CPU operates. Overclocking the CPU can give your computer a performance boost, but there are some risks involved.
What is overclocking?
To put it briefly, as we’re sure you already know what overclocking is, is ramping up a component to operate outside of its normal operating speeds. The “clock” refers to the speed at which a CPU, GPU, or memory core operates, and the fact we’re “overclocking” indicates we’re aiming higher than that default clock.
There are a couple of ways an overclock is achieved, we will outline these ways in more detail below. Be aware, however, overclocking comes with the risk of component damage, and most overclocking procedures void any manufacturer warranty that you may have. So if you cause damage to your component, you might be out of luck.
Risks involved when overclocking a CPU
Overclocking any component has its risks and overclocking a CPU is no different. When you increase the clock speed and voltage of your CPU it can raise the heat output by the component. This is more commonly named TDP. Central processing units can handle some pretty high heat before running into trouble, trouble would present itself in the form of performance issues such as dips in FPS, stuttering and sometimes full-blown system crashes.
Heat is a major threat to a CPU if it’s constantly running above 85 degrees, but with a decent fan or hydro cooler, this can be avoided. Try to avoid using stock coolers as they aren’t specifically designed to dissipate the increased heat generated by overclocks. Don’t worry if your CPU hits a high temperature as mentioned they can handle some heat but investing in an aftermarket cooler is wise.
The longevity of the product will be shortened as it’s running faster and hotter than it was originally intended to but some chips are designed with overclocking in mind. Most CPUs ship equipped with a hard voltage and multiplier limit enabled by default to avoid frying the CPU entirely.
Now that you’re aware of some of the more major risks involved you’re ready to overclock.
What are the benefits of a CPU overclock?
Overclocking the CPU can help squeeze a little extra performance out of the chip which can in some cases give a substantial boost in gaming, media editing, and general tasks with no extra cost. Overclocking can be a great option for anyone looking to upgrade their performance on a tight budget, or for someone who is waiting for a newer generation of CPU.
Things to consider
Below are some things you might want to consider before you begin your overclocking journey. Overclocking isn’t too difficult in this day and age, but it is important to determine the risks and rewards of any situation, especially since the damage you can cause to your CPU is very permanent if the overclock is improperly configured.
We’ve said it more than once already in this article but it is important to understand that you can cause some serious damage if overclocks are configured improperly, you need to be fully aware of the risks before you attempt this. If you’re still unsure, re-read or watch a couple more overclocking videos to familiarise yourself further with the process. Knowledge is power.
If you’re looking to increase your FPS in games then you might want to consider overclocking or upgrading your GPU first, this is the main driving force behind gaming on your PC. Overclocking your CPU may not bring the performance gains you desire, and it would be much more efficient to tweak the GPU.
Every CPU has what’s called a TDP, which stands for Thermal Design Power and is the maximum amount of thermal energy a component can output under normal conditions. All this thermal energy needs to be dissipated away from the CPU, that’s why we have CPU coolers of all shapes and sizes. Now, overclocking drives voltages and core multipliers up and as a result, significantly increases the thermal energy generated by the CPU.
This means you need to ensure you have the thermal headroom to overclock your CPU, this is usually fine in a desktop with a decent cooler. But in a laptop, it becomes much more tricky. The laptop will require extra cooling, and since you can’t build better cooling into a laptop due to its compact design, this extra cooling will have to come in the form of a cooling plate or pad.
Lots of modern motherboards are designed with overclocking in mind and are equipped with high-end VRMs and extra power delivery ports. These motherboards often have easy use and intuitive BIOS layouts to allow users to overclock their CPU without much hassle at all. Consult your motherboard manual for more details.
On the flip side though, some more budget-orientated motherboards don’t allow overclocking of any component. These are usually the A20 or H10 chipset motherboards. Again consult your motherboard manual if you’re unsure.
If you want to benchmark and properly stress-test your new overclocked CPU, then you may need to download a few tools before you begin. These tools will test the performance of your CPU and allow you to take note of those results over time. Using this data and a few fault-finding methods you will be able to determine whether the overclock you applied is safe and more importantly, stable.
Downloading this tool will allow you to monitor your clock speed and the voltage of your CPU. You can use this mainly to keep track of how your CPU is performing and if any changes have taken effect. Download CPU-Z here
If you are looking to perform stress tests you can use Aida64 to perform tests over a long period to test stability whilst monitoring temperatures. Download Aida64 here.
This tool is useful for a plethora of reasons but most importantly it will allow you to check your temperatures, a crucial variable when overclocking.
If you are going to monitor the performance or benchmark your new overclocked system then you should take a baseline benchmark first as the control, allowing you to make deductions based on any negative changes. Download HWinfo here.
Increasing the base clock
- Most changes will take place in the BIOS so your computer will require a reboot. When the computer is restarting you can hold or press the ‘delete’ key to access your BIOS. Each BIOS varies depending on the motherboard manufacturers so look out for labels while navigating through.
- Open the Frequency settings page which can sometimes be called ‘frequency control’, ‘voltage control’ or ‘overclocking’. In here you can adjust the CPU clock speed and voltage.
- It’s important to lower the memory bus speed in your settings next as when you are overclocking errors can be caused by the memory. You want this setting to be at its lowest.
- Increase your base clock (front side bus) speed by 10%. Most processors can handle this slight increase of change without any fuss so give it a 10% bump and see how it does in your stress test application.
- Increase your base clock until the system becomes unstable. Increase the amount in increments of 5-10MHz until you find the optimum clock speed for your system. To be safe, run a benchmark with every adjustment you make until you notice if things start to go unstable.
Increasing the core multiplier
- Firstly lower the base clock a small amount. You want to do this before you increase the multiplier because this way can produce more stable results in the long run and makes it more precise. Keep in mind a lower base clock with a higher multiplier gives you a more stable system, however, a higher base clock and a lower multiplier will give you a better performance so find a balance.
- Now your base clock has been lowered it’s time to start cranking up the multiplier in increments of 0.5. The multiplier can sometimes be called CPU clock ratio depending on your motherboard and is usually set to auto. You will want to run your benchmark program and check how the system is running and assuming everything is ok repeat this process. Make sure after each change at this stage to keep monitoring temperatures.
Increasing the voltage
NOTE: Here’s where you need to be cautious, increasing the core speed and the multiplier have their risks but those risks pale in comparison to those associated with overvolting your CPU. Not only is your CPU in jeopardy but your motherboard and potentially its VRMs too. Please proceed with extreme caution and make sure any values you input are correct and intentional.
- Raise the CPU voltage but only in increments of 0.025, If you increase the voltage too much you run the risk of damaging your CPU. Run a stress test and check to see if your voltage increase has stabilized your system from the previous steps. If stable check your temps are also at an acceptable level. If the system remains unstable then try lowering the base clock or multiplier.
- Repeat the above step until the max voltage and temperature are reached at which point you will have reached the limits of your components.
- Now you can raise your memory speeds back to what they were before but do this slowly in stages while stress testing at every step, your memory may now be unstable or may not be able to reach speeds previously achievable.
A good rule of thumb is to not exceed a CPU voltage of 1.35V on average, if you wish to know your specific CPUs max voltage you can look into it online to find information specific to your hardware.
Other overclocking methods
This guide is centered around BIOS level overclocking, the old tried and true way of accurately overclocking your CPU., but there are other ways. Software overclocking has recently taken the PC industry by storm and is quickly becoming a favorite method among PC enthusiasts. There are two main tools for AMD and Intel respectively.
You should follow the same method and safety practices when software overclocking. although, with these programs being Operating System-level they tend to have a few more fail-safes built in. Not to mention the proprietary automatic overclocking systems these two pieces of software represent.
With both of these utilities available, overclocking your CPU has never been easier.
The same BIOS method should be followed, increasing voltages and core multipliers carefully. This time in some cases, core multipliers and target speeds can be adjusted on a per-core basis for maximum efficiency and customizability.
Or if you don’t want to go through the bother, let the software scan your system and apply an overclocking profile automatically. Although these profiles are usually quite reserved.
Other Overclocking Guides
Whether you want to delve deep into BIOS overclocking or sit back, relax and let software overclock your CPU for you. Overclocking can be risky but very rewarding, it’s definitely worth it if you’re looking to squeeze a little extra performance out of an older product as an alternative to shelling out for a whole new CPU. As long as you’re aware of all the risks and you have a relatively test heavy and safe methodology, your CPU should be safe from any harm.
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