After purchasing a new car, no one in their right mind is going to suggest that you alter its engine so that it can use jet fuel and reach speeds of 500 mph but it sounds fun, right? Overclocking your PC is a bit like pushing a vehicle well beyond the limitations of its design. But in this case, you wouldn’t be crazy to do it.
You might be wondering, “Is overclocking bad?” In short, the answer is no - if you do everything correctly. What does overclocking do? It pushes your CPU harder and faster than the manufacturer intended in order to amplify computer performance. Because of this, overclocking may void your manufacturer's warranty, so do some research first.
If you’re interested in increasing the speed at which your computer receives and processes information, here’s a breakdown of the various components that will need altering and how overclocking works.
The Central Processing Unit (CPU) controls the primary functions of your computer as it performs a fetching and executing routine. A single clock cycle is the time it takes between two pulses of an oscillator.
You can loosely compare CPU clock speed, or cycles, to the horsepower or MPH of a vehicle. In other words, how fast can your computer fetch strings of 1s and 0s and then process them?
When companies like Intel® or AMD make their CPUs, they’ve designed them to operate at specific frequencies (gigahertz and megahertz). These frequencies control the speed of the CPUs clocking. Generally speaking, a 2.5 GHz AMD processor will clock slower than a 3.0 GHz processor.
However, things can get a little confusing because there are variables outside of the CPU that help determine the speed of clock cycles. It’s these variables that make it possible to push your CPU past the limits of its initial design.
Multiple cores, cache memory, word length, address bus width, and data bus width all affect the performance and speed of your CPU. That means a 2.5 GHz Intel® Skylake processor could outperform a 3.0 GHz Skylake processor with the proper adjustments.
Before you can learn how to overclock your CPU, you first need to understand how processors are labeled. A 3.0 GHz processor doesn’t max out its capabilities at this frequency, but rather it is labeled to perform below its maximum capabilities to ensure that it doesn’t fail.
After a chip is completed, it’s tested. If during this test the chip begins to show signs of stress at 3.2 GHz, the formula used to decide what the chip can handle over long periods of time may label it at 2.5 GHz (well below 3.2 GHz).
How to overclock CPUs
So what is overclocking? Knowing that your CPU is working well below its maximum capabilities, you can make changes to the system to push a chip closer to its theoretical limits. However, there are some important aspects to be aware of before you start overclocking your CPU.
Increasing the performance of your CPU requires more energy, and therefore creates more heat. Consider installing a robust cooling system in your computer to ensure that your CPU doesn’t overheat as you pump more volts into it.
Additionally, check the maximum amount of volts that your PC can manage before suffering damage from the effects.
Now that you’re aware of the preventative measures that need to be taken, here are the steps required to overclock your CPU:
To successfully overclock your CPU, you need to find out if it’s stable at both its idle and max load. The easiest way to do this is to use software that tracks the stability of your CPU unless you already have a monitoring system built into your computer’s software.
An additional piece of software to monitor the temperatures of your process will be needed to ensure that it doesn’t overheat as well.
2. Core temperature
Always look at the lowest core temperature to get the best idea of how your CPU is running and handling the added stress.
3. Benchmarks and tests
Benchmark the temperature of your CPU at stock (standard settings) so that you can compare that temperature to how hot it runs once you’ve pushed it to 100%.
There are a variety of free programs that will allow you to run an array of stress tests on your computer. However, many higher-end gaming PCs like HP OMEN come complete with programs that monitor this for you, so you won’t have to download anything additional to monitor your PC’s performance.
4. Cool down
Once temperatures have stabilized (typically after 10 minutes), restart your PC. Pay close attention to your loading and login screen times; if they take longer than normal, you may have strained your CPU.
Most processor manufacturers will include overclocking profiles with their CPUs. Setting the motherboard to run one of the suggested profiles is another way to discover the capabilities of your CPU.
Depending on the software you use, you may be able to automate the process. Just be careful when doing so, as the wrong setting or program may cause permanent damage to your processor.
7. Adjust settings
Use a program as an overclock monitor. Once you know how many Hz it’s safe to run your CPU at, you can make the necessary adjustments needed to consistently run it at its new settings. Make sure the voltage and multiplier are properly accounted for.
8. Continue benchmarking
You should continue benchmarking your temperatures and speeds for as long you feel it’s necessary to ensure stability. Once you find the sweet spot of performance and consistency, you can finally relax and enjoy your computer at its maximum potential.
Cooling your CPU has become vital to the overclocking process. Because your computer is cranking out so much more heat and voltage than it was designed to, that little fan buzzing in the background just isn’t going to cut it.
Also bear in mind when wondering how to overclock laptops, that the cooling system in a laptop is usually just enough to cool the current configuration. Overclocking may result in “bricking” - a pretty self-explanatory term for what can happen to your laptop if you’re not careful.
If water-cooling your CPU wasn’t already on your mind, it should be. It might sound crazy to start pumping fluids through your hardware, but it’s arguably the best way to prevent the damage overheating can do to your computer.
There are options that utilize dry ice and liquid nitrogen, but they typically cost more than a liquid cooling system and don’t improve the outcome much.
Just like a car’s radiator pumps coolant into an engine, a computer’s water cooling system performs the same task, just in a slightly different manner.
Immersion cooling systems might look and sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but they’re not. At first glance, it might seem like someone has strategically placed their computer into a container of water, but it’s actually a special liquid that absorbs and disperses heat. Because the liquid has low, varying boiling points, the heat is carried in the form of vapor up and out of the container.
While some of the providers of these systems claim that they absorb ten times the amount of heat that your typical cooling system will, they cost significantly more.
When figuring out how to overclock your CPU, the second challenge that you’re going to run into is voltage. In order to power that souped-up CPU, some changes will need to be made to your power supply.
Before you go out and buy a voltage meter, there are some ways to monitor your power supply using free software instead. Be sure to find a reputable company and read user reviews before downloading.
Adjust your voltage, increasing by 0.01 volts each time, until your computer successfully boots. Whatever you do, don’t crank the volts up thinking it will save time especially if this is the first time you’re overclocking a CPU. As you grow more comfortable and gain more experience, you can consider increasing volts by 0.05 and even 0.1 volts.
Drawbacks to overclocking your CPU
Overclocking your CPU isn’t always the right move. As awesome as it sounds to completely overhaul your computer and let it take off like a rocket ship, there are some downsides to consider. It can drastically shorten the lifespan of your CPU or cause other issues.
Your power bill
More volts means more energy expenses on your monthly bill. Between your cooling system and the added energy need for the CPU, you could see a significant enough difference in energy usage to make you reconsider.
A computer is an integrated system; increasing the power and performance of one section may strain and cause another to fail. Once you have your CPU fully calibrated and ready to rock, you may find that your RAM or another associated component can’t keep up, and you will have to upgrade that as well.
You can expect additional costs and upkeep to come with your cooling system and eventually they will need replacing.
May void your warranty
Be aware that overclocking may void your manufacturer's warranty, so look into this before you proceed.
Technology is advancing at an exponential rate, and an expensive CPU that doesn’t require overclocking may drastically drop in price in a matter of months.
Overclocking your CPU might sound complex, but with enough persistence, your PC will be moving at lightning speeds. There are also a variety of free online tutorials that will walk you through the process step-by-step if you still feel unsure of whether to and how to overclock your CPU.
Overclocking a CPU is all about customizing your gaming computer to suit your individual preferences; to find the settings and speeds that are right for you without breaking anything in the process.
In the good old days, overclocking could be accomplished by upgrading your discrete clock chip.
Now, increasing the speed of your computer is a bit more complicated than a quick trip to the computer retailer.
Because processors and motherboards have made leaps and bounds in terms of intricacy and sophistication since the 90s, the way we overclock PCs has had to change drastically as well.
If you love to tinker with and upgrade your PC, you shouldn’t let the downsides of overclocking your CPU discourage you.
Depending on your current rig, there could be a handful of legitimate reasons why overclocking your CPU may be the best option for optimizing your computer. Remember, though, overclocking could void the warranty of your hardware.
Now that you know how to overclock your CPU safely, it’s time to pick up the tools, software, and gear you need to make it happen.