You are not using your PC to its full potential! You read it right, and yes, we mean it! If you hadn’t known already, processors can actually perform beyond their manufacturer specifications, which only means that, if you have been using your CPU at its normal speeds, you are definitely missing out on what your computer can actually do. For instance, let’s say your processor’s speed is rated at 3GHz, the fact of the matter is that it is capable of performing at 3.3GHz.
While there are several factors that impact the performance of your computer, speed of the processor is perhaps the most important. As a result, CPUs are made better and faster with each new introduction, and even older processors are constantly upgraded with new, high performing ones in order to improve the systems’ performance. You must have probably heard about CPU upgrades or replacements; but, for many, it is an expensive task to perform, and thankfully, there is an equally efficient alternative – overclocking.
Overclocking refers to the process of re configuring your computer to enable the CPU to perform at a higher clock speed than its actual specification. In simple words, overclocking refers to pushing the speed and performance of your CPU to more than what it was originally designed by the manufacturer to do. But, the processor is not as simple as you might think. Yes, overclocking can speed up your entire PC, and save you hundreds of dollars, if everything goes right.
How to Know if Your CPU is Overclockable?
In general, most CPUs that are relatively new are manufactured to be capable of operating at much higher speeds than their originally rated speeds. Therefore, though not a guarantee, you can look at investing in one of the latest CPU versions if you plan on overclocking the same.
An easy and better way to know if your CPU is overclockable is to use a freeware application designed specifically to gain information about some of the main units of a computer, including the CPU, like the CPU-Z. Using one such software will give you all the details you need about your processor before overclocking the same.
Additionally, you can also check various online resources that contain overclocking databases, which you will be able to find on most PC-related websites, blogs, and forums.
Requirements for CPU Overclocking
Overclocking is not always known to be a successful technique. There are chances that it may destroy not just your CPU, but also your motherboard and the system RAM. In addition, overclocking also voids the warranty that it comes with. However, this shouldn’t refrain you from doing the same. All you need to do for successful overclocking is understand the requirements and follow the right techniques.
When it comes to overclocking, Intel processors are known to be the most successful when compared to other makes, including AMD, since those CPUs usually run really close to their manufacturer specified speed limits in order to be able to compete with that of Intel. Howbeit, you can never be too sure, because not all Intel CPUs are suitable for overclocking. This is because, some Intel CPUs, with certain specification numbers, come with limited clock multipliers, which prevents further enhancement of their speeds.
Also, fake CPUs are quite common these days; also known as remarked processors or CPUs, these processors will be already tweaked to be known to deliver higher clock speeds than their actual specification, which means you wouldn’t be able to overclock such CPUs. Therefore, it is important to verify that your processor isn’t remarked before you buy one.
System RAM Concerns
When the bus speeds of an overclocked computer exceed 66MHz, it can cause issues with your system RAM, and therefore requires options like a Synchronous Dynamic RAM (SDRAM) or an Extended Data Output (EDO) RAM. EDO RAM belongs to the higher end of the spectrum, suitable for motherboards with bus speed 66MHz, and SDRAM is suitable for those with bus speeds ranging from 75MHz to 83MHz. For even faster bus speeds, you will need Rambus DRAM (RDRAM) or Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic RAM (DDR SDRAM).
In many cases, there is every chance that your processor may be suitable for overclocking, but it may not be the case with your system’s motherboard. Various limitations, especially electrical ones, can lead to system hanging or crashing. In order for an overclocked processor to perform stably, without hanging or crashing, the motherboard needs to deliver clear signals, which can be done only by those motherboards that support overclocking, which usually is from well-known names like MSI, Tyan, AOpen, Asus, etc. Computers with such motherboards can be overclocked easily, while those with cheap motherboards tend to lack the ability to perform their best.
Another concern with motherboards is that they should support the supply voltage of your processor. Fortunately, most modern motherboards are designed to automatically set processor voltages right when it is installed, which means you don’t really have to worry a lot about this issue.
In addition, the bus speeds of motherboards also play a crucial role with it comes to overclocking your processor. The maximum bus speeds supported by most motherboards is 100MHz. However, in recent times, companies have started manufacturing models that support higher bus speeds, such as 112MHz, 143MHz, 150MHz, and more, and this can hinder your overclocking process by affecting the clock multiplier ratio. To avoid this, you need to understand beforehand the clock multipliers and speed limits of your device’s motherboard.
CPU Cooling Concerns
One of the most neglected issues when it comes to an overclocked CPU is inadequate cooling. Processors operate by drawing current for each clock tick and clock cycle, and the amount of current drawn increases with increased clock cycles, as a result of which processors generate more heat than usual. Hence, when overclocked, there is every possibility for a CPU to overheat and fail, and can sometimes even fail permanently. Therefore, before starting with the CPU overclocking procedure, you need to make sure that all arrangements are made to better cool the processor.
Overclocking a CPU
Now that you know the requirements for CPU overclocking, here are the steps to be followed:
Ensure the Processor’s Stability
For your CPU overclocking process to be successful, your first step should be to ensure that the processor remains stable both at its idle and maximum temperatures and power. The easiest way to do this is to use a CPU stress test tool or software, like IntelBurn Test, Prime95, etc. Since it is equally important to monitor the temperature of your system when performing stress tests, you should also consider using tools like Core Temp, MSI Afterburner, GPU-Z, etc., to make sure that the system doesn’t overheat during the process.
Core Temperature Check
As mentioned before, maintaining your processor’s temperature throughout the overclocking process is essential to ensure its success. Use one of the temperature monitoring software mentioned above, or anything you know works, to monitor the processor’s temperature and constantly check the core temperature to know how your CPU is managing the additional stress.
Time to Benchmark CPU
The next step is CPU benchmarking, which basically refers to an array of tests performed to assess the processor’s performance. One of the best and most used tools to benchmark CPU is Prime95. Another good option is AIDA64, which is yet another popular comprehensive system diagnostic tool which is capable of notifying the users when the CPU slows down or throttles due to increased temperatures, and performs more such functions.
Back Up Data
Data loss during CPU overclocking is a rare occurrence; however, you can never be too careful with your valuable data, especially when you cannot completely neglect the possibilities of data loss or OS corruption. Therefore, back up your data before beginning with the overclocking process.
Enter the BIOS
Remember, it is important that you wait at least for 10 minutes, to allow the temperature of your system and its components to stabilize, before entering the BIOS. Now, enter the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS); in most cases, this can be done by clicking on either the Del or F1 or F2 key when the system boots. Remember, the key to click to enter BIOS will vary from one motherboard to another; therefore, if you are not sure which one to click on, check the manual or appropriate documentation.
After entering the BIOS, find the right configuration screen or tab required to carry out the overclocking process. Once again, this too will differ from one BIOS to another, and hence, you can find the right one for your system by performing a simple online search or referring to the manual.
Check if Auto-Overclocking is Possible
Once you enter the overclocking screen or tab, you will have a lot of different options to choose from. Apparently, the most straightforward and easiest way to overclock your processor is to just let your motherboard perform most of the required tasks. Most processors today come with overclocking profiles, which usually differ in range based on the processor installed.
If your processor comes with such profiles, you can simply set your motherboard to run one of the available overclocking profiles, which eliminates the need for frequent manual input. This is a simple and great way to overclock your CPU and works best when you are looking at performing only moderate overclocking, say between 3.5 to 4GHz. Howbeit, the auto-overclocking technique wouldn’t be favorable for performing extreme overclocking, say beyond 4.5GHz.
The next few steps are specific to Intel and AMD processors respectively:
Increase the Processor’s Multiplier
When it comes to an Intel processor, increasing the processor’s multiplier is one viable overclocking method. Of course, for this to be done, the multiplier has to be unlocked, which is actually how most new Intel processor versions come like. However, there is a pitfall associated with using only this method to overclock your Intel CPU – there is very little diligence. With this method, you cannot achieve the exact speed specification you wish for; therefore, all you can do is try and increase the processor’s multiplier a couple notches and reboot the computer to see how it operates then.
Raise the FSB Speed
Raising the speed of the Front-Side Bus (FSB) is another typical way to overclock your CPU. In general, FSB speeds can range anywhere between 66MHz and 800MHz, and it is when you try and raise this speed limit that you raise your processor’s clock speed. Since only the most expensive Intel processors come unlocked, this happens to be the only overclocking option in most CPUs.
Increase the CPU’s Voltage
In some cases, when you try to push the front-side bus speed beyond a specific limit, there are chances for your computer to become unstable. During those times, increasing your processor’s voltage is one technique that can help you achieve more speeds. You can increase the voltage of your CPU, memory, etc., along with that of some more parts on the Advanced Features tab of your BIOS. However, the maximum amount of voltage you can hit differs according to your motherboard and processor, and therefore it is up to you to find the right number by researching online.
After you are done with all these overclocking steps and you start hearing constant beeping, it could be an indication that your overclocking process has failed. You need to get back into the BIOS, which, in most systems, can be done by simply switching off the PSU or unplugging the system and shutting it down. In other cases, you may have to cut power and reset the CMOS or remove and infix the system’s battery again.
Stress Test Again
Even if you have successfully booted into the operating system, you are not in the clear. The system could still crash or face permanent damage under heavy processor loads. Therefore, use one of the software mentioned earlier to stress test the system.
Increase the Processor’s Multiplier
As discussed before, your overclocking options are typically determined by your processor. Similar to the new Extreme chip versions of Intel, the FX-grade processors from AMD also come unlocked, allowing you to change their multiplier settings. The company has also been unlocking other editions of its processors to make overclocking easier for users. As always, increasing the CPU’s multiplier is the most hassle-free method for overclocking.
Manage the HyperTransport Speed
While with an Intel processor you would increase the front-side bus speed as an alternative to changing the multiplier setting for overclocking, things get a bit more complicated with an AMD processor. Here, you will have to deal with the HyperTransport (HT) speed in order to overclock the CPU. This is an interface that operates at 1GHz and it is difficult to get it going a lot beyond its actual specification, as a result of which you could face HT instability, which is often mixed up with processor instability.
Increase the Frequencies
The next step is to go to Advanced settings, open CPU Frequency, and bump the frequency to a certain extent. This increased frequency when multiplied according to your CPU multiplier setting, will increase the speed of the processor. In similar manner, you can try increasing the speeds in increments of 10MHz until you reach the desired level. Remember to check for stability after each increment.
If you find your system to be crashing for some reason, you can try and stabilize it by increasing your processor’s voltage. However, this could be highly dangerous and can sometimes can even kill the entire system.
Reboot and Test
The last two steps are the same as that of Intel processors. If you get some sort of indication that your overclocking process has failed, turn off the PSU or pull the plug to shut down the system for a few seconds. Turn the power on again and see if you can enter the BIOS, which gets done automatically and easily in most systems. If not, you will have to reset the CMOS.
And finally, you should stress test your computer to see if it is capable of handling a fully loaded processor. Again, use a reliable stress testing software or tool for the purpose.
CPU Cooling Techniques
In order for your CPU overclocking to be successful, keeping the processor cool at all times is crucial. When it comes to overclocking temperatures, reaching as high as 90 degrees is often considered a safe range, and as far as maximum limit goes, CPUs can actually hit up to 100 degrees after being overclocked. However, in the long run, maintaining the temperature at a maximum of 85 degrees will be a safe bet, if you wish for your system to last longer without getting toast.
Since your computer will be cranking out more voltage and heat after the overclocking process, way more than what it is designed to emit, the small fan in use will not be even close to sufficient to cool it down. Apparently, the stock fan or heatsink that comes with your processor can work well only for normal use and not for an overclocked rig.
Fortunately, there are several cooling options available out there:
- For just $50, you will be able to get decent aftermarket air cooling to keep the heat emitted by your CPU in check. However, this is viable only to a certain extent. Eventually, the air cooler will become insufficient for your overclocked machine. In that case, you can consider liquid cooling.
- Falling in the $100 range, liquid cooling can bring down the heat of your CPU further down by several degrees, letting you hit those high speeds you wished for. Pumping liquids into your hardware can sound like a crazy idea at first, but it is certainly one of the best cooling options available right now and helps prevent any damage your system could encounter from overheating. You can also consider using liquid nitrogen or dry ice for CPU cooling; however, these will typically cost you more money than liquid cooling.
- The next option you have is immersion cooling. As the name suggests, in this technique, you will be required to place your computer immersed in a special liquid, which looks more like water, which will absorb and get rid of the heat emitted by your CPU. The heat gets sent out of the container in the form of vapor. Again, this method also costs significantly higher amounts.
- Using thermal paste is another solution to cool down your CPU. In fact, this could be one of the least expensive techniques you can use.
Performance of an Overclocked Processor
Knowing your intention behind overclocking your CPU is important before you actually start with the process. For instance, if you are just like any other regular computer or laptop user, running some standard applications like browsers, Microsoft Office, etc., overclocking isn’t something for you, because of the fact that you wouldn’t notice any significant improvement in performance.
Elseways, if you are into gaming, which basically involves heavy graphics, memory, etc., you will notice some difference in performance after overclocking; however, this wouldn’t be more significant either, because gaming performance is more dependent on the GPU, requiring GPU overclocking, and not on the CPU.
Who will benefit the most from CPU overclocking? Those of you using processor-intensive applications, such as those for video encoding, photo editing, etc.