What is Overclocking CPU? (Explained)

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What is overclocking CPU? Though the CPUs or Central Processing Units today are designed to be very powerful and efficient and they even overclock themselves to some extent, users still want to squeeze out a little bit more from them by overclocking further.

Overclocking, in simple terms, means increasing the clock speed of the CPU by making some tweaks.

There are several tools available as well that will allow you to overclock your CPU safely.

If you are a PC enthusiast you should be well aware of overclocking the CPU. However, if you are not then you may not be well aware of it.

In that case, if you want to know more, you do not have to look any further because you are fortunately at the right place.

In this article you will find everything that you need to know about CPU overclocking including the risks, benefits and the safety aspects of it.

Apart from that, you will also come to know whether or not making such an effort is worth it.

What is Overclocking CPU?

What is Overclocking CPU

When you push the clock speed of the processor beyond its rated limit, it is called CPU overclocking.

This clock speed refers to the number of complete cycles the CPU can perform in a second.

The unit of clock speed is Hertz, denoted as Hz. This means that when a CPU is marked 4 GHz, it can complete 4 billion clock cycles per second.

Though the clock speed will not directly show the number of instructions being executed by the CPU, it will surely give a fair idea about the comparative number of instructions that the processor can handle.

However, this may not always be the case.

The speed of the processor depends on a large number of other factors which include and are not limited to:

  • The architecture of the processor
  • The age of the processor
  • The features of the processor and
  • The manufacturer of the processor.

In such situations overclocking the CPU is a good way to increase its speed and performance level so that it can execute more instructions each second.

Ideally, overclocking is subjected to the primary processor but you can also overclock a discrete Graphics Processing Unit if you want to boost the graphics performance.

However, there is no universal rule or standard that will say how fast the CPU will perform after overclocking.

This is because the results may vary while overclocking.

That is why it may be quite difficult to decide whether or not overclocking your CPU will be the right move.

For some users it is good but for some other users it may not be as useful and productive.

Need for Overclocking

So, you may ask – is overclocking the CPU worth it. Well, the answer to it is simple: both yes and no.

Therefore, you will first need to determine whether or not you really need to overclock your CPU in the first place.

Well, before you do that, you will need to know and remember a few specific points related to overclocking a CPU.

First, it can be an expensive and a time-consuming process, especially if you have little knowledge about how exactly you should go about it.

Second, you will need to know which particular components to tinker along with it so that you get the desired results.

Ideally, apart from making adjustments in the multiplier, you will also need to make changes in other areas as well such as:

  • In the voltage settings
  • The fan speed and more.

You will need to overclock the CPU when you play games on your computer often and run heavy and CPU-intensive applications for video editing, 3D modeling, and image editing or other complex computing tasks on it.

On the whole, overclocking the CPU is needed when you run any app that demands quite a lot from your processor.

However, the results may not be the same because specific software may favor a higher number of cores than higher core speed.

Therefore, do not expect to have the same mileage for all applications by overclocking your CPU.

For the average users, moderate overclock is not worth a hassle because it will offer just insignificant improvement in performance in most cases.

However, it is a free performance and therefore you may take the advantage of the additional power of the CPU.

Especially, if you use apps that will benefit from higher clock speeds, there is no reason to leave this free offer on the table.

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However, do consider the risks involved in it, which has been discussed in a later section of this article.

The Requirements

Now, if you are ready to overclock your CPU for an enhanced performance, first, you will need to know what type of overclocking you want to do and how in-depth you want to go.

Then, here are a few other requirements for it:

  • You must have the right type of CPU in the first place that will support overclocking
  • You will also need a motherboard that is overclock-friendly so make it sure by checking the system specs rather than simply assuming things
  • You will need data display software to see the clock speed, voltage usage, and other vital tracking factors
  • You will need stress test software to check the stability and safety of overclocking and
  • You will also need a cooling unit or a heat sink for serious overclocking.

You will be better off to have your smartphone or a laptop along so that you can check the guides or watch the how-to videos related to overclocking, especially if you are doing it for the first time.

The Time Factor

You may want to know how long it would take to overclock your CPU. Well, it depends on the type of overclocking you want to do.

If you are okay with unreliable and extremely poor quality overclocking, then it can be really quick. All you have to do is download the appropriate software and make some changes in the settings.

However, such type of overclocking will cause a lot more trouble down the lane than its worth.

If you want to overclock your CPU safely and properly, you will need to spend a considerable amount of time on it.

You will need to do some proper research beforehand and you may even need to place an order for additional components such as a bigger and more efficient cooler.

After the prep work, you will need to make some basic tests and download the correct stress test software before you make any alterations in the CPU. These steps will not take more than an hour to complete.

However, make sure that you run the stress test after every change you make to ensure best results.

This might take a couple of hours to monitor the temperature and activity level to ensure stability.

The BIOS will allow system-wide access to the hardware and therefore you will need to navigate several menus.

These menus and their layout may vary because the BIOS design may vary depending on the manufacturer of the motherboard.

Therefore, you will need to explore the different options in the BIOS to look for the feature or check from the online sources to locate it.

This will also add to the time.

Remember, stable and productive overclocking is a complicated process that may take several days or even weeks or months to get everything right. It will need multiple sessions.

Settings to Know

For overclocking, you will need to know about the settings in particular.

Here is the list of some of the most important settings to know:

  • The CPU core ratio or multiplier that determines the speed of it by multiplying the BCLK or base clock speed by it
  • The CPU core voltage or power supplied to it
  • The CPU cache or ring ratio which regulates the frequency of the cache, memory controller and other parts of the CPU and
  • The CPU cache or ring voltage that regulates the CPU overclocks which however cannot be changed separately in some platforms where this voltage is linked with the CPU core voltage.

You will also need to carefully monitor the system vitals while overclocking since it can affect the operating temperature. The BIOS cannot do it alone due to its limited options. Therefore, you will be better off using particular software that works from Windows.

Steps to Follow

So, you are now quite knowledgeable about CPU overclocking and are good to go.

Now, are you wondering what steps to follow? Well, here they are.

The first step of CPU overclocking involves determining the baseline performance of the system.

The best way to do it is by using a benchmarking utility that works from Windows because you cannot run it from BIOS.

This will help in making easy comparisons of the performance metrics to find whether or not there are any improvements after overclocking.

The next step involves adjusting performance settings, the location of which may vary depending on the hardware and BIOS configuration.

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However, the fundamental tenets are the same for overclocking which involves changing the CPU core ratio, modifying the supply of voltage to the CPU, and adjusting the built-in safeguards.

Follow it by measuring the gains in performance after overclocking the CPU by comparing the baseline performance benchmark calculated before with the results.

If you are pleased with the gain in performance level, move on to the next step which involves making sure that the system is stable after overclocking. For this you will need to perform stress tests.

If the test results are satisfactory, you are done overclocking your CPU. Congratulations!

The basic process to overclock a CPU is usually the same for all but there may be a few specific software and steps required for specific types of CPUs.

For example, if you want to overclock Intel CPUs via the BIOS then you can use the Windows-based XTU or Extreme Tuning Utility software of Intel.

This free software is specifically designed to overclock Intel CPUs, it is more stable and reliable than most of the third-party software and will not cause any issues independently.

While overclocking, you can have a detailed look at the current state of the CPU, and while not overclocking, this software will provide a lot of information about your system.

However, using this software for the first time can be a bit intimidating but its numerous granular nature makes it a worthy tool to use.

The steps to follow however are:

  • Creating a baseline performance and temperatures and running stress test found on the left-hand menu for an hour at least
  • Selecting the Advanced Tuning tab located on the left-hand menu
  • Looking for the section headed Multipliers and raising it by one number for all cores
  • Testing the stability of the overclock by selecting the stress test and re-running it for about 10 minutes.

Repeat the steps till you find a multiplier setting where the computer crashes.

When it happens, set it back to the previous multiplier number.

Test it again by playing a couple of games for quite some time to see whether the overclock is stable.

If not, reduce it and if it is stable, adjust the core voltage or VCore to differentiate between stable and unstable or modest and higher overclocks.

However, do not set the voltage over 1.4 volts to prevent your system from crashing or restarting frequently and change the setting only in tiny increments.

Once again, test and repeat to find the voltage at which the system is steady.

Ideally, the temperature of the CPU should not exceed 80 degrees to perform smoothly.

If you want to overclock a modern AMD Ryzen processor, the steps to follow are more or less the same as the Intel CPUs but the software to use is different.

You may use the ClockTuner automatic overclocking tool from 1usmus.

On the other hand, for any AMD processor from 2017 onward, you may use the Ryzen Master utility software.

And, for the older ones you can use AMD Overdrive.

Is It Safe?

Now that you have a fair bit of knowledge about CPU overclocking, you may wonder whether or not it would be safe to overclock your CPU.

Well, thanks to the design of the modern CPUs, overclocking today is by far less risky than it was before.

It can be easily done though the results may vary depending on the hardware, material and other factors.

And, most importantly, the safety aspect is related to your skill and knowledge about overclocking.

If you follow the right steps as mentioned above while overclocking and run the required stability tests then the risks involved in it can be easily undone.

Also, consider your system hardware and learn about the right tools to use before you start overclocking your CPU to keep everything safe.

Benefits

Remember, overclocking will not change the performance of the CPU entirely.

It will simply improve the functionality of those applications that normally need a lot of computing speed.

Still, the benefits offered by an overclocked CPU quite reasonably outweigh the risks involved in it.

The most significant and apparent benefit of overclocking a CPU is the improvement in the performance level.

This you can experience while you perform any ordinary or advanced computing tasks on your system as well as while playing any games on it.

The tasks can be anything such as video editing, encoding, decoding, or any other.

Your system will perform much better and for that you will not have to make any extra and direct expenses.

Overclocking the CPU also helps in system optimization especially in those systems that have bottlenecks.

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In such systems overclocking can make the components work at their full potential and at a greater percentage as compared to when they are left to their limited hardware overclocking.

Overclocking can also prove to be quite a cost effective way to make your system perform at a higher level.

This is because you can buy and use a low performing and cheaper chip and overclock it to the clock speed of an expensive one.

Risks

In spite of the above benefits offered by an overclocked CPU, there are some risks involved in it.

Yes, overclocking is pretty exciting but it is also quite dangerous because it can brick the processor.

First and foremost, when you overclock the CPU of your computer, it may make the system unreliable.

You may experience several unique issues while operating the system.

For example, when you run Microsoft Windows it may work pretty well but as soon as you upgrade or re-install it for any reason, you may receive an error message such as ‘file copy error’ when you set up Windows.

This is because there may be decoding errors when you extract files from Windows XP CD-ROM. And, since installing Windows is especially memory intensive, you may receive such errors.

Then, the lifespan of the components of the semiconductor may be affected and reduced due to excessive voltage and heat used by the CPU after overclocking.

This will call for premature replacements of components and even crashing of the system when you expected it to happen at the least.

Most importantly, forcing anything by overclocking that is more than what is intended by the manufacturer of the CPU may void the warranties.

When you increase the clock rate of the CPU it will also increase the voltage and in turn the power consumption.

This means it will not only increase the electricity cost but will also increase the production of heat.

This additional heat will damage the innards of the CPU because it will raise the temperature of the ambient air not only within the casing of the computer but also of the room.

This means you will need to use a proper and an effective cooling system, which means an additional cost.

Your computer system may not work as silently after overclocking as it used to when the CPU was not overclocked.

This is because the additional heat will demand extra performance from the fans for the necessary degree of cooling within the case.

The fans, which will now run at its maximum speed all the time, will be noisy, and, believe it or not, the decibel level can be really high.

Risk of chip damage is another major risk of CPU overclocking.

This is because the thermal output increases in a linear fashion but the thermal power increases quadratically due to the increase in voltage.

Therefore, this results in improper cooling and excessive voltages which raises the temperature of the chip, and if it reaches dangerous levels, it may damage or destroy the chip itself.

The type of cooling method used, such as water cooling, may also pose some risks when it malfunctions.

Even sub-ambient cooling methods such as liquid nitrogen and phase-change cooling may cause water condensation.

If this is not controlled it may result in electrical damage.

There is also the risk of losing your data due to unstable operation or incorrect protocol after overclocking.

Therefore, you should backup all your data first before overclocking for safekeeping.

Therefore, overclocking is a good way to increase the performance of the system but should be done with extreme caution.

Though the risks involved in it are not very high due to comparative ease in modern overclocking, these are worthy enough to be considered nevertheless.

Remember that testing, rinsing, and repeating will only let you overclock the CPU of your system properly.

Therefore, it will be unwise to start this project if you do not have enough time in hand and patience in you.

Conclusion

Overclocking your CPU may increase the performance level of your computer significantly.

However, along with the benefits offered, there are also a few risks involved in it as this article has pointed out. Therefore, you will need to be cautious to make it work in your favor.

About Dominic Cooper

Dominic CooperDominic Cooper, a TTU graduate is a computer hardware expert. His only passion is to find out the nitty gritty of all computers. He loves to cook when he is not busy with writing, computer testing and research. He is not very fond of social media. Follow Him at Linkedin