How To Overclock Your CPU and Squeeze Out More Performance

Has your CPU frustrated you? Do you find its performance not matching your expectations? Overclocking can help. Unsurprisingly named, overclocking is a method of increasing your CPU’s clock speed and gaining a faster chip performance for free. Before we jump on to how you can overclock your CPU though, we’ll explore how overclocking works, and how it can squeeze out more performance from your existing CPU. 

What is Overclocking?

CPUs are made on varying microscopic scales and architectures. Hence, despite the manufacturing at certain frequencies within a certain voltage range, even similar CPUs can have vastly different capabilities. This is called the silicon lottery. Overclocking can be done by manually tweaking either the voltage or frequency (with some constraints).  It is done to find the highest frequency for your CPU, minimise programs crashing and run demanding programs faster.

Overclocking is as old as our PCs. Infact, it was some PC manufacturers in the 1980s who cloned the IBM PC and ran PCs at a racy 10MHz, as compared to 4.7MHz of IBM. This was the beginning of running higher clocks, where quartz control crystals were used to set clock rates. Applications that lacked built-in timers, ran out of control and crashed. Even then, CPUs were overclocked in the hope of higher operating frequency of the system bus, memory and peripherals. 

If you’re running an Intel CPU, it can be fairly easy to start overclocking your PC.

How To Overclock Intel CPU

  • Identify CPU Chip Type
    Before you figure out how to overclock your PCU, it is important to identify its chip type, as your CPU may not even be overclockable, though the chances of this are low. For example, you can overclock Intel’s “K” and “X” series CPUs. You must also check the chip. Overclock enabled Intel chips have “Z” in the chipset name. AMD FX-series CPU and some Ryzen chips can be overclocked. You can use Intel XTU software to know the current state of your CPU. Also, mechanical hard-drive or absence of a solid-state storage may not create a difference in performance.  
  • Prepare Your CPU
    You may have to purchase an aftermarket CPU cooler to improve your CPU temperatures and allow you to push your CPU to its limits. Moderate overclocking up to 1 or 2 speed grade may not need a cooler. 
  • Adjust Your CPU Multiplier
    You can adjust your CPU core frequency by increasing either the CPU Base Frequency or CPU Multiplier. You need an unlocked CPU multiplier before adjusting the CPU multiplier. Enter BIOS settings, navigate to the advanced frequency settings to view the CPU Multiplier and Base Frequency. Gradually adjust the CPU Multiplier and reboot your computer into Windows for system stability.
  • Ensure System Stability
    Run 2-3 stress tests to check performance after overclocking to ensure system stability and safety. Prime95 software can be used to test the stability of your CPU. Monitoring software such as CAM to check CPU temperatures and confirm the increased clock speed.
  • Increase Voltage
    In case your CPU fails in the above tests, then it may indicate low power reaching the CPU. This problem can be solved by increasing the CPU Vcore (Core Voltage) in the Voltage setting in the BIOS settings. Gradually increase Vcore, save and reboot.

    You may have to repeat the above steps to find the maximum overclock that is achievable with your current setup. Do not jump to the multipliers and voltages of other users with similar hardware. What has worked for others may not work for you.

You may have to repeat the above steps to find the maximum overclock that is achievable with your current setup. Do not jump to the multipliers and voltages of other users with similar hardware. What has worked for others may not work for you. 

Advantages of Overclocking

  • It’s free / inexpensive: Overclocking allows you to squeeze out more power from your CPU without having to buy a superior model. Granted, there will be limits to this, but it still remains a free performance upgrade, to an extent.
  • Improved performance: If you want to get faster performance in Microsoft Office or more operations per second, overclocking can help. 3D-imaging programs and other video makers need fast hardware. Overclocking a GPU may get you some performance improvements, though, depending on your system and the games you play. 

Disadvantages of Overclocking

  • Overclocking voids warranty: While overclocking is mostly safe, you must know that it will void the warranty of your retail CPU as you are operating the CPU at levels it probably hasn’t been optimally designed for.
  • Overclocking can impact CPU lifespan: It might permanently destroy your CPU, motherboard, system memory or corrupt the hard drive. This is because overclocking increases the CPU’s heat generation and in the absence of proper cooling, it may heat up the CPU and damage it. In the worst cases, this can cause complete hardware damage and result in an unstable system, system errors and repeated restarts.

Should I Overclock My CPU?

With some risks and specific hardware requirements, overclocking is widely practised amongst the enthusiast community. It remains one of the best ways of getting free additional value from your existing hardware. Make sure that you do your research, check your motherboard specification, CPU and overclocking guides. If you overclock your CPU, I hope that the silicon lottery favours you.