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6 Tips to Overclock Your CPU Safely and Boost Performance

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6 Tips to Overclock Your CPU Safely and Boost Performance

Key Points

  • Not all CPUs can be overclocked, with Intel locking the ability to manually change the processing multiplier behind specific model purchases.
  • Overclockable processors tend to be more expensive and require more powerful hardware to support the boosted CPU effectively.
  • You don’t necessarily need to use the BIOS to overclock, as manufacturers have built their own utilities like Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility and AMD’s Ryzen Master.
  • Thermal paste is important when overclocking to mitigate heat generation and protect components from damage.
  • Using simulators like Prime95 to stress-test your CPU after overclocking is recommended to ensure stability and avoid long-term trouble.
  • When overclocking, it’s crucial to turn up the core voltage and fan speed to provide the extra electrical power and cooling needed for the processor.

Overclocking your PC’s central processing unit (CPU) can help you achieve better performance without upgrading the chipset. However, this task isn’t something you should do without first knowing the basics of how to do it. Here are six tips you should keep in mind before you overclock your processor.

Not All CPUs Can Be Overclocked, So Check Your CPU Model

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Intel CPUs often come with a locked multiplier.

The first thing to know about CPUs is that not all can be overclocked. While overclocking is becoming more prevalent in central chipsets, Intel continues to lock the ability to manually change the processing multiplier behind specific model purchases.

If you have an Intel chipset, you’ll need to have one of the “K” models to overclock it. The K processor series is Intel’s “overclockable” set. Models with names that end with either K or KF fall into the overarching series and allow users to set the multiplier manually. The KF series is essentially the same as the K series, but these CPUs don’t have onboard graphics.

Almost every AMD Ryzen CPU can be overclocked. So, you don’t have to worry about that unless you have an older chipset that may not have included an unlocked multiplier. However, all modern Ryzen models allow the user to boost the multiplier manually. 

You’re out of luck with a CPU without a boostable multiplier. In that situation, you can only upgrade your chipset to one with an unlocked multiplier.

Overclockable processors tend to be more expensive than ones with a locked multiplier. They also require more powerful hardware to support the boosted CPU effectively. So, they’re a much more costly venture overall since the intent to overclock affects the entire build.

You Need Powerful Hardware to Overclock Effectively

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CPUs don’t exist in a vacuum. You may need additional hardware before you can overclock your processor.

As we mentioned, you’ll need additional hardware if you want to overclock your central processor. Budget hardware will limit your ability to change the multiplier effectively. So, if you built your computer with low-cost hardware, you may also have to upgrade your other components.

The most critical piece of hardware you need to check is your motherboard. Simply put, a budget motherboard can’t deliver the required electrical power to run a powerful CPU with a boosted multiplier. If you don’t have enough power to run your processor, your computer won’t function correctly, and it could cause damage to the internal components of the chipset.

You also need an appropriately powerful CPU fan or water cooling to overclock. If your processor came with a stock cooler (remember when that was a regular thing?), the pre-packaged fan will not be adequate for a chipset running with a boosted multiplier.

Processors generate heat as they operate. The higher the load, the more heat it will create. Thus, running your CPU with a boosted multiplier will cause it to generate more heat since it artificially increases the task load. 

Heat is the most significant danger factor in computer components. A component consistently running at a high heat index could suffer from severe internal damage and even be rendered entirely useless.

Finally, you’ll need a power supply that supports the electrical output necessary to run your boosted CPU. More processing requires more electrical input, artificially increasing the processor’s thermal design power (TDP). If your PSU doesn’t output enough power, the chipset will crash.

You Don’t Necessarily Need to Use the BIOS to Overclock

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While you used to need to use your BIOS to overclock, you can now do it from proprietary utility menus.

Overclocking your CPU traditionally required going into your motherboard’s Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) and increasing your processor’s clock speed from that utility menu. However, since PC building and overclocking have become more prevalent in typical computer usage, chipset manufacturers have started building their own utilities to make the process easier.

Intel processor users can use their Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) to alter the performance of their CPU. From the XTU dialog, you have many options for how to mold your processing experience to your exact desires.

XTU has two main dialogs you must focus on while altering your processor speed. The Basic Tuning window lets you change the clock speed and cache ratio. XTU’s Advanced Tuning window lets you change the nitty gritty details of your CPU’s performance. You can alter your Core Voltage, per Core multiplier, and more from this window.

AMD has a similar utility called AMD Ryzen Master. The first thing you want to do when taking control of your CPU with this utility is change the control mode from “Default” to “Manual,” which will allow you to adjust the clock speed.

Once your processor is in Manual mode, you can change the CPU Clock Speed and voltage using the adjustment bars.

Thermal Paste Matters

Applying new thermal paste to a CPU. Thermal paste used as an interface between heat sinks and CPU.
Using a thermal paste made of a highly heat-conductive material can help quickly transfer heat from the CPU to the cooler.

Thermal paste is a huge consideration when you decide to overclock your CPU. As we mentioned above, increasing the clock speed will make your processor generate more heat. Your thermal paste will help mitigate the heat generation and protect your components from damage.

When overclocking your processor, apply your thermal paste correctly and put enough between the cooler and the CPU. Before adjusting the clock speed, you should check your chipset’s temperature when it is idle and under load using a utility such as Core Temp.

If your processor temperatures are unstable or high, check your thermal paste to ensure that it’s evenly distributed over the entire surface of the chipset. If there are uneven spots or bare spots, the thermal paste cannot properly move the heat from the CPU to the cooler, resulting in high temperatures and possibly heat damage.

Additionally, consider choosing a thermal paste with higher heat conductivity if you plan to overclock. Not all thermal pastes are made equal. Certain materials move heat from one place to another more efficiently, making them more effective for high-heat systems, such as those with an overclocked CPU.

Diamond thermal paste is the most heat-conductive thermal paste you can buy. Diamonds have a thermal conductivity of 2,200 W/(m·K), making them five times more effective than silver, the most heat-conductive metal. Additionally, diamonds are not electrically conductive. So, thermal paste made with them doesn’t risk short-circuiting your motherboard or CPU.

You Can Use Simulators to Check Your PC’s Stability

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Prime95 allows you to simulate a high task load to check if your PC can run stably after overclocking.

Not only can you use simulators to check your PC’s stability after overclocking, but also you absolutely should use them. Simulation programs like Prime95 allow you to stress-test your CPU after increasing the multiplier to see if the computer can continue to run stably with the updated settings.

Changing the multiplier on your processor changes how your PC functions on a base level. If you increase the multiplier too much, the computer will run into errors and may even crash completely while performing intense workloads.

Using a simulator allows you to crank up your CPU usage without doing anything that might cause you long-term trouble. Running intensive games or other computing programs could cause program and file corruption in the event of a crash. So, we recommend checking your stability with a simulator before you get elbow-deep in a heavy task. Doing so allows you to ensure your computer runs correctly and has enough overhead to withstand spikes in processor usage.

We also recommend checking your processor’s temperature while you stress-test. Just because your computer doesn’t completely crash doesn’t mean it’s running safely, especially with the multiplier artificially increased. So, do your due diligence and check the core temperatures.

Prime95 is probably the most common CPU stress test. It’s a small program that simulates high central processor usage. If your computer can run Prime95 for a reasonable amount of time without experiencing any errors or excessively high temperatures, you can safely assume it will handle most intensive tasks.

Remember to Turn Up the Voltage and the Fan Speed

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Running your overclocked CPU with a low fan speed could result in overheating.

When you overclock your CPU, it’s crucial to remember to turn up your core voltage and fan speed. More processing power needs more electricity and generates more heat. So, your processor will need the extra electrical power and fan rotations.

This one doesn’t need much explanation because it’s a straightforward concept. Your processor is an electrical device and requires more power input to output more calculations per second. It also generates heat relative to the number of calculations it performs. So, you need to increase the voltage and fan speed, or you will run into problems.

6 Tips to Overclock Your CPU Safely and Boost Performance Summary

RankTip
1Not all CPUs can be overclocked, so check your CPU model.
2You need powerful hardware to overclock effectively.
3You don’t necessarily need to use the BIOS to overclock, you can often use proprietary utility menus.
4Use highly heat-conductive thermal paste and ensure you apply it correctly.
5You can use simulators to check your PC’s stability.
6Remember to turn up the voltage and the fan speed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is overclocking?

Overclocking is when the user artificially increases a CPU’s clock speed beyond what it is capable of out of the box.

Why don’t CPUs come overclocked?

Your processor’s stock clock speed accounts for user hardware falling into a bell curve, with the majority being somewhere in the middle. Thus, only the top percentage of users can actually support the increased clock speed.

Can all CPUs be overclocked?

No. Many Intel processors have a locked multiplier, meaning they cannot be overclocked.

Can overclocking my CPU break it?

In a short-term use, probably not. Overclocking your processor can certainly overheat it. However, most CPUs have an internal thermostat that will automatically kill the power to the chipset if it reaches a specific temperature. If you continue to push it with a clock speed that regularly overheats it, you could damage the chip long-term.

Do I need to change anything else when overclocking my CPU?

You should increase your processor’s core voltage and fan speed when overclocking.

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