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What is overclocking and should you overclock your PC?

You might have heard a lot of PC gamers and crypto miners talk about 'overclocking' their PCs and wondered what it means and whether or not you should try overclocking your PC.

Overclocking refers to increasing the clock rate of a computer to exceed the clock rate specified by the manufacturer. This essentially means that overclocking increases the frequency at which the clock generator of your machine generates pulses, and how fast they go from 1 to 0 or from 0 to 1. If done right and safely, overclocking can massively boost your PCs performance.

The purpose of overclocking is to make your PC run even faster than originally intended, instead of upgrading or getting a whole new rig. It also lets you get rid of any throttling that might be present. Even if you have a high-end PC, you likely have an unlocked CPU meaning that you can increase the performance even more.

In the past, overclocking was practiced mostly by very tech-savvy PC gamers, crypto miners, or other computer enthusiasts. That’s no longer the case. Today, overclocking your processor is a beginner-friendly process due to advancements in tech and improved accessibility.

But before you decide whether or not you want to overclock your PC, let’s take a look at what overclocking is and whether or not you need it.

Can my CPU be overclocked?

Not every CPU can be overclocked. In order to overclock your CPU, you need to have a processor that has an unlocked multiplier. Multiplier, as the name suggest, is the adjustable value that multiplies the base clock of the processor to determine the final frequency it will run at.

For example, if the base clock is 100MHz and the multiplier is 40, then the clock speed of the processor will be 4GHz.

Intel had put breaks on their processors being overclocked sometime back, so if you’re considering overclocking an Intel processor, it has to be their X or K series. All other Intel CPUs have locked multipliers, meaning that the clock rate cannot be adjusted on them.

Processors cannot be ‘unlocked’ with a hack, as locking and unlocking of CPUs is a physical process that takes place in the factory, so if you have an Intel processor that is locked, chances are you may not be able to overclock it. At least not in any traditional sense. While the multiplier cannot be changed on locked Intel CPUs, what Intel did not lock is the power limit of a chip.

The increase in power will be detected by the chip, it will realise that it has more power and thermal leeway to work with, and will increase its own clock speeds without you having to change the multiplier. While this may increase your speeds for up to GHz or more, it isn’t the best method. Routing more power to your CPU will increase the thermal output, thus heat management becomes extremely important.

On the other hand, all of AMDs newer models have unlocked multipliers, so if you’re running a newer version of any AMD’s CPU, the chances that you can overclock your PC are pretty good.

It’s important to note that if you have an old PC and your HDD isn’t as good, then there will be no benefit to overclocking your PC as the HDD will not be able to keep up and thus won’t increase your performance. Equally, if your PC already has high temperatures while being idle or doing very basic tasks, trying to overclock it may destroy your CPU or other components.

Is overclocking safe?

Generally, overclocking is safe if done right. There is some risk associated with overclocking, but generally it is a lot safer to overclock your CPU than it was in the past.

For starters, there are a whole host of fail-safes built into the silicone, especially on the high-end CPUs. Temperature management is extremely important, whether you’re overclocking your CPU or GPU. RAM is a bit more complex to overclock, however the components do not produce as much heat, thus is safer to overclock in that department.

Overclocking RAM can also increase the speed of your PC, especially when gaming, so if you have a PC that can handle all three, you might be looking an insane increase in the PC’s gaming performance.

 

Warning:

Overclocking your PC will very likely void any hardware warranty. Because you're attempting to run your PC outside of the official manufacturer parameters, you run the risk, albeit very small, of pushing it over the edge, or accidentally turning your PC into a space heater and destroying some of the components.

 

Should I overclock my PC?

You don’t need to overclock your PC at all if the current performance of your rig is sufficient for what you’re using it for. If all your games run smoothly and to the specs that you like, then there’s no need to overclock. Even if you do not game, if your rig is working to your specs, you might not want to think about overclocking.

The purpose of overclocking your PC is to maximise its performance and it is extremely popular with competitive gamers and those users who need serious and advanced performance games. Advanced video editing, competitive gaming and complex 3D imaging are some examples of users who will very likely be looking at overclocking even the high-end rigs.

Some gamers who are on the budget, and cannot afford high end graphics cards, sometimes buy cheaper components, then overclock them to get the performance at par with the high-end PCs.

Though it’s important to note that overclocking reduces the life span of your components, especially if you fail to manage the heat properly. Good thermal pastes and cooling systems are necessary in the best of cases, but especially if you’re trying to overclock Intel’s locked CPUs via voltage increase.

Can I overclock my GPU, RAM and monitor as well?

The short answer is, yes! You can absolutely overclock all of your rig (and yes, you can also overclock your monitor), however it cannot be done in the same way that you’d overclock your CPU.

While you can overclock your CPU via BIOS or UEFI, you will need MSI Afterburner (or similar software) in order to overclock your GPU, for example. As always, there are risks associated with overclocking your GPU and as we previously discussed, doing so will likely void any warranty.

Overclocking RAM is a lot more complicated than overclocking GPU or CPU, but the components generate a lot less heat, so the thermal management is not as pronounced as it would be in GPU and CPU overclocking.

You can also overclock your monitor for better refresh rates that go beyond the manufacturer’s specs. All overclocking has essentially the same goal – to maximise and increase the performance of your machine.