What is overclocking?

Overclocking allows you to squeeze more performance from a computer component by running it at higher than factory settings.

Overclocking allows you to squeeze more performance from a computer component by running it at higher than factory settings. You can overclock multiple components like your Central Processing Unit (CPU), Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), and even your Random Access Memory (RAM). However, the practice can be harmful in the long term, especially if you’re not doing it correctly.

How can I safely overclock?

While overclocking a computer can help it perform faster, you should have some advanced familiarity with the internal components of a PC in order to successfully overclock safely. PC gamers and users who have built their own PCs are often those who seek higher clock speed. If you want to try overclocking and you’ve never built your own PC, a good place to start is to learn more about the components you’d need to adjust.

How to overclock CPU

It’s hard to overclock some CPUs because they ship with locked multipliers. A multiplier is the number of processing cycles a CPU runs in a bus speed’s single clock cycle. You can increase the multiplier to overclock your processor.

You can also overclock by bumping up the bus speed. The bus speed, of course, is the core clock cycle. It’s measured in MHz. But, increasing the FSB (Front Side Bus) could leave the rest of your system unstable as it affects other components too.

To overclock your CPU, start by preparing your PC. Clear out dust from your desktop to help the heatsink and case fans run more efficiently. Ensure that all wires are connected correctly to the fans. If your CPU is a few years old, consider replacing the thermal paste. Now, benchmark your CPU with a utility like Geekbench or Cinebench. These numbers will help you determine if overlocking is worthwhile.

Now, enter your BIOS by restarting your computer and hitting the correct key on your keyboard before the computer launches Windows. Typically, it’s F2, F1, DEL or ESC. From the CPU section in the BIOS, you can increase the multiplier. You may also need to give the processor more juice by increasing the voltage.

It’s wise to overclock gradually to avoid damaging your machine. After every bump, stress test your hardware with a utility like Prime95. Additionally, keep an eye on your CPU and system temperature.

Some BIOS have automatic overclocking options that are safer to use though they aren't as rewarding as manual overclocking. But automatic overclocking is an excellent way to practice and feel comfortable with the process. You may also have better luck with overclocking by buying components for enthusiasts. For example, some overclocking-focused motherboards are rich with features and maximize efficiency.

How to overclock GPU

As stated above, you should clean your system before overclocking to enhance airflow. Downloading the latest drivers is also advisable. Now, run a benchmark like 3DMark or MSI Afterburner to get a stock-setting performance reference point. In-game benchmarking tools in titles like Read Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, F1 2021, or Horizon Zero Dawn can also be helpful. You can usually find in-game benchmarking tools in the Graphics section of a game’s settings.

With a reference point in hand, use your graphics card’s software to tune the performance of your GPU. Alternatively, MSI’s Afterburner or EVGA’s Precision can serve as excellent overclocking tools. Hit optimal memory and core speeds without overheating your GPU. Lower the values immediately if you notice artifacts on your screen to avoid long-term damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it good to overclock?

Some manufacturers underclock components somewhat to boost longevity, so overclocking may earn a slight performance boost. But is it good to overclock your computer CPU or GPU? The answer depends on whether you do it incorrectly and damage your hardware. Nowadays, computer components are more sophisticated and depend on more than just clock speed to deliver performance. So, you may see diminishing returns from overclocking.

Is it bad to overclock?

Overclocking can be bad for your hardware if you push your components too far. For example, while juicing your processer with excess voltage and clock speed may not immediately destroy it, you may see the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Over time, you’ll negatively impact a poorly overclocked component’s life cycle. The extra heat from overclocking can also be bad for the rest of your system, especially if it's a smaller machine.

What does overclocking do for gaming?

Although games utilize CPUs more nowadays, they’re still heavily dependent on your graphics card, and overclocking your CPU may not earn you more than a couple of frames per second (FPS). This is also true because modern CPUs are less clock speed dependent than older ones. Overclocking your GPU can be pretty rewarding though.

Is overclocking CPU safe?

While using unstable CPU overclock settings won’t kill it immediately, your system will run hotter. Over time, the CPU and the rest of the components may have a shorter life cycle. Generally though, it can be pretty safe if you’re careful.

Can a laptop be overclocked?

A laptop has the same components as a desktop. You'll find a CPU, GPU, motherboard, and sticks of RAM in a typical laptop. These components are usually significantly smaller to accommodate the size difference from a desktop PC. 

Is it OK to overclock a laptop?

It’s broadly accepted that overclocking a laptop is significantly less safe than a desktop because of the nature of the components and the chassis. Laptops can already run hot at stock speeds. Overclocking them can result in system failure due to overheating.  

If you must overclock your gaming laptop, ensure that it has adequate cooling. A cooling pad that elevates your laptop from the surface can offer better ventilation and lower operating temperatures. But poorly designed cooling pad fans can have the opposite effect, especially if they’re working against the laptop’s airflow.

Is my computer overclocked?

The fastest way to check if your CPU is overclocked is to use the Task Manager. Hit CTRL+ALT+DEL and select Task Manager. Now, click Performance and look at the clock speed to see if it’s higher than the stock or turbo speed. Alternatively, you can try a utility like CPU-Z or GPU-Z to check clock speeds.

How can I tell if my computer was overclocked?

While most computers and components don't ship with overclocked hardware, some many high-end graphics cards ship with overclocked speeds from the factory. If you're buying a pre-owned computer, there's no way to tell if the owner overclocked it. You can’t check the BIOS for an overclock history, though you can use the utility to check current clock speed and voltage.

Why is my PC still so slow?

You might be asking, "why is my computer so slow?” if overclocking your processor or graphics card hasn’t yielded the desired results. Sometimes, unwanted programs like malware can negatively impact a computer's performance. You may also need newer components. For example, more memory or a solid-state drive (SSD) instead of a hard disk drive (HDD) can speed up your computer.

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