If any two things ever went hand-in-hand it’s building your own gaming computer and overclocking your processor. In this overclocking guide, we will take you through everything you need to know before you take your CPU passed stock settings.
Overclocking is the act of increasing your component’s factory operating frequency (or clock rate) in order to get more performance out of your system.
In the simplest of terms, overclocking makes your component run faster, which thus allows it to perform better. Essentially, you’re forcing your component (in this case, your processor) to complete more operations per second.
In the earlier days of computing, overclocking used to be a lot more necessary for enthusiasts than it is today. Back then, computer components were far less advanced and, therefore, much slower than they are today. This meant that enthusiasts–who needed more performance to carry out what we’d consider to be simple tasks today (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.)–needed someway to get their systems to run faster.
Nowadays, overclocking is not nearly as necessary. However, overclocking is still useful and can give you more performance and/or extend the life of your processor and prevent you from having to upgrade sooner than you’d like to.
You can overclock your processor, your video card, and your memory. In this overclocking guide, though, we will focus solely on your processor.
Table of Contents
There are many reasons why people overclock their CPUs. However, in my opinion, all of those reasons really all boil down into three main reasons.
The three reasons why you should overclock your CPU are:
- Overclocking gives you more performance and therefore allows you to play your games with better results.
- Overclocking an aging processor will allow you to keep up with modern demands, which will prevent you from having to spend money on newer components.
- Overclocking is a hobby.
Essentially, those are the only three reasons why you would ever want to overclock. Surprisingly, though, the third option (overclocking as a hobby) is probably the most common reason why people overclock their processors these days.
Unlike in the past, overclocking doesn’t yield nearly as significant performance gains as it used to. However, the gains can still be beneficial.
The Dangers of Overclocking
One big danger involved with overclocking is excessive heat. If you don’t have the proper cooling equipment, your components can pass their maximum heat threshold. Fortunately, with modern components, your system will be programmed to shut itself off if temperatures reach too high of levels.
However, pushing your components to extreme temperatures is never a good idea and if it doesn’t damage them right away, excessive heat will definitely take its toll over the long run.
Another danger, which is perhaps even bigger than excessive amounts of heat, is voltage. Increasing the voltage to your processor is the best way to stabilize your overclocked CPU. However, every CPU has their voltage limit and if you send too much voltage to your processor you can damage it and the rest of your system as well. And, just like running a processor under more heat shortens its lifespan, so, too, does increasing its voltage.
CPU Overclocking Terms
- Base Clock: The base clock affects the speed of your processor and the speed of your memory (along with other components as well). So, when you increase your base clock, you will also have to stabilize the other components that are affected by it.
- Turbo Mode: A feature that automatically overclocks your CPU when it is under certain loads.
- CPU Frequency: Your CPU’s frequency is the rate at which it operates. The faster it operates, the more it processes it can complete in a given amount of time. Your CPU frequency is equal to your base clock times the multiplier.
- Voltage: In order to force your CPU to run at higher speeds, you need to increase its voltage in order to keep it stable. Voltage is similar to water pressure in a hose. Without the voltage, there is no current. And, the more voltage there is, the faster the current flows.
- CPU Multiplier: The CPU Multiplier essentially allows you to multiply your base clock to achieve higher frequencies.
At the time of writing this guide, all of the AMD CPUs recommended by EGC are unlocked and can be overclocked to high levels.
On the other hand, not all Intel CPUs are unlocked for high overclocks. So, if you’re going to go with an Intel CPU, you need to make sure you get an unlocked version.
This can be done by purchasing an Intel processor with a “K” in its name. For instance, the Intel Core i7-4770 is a locked processor and is not one you’d want to get if you want to achieve high overclocks. The Intel Core i7-4770K is the unlocked version and is better suited for overclocking.
The following are recommended processors for overclocking:
Recommended AMD Processors for Overclocking
- AMD A10-5800K Trinity 3.8 GHz FM2
- AMD A10-6800K Richland 4.1 GHz FM2
- AMD FX-6300 Vishera 3.5GHz AM3+
- AMD FX-8350 Vishera 4.0GHz AM3+
AMD’s APUs (Trinity and Richland) are not the greatest options for pure gaming-related purposes. However, they are suitable options for gamers on a tight budget who don’t play graphics-intensive games. And, since they can be overclocked, you can get a little more performance out of them as well.
It’s important to note that there are other AMD FM2 and FX CPUs that can be overclocked that aren’t listed above. However, for the typical budget, the one’s listed above are your best bet.
Recommended Intel Processors for Overclocking
- Intel Core i5-3570K Ivy Bridge 3.4GHz LGA 1155
- Intel Core i7-3770K Ivy Bridge 3.5GHz LGA 1155
- Intel Core i5-4670K Haswell 3.4GHz LGA 1150
- Intel Core i7-4770K Haswell 3.5GHz LGA 1150
Of course, these aren’t all of the possible overclocking processors available from Intel. Any of Intel’s Extreme Edition CPUs can be overclocked as well and are definitely good overclockers. However, those are for big systems with enormous budgets. The processors recommended here are aimed at the majority of DIY builders (those who have moderate budgets.) But, if you have a huge budget, please don’t let this recommendation stop you from getting an Extreme Series CPU.
Motherboards have different chipsets and some chipsets are better designed for overclocking than others. It’s important that you get a quality motherboard that will meet your overclocking needs. If you’re only hoping to achieve mild overclocks, then you don’t need the top-of-the-line overclocking motherboards.
If, however, you want to achieve extreme overclocks, then you will need an extreme motherboard.
The following are some recommended motherboards (there are definitely other worthy considerations, so don’t take this as the only overclocking motherboards out there) for each CPU socket…
Recommended FM2 Motherboards for Overclocking
Recommended AM3+ Motherboards for Overclocking
- Gigabyte 990FXA-UD5
- ASRock 990FX EXTREME4
- ASRock 990FX EXTREME9
- ASUS M5A99X EVO
- ASUS M5A99FX PRO
- ASUS Sabertooth 990FX
Recommended LGA 1155 Motherboards for Overclocking
Recommended LGA 1150 Motherboards for Overclocking
The power supply you choose is going to have a big impact on how much you can overclock. The first thing that you need in a power supply is enough power to accommodate your system. If you want to overclock, you will need a PSU that will accommodate all of your components AND that will give you enough headroom for overclocking.
My best advice for choosing a quality power supply is to use eXtreme Outer Vision’s Power Supply Calculator, which can be found here. This will give you a general idea of how much your system will consume. However, the estimated wattage your system will use doesn’t necessarily mean that a PSU rated at that estimate or higher will be a good option.
One of the most important factors of choosing a quality PSU is the amperage available on the +12V rail(s). If you upgrade to the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator Pro, you will be able to put in the same inputs and get the recommended wattage and amperare on the +12V rail your power supply will need in order to support your system.
Below I will give a recommendation of some power supplies that you can use if you plan on overclocking. However, please make sure that the PSU will accommodate your components and give you headroom to overclock as well. Some of the power supplies listed below (especially the less expensive ones) will not be able to handle a high-end system and overclock. So, if you’re building a high-end system, make sure you get a high-end power supply to go with it.
If you’re building a budget overclocking system and you don’t get a card that is too power hungry, then the less expensive PSUs listed below will work. Just make sure you use the calculator mentioned above to figure out how much wattage and amperage on the +12V rail you need.
With that being said, here is the list of power supplies that I recommend for overclocking at different budgets (there are definitely other solid choices, these are just a handful of them):
Recommended Overclocking Power Supplies Under $50
- Antec VP-450
- SilverStone Strider 500W ST50F-ES
- Corsair Builder Series CX430
- Corsair Builder Series CX500
- EVGA 500B
Recommended Overclocking Power Supplies Between $50-$100
- Rosewill Capstone-450
- Antec EA-550 Platinum
- Antec EarthWatts EA-650
- XFX Core Edition PRO 550W
- Seasonic M12II 620
- Seasonic M12II 650
- PC Power & Cooling Silencer Mk III 600W
- Corsair Enthusiast Series TX650
- Corsair Enthusiast TX750
Recommended Overclocking Power Supplies Over $100
- PC Power and Cooling Silencer MkIII 750W
- PC Power and Cooling Silencer MkIII850W
- Corsair Enthusiast Series TX850
- Corsair Professional Series HX650
- Corsair Professional Series HX750
- Corsair Professional Series HX850
- Antec EA-650 Platinum
- Thermaltake Toughpower Grand 1050W
- XFX Core Edition PRO 750W
- XFX Core Edition PRO 850W
- XFX 850W XXX Edition
Finally, another extremely important aspect of overclocking your system is being able to get rid of the excessive amounts of heat that buildup when you force your CPU to work harder. In order to remove the extra heat generated by an overclocked CPU, you need an advanced cooling solution.
Nowadays, liquid cooling solutions for your CPU are becoming very popular as they will allow you to reach lower temperatures, thus enabling you to hit higher overclocks. For extreme overclocking, liquid cooling is a must.
On the other hand, for moderate-to-high overclocks, there are some quality aftermarket heatsinks that will get the job done just fine.
One thing is for certain, though, you definitely shouldn’t try to overclock to any significant levels with just the stock cooler than comes with your CPU.
Listed below are some cooling options I recommend for both air-cooled setups and liquid-cooled setups (this isn’t the ultimate list of the best coolers, there are definitely a lot of good options out there… do your research:
Recommended Air Cooling Setups (Heatsinks) for Overclocking
Recommended Liquid Cooling Setups for Overclocking
To overclock your CPU, you’re going to be working in your motherboard’s BIOS. However, there are a few different programs you will want to have to make your overclocking experience go more smoothly.
The first kind of software you will need is a hardware monitoring program. This will allow you to check and see what temperatures your hardware is running at after you overclock your CPU and it will confirm whether or not your processor is running at the correct speeds.
The second kind of software you will want to get is a stress-testing program. Once you’ve overclocked your CPU you will want to stress test it in order to make sure that it will remain stable under heavy loads. A stress-testing program will let you know whether or not you can stay at a certain overclock or not.
Finally, the third kind of software that is useful when overclocking is a benchmarking program. There’s no point in overclocking if it’s not going to give you a decent increase in performance. One way to tell for sure if you’re getting more performance out of your overclocked processor is to benchmark it before and after you overclock your system. Then you can compare the two results to check and see if your overclock is improving your system’s performance.
Before You Overclock Your Processor
Before you overclock your processor it’s important to understand that since overclocking is primarily done in the BIOS of your motherboard, there really is no one set of specific instructions on overclocking. This is because every motherboard’s BIOS is different. Also, overclocking an AMD processor is different than overclocking an Intel processor.
So, before you overclock your CPU, make sure you read through your motherboard’s manual and you get a general idea of the differences between overclocking an AMD and Intel CPU so that you know what to expect.
Also, before your overclock your processor, you need to set a goal. How high of an overclock do you want to reach? And, is that level even possible with your setup? (Do you have the proper cooling/equipment to overclock that high?
If you’re not sure of how high your CPU will get to it’s a good idea to do a Google search of what others have achieved with the same processor. This will give you a general idea of what you can shoot for. However, it’s important to note that not every processor (of the same model) will overclock the same. Each CPU is cut from a different piece of silicon and some cuts are better than others. This is called the Silicon Lottery…
So, just because someone else hit 4.7GHz with the same processor you have, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to hit the same level. Although, it’s still important to get a general idea of what your CPU is capable of and then work up to it.
Here is a checklist of questions you should answer before you start overclocking:
- Do you have an unlocked processor?
- Does you motherboard support overclocking?
- Will your power supply accommodate all of your components AND give you enough headroom to overclock?
- How capable is your cooling system? Will it allow you to hit extreme overclocks? Moderate-to-high overclocks? Or is it not designed for overclocking?
- Do you have the appropriate software to monitor and test your overclocks?
- What kind of overclock are you trying to reach with your CPU? What levels have others reached with the same processor?
If you answer all of these questions (and they’re the right answeres) before you start the overclocking process, not only will you feel more confident about overclocking your CPU, but you will also have a general idea of where to begin and of what to expect.
Two Other Things You Need to Do Before You Overclock
The following is a list of other things you have to do in order to successfully overclock your processor:
- Using your hardware monitoring program, write down the temperatures your system operates at at stock settings.
- Using whichever benchmark program you’re going to use, benchmark your processor at stock settings.
The reason why you need to check temperatures and benchmark before you overclock is so that you can see what kind of effect overclocking your CPU will have. So, make sure you write down these numbers somewhere.
Overclocking Your Processor
Below I will go over the three step process I recommend to overclock your processor…
Step 1: Increase Your Clock Rate
Increasing your clock rate can be done a couple of ways. However, before we get into that, it’s important to note that your CPUs clock rate is dependent on two different factors: it’s base clock and its multiplier.
The base clock is exactly what its name suggests it is. It is the base clock rate or frequency on the processor.
The multiplier is also exactly what its name suggests. It is the amount in which you choose to multiply the base clock by in order to achieve higher frequencies.
For instance, a CPU that has a base clock of 200MHz and has a multiplier of 21 will operate at a frequency of 4.2GHz (200MHz X 21=4200).
So, the two ways that you can overclock your CPU is either by increasing the base clock of the processor, or by increasing its multiplier.
Increase the Base Clock or Multiplier?
Increasing your processor’s base clock and/or multiplier can be done in your system’s BIOS. All BIOS’ are different so there no one set of instructions of where to go to overclock your CPU. One great way to check and see how to overclock your CPU in your BIOS is to Google and see if anyone has posted a how-to guide on exactly how to overclock with the motherboard and BIOS you have.
Once you find the location in your BIOS that allows you to increase these two factors you can begin to increase the base clock or the multiplier (or both if you have the proper cooling).
Now, you may be wondering, “should I increase my base clock, or should I increase my multiplier?”
In my opinion, you should start by increasing your multiplier first. The reason for this is that your base clock affects more parts of your system than just your CPU. For instance, the base clock will affect your memory, chipset, and PCI lanes as well. So, when you increase your base clock you might end up “overclocking” components that you didn’t actually want to overclock in the first part.
Of course, there is a work around to this and it involves increasing your base clock and then decreasing the multipliers on the components that you don’t want to overclock. So, for instance, you would increase your base clock from 200MHz to 210MHz and then you would decrease the multiplier on your RAM, chipset, and PCI lanes in order to keep them running at the same frequency they were, all the while getting the overclock you wanted out of your CPU.
Another reason why increasing the base clock is a little more risky is because it increases the voltage to your CPU and the other components that are effected. And, there is only so much voltage your CPU can process. Small increases in your base clock should be fine, but overdoing it can give you big problems.
That is why I recommend overclocking by increasing your multiplier for beginning overclockers and only playing with the base clocks once you are more experienced with the process.
Overclock in Small Increments
Finally, the most important tip for overclockers is to make your increases in small increments.
By overclocking in small increments you can check to see the effect the changes you have made will have on your system. This will allow you to guarantee that you don’t destroy your CPU in the process of overclocking.
Once you have made a small adjustment to your CPUs operating frequency and saved them in the BIOS, it’s time to check the results…
Step 2: Inspect the Impact Your Overclock Has Made on Your System
Remember the temperatures and benchmark results you took at stock settings before you overclocked? What you’ll want to do now is check the temperatures of your processor after you have overclocked and compare them to the temperatures your system was running at at stock settings.
If the temperatures have risen significantly, then you’ll want to revert to the old settings. If they have increased by a small amount, then that is a good sign. However, in order to be completely sure that your system is stable running at the new settings, you will want to run your stress-testing program. This will put your CPU under full load for a given period of time and will let you know whether or not its safe to run your CPU at the new settings.
If it passes the stress test, then you’ll want to run your benchmark program to see if your adjustment has made any difference performance-wise. If it has, great. If it hasn’t you’ll want to go back and overclock your CPU even more.
Step 3: Repeat
This is basically the gist of overclocking. You make small increases to your CPUs operating frequency (whether that’s by increasing your base clock, or by increasing your multiplier), you monitor the effects of the changes you made, and then you determine whether or not you need to make more changes.
Use Caution, Have the Proper Equipment, Make Small Adjustments at a Time, and Monitor Your Changes
I hope you have enjoyed this CPU overclocking guide. It is definitely not the end-all-be-all guide to overclocking your processor, but it does touch on most of the major points, tips, and philosophies of overclocking your processor. And, it should give you a really good idea on how to overclock your processor for the first time.
As long as you can remember to be use your head, the right equipment, and to make small adjustments and monitor their effects, you should be fine!
For more help on overclocking your processor, don’t forget to join us on the forums. That way you can ask any specific question you have and get it answered by people who have already done it.