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If you want to improve your computer’s performance without spending money to upgrade its components (or replace the PC outright), you might want to try overclocking the CPU.
When you overclock the CPU, you make it run faster than it was intended to. Depending on how aggressively you overclock it, this can boost its speed by as much as 30%. Dedicated gamers, for instance, overclock their computer’s CPU to extract every last bit of performance from their computer.
Be aware, though, that not every PC can be overclocked safely. And boosting your CPU won’t make the other components any better. So overclocking a CPU by 25% won’t necessarily make the entire computer run 25% faster — especially if the rest of your PC is older.
Can I overclock my computer?
Not every CPU can be overclocked, so you need to begin by determining if your computer is compatible.
Laptop CPUs, for example, generally can’t be overclocked. The hardware typically doesn’t allow it, and even if it did, it’s not possible to cool a laptop well enough to safely overclock.
If you have a desktop PC, you need to see if your processor supports overclocking. Here’s an easy guide:
- Intel ends its model numbers with a “K” or an “X” to indicate that the chip can be overclocked. For example, the Intel Core i9-10900K can be overclocked, while the Intel Core i9-10900F cannot.
- All AMD Ryzen CPUs can be overclocked. If you have a non-Ryzen CPU, perform a Google search to check the chip’s overclocking status.
How to prepare to overclock your CPU
Before you actually overclock your CPU, it’s a good idea to prep your PC and make sure that your CPU isn’t already too stressed for overclocking. If you try to overclock a CPU that’s already redlining, you could see full system failure.
- Start by giving your PC a thorough cleaning. Shut off the computer and unplug it from the wall. Open the case and, using a can of compressed air and a microfiber cloth, clean out any dust that’s accumulated on the motherboard and in the fans, ducts, and other airflow pathways. We also recommend wearing an antistatic wristband, which will keep you safe from static shocks — if you don’t have one, touch your PC case often to ground yourself.
- Monitor your CPU’s temperature so you know how hot it’s currently running. While idle, most CPUs should hover around 130℉, and jump up to about 170℉ while working hard. If your CPU is regularly hitting 175℉ to 200℉, especially when you’re not running a lot of programs, it’s probably not safe to overclock it. You can download a free app like HWMonitor to check your temperatures, or you might have an app that came with your video card that’ll be installed already.
- You should also keep an eye on your CPU’s usage percentage. The usage percentage tracks how much of the CPU’s processing power is being used at any given time. If your PC is constantly hitting 100%, pushing it harder might not be safe.
- Another way to establish your CPU’s baseline performance is to benchmark it. Benchmarking is the process of deliberately giving the computer a difficult task, to see how well it performs. There are lots of free benchmarking tools out there — Cinebench, for example, is an easy-to-use app that can give you an indication of how well your PC’s CPU and GPU run.
- Finally, you should perform a PC stress test. Remember that overclocking a CPU means pushing the chip’s performance beyond the level that it’s designed for. So a stress test, which you can run using a tool like Prime95 or Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU), can give you confidence that the CPU is running properly before you begin to overclock it.
- Before you overclock your CPU, you should also consider upgrading your PC’s cooling equipment. Overclocked CPUs can run very hot, and the cooling equipment that came with your PC might not be able to handle the heat.
How to overclock your CPU
If you’ve prepared and are certain that you’re ready to overclock your CPU, there are two ways to do it.
You can overclock via your computer’s BIOS or UEFI startup menu, or use a specialized overclocking utility like Intel XTU. If this is your first time overclocking, using the BIOS/UEFI is simpler and safer.
1. Turn off your computer completely, and then press the power button to turn it back on. As soon as you do, press the proper key to launch the BIOS or UEFI menu. The specific key will differ by system, but it’s usually the Delete, F1, F2, F10, or F12 key. You might need to check your PC’s or CPU’s user guide for details.
2. Your computer will bring you to the BIOS or UEFI menu. What this menu looks like will vary depending upon the computer’s manufacturer and vendor, so there’s no single set of instructions that will help you find the overclocking controls. Even so, they shouldn’t be hard to locate.
3. Find the section that deals with your CPU. This might be called “CPU Tweaker,” “Processor Settings,” or something similar. If you have a more advanced PC, the section might even be called “Overclocking” or “OC.”
4. Once you reach the CPU menu, you’ll see a host of different options. But there are only two controls that you really need to worry about: The CPU multiplier and the CPU voltage. You can adjust both, but start with the CPU multiplier.
Increase your CPU’s power incrementally, and test it before boosting it again.
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