Which Chip Should I Buy?
When choosing a CPU, the first decision to make (dictated largely by your budget) is whether to go for a chip with an unlocked multiplier (explained here) or a locked one. Unlocked chips, like Intel’s Extreme and AMD’s Black Edition CPUs, are more expensive, but more flexible. Also remember that some features of a CPU, like cache size and instructions sets, are carved in stone. You won’t be able to tweak them, so make sure the chip you buy has what you want on those fronts.
If you are going with a locked multiplier, there are a few things to keep in mind. For reasons related to the manufacturing process (discussed in the first article of this series), CPUs from the lower end of the family will generally overclock to a greater extent than higher-end ones. If the top end 3.4 GHz chip can usually reach 3.7 GHz, the entry level 2.8 chip might usually reach 3.4. Not as fast as the high-end chip, but a greater difference from stock and obviously per dollar speed increase. Also because of manufacturing related reasons, chips from later in a product’s life cycle generally overclock further than those released at launch.
A little browsing of the many overclocking forums available will reveal chips that develop a reputation for being good overclocking candidates. Of course, their results don’t guarantee the same or similar performance from your equipment even if it is identical. Overclocking relies on the inherent differences between individual chips as a result of the manufacturing process, so by definition your mileage may vary.
Now is a good time to remind you that overclocking can damage or destroy your equipment very easily, and you are likely to void your warranty in the process. Never overclock anything that is of a mission critical, medical, safety, or other such nature. Overclocking, by definition, involves running things out of manufacturer specification, which carries a risk of damaging or destroying equipment.
With that, and the rest of the information we have discussed, in mind, you are ready to roll up your sleeves and start letting your chip stretch its legs. Procedures for overclocking specific CPU families are contained in the following articles.