Overclocking Your CPU: Proceed With Caution

Written by:  Daniel Barros • Edited by: J. F. Amprimoz
Updated Dec 7, 2009
• Related Guides: Clock Speed | CPU

For this article, we'll be discussing how to overclock your processor. Read inside to find out whether or not the costs outweigh the benefits.

Pushing it Past the Limit

Overclocking the CPU is a beloved activity of PC enthusiasts since the dawn of the computer age. Much like an MSRP, PC modders seem to think that the clock speed of a processor is only a suggestion - that's why they're more than happy to push it past its limits.

Overclocking is the process (although some would say "art") of pushing a processor's clock speed past what the manufacturer suggested. The manufacturer will typically make several processors using the same fabrication process - as a result, most processors are actually capable of much higher speeds than what was originally suggested because those suggested speeds are worst-case-scenario speeds. In actuality, the processor can function at much higher clock frequencies, giving you a boost on everything from games to just everyday processing.

First, let's talk about how to achieve this magical "boost". In the best of scenarios, your motherboard will have a BIOS that can set a user-defined clock speed - in which case, you can just reboot your computer now and just set a new clock speed right away. However, this is not always what happens, in the case of Dell computers, or any other pre-made computers, overclocking is not an option, mostly because those pre-fab-ed computers tend to be very fickle about what they'll accept in terms of user-made changes (which is probably why you're better off building your own).

Anyway, let's assume that you've built your own rig, and are currently running a BIOS that supports changing a clock speed. The first thing you'll want to do is make sure to follow the comprehensive guide to overclocking found here. That website should have everything you need to start overclocking like a pro.

However, you need to consider the ramifications of overclocking your CPU. First and foremost is heat. The CPU is rated to run at a specific clock speed, and that clock speed produces a certain amount of heat. If you overclock the CPU, you'll be producing MUCH more heat, and as such, you'll need a better CPU heatsink and fan. Also advised is a better thermal transfer compound, like Arctic Silver 5, arguably the best thermal transfer compound on the market.

Furthermore, the stability of the system is compromised as a result of your over-eagerness to go faster than you do now. By overclocking past the manufacturer's guidelines, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to maintain a stable system forever. Sure, you can look up hardware test after hardware test, but at the end of the day, there's a small chance that as a single person, you will not have a comparable overclocking experience.

One simple solution - which I used - is to overclock, but not overdo it. If you overclock past a certain point, decreased stability and excessive heat are all but guaranteed. But if you overclock your CPU only a small amount above the manufacturer rating, the chance of any problems is very slim.

Oh, and as always, we here at Brighthub do love your enthusiast spirit - but if you void any warranties or break any of your equipment, we don't "have your back" as the saying goes. Other than that, follow guidelines to the letter - one small setting could be the difference between PC heaven and PC hell, and most of all, have a great time. Remember that doing this to be the speediest one on the block is tricky and expensive, but looking for a modest gain is a perfectly reasonable project.

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