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PC Gaming 101: Overclocking the Processor

Overclocking a processor is the process of pushing the CPU past its factory settings in order to increase the overall performance of your computer. It can be a dramatically large performance boost if your CPU is bottlenecking the rest of your computer components or if you have a SLI or CrossFire graphics card configuration. For the serious PC gamer, this may be just what you need to get an edge on the competition, but overclocking the processor isn’t something you should just jump into without understanding what it is and what it really means for your gaming computer.

A Quick Disclaimer

Any time you modify computer components on your own by modifying factory specifications, you generally do risk voiding the manufactures warranty. Also, if you end up damaging your internal components while attempting to overclock the processor, the manufacturer is not likely to replace them. So before you start pushing the speeds of your CPU, be sure you are comfortable with the process, know what it requires, and accept the possible risks.

If you are going to step up the speed and performance of your processor, you may also want to consider using software that allows you to monitor the system. There are resources available that will let you track your changes and make sure you’re getting better performance without stability or temperature issues.

Is It Really So Dangerous?

The official speed grade of modern processors is often a lot lower than what they are actually capable of hitting. The manufacturers set these lower speeds where they know that they can run safely and reliably and produce a certain batch in a high number to sell to various markets. The good news is that there is usually some room for you to safely overclock your processor and squeeze out some extra performance of your gaming computer.

How It Works

The listed speed of your CPU is calculated by multiplying the base clock rate by a given multiplier. All you have to do to overclock the processor is change one of those variables. The base clock or bus frequency is the fundamental clock rate which is used to derive all other clock rates inside the processor. If the base clock speed is, say, 110MHz, and the rated speed of the processor is 3.3Ghz, that means it has a multiplier of 30.

Most retail processors are multiplier locked, so you can’t change the multiplier beyond its factory settings. If you have an unlocked processor such as Intel’s “K” series of processors, you will have more freedom with the variables you can adjust, but always be careful. Changing the base clock of your processor could have an impact on a wide range of other processes and parameters as the base clock is connected to the rest of your components as well.

Making the Change

Before you can make changes to your system, you’re motherboard must support overclocking and BIOS tweaking. If you own an ASUS, EVGA, or Gigabyte motherboard, it will most likely have options for overclocking. It’s best to review your motherboard manual for exact locations of certain overclocking settings inside the BIOS.

The simplest way to change the processors multiplier is to modify the “Performance” setting in your BIOS. If your processor is unlocked, you should be able to increase the multiplier, save the changes, and restart the computer. Never increase this number by more than one at a time to make sure you don’t push the processor too hard on your first try. You can continue to increase the CPU multiplier until you run into stability issues, when you do, you may need to increase the CPU “VCore” voltage, but, make sure you keep an eye on the processors temperature to make sure you’re not going above 85°C under full load.

Since so many retail processors are multiplier locked, you will most likely have to change the base clock speed. This is done in the BIOS as well, and you can change the settings under CPU/chipset options. The risk here, though, is that you may end up altering the memory frequency and graphic card PCI-E lane speeds. Some settings will work better than others, depending on your processor, so always watch your system performance and put the overclocked processor through some stress tests to make sure it can handle the changes.

Keeping Cool

Overclocking your processor will generate more heat and require extra voltage to perform at higher levels. This means you will require reliable cooling systems to make sure you don’t damage any of your internal components. You may not need to get a liquid cooling system if you’re only increasing the speed by a small amount, but if you really start to push processor far beyond its original factory specifications, you may want to look into more advanced options for cooling.

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