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How to overclock your CPU without setting your computer on fire

That old machine you built with your bare hands or plucked off a shelf at Best Buy might be holding out on you – through no fault of its own. Chances are your computer isn’t running as fast as it could – and not because of all those browser extensions and background processes. Nope, your PC might not be performing at its peak because it may have been hamstrung by manufacturer set speed limits.

How do you cast off those oppressive shackles keeping your CPU from its true potential? You overclock it.

Overclocking your CPU is about more than just juicing up your processor. It’s about exploring the limits of your PC, pushing it to perform at its peak.

Why is that? Well, when chips come off the line, they’re not uniformly capable. Due to variables in the manufacturing process, even CPUs produced in the same batch are going to perform differently.

So manufacturers like Intel and AMD test the chips and slap a speed limit on them based on a lot of different factors. Performance, supply quotas, and marketing all play a role in determining how many chips of a certain speed each manufacturer ships to retailers.

That’s where the fun comes in. By doing some tinkering, you might find that your humble CPU is hiding some serious horsepower. You could very well crank a 4GHz processor up to 4.5GHz or 4.6GHz for instance. With some serious cooling power, you might even push it to 5GHz. But your mileage will vary, because like we said, no two chips are alike.

Exciting, right? Depending on your luck, you might have a processor that is capable of running much, much faster than it currently is, like a caged cheetah. Or a surprisingly quick tortoise.

There’s only one way to find out.

A word of caution

When you overclock a processor a couple things happen. The chip runs hotter, and it uses more power. Both of those factors can be a problem if your PC has a barebones cooler.

If you want to get serious power out of your processor, you might want to invest in some high quality cooling. You don’t have to spring for full-loop liquid cooling if you’re just looking to squeeze out a couple more clock cycles, but you might want to have a look at high performance fans or other cooling solutions.

Secondly, if you’re looking for help overclocking your laptop, you’re probably out of luck. There are a couple laptops on the market which ship with unlocked Intel or AMD processors, but generally speaking most laptops – even gaming laptops – are shipped with locked processors.

Finally, overclocking your CPU usually voids any warranty your computer is currently under. So if you’re worried about your warranty, or your extended care plan, stop reading and back away.

Still want to give it a shot? Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Identify your CPU

First, it’s important to determine whether you can actually overclock your CPU in the first place.

This is an area where AMD and Intel differ significantly. Most AMD chips can be overclocked, while only two series of Intel chips can be overclocked.

Below are some current generation Intel processors which are unlocked and ready for overclocking. It’s not a definitive list, so if you’ve got an older PC your CPU, yours might not be down there.

SKU Default Speed Cores Price
Core i5-6600K 3.5GHz 4 $235
Core i7-6700K 4.0GHz 4 $340
Core i7-6800K 3.4GHz 6 $440
Core i7-6950X 3.0GHz 10 $1650
Core i7-6900K 3.2GHz 8 $1100
Core i7-6850K 3.6GHz 6 $610
Core i7-5960X 3.0GHz 8 $1016
Core i7-5930K 3.5GHz 6 $580
Core i7-5820K 3.3GHz 6 $340

Generally speaking, Intel chips can only be overclocked if they’re in the K or X-series. On rare occasions Intel produces an exception, like the affordable Pentium G3258. But that’s rare.

In contrast to Intel, AMD produces a lot of unlocked processors, and currently they have three different lines of CPUs that offer unlocked variants. Rather than list individual processors here, below you’ll find the three current series of unlocked processors from AMD.

Series Default Speed Cores Price Range
AMD FX Series 3.2GHz – 4.7GHz 4-8 $78 – $202
Athlon X4 K-Series 3.8GHz – 4.2GHz 4 $60 – $84
AMD A10 & A8 K-Series 3.8GHz – 4.3GHz 2-4 $79 – $392

Now, don’t worry if your CPU isn’t on either list. It can be tough to identify whether or not your CPU is unlocked, particularly if it’s an older model. Fortunately, the utilities used in this guide will let you know whether or not your processor supports overclocking.

Pop the hood

Overclocking doesn’t require you to open up your PC, but you should. Get in there and clear out any dust with a can of compressed air, as you want to make sure your PC is running as cool as it possibly can before you squeeze any extra clock cycles out of your CPU.

Open up your case, and be sure to blow out the main fan over your CPU, your GPU, and all the nooks and crannies. Your PC should be as clean as the day you bought it before you start juicing it for all its worth.

Get your tools together

It’s worth mentioning that there are two schools of thought when it comes to overclocking. Some prefer to overclock directly in your computer’s BIOS, while others prefer to use software you can run from your operating system.

There are advantages and disadvantages for both. Overclocking in the BIOS allows more fine-grain detail as you configure various settings. But this guide is for beginners, so we’re going to focus on using software.

You’ll want to to grab a utility that will allow you to make changes to your clock speed, and then test those changes. The app will help us determine what your PC’s stats currently are – how hot it’s running, how fast it’s running, and how much power it’s currently pulling down. The utility you need varies depending on if you have an AMD or Intel chip.

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