Whether you have an Intel or an AMD CPU, overclocking it can be a great way to unlock additional performance. That might sound intimidating, or you may have heard horror stories of chips that died or set on fire because of being pushed too hard, but that’s an extreme rarity with modern chips. In fact, many of them are designed specifically with overclocking in mind.
It isn’t hard to learn how to overclock your CPU either. Long gone are the days of using pencils to connect CPU bridges, or even having to go into the BIOS to tweak your CPU’s frequencies. While you can still use archaic overclocking methods if you so choose, today the process is far simpler, with both Intel and AMD offering their own bespoke overclocking tools.
That’s what we’ll be using today in our beginner’s guide to overclocking.
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 lead to problems if you’re using the stock cooler that came with your CPU. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t overclock, but it does mean that your potential overclocking headroom is much lower than if you had a more advanced air or watercooling system in place.
Overclocking does typically lower the lifespan of a CPU. Not always and not even necessarily for a measurable period, but forcing it to run faster and use more power tends to lead to some measure of faster degradation. As long as you don’t go to the extremes of overclocking, you’ll likely upgrade your system before this becomes a problem, but it is important to remember.
If you want to overclock your laptop, you’re probably out of luck. There are few that allow it and fewer still with the thermal headroom to make it viable. But even if you can, we’d caution against it for your first overclocking venture.
Finally, overclocking your CPU can void your warranty. Intel and AMD warranties don’t typically cover overclocking, although they would be hard pressed to prove that was the cause of a dead CPU unless you pushed way too much voltage through it. Motherboard manufacturers sometimes do and sometimes don’t cover overclocking. Check the specific wording of yours if you’re concerned, before trying.
Identify your CPU
Before you start any kind of overclocking it’s important to know the hardware you have. That way you can understand whether overclocking is even possible on your CPU and if it is, what its theoretical maximums are.
This is an area where AMD and Intel differ significantly. Most of AMD’s recent generations of CPU (especially Ryzen) can be overclocked, while typically only Intel K series and X series CPUs can be.
Below are some recent generation Intel processors which are unlocked and ready for overclocking. If yours isn’t on the list and doesn’t have a K or X suffix to its name, you may not be able to overclock it, but double check if you’re unsure.
|SKU||Base clock||Turbo clock|
AMD processors have been entirely unlocked and overclockable for generations. Whether you have an AMD FX-series CPU, or one of the newer Ryzen chips, they can all be overclocked. We could list all of them here, but that would be extensive. Chances are if you have an AMD CPU it can be overclocked.
If you’re not sure, don’t fret. The worst thing that can happen if you can’t overclock your CPU is that you try and it doesn’t work. The software we’ll be recommending will tell you as such, so at worst you’ll be facing some disappointment.
Since overclocking typically raises the temperature of your system and can force your CPU and system cooling to work harder than they typically would, it’s a good idea to give your PC a spring clean before you start overclocking for the first time. This can be as simple as cleaning the dust filters on your front-intake fans, or removing all of the hardware and wiping down every surface inside.
You don’t need to go overboard with your cleaning, but just make sure there aren’t any clumps of dust blocking where air can get in and out of your PC. Also make sure there isn’t a collection of dust on your CPU cooler as that’s where the majority of the additional heat will build up.
Note: Make sure your PC is switched off and that you wear an anti-static wristband when cleaning your PC. We also don’t recommend you use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust due to the potential for static build up. If you find some dust is hard to reach, a can of compressed air should do the trick.
When you think you’re ready, skip ahead to the section for the brand of CPU you have and follow the instructions there.
Intel CPU: Extreme Tuning Utility
You can overclock your Intel CPU using the BIOS, but since this is a beginner’s guide to overclocking, we would recommend a Windows-based tool to make the process easier. We recommend the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, which you can download here. It’s a software suite Intel put together specifically for overclocking your CPU. Unlike some third party software, the Intel XTU is solid and reliable. It’s unlikely to cause any problems on its own, and it gives you a detailed look at what your CPU is currently up to. Also, it’s free.
Intel XTU has a lot of really granular options, and it’s may look a little intimidating at first, but once you get to grips with it, it all makes sense and the reams of information can be very useful.
Intel XTU will tell you a lot about your system, and for that reason it’s a great little utility to have even if you’re not going to overclock your system. It lets you monitor your CPU load, your temperature, and run benchmarks.
Step 1: Baseline temperatures and performance
The first time you start up XTU you want to take a few baseline readings to make sure that your CPU is ready for overclocking. The first step should be to run the built in stress test. Select Stress Test from the left-hand menu and have it run for at least an hour.
Either sit and watch it happen, or go and do something else, but towards the end of that hour, come back and look at the system information in the base of the window. You want to take note of the Package Temperature. If your CPU is hotter than 80-degrees, you don’t have the thermal headroom to overclock and we recommend that you improve your cooling before continuing any further.
If your temperature is well below that, preferably well under it, you have some thermal wiggle room to push your chip to run at a higher frequency with relative safety.
Step 2: Multipliers
Although you can overclock your CPU using the Basic tab, learning about the different components of an overclock will help you better understand what’s happening with the chip and make it easier to achieve a stable overclock. Select the Advanced Tuning tab from the left-hand menu. And look to the section headed Multipliers.
The multipliers or CPU ratios, will correspond to the speed you’re getting out of your CPU. It’s a multiplication of the BCLK frequency, or reference clock. A x32 multiplier would typically mean a turbo frequency of 3.2GHz.
Whatever yours is, raise it by one (x33 in our example) across all cores. Although you can adjust frequencies individually on different cores, to keep things simple we’ll be pushing for an all-core overclock.
We then need to see how stable that overclock is. Select Stress Test from the left-hand menu and run the test again. It doesn’t need to be for an hour, 10 minutes should suffice for this portion of the overclock. If it completes without a problem, then go ahead and increase the multiplier by another step. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, the test will report a Fail result, or it will cause your computer to crash. When that happens, step back to the previous multiplier setting.
If you’re happy with that overclock, you should then run some longer stress tests and play some games for a few hours to make sure the overclock is stable. If not, reduce the multiplier another step and begin the stress testing process again. When you’ve found a point where you can happily use your PC as normal at a higher frequency, you can pat yourself on the back for a successful overclock.
If you run into difficulty trying to stabilize your overclock or want to see if you can push your system further, you can also try adjusting its voltage.
Step 3: Core voltage
There are a number of voltage parameters that can affect a CPU’s operation, but arguably the most important and impactful is Core voltage, often abbreviated to VCore. You can adjust that in the XTU in much the same way you did with the multipliers. It can make the difference between an unstable overclock and a stable one, or even the difference between a modest overclock and a much higher one.
Note: You need to take more care when adjusting CPU voltage than you do with multipliers. If you push your CPU to run at a ridiculously high multiplier it will just crash and restart your system. If you try and put too much voltage through your CPU it can kill it, so proceed with caution.
You can always Google around and see what settings other people are using for your CPU, and that’s a very good idea for VCore settings due to their potential to damage your chip. Reddit’s r/Overclocking is a great resource to check in on what other people have gotten out of the same CPU configurations.
A general rule of thumb is that anything over 1.4v is dangerous. However, it is very much dependent on the particular chip you’re using, so additional research is worth considering.
When ready, select the Advanced Tuning tab in the left-hand menu of the XTU and increase your core voltage by about .025. For example, If you’re starting at 1.250, we’re moving to 1.275. Select Apply. If the system doesn’t crash, you can run the stress test again to make sure that you are still within the safe range of temperatures, or try to increase the multiplier to see if the additional voltage has improved your CPU’s overclocking ability.
Step 4: Tweak, test, repeat
At this point you have all the tools you need to find your CPU’s stable overclock. Take it steady, only change settings in small increments and run at least a short stress test after each change. Make sure your CPU temperatures do not exceed 80-degrees after a long stress test and that you don’t set your voltages too high.
If you system crashes or restarts, that’s a telltale sign that you’ve pushed something too far. Go back to the drawing board and make some adjustments. The most important outcome is that you find a safe and stable frequency for your CPU. It’s fun to push it to run at a much higher frequency, but if it’s not stable enough to run applications or play games without crashing, it’s not much use outside of bragging rights.
When you’ve finally found a frequency that you’re happy with and is nice and stable, take a note of your settings so that you can always reapply them if needed.
AMD: Ryzen Master
If you’re running an AMD processor, the steps you take are very much the same as with an Intel CPU, but since you’ll be using a different piece of software, they aren’t identical. If you are running an AMD Ryzen processor from 2017 onward, the software we recommend for beginner overclockers is AMD’s own Ryzen Master software. Download the utility from AMD’s website, and install it like you would any other application.
If you are running an older AMD processor, we would recommend AMD Overdrive instead. The following instructions still apply, but the layout of the software does differ slightly so make sure to double check what your’re doing before making any changes.
Note: You can use the BIOS to overclock your AMD CPU, but we would recommend using Windows software for your first attempt as it is easier and quicker.
Step 1: Stress test
Before we begin overclocking our AMD CPU, we need to make sure that it won’t exceed safe temperatures. Although Ryzen Master has its own built-in stress test, it doesn’t last very long. Instead we recommend the AIDA64 Extreme tool and its stability test. Download the free trial from the official website and install it like you would any other application. If you like the tool, consider buying a full license for up to three PCs for $40.
Open it and select Tools from the top menu and then Stability test. Press Start when ready and leave your PC for around an hour. Make sure that at no point during testing do the temperatures exceed 80 degrees. If they do, you’ll want to improve your CPU cooling before trying to overclock. If you have some temperature headroom to play with though, we can begin overclocking your system.
Step 2: Frequencies
Ryzen Master doesn’t give you manual control over CPU multipliers, instead it has clock speeds for each individual core which you can adjust on their own, or across all cores. To do so, select Profile 1 or 2 from the bottom menu. Then, set Control Mode to manual, and make sure that All Cores is selected and green in the left-hand menu. If not, click it to change its status. You can now adjust the frequencies of all cores at the same time.
Click the “+” symbol on any of the cores to raise their frequency by 25MHz. When you’ve done so, press Apply and Test from the top menu. This will apply the frequency adjustment you’ve made and then run Ryzen Master’s built-in stability test tool to make sure that the overclock is stable. Keep an eye on the temperature reading in the top-left of the window. If the test passes successfully and temperatures remain low enough, raise it by another 25MHz and repeat the stability test.
If the test fails or your temperature exceeds 80 degrees, lower the frequency back down again. If your system crashes or locks up, after a restart, make sure to not exceed safe and stable frequencies in the future.
Note: You can raise the frequency in larger increments if you prefer, but you stand a greater risk of your system locking or crashing if you do so.
When you’ve found the highest frequency you can get to without the system failing the test or crashing, open AIDA64 again and run a longer stability test. If it too passes, you have successfully overclocked your system. If it doesn’t, lower the frequency one step more and repeat the process until you find a frequency that the test will complete safely on.
If you want to overclock further, or would like to try to make an overclock stable, we can try adjusting voltages too.
Step 3: Voltage Control
Increasing the voltage of a CPU can improve the stability of an overclock or allow you to overclock further. However, it can dramatically increase temperatures and if you push it too high, can damage your processsor, so proceed with caution and only make small adjustments at a time. A safe voltage for most AMD CPUs should exceed 1.4, but we would always recommend you look up your specific CPU to make sure that you don’t set the voltage too high.
If you are happy to proceed, select your chosen Profile and make sure that Voltage control has a green circle next to it. Select if it doesn’t. Then, use the arrows to the right of that setting to increase the voltage by one and press Apply and Test to see if the overclock is stable. If it is, as before, run the AIDA64 test for an hour to see if it is stable over longer periods of time. If it crashes or freezes, try increasing the voltage further. If your system or CPU gets too hot, you should lower the voltage and improve your cooling before going any further.
Step 4: Rinse and repeat
Once you’ve found a stable frequency and voltage, congratulations! You can now try to increase frequencies further if you have some more voltage and temperature headroom, or save your profile so that you have all the settings locked down for the future.
Ryzen Master should start up with Windows, so when it asks you for admin approval, give it and your overclock will be applied. If it doesn’t, you can always start the app yourself and manually Apply the overclock.
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