How to overclock your CPU

Overclocking your CPU can make your processor run significantly faster by applying the right settings and having adequate cooling. It’s not even as complicated as it once was, with many fantastic tools that will help you do the job efficiently and effectively.

Should you overclock your CPU? That’s entirely up to you. It does have its risks, but you won’t void your warranty if you don’t go too crazy — and, within limits, it’s a painless and almost risk-free endeavor.

A word of caution

When you overclock a processor, a couple of things happen. The chip runs hotter and uses more power. Both factors can lead to problems if you’re using the stock cooler supplied with the CPU. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t overclock, but your potential overclocking headroom is much lower than using a more advanced air or liquid cooling system in your PC.

Overclocking typically lower a CPU’s lifespan, but not always and not even necessarily for a measurable period. Yet, forcing it to run faster and use more power can lead to some measure of speedier degradation. As long as you don’t get extreme with overclocking, you’ll likely upgrade your system before this becomes a problem. Just keep the side effects in mind.

If you want to overclock a laptop CPU, you’re probably out of luck. Few allow it, and fewer still possess the thermal headroom to make it viable. But even if you can, we caution against it for your first overclocking venture.

Finally, overclocking your CPU can void its warranty. AMD and Intel typically don’t cover overclocking, though they would be hard-pressed to prove overclocking killed your CPU — unless you pushed way too much voltage through the chip.

Motherboard manufacturers may or may not cover overclocking. If you’re concerned, check the warranty before trying.

Identify your CPU

Before you start overclocking the CPU, figure out what you have — the chip may not even support overclocking in the first place. If it does, determine its theoretical maximums with a little research.

Which processors you can overclock is an area where AMD and Intel differ significantly. You can overclock the most recent CPUs from AMD, especially Ryzen. Typically, you can only overclock the Intel K and X series CPUs.

Below are several recent unlocked Intel processors primed for overclocking. If your CPU isn’t on the list and doesn’t have a K or X suffix in its name, overclocking may not be possible. Double-check if you’re unsure.

SKU Base clock Turbo clock
Core i9-9900K 3.6GHz 5.0GHz
Core i7-9700K 3.6GHz 4.9GHz
Core i5-9600K 3.7GHz 4.6GHz
Core i7-8086K 4.0GHz 5.0GHz
Core i7-8700K 3.7GHz 4.7GHz
Core i5-8600K 3.6GHz 4.3GHz
Core i3-8350K 4.0GHz N/A

AMD processors have remained completely unlocked and overclockable for generations. Whether you have an AMD FX-series CPU or one of the newer Ryzen chips, they can all be changed. We could list them all here, but that would be extensive. Chances are, if you have an AMD CPU,  overclocking is on the table.

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 recommend will tell you as such, so at worst, you’ll face some disappointment.

Housekeeping

Since overclocking increases your system’s operating temperature, it forces both your CPU and system cooling to work harder than usual. If this is your first overclocking attempt, give your PC a spring cleaning. You can clean the dust filters on your front intake fans or remove all hardware and wipe down every surface inside.

Ultimately, you want to make sure clumps of dust aren’t blocking air flowing in and out of your PC. Also, make sure dust doesn’t collect on your CPU cooler. That’s where the majority of the additional heat accumulates.

Before cleaning, turn off the PC and wear an anti-static wristband. We also don’t recommend using a vacuum cleaner to remove dust due to the potential for static buildup. If dust is hard to reach, use a can of compressed air sold by a store like Walmart or Best Buy.

When you’re finally 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 Intel CPUs using the BIOS. Since this is a beginner’s guide to overclocking, we recommend Intel’s Windows-based Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU), which you can download here. It’s a free software suite explicitly designed to overclock your Intel CPU.

Unlike some third-party software, the Intel XTU is stable, reliable, and unlikely to cause problems independently. It gives you a detailed look at your CPU’s current state. Even if you’re not overclocking, it’s a great little utility providing loads of information about your system. You can monitor the CPU load, the temperature and run benchmarks.

Intel XTU Main

Intel XTU may look a little intimidating at first, given its many highly-granular options. But once you grow familiar with the tool, everything makes sense. The reams of information become highly useful.

Step 1: Baseline temperatures and performance

The first time you start XTU, take a few baseline readings to make sure your CPU is ready to overclock. Start by running Stress Test located on the left-hand menu. Run this test for at least an hour.

Intel XTU Stress Test

You can sit and watch the test or do something else. If you leave, return toward the end of the hour and look at the system information in the window’s base.

Take note of the Package Temperature. If your CPU is hotter than 80 degrees, you don’t have the thermal headroom to overclock. We recommend improving your cooling before continuing any further.

Intel XTU Package Temp

If your temperature is well below that — preferably well under it — you have some thermal wiggle room to push your chip 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. It also makes it easier to achieve a stable overclock. Select the Advanced Tuning tab from the left-hand menu and then look to the section headed Multipliers.

Multipliers (or CPU ratios) correspond to the speed you’re getting out of the CPU. It’s a multiplication of the BCLK frequency or reference clock. A x32 multiplier would typically mean a turbo frequency of 3.2GHz.

Raise your multiplier by one number (x33 in our example) across all cores. Although you can adjust frequencies individually on different cores, we’ll push for an all-core overclock to keep things simple.

Intel XTU Overclock

Now test the overclock’s stability. Select Stress Test from the left-hand menu and rerun the test. In this case, you only need to run the test for 10 minutes. If it completes without a problem, 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 the final overclock, run more extended stress tests and play a few games for several hours to ensure the overclock remains stable. If not, reduce the multiplier another step and begin the stress testing process again. When you reach a point where you can happily use your PC as usual at a higher frequency, 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 the system further, try adjusting its voltage.

Step 3: Core voltage

Many voltage parameters can affect a CPU’s operation, but arguably the most important and impactful is core voltage (VCore). You can adjust the voltage using Intel’s XTU, similar to how you changed the multipliers. This process can differentiate between unstable and stable overclocks, or even the difference between modest and much higher overclocks.

But be warned: You need to take more care when adjusting the CPU voltage than you do with multipliers. If you push the CPU to run at a ridiculously high multiplier, it will just crash and restart your system. If you try and force too much voltage through your CPU, it can kill it, so proceed with caution.

Use Google to see what settings other people use for your specific CPU, especially for VCore settings, given its potential to damage the chip. Reddit’s r/Overclocking is a great resource to see what other people generated from the same CPU configurations.

A general rule of thumb is that anything over 1.4 volts is dangerous. However, it is very much dependent on the particular chip in your PC, 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, move to 1.275. Select Apply. If the system doesn’t crash, you can rerun the stress test to ensure you’re still within a safe temperature range.

You can also try increasing the multiplier to see if the additional voltage improves your CPU’s overclocking ability.

Step 4: Tweak, test, repeat

At this point, you have all the tools for finding your CPU’s stable overclock. Take it steady. Change settings only in small increments. Run at least one short stress test after each change. Make sure your CPU temperatures do not exceed 80 degrees after a lengthy stress test. Finally, don’t set your voltages too high.

If your system crashes or restarts, that’s a telltale sign you’ve pushed something too far. Go back 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 sturdy enough to run applications or play games without crashing, it’s not much use outside of bragging rights.

Once you’re happy with a stable frequency, take note of your settings so that you can reapply them later on if needed.

AMD: Ryzen Master

AMD CPUs’ steps are very much the same as Intel chips, but the software is different. If you have an AMD Ryzen processor from 2017 onward, the software we recommend for beginners is AMD’s, Ryzen Master. You can download the utility from AMD’s website here.

For older AMD processors, we recommend AMD Overdrive instead. The following instructions still apply, but the software layout differs slightly. Make sure to double-check what you’re doing before making any changes.

Note: You can overclock an AMD CPU using the BIOS, but we recommend using Windows-based software for your first attempt. It’s easier and quicker.

Step 1: Stress test

Before you begin overclocking the CPU, make sure that it won’t exceed safe temperatures. Although Ryzen Master has its built-in stress test, it doesn’t last very long. Instead, we recommend the AIDA64 Extreme tool and its stability test (free trial). If you like this tool, a full license costs $40, covering up to three PCs.

Please open it and select Tools from the top menu, followed by 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, improve your CPU cooling before trying to overclock. If you have some temperature headroom, move on to overclocking your system.

Step 2: Frequencies

Ryzen Master doesn’t give you manual control over CPU multipliers. Instead, it has clock speeds for each physical core that you can adjust individually or across the board. To do so, select Profile 1 or 2 from the bottom menu and then set Control Mode to manual. Make sure that the All Cores setting 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 Plus symbol on any core to raise the frequency by 25MHz. Once completed, press Apply And Test from the top menu to apply the frequency adjustment you just made. Next, run Ryzen Master’s built-in stability test tool to make sure you have a stable overclock. 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. If your system crashes or locks up after a restart, make sure not to 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 without failing the test or crashing the system, open AIDA64 again, and run a more extended stability test. If your CPU passes this test, you have successfully overclocked your system. If it doesn’t, lower the frequency one step more. Repeat the process until you find a frequency that safely completes the test.

If you want to overclock further or make an overclock stable, try adjusting voltages, too.

Step 3: Voltage control

Increasing the CPU’s voltage can improve the stability of an overclock. It also allows you to overclock even further. The drawback is that it can dramatically increase temperatures. Pushing the voltage too high can damage your processor as well, so proceed with caution. Only make small adjustments at a time.

A safe voltage for most AMD CPUs should exceed 1.4, but we recommend researching your specific CPU to make sure you don’t set the voltage too high.

If you are happy to proceed, select your chosen profile and check that a green circle resides next to Voltage Control. Manually select this option if you don’t see the green circle. Next, increase the voltage by one using the arrows to the right of the setting. Press Apply And Test to see if the overclock remains stable.

If you have a stable overclock, run the AIDA64 test for an hour to see if it remains stable over more extended periods. 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 are in order! You can now increase frequencies further if you have additional voltage and temperature headroom. Save your profile to lock down all these settings and use them again in the future.

Ryzen Master should load with Windows. To apply the overclock, provide your admin approval when prompted. If it doesn’t ask for your permission, start the app and manually apply the overclock.

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