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[ The PC Guide | System Optimization and Enhancement Guide | Overclocking: The Dissenting Opinion | Should You Overclock? ]

Performance vs. Economics

People always say that the reason for overclocking is performance, but this isn't always strictly true as far as I am concerned. Many times, overclocking is not done for reasons of performance, but rather for reasons of economics. What is the distinction? In my mind, it has to do with the reason for the overclocking. In a nutshell, if the overclocking is being done to get performance that is not possible based on "official" technology, then the overclocking is truly for performance. But if the overclocking is being done in order to get the performance level of a cheaper processor up to the level of a more expensive, faster one, then it is really being done to save money, not improve performance.

Why bother with the distinction? Simply to point out that in many cases people are spending more money on overclocking than they are saving; they would be better off if they chose wiser ways to improve performance and save money. If you want a system that runs at 83 MHz because of the overall system speed boost this gives over one that runs at 66 MHz, I can understand at least what the motivation is. But when I see people spending hours trying to get Pentium 200s to run at 233 MHz, I have to ask myself: what exactly is the point here?

When someone tells you to buy a cheaper chip and overclock it to save money, ask yourself: "what am I really saving?" There are hidden costs that many novice overclockers aren't aware of until they begin (not even including the potential cost of buying a new chip if you accidentally destroy yours). Consider the following:

  • Hidden Costs of Overclocking: Even fans of overclocking will admit that you often cannot just change your jumpers and be totally done with the effort. Overclockers often must upgrade the cooling level of their processor or PC, by adding additional fans, over-temperature alarms, or even special Peltier coolers. Peltier coolers are not cheap. I've even seen people who had to replace video cards or hard disks to get them to work properly with overclocked systems... where are the savings then?
  • Time Is Money: If you run into problems with setting up your overclocking, you may spend literally hours fixing them. How much is your time worth to you? It's of course one thing if you are overclocking to learn more about PCs... that's great. But if you are doing it for "savings", consider the amount of time it may take you to work out all the kinks when your system starts behaving strangely. (I won't even get into the time involved in such activities as reinstalling Windows 95 should you have to.)
  • Penny-Wise, Pound Foolish: Many of the people who "save money" by overclocking could save money much more intelligently if they did a bit of research. For example, they might be better off using an alternative (AMD or Cyrix) CPU instead of an Intel one. They might have been able to save more money by exploring a better source for their hardware purchases. Or they might have timed their purchase better to take advantage of seasonal price cuts in the industry.

Next: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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