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Overclocking has become more and more popular in recent years. Although it can be tricky, a lot of builders and gamers utilize its added performance benefits to get the best value out of their rigs.
In this article, we’ll talk about everything you need to know about overclocking: what components can be overclocked, whether or not it’s worth your time, as well as the risks that come with it. By the end of the article, you should have a firm, if entry level, understanding of what overclocking does and whether or not it’s for you.
To overclock or not to overclock? That’s the real question. Now, let’s cut to the chase and get to the good stuff.
What is Overclocking?
So, what does overclocking do? Well, on its surface it’s pretty simple; in general, PC overclocking is the process where you set your computer components to higher clock speeds for better performance. You are taking your clock speed and pushing it over its normal limit. (This isn’t how monitor OCs work, though.)
This is okay because components are made to run at a certain max stable speed; they can go further it just comes with some risk. When you overclock, you are removing those restrictions. The gains can vary greatly from component to component. In fact, identical components don’t always give the same gains depending on the silicon lottery, which are minor differences in each product.
It’s very common for advanced users to overclock their systems to get more performance out of their systems, but it isn’t entirely necessary– or even beneficial for newbies. In fact, overclocking without any knowledge about what you are doing could hurt your system, decreasing the overall lifespan of your hardware components.
Why Overclock? Do I Need It?
Overclocking PC isn’t really for everyone. Realistically speaking, overclocking is for competitive gamers, enthusiasts, and advanced users who need serious performance gains when gaming or users who work on complex 3D-imaging programs/professional video editing apps.
If your system can run the latest games with ease without overclocking, then there’s no reason for you to even consider overclocking. However, depending on your build, overclocking can push you from lower settings or less than ideal FPS into a more desirable range.
These gains do come with a risk to your components, but if you’re careful and know what you’re doing you can greatly mitigate– although not entirely eliminate– these problems. Even when done properly, pushing the limits of the below hardware components past their stock speeds and voltage will use up more energy and power, decreasing its lifespan.
And aside from the fact that doing so will void any warranties, overclocking may cost you more money down the line. For instance, only certain Intel CPUs are overclockable and they cost more, require more expensive motherboards, and need more cooling.
What Computer Components Can Be Overclocked?
Now that you know what overclocking is, we’ll talk about the various hardware components that can be overclocked and a little about the benefits you’ll reap if you consider them.
GPU (Graphics Card)
All graphics cards can be overclocked. Graphics cards are probably the most popular component to overclock simply because they’re very easy to overclock now with the help of 3rd party software you can easily access online (we’ll cover this in detail below).
While it is somewhat easier, you also don’t usually see huge gains. And the gains that you do see can be heavily dependent on the card you’re using as well as the silicon lottery.
Not all processors can be overclocked.
As mentioned above, Intel has been very particular with their chips and restricts overclockable processors only to their K-series and X-series chips. For example, a Core i5-8400 processor can’t be overclocked but the Core i5-8600K and Core i9-9960X can.
AMD processors, on the other hand, are more open to overclocking. Since the Opteron series chips, most of the mainstream AMD processors (including the FX and their Ryzen chips) can be overclocked as long as you have a motherboard that supports overclocking features (we’ll cover this in detail below).
The performance you’d gain from overclocking a CPU can sometimes seem small. But if you’re going to invest in a high-end cooling solution, chances are you’ll see significant improvement in performance (up to a full gigahertz and even more!).
The gains for gaming mainly come in the form of raising your FPS floor and generally reducing the severity of FPS drops. The gains for productivity-related tasks are likely to be larger.
It’s also worth noting that CPU overclocks are the most complex. We don’t really recommend it if you’re new, and even more so if you don’t really need more than what your processor is fully capable of.
Overclocking your RAM don’t really provide you with significant improvement– unless you’re running AMD APUs. If you want to know how to overclock RAM, it’s basically just as complicated as overclocking your CPU with fewer performance increases.
In most cases, you can barely see any performance gains; however, they still aren’t entirely noticeable when used in applications.
In the case of AMD APUs, the graphics cards and the processor share resources from the RAM and an overclocked RAM on an AMD APU will almost always show meaningful performance gains.
Monitors are also overclockable. And by that, it means you increase the monitor’s frame rate higher than advertised.
For example, a 60Hz monitor that can be overclocked to 75Hz will give you a smoother gameplay experience for free. Similarly, you can also find 144Hz monitors that can be overclocked up to 165Hz.
Doing so is relatively easy (probably the easiest) and comes with the fewest risks, which makes it arguably the best OC when you consider the benefits. It can be done via the AMD or NVIDIA control panel or via the monitor’s OSD (on-screen display); however, not all monitors can be meaningfully overclocked, so you will need to research the monitor you are choosing.
What Do I Need?
Depending on the type of hardware you are overclocking, you will need to follow different steps. That being said, there are some key things to keep in mind no matter what type of overclocking you are doing. (Note: Most of these apply more to RAM, CPUs, and GPUs; not so much to monitors.)
- Enough Cooling. Overclocking uses more power which produces more heat. This is more important for CPUs and GPUs. Less important for RAM. And doesn’t matter for monitors.
- Another Computer. When things go haywire, you’ll want to have another computer.
- Software to Display Component Data. When overclocking, you need to gauge the stability of your system and you’ll need programs like CPU-Z to watch: clock speed, voltage, and etc.
- Stress Testing Software. Stress testing helps you gauge how stable your OCs are as well as how much extra juice you’re getting. Use programs like Prime95 and AIDA64 to do this.
Pros and Cons of Overclocking
Advantages of Overclocking
- Faster performance. Honestly, this is the only reason we even think about overclocking. Without it, there’d be no point. Your gains may vary, but pushing a little further to reach your monitor’s max frame rate can make all of the hassle worth it.
- Cost-Efficient. To be fair, this is situational. If you’re using an AMD CPU, or have a monitor that has some decent headroom for overclocking, though, then this can add a lot of hidden value to your rig.
Disadvantages of Overclocking
- Higher Temperatures. Pushing any computer component past its stock speeds will require more power to keep up with the demand which in turn produces more heat.
- Reduced Lifespan. Pushing your components too far will reduce your component’s overall lifespan. This is mitigated by the fact that they’re not always running at max capacity. Moreover, if you upgrade relatively frequently, this will likely not affect you.
- System Instability. Even when done right, overclocking related crashes are to be expected. In most cases, these are quite rare, but they’re still frustrating.
- Money. If you’re savvy, there is some hidden value, but companies have wisened up and ensured there’s less of a value proposition to be had. With an Intel CPU, you could end up spending over $200 extra for an -X or -K series CPU, extra cooling, and compatible motherboard. At that point why not invest that money elsewhere in the build?
Summary: Is Overclocking Worth It?
Should I overclock my CPU? Should I overclock my GPU?
At the end of the day, it really depends on what you need…
Overclocking your CPU is highly recommended ONLY IF you need more processing power. The jump in performance is always useful, as long as you follow the right overclocking procedure and invest in a high-quality cooling system to keep the temps down. But remember that you’ll also have to pay a premium price for a motherboard with overclocking capabilities and an unlocked processor (Intel’s K- and X-series), which can reduce the value.
Overclocking your monitor and graphics card is definitely worth it. In these cases, the gains made here come mostly at the expense of your time, not money. As such, it’s sort of free.
Overclocking your RAM isn’t really ideal; it’s a huge pain to get going right and doesn’t give big results. If you’re running a budget build, specifically, an AMD APU, then it will most certainly be worth it. Even then, you might as well just save up some more for better RAM rather than wasting hours of your time and risking damaging your RAM with this complex procedure.