Overclocking is one of the most coveted practices in the PC enthusiasts world due to the knowledge requirement and performance increase it can bring to one's system making sure to get every ounce of power available in a CPU, Graphics Card, or even RAM! In this article we will focus on the aspects that cover CPU overclocking and the hurdles one would encounter finding a stable setting for their system.
The Basics of Overclocking Your CPU
We will be using the most popular examples of CPU’s from both Intel and AMD. For these classifications we will stick to the processors that only apply to desktops and some laptops. Below is a quick look between AMD and Intel’s naming schemes to discern the types of CPUs and APU’s (accelerated processing unit) used in different workloads.
(~) Has no letter designation
Has Integrated Graphics
No Integrated Graphics
Breaking down this table, we see that most processors have a designated role depending on their intended workload. For example, an Intel 11400F must have a dedicated graphics processor in order to display images but an AMD Athlon 3000G APU can run integrated graphics allowing images without a graphics card. The processors that we should focus on are Intel's “Unlocked” K variants and the “Turbo Core” supported APUs along with “Precision Boost Core” supported motherboards sporting everything from the 2000 series of Ryzen CPU’s all the way to Threadripper.
Finding out What's in Your System
If you would like to investigate what your system's CPU is capable of, below is a step by step guide into checking your systems ability to be overclocked.
System Diagnostic Software
System Diagnostic software like CPU-Z can be used not only to display your system's specs but also its clock speeds, amount of system load, and most importantly the letter type of CPU that is in your system.
Once you’ve determined what kind of CPU you have, we can take a look at the type of motherboard housing it.
Overclocking Abilities on Motherboards
When Overclocking, a solid motherboard is needed for the sake of stability and component longevity. To see what type of motherboard you have head over to the Mainboard tab of CPU-Z and look for 2 tabs, “Motherboard” and “BIOS.
Once you have your motherboard Model AND revision number to the right of the model, look up its overclocking capabilities online. The quality in a VRM (Voltage regulator module) makes all the difference when overclocking one's PC.
Another thing to take into consideration is the BIOS version of your board. When overclocking, it is advised to flash/update your boards’ BIOS.
Disclaimer: Flashing your boards BIOS is risky as any interruption during this process can brick your board rendering it useless. Please consult a guide on your specific board to ensure a safe update.
Overclocking Your CPU With & Without Programs (AMD)
Some laptops have some supported overclockable CPUs. The performance returns however, may be reduced as Laptops do not have the heat displacement to compete with desktops. The only performance option on laptops that Apex Gaming recommends is taking advantage of AMD’s Ryzen Master for its Ryzen line of processors, especially laptops.
Beyond this program, Ryzen has options in the BIOS for manual overclocking such as “Precision boost clock” and “Core Boost” located in the advanced settings of most supported motherboards
Overclocking with Intel
Intel’s approach to overclocking is what you would call dated but slowly evolving. Over recent years, Intel’s process for overclocking hasn't changed largely in their 14nm+ architecture. The results however, have shown significantly hotter CPU temps when paired with the most modern cooling solutions on the market.
There are 3rd party programs that will still overclock unlocked K variants. A favorite at Apex is MSI Afterburner. We use this program to overclock Graphics cards enabling the best performance out of the box. This program also offers an auto overclock features for Intel chips enabling an ease of access and overclocking for beginners.
Disclaimer: These programs listed above are automatic overclocking solutions and do not touch on manual overclocking. Inputting values through trial and error is a way to overclock a CPU/APU but is more technical in nature. Please look up a guide on your current CPU to see the ideal “CPU Ratio” your system can handle.
Drawbacks of Overclocking Your CPU
While overclocking gives a significant performance increase to a system, there are drawbacks to this increase in performance. Overclocking is acknowledging the limits of the hardware and intentionally going over the safe barriers to gain performance. This, in turn, lessens the lifespan of the components. Here are some of the leading problems that may hurt the lifespan of components.
Heat is a very proficient problem in PCs as most if not all components generate a degree of heat that has some effect on the system. When it comes down to a CPU, a good way to combat overheating is proper airflow or upgraded cooling abilities like large airflow heat sink or AIO (all in one) water cooling solutions for especially hot CPUs
Voltages are the supporting role for how PC components operate. They give the “juice” that drives computations to do their thing. Having a reliable high certified PSU (Bronze, Gold, Platinum) will have no compromises when it comes to delivering the power increase needed to overclock a CPU.
The devil is in the numbers and that applies to the stability of a system. When overclocking it's not unusual to run into system instability like freezes, bluescreens, or even full shutdowns preventing damage to components.
It's best to keep a list of number settings when changing both Intel and AMD’s overclocking options and change them till the system is stable through multiple benchmarks. Once the system is showing no signs of instability consider saving the overclock settings to a profile in the BIOS.
Benefit and End Result of Overclocking
While overclocking takes its toll on components, its benefits for the 3-4 year component upgrader are great. Expecting non “X” or “K” variants can last longer than but can become less reliable as years go on. Intel’s “K” models are built with overclocking in mind and have additional safeguards and configurations made for increased power consumption.
AMD has also put major strides into their overclocking technologies as the Ryzen series of processors are the most durable AMD chips made to date.
What is Overclocking to Apex?
At Apex Gaming PCs, we pride ourselves in providing the best possible configurations for overclocking. We use a special overclocking profile for our PCs that gives you a marginalized performance increase depending on what overclock treatment you desire. Our higher models like the Apex Carbon and others come with Apex profiles that can increase your systems efficiently by a maximum of 20%.