Even the fastest processors slow down under significant loads, which can happen if you are a serious gamer or power user who likes to keep multiple applications open simultaneously. However, you don’t necessarily have to purchase a better motherboard and CPU, as overclocking the current processor in your computer may improve your system’s performance when you’re running resource-intensive applications.
Windows Overclocking Applications
The concept of overclocking is relatively simple: you just increase bus and clock frequencies, and in some cases, the CPU multiplier. However, adjusting CPU settings successfully the first time out can be difficult when try to do so manually. Depending on the motherboard in your system, though, you may be able to download a Windows application that does most of the heavy lifting for you. Check the support website of the manufacturer of your motherboard and look for a utility or program that allows you to overclock the CPU in Windows. Major motherboard producers like ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and many others provide software utilities that enable you to overclock your processor modestly with a few clicks. If such a program is available for your motherboard, download and install it, and then run the utility and choose either one of the overclocking profiles, or the “Auto” or “Auto-Tune” option.
If no overclocking utility is available for your particular motherboard, or if you want to push the processor to its limits by tweaking advanced settings, on most systems you can overclock the processor in the BIOS menu. Accessing BIOS differs depending on your system, but you usually have to press either the “Delete,” “F1” or “F2” keys during startup to be taken to the BIOS menu screen. Refer to your PC’s user guide if you don’t know which key to press. Once in the BIOS menu, navigate to the “Advanced” or “CPU Settings” submenu, and then increase the “CPU Frequency,” “Core Clock,” “Bus Speed” or a similar setting. When increasing the clock speed of the CPU, you also likely need to raise the “CPU Voltage” or “Core Voltage” settings. Depending on how much you want to increase the bus speed of the processor, you may also have to increase or decrease the bus speed of the memory to ensure stability. Make sure to increase the value settings slowly and gradually — 3- to 5-percent changes at a time — saving the changes in the BIOS each time and testing the system thoroughly after each adjustment.
While overclocking can provide spectacular results — for example, the Canard PC website, which collects and verifies overclocking data using the CPU-Z validator application, notes that one user has overclocked his AMD FX-8350 processor from the stock speed of 4.2 GHz to nearly 8.8 GHz — this works only in very extreme cases, and most overclocking attempts will come nowhere close to these results. To achieve such dramatic results requires water-cooling, a very high-end motherboard and high-performance memory modules. Depending on your processor, and with air-cooling, you can expect to achieve between a 10 to 25 percent increase in performance using a high-end heatsink and fan. Individual results for processors vary widely, even for those with identical model numbers.
Stability and Cooling
The only way to know for sure how much you can overclock a given processor is to tweak and then test the system thoroughly. In many cases, if you overclock the processor too much, the system will simply not boot. In other cases, the system may run for a while and then crash or freeze. To achieve overclock performance increases of more than 30 percent, consider purchasing and installing a water-cooling solution for the CPU. However, this procedure is certainly not for the beginner and adds plenty of obvious risks if not done properly.
In virtually all cases, overclocking your processor voids your system and CPU warranty. When AMD or Intel releases a processor, they give it a “speed rating” that represents the maximum speed at which the manufacturer believes the processor to be stable. If you overclock the CPU to a faster level, it may overheat or the transistors in the processor may fail. The only exceptions to this rule are processors offered by AMD and Intel that have the word “unlocked” somewhere in the model number. Nevertheless, even with unlocked and turbo-capable CPUs, manufacturer warranties related to overclocking have restrictions and limits, such as official overclocking support being limited to about 10 percent of the stock core-clock speed.