Contrary to popular belief, overclocking is not difficult. Anyone can overclock their PC with some basic technical knowledge and the right tools at their disposal. Let's get right into it shall we!
Table of contents
What is overclocking?
Overclocking is a practice often used by PC gaming enthusiasts to get some extra performance out of their PC. The boost in performance is achieved by increasing a component's clock rate and making it run at a higher speed than it does under normal circumstances.
The manufacturers of these components usually set a limit to their clock speed and during overclocking; this limit is often bypassed given that the components are "unlocked" for overclocking.
Usually, CPUs and GPUs are the most overclocked components as they have the largest effect on the overall performance of a PC.
When to overclock your PC?
If you experience frame drops or your PC feels sluggish at times but it's not enough for you to think about an upgrade, then overclocking is the best option for you. Especially if you're planning on upgrading your PC or swapping out the CPU or GPU down the road sometime, then you have nothing to lose if you overclock them.
Along with enabling you to temporarily put off upgrading a component in your PC. Overclocking can also be used to boost your PC's performance for short periods to gain an edge in competitive gaming. The increase in clock speed of the components involved in the execution of instructions can significantly improve the speed of your PC and get enough of a boost to your PC to make your game a tad bit more competitive.
Though these benefits sound enticing, they come at a cost, and may even cause damage to your PC if you do not take the right precautions.
Before you overclock
Before you think about overclocking your PC there are certain prerequisites required and precautions you must take before overclocking your PC to avoid any sort of hardware damage or inconveniences.
The first thing you should do before considering overclocking your PC is checking whether your Motherboard even supports Overclocking as if it doesn't, having an overclockable CPU or GPU won't matter.
It is very easy to tell whether your motherboard supports Overclocking or not, just look at its model number.
Is your Motherboard overclockable?
All motherboards made by Intel that carry the letter "z" in their name support overclocking e.g. Intel Z170. Older generation Intel Motherboards require a specific Intel ME firmware to be installed with the correct Bios from OEM to support overclocking. Nowadays it is very hard to find those ME, or they can’t be installed on windows 10, which would mean switching back to Windows 7 just for a firmware, this can be quite a hassle.
Thankfully, newer motherboards do not require this.
For motherboards made by AMD, all motherboards carrying the letters B and X in their names support overclocking. For example, B350, B450, B550 or X370, X470, and X470, all of these motherboards and other similar models will support overclocking.
If you're building a PC or considering buying a new Motherboard in the foreseeable future make sure you consider these models as having overclocking as an option can never be too bad.
Overclocking of any kind will cause your PC to produce more heat than usual; therefore, you must ensure that the cooling capabilities of your PC can handle the extra heat. If you are in doubt about this, just slap another fan on your PC.
Since you need to maximise cooling on your PC, it is important to have a look at how the airflow in your case is and that there are no hindrances to the airflow and the warm air present inside your case is constantly being syphoned out of the case.
Cleaning all fans and heatsinks is a great way to improve airflow and prepare your PC for overclocking. In case your PC is water-cooled make sure that all tubing is secured with no possible leakages present and the water pump is working perfectly.
Checking the CPU thermal paste especially if you are about to overclock your CPU is crucial, your thermal paste shouldn't be more than a year old, if it is, it is better that you replace it, just to be on the safe side.
Along with the motherboard, you should also consider if your CPU or GPU, whichever you are considering overclocking actually supports being overclocked.
Drivers play a huge role in the day to day operations of your PC, so make sure you update all drivers in your PC along with the bios of the component you’re about to overclock, this will make sure that you’re safe from any kind of software-related bugs.
Lastly do consider that your PSU has enough of a power cushion to provide the additional power required during overclocking. For example; if your PC requires 390 watts and your PSU is 400 Watts then it probably wouldn’t be able to provide enough power. There should at least be 30 watts or more power that your PSU can provide without hitting its absolute limit.
If you have checked all the boxes above, then you are ready to overclock your PC now.
Overclocking the CPU
Overclocking the CPU is slightly more complicated than the GPU but it is not something impossible. If you're just overclocking your GPU then skip right through this section.
The first step is always determining that your CPU is indeed overclockable.
In the case of Intel CPUs, you will need a CPU with a K or X at the end of the name, such as the Intel Core i9-9900K processor. The K-series and X-series suffix designate that the frequency multipliers on the CPU aren’t locked and thus allow for overclocking.
On the other side of the spectrum with AMD, all CPUs are overclockable and have their frequency multipliers unlocked.
If you want to learn more about CPUs or are considering buying a new one check out our guide about CPUs to know more.
Firstly, back up your PC to prevent loss of any important data and install the following free software.
You will use these to test that your system is stable during the overclocking process:
- CPU-Z: uses real-time information to monitor your processor’s clock speed and to check the amount of voltage being used.
- Prime95: tests your system’s stability over a longer period.
- Real Temp: monitors the temperature of your CPU and enables you to intervene if the temperature rises above 70 degrees.
- Cinebench: Used for benchmarking your CPU.
How to Overclock your CPU
To overclock your CPU. There are two methods to choose from:
- Use software provided by the CPU manufacturer, Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) by Intel or Ryzen Master by AMD. This software usually does all the work for you but it is not suited for enthusiasts who want to set an overclock to the extreme limit of stability.
- Manually overclock in your motherboard’s BIOS. This method is the best and is explained in detail below. It is more stable and you’ll achieve significantly improved performance by using the BIOS to overclock without facing a series of problems.
Overclocking Using Intel XTU
Once you have downloaded the Intel XTU app, get ready and follow the steps below to overclock your CPU. It will be relatively easy, as the XTU software will do most of the work for you. So, don’t worry.
- Establish a baseline performance; click on the basic tuning tab and click “run benchmark button”. A score will be provided to you, note it down somewhere. This is your Baseline performance.
- From here on you can choose two ways to go forward: basic tuning, which offers only two parameters to be changed; or advanced tuning which is a bit more complicated and technical. If you are a first timer you should opt for basic tuning.
Using basic tuning is simple, just increase the two sliders (Core Ratio and Cache ratio) in small increments (remember to keep them at similar frequencies though). Then reboot your PC and benchmark your CPU using the XTU app once again. Rinse and repeat until your CPU becomes unstable or the benchmarks do not run. You can now move on to step three.
The Advanced Tuning tab offers more options that allow you to further control how your CPU operates. This is designed for more advanced users that have extensive technical knowledge of overclocking.
Here, you’ll be able to vary the Processor Core Ratio per individual core. To change the multiplier of all the CPU cores at once, use the arrow located on the right of the last listed core slider. You can also make changes that are more refined to your Processor Cache Ratio in this segment, and, as explained in the Basic Tuning segment above, it’s best to keep these two settings roughly at the same frequency.
Another section allows you to adjust the V-core (Core Voltage). For a CPU to run at faster speeds, it might require more power in order to remain stable, which is where adjusting the V-core comes in. These can be increased in order to keep up with higher core ratios if you are facing system instability.
If you don’t know your default V-core but still want to increase it, you can use the “Core Voltage Offset” slider. This will add your current V-core to the value selected. When changing these settings, it’s best not to exceed changes of 0.05V at a time.
Notes on Adjusting Voltages:
- If you want to change the CPU V-core (core voltage) to a specific value, simply select it with the “Core Voltage” slider.
- Both “Core Voltage” and “Core Voltage Offset” sliders are added together when applied. This means that if you set the V-core to 1.1V, and then add an offset of +0.2V, you will be effectively applying a V-core of 1.3 volts.
Always remember to make small increments and be patient. Keep repeating these steps until the CPU becomes unstable. Lastly before moving on to step three do click the apply button in the XTU interface.
- Now once you are confident that you’ve set an overclock, run the XTU benchmark, compare the score with the baseline performance, and observe the performance gains you’ve achieved. If you face any stability related issues go back to the tuning options and decrease the sliders by 1-2 steps.
- You’re almost done here, the only step that remains is to stress test your CPU in its new overclock settings. Go to the stress test tab in XTU and set a duration. A test lasting for at least 3 hours is recommended so you can fully assess how your CPU will do under normal day-to-day use.
Overclocking using Ryzen master
Before you start the overclocking process there are some things you should understand:
- Ryzen Master works only with the latest AM4 motherboards so if you have an AM3 or an even older AMD processor you will have to settle for Overdrive which is the same thing as Ryzen Master but older and not as advanced.
- Before you start changing any settings in Ryzen Master, open and run the latest version of Cinebench using the multi-core and single-core CPU tests. Each test takes approximately 10 minutes to run. Be sure to write down your score for each test, as they will allow you to compare the non-overclocked and overclocked scores of your PC. Make sure no other program is open
Getting to know Ryzen master
Once you have run the tests, open Ryzen Master and take a look at the basic interface. You’ll see a left row with menu items. At the bottom, you have several tabs, including Current, Creator Mode, Game Mode, Profile 1, Profile 2, and some others.
Looking at the default view on the “Current” tab, you’ll see a dashboard showing all the active clock speeds for each core of your processor as well as some stats, including current CPU temperature, peak speeds, total socket power, and so on.
Then, below those two sections, we have what’s called “Control Mode,” which includes Auto, Precision Boost Overdrive, and Manual options. Those are all the basic controls that will be used to overclock your CPU.
Always and I mean always! Slowly increase the clock speed by 25 to 50 megahertz and then test that it is stable and that temperatures are in the right range. If everything seems fine, slowly increment the speeds a little more and test again. During the process, if you find that your CPU isn’t getting too hot, but that at a new speed, it’s unstable to the point of crashing or freezing, then it means your CPU needs more power.
Slowly increase the voltage, click the “Up” button once in the “Voltage Control” section, which will move Ryzen Master to the next voltage preset. The general rule with Ryzen CPUs is to keep your CPU voltage below 1.35 volts, with 1.45 volts being the maximum. Using voltages beyond 1.45 volts can kill the CPU or decrease its lifespan.
With all that out of the way let’s start overclocking the CPU.
- On the Ryzen Master dashboard, click on the “Profile 1” tab at the bottom, which is where you will be making changes. Then, select “Manual” in the “Control Mode” section. This frees up the controls of voltage and core speeds for overclocking. Then, unclick the buttons next to “Additional Control” and “Memory Control” (if they are green) so that you do not accidentally change anything in here.
- Now go to the “Core Speed (MHz) “section and click “All Cores.” This button means that any change to one core changes them all to the same value. You could overclock on a per-core basis since Ryzen Master helpfully puts a star on the core with the best potential for overclocking, but we want a simple, stable overclock across all cores. To change the clock speed, click the number beneath the first core. Change the number from its base number to something higher and hit “Enter” on your keyboard.
- Lastly, lock in that new value by clicking “Apply & Test.” This will carry out a very basic test where Ryzen Master will figure out whether these overclock settings will work. The test is not that robust and won’t catch many problems, if by any chance you get a fail on this basic test, you’ll know something’s not right with your settings.
Assuming it passes AMD’s test, let’s run a preliminary test to see how the overclock is doing. For that, let’s use Cinebench again. At the same time, you should have Core Temp running to watch our temperatures. If the initial test is successful, rinse and repeat the above steps until you’re positive that your CPU will become unstable beyond that point.
To confirm that your settings are perfect, run multiple Cinebench tests until you are sure that your CPU is stable. If you face any issues go back to Ryzen master, decrease the frequency a tiny bit, and test again. Never rush into using your overclocked CPU right away and always test enough so that there's no chance that your CPU will become unstable later down the road.
If you want to learn more about how to use Ryzen master and about its other features, you can read this informative article to learn the ins and outs of it.
Overclocking Using Bios
Is your Bios up to date?
Before you load into the bios and start tinkering, make sure your motherboard BIOS is the latest firmware. To do this, you’ll need to find out the exact make and model of your current motherboard, as well as what BIOS version you’re currently running. This is where CPU-Z comes in, which you've just downloaded.
Boot up CPU-Z and click the Mainboard tab across the top. The manufacturer and model of your board will be listed in the window that pops up, as well as what BIOS version is currently installed. Informed about this, you can head off to the manufacturer’s website, search for your board, and download the latest firmware BIOS update.
You have to be extremely careful in this step, you need to find the EXACT match between BIOS and board. Simply downloading one that looks right won’t be enough. Chances are the BIOS will reject it. But, in the worst-case scenario, it could brick your motherboard completely. So beware!
Once downloaded, unzip the BIOS update to a USB stick, and reboot with your bootable USB inserted. Here is how to do it:
- Restart your PC and press the system hotkey before the windows logo appears to go into the bios. The key is usually F2, F8, F12 or DEL (Why can't these manufacturers stick to a single hotkey!?)
- Once you are loaded into the bios, go to the tools tab, select the bios update utility tool, and start the update process.
Using the Bios to overclock the CPU
Now that your Bios is up to date and ready you can now load into it and start the overclocking process, it is important to mention that patience is very important here and you must do everything step by step.
- Hold down the system hotkey when restarting your PC and launch the Bios.
- Open the ‘overclocking’ menu. It may be labelled as ‘frequency/ voltage control’
- Step up the CPU clock multiplier by one and set the CPU multiplier to “manual/sync all cores”. Then save your settings, exit the bios and reboot. Check your CPU stability using Cinebench. Your processor’s clock speed is worked out by multiplying the base clock (BCLK) by the CPU multiplier. The BCLK will likely be set at 100 MHz by default, so for a Core i5 6600K, for example, the multiplier will be set at 35 out of the box producing a final clock speed of 3.5 GHz
- While the Cinebench benchmark runs open CPU-Z and Real temp.
- Crosscheck with CPU-Z to see if your CPU is running at the clock speed you set in the bios.
- If everything seems normal and the temperatures are in control that means your CPU can go further.
- From here keep rinsing and repeating the above steps until the CPU becomes unstable or you see the windows bluescreen, from there just go back to the bios and set the multiplier to a step back and there you go you have set and a stable overclock for your CPU.
- Now run the Prime95 stress test for about 10 minutes and see if the CPU handles well under stress.
- It is important to test the CPU again and again, to establish its stability so be patient and do not rush it.
To avoid killing your CPU or damaging other components, always keep an eye on the temperatures and it cannot be stressed enough to always remain patient. Do not increase the multiplier too much; it can easily kill your CPU.
Lastly, be sure that you have thoroughly tested your CPU before using it normally after setting a new overclock.
Overclocking the GPU is relatively easier than the CPU and the performance boost is greater than overclocking a CPU.
You can easily overclock the GPU with readily available software without much difficulty.
First of all, you need to update all of your drivers and especially the GPU drivers along with your operating system.
To begin overclocking your GPU, you would need a game that you can use as a benchmark but using actual benchmarking software is recommended. There are many benchmarking software available for use. You can refer to our guide about benchmarks if you are unsure about them.
Benchmarking software, usually referred to as just benchmarks, are software specifically designed to test your GPU and measure different aspects of it during the testing period like FPS, clock speeds, power consumption, and temperatures.
Benchmarks effortlessly provide you with insight regarding which games and programs your GPU is capable of running. If you need to test your GPU you will need some sort of benchmark to fully understand the capabilities of it as well as test its overall stability with the other components in your computer. You can easily refer to our guide about benchmarking if you face difficulty here.
For benchmarking your GPU, we would recommend downloading Unigene Heaven.
Secondly, you will need a tool that lets you change different aspects of your GPU, this can be done using the OEM software provided with many GPUs but using a dedicated application is better.
For that you need to download MSI After burner.
How to Overclock your GPU
There are two ways you can overclock your GPU, by using an overclocking software also known as one-click overclocking in which everything is done by the software while only the memory clocks are left for the user.
MSI Afterburner can perform overclocking automatically as it has an auto-overclocking feature.
The second and better method is the manual overclocking method that enables you to set the perfect memory to overclock along with the core overclock for your GPU. We will be explaining the manual method of overclocking in detail.
- Firstly, run a game with an internal benchmark or use Unigene heaven to assess the performance of your GPU before the overclocking process.
- After that reboot your PC and launch MSI afterburner, make sure the windows logo on the bottom left corner is not lit up.
- Launch Unigene heaven and increase its resolution to the maximum resolution supported by your GPU and set the window size in a way that you can simultaneously see and use MSI afterburner
- Now move the memory clock slider to the right with small 5-10 MHz increments while closely monitoring the simulation shown on the Unigene window
- Keep on incrementing the memory clock until you see changes in the Unigene simulation, look for visual glitches or lag
- If the image breaks down or the GPU crashes, set the memory clock to 1-2 steps back.
- Keep testing, rinsing and repeating until you reach a stable overclock
- Once you reach the stable overclock, note down the value shown next to the memory clock on the MSI afterburner
Now knowing the stable overclock value for your memory clock, it is time to overclock your core clock frequency.
To set a stable overclock for your core clock frequency, repeat the same steps as above but this time for the core clock slider.
You must not get frustrated during these repetitive steps as all this testing will eventually pay off.
Test both overclocks together
Now you want to see how everything looks with both the Core clocks and Memory clocks set to the peak levels you discovered individually. Do not be surprised if, when putting both sliders up to where they operated stably earlier, you now get lots of glitches or crashes. If that happens (and it probably will), take note of whether the glitches you see relate to either the GPU or VRAM, and knock back the relevant slider by one 5 MHz notch.
If you get a system crash, on the other hand, simply reboot and set both memory and processor speeds back one-step, and test again. When you feel confident about your settings it is time to stress test.
Tests, tests and more tests
Close down Unigene Heaven in windowed form and restart it full screen at your native resolution and leave it looping for a good ten minutes to make sure it remains fully stable at your new clocks. When you are positive that it is stable, hit F9 to benchmark, and see what performance increase your efforts have afforded you. Now replicate your earlier gaming to see what else you’ve gained. Repeat these tests until you are 100% sure that you have put your GPU through all of its paces.
Finally, hit that little Windows logo on Afterburner and light it up so that every time you boot you’re running at your newly discovered, overclocked settings.
There you go, you have now successfully overclocked your GPU!
Did you know? You can overclock your RAM too
Not many people know this but you can actually overclock your RAM, considering you have the right RAM for your PC . This can greatly improve your experience with your PC, especially if your work is RAM intensive. Overclocking the RAM does not produce extra heat and even if it goes wrong, the most that can happen is a small system crash.
First, you need to download Intel XMP.
Once you have XMP downloaded, you can overclock your RAM in just eight simple steps;
- Open CPU-Z on your PC.
- Note down the DRAM frequency and timings along with timing tables from the SPD tab.
- Restart your PC and enter the BIOS.
- Once entered into BIOS, head over to the AI Tweaker / Extreme Tweaker / D.O.C.P. option, it may have different names depending on your motherboard.
- Choose the right XMP profile that matches the advertised specifications of your RAM (You can look this up or refer to the manual.)
- After making the necessary changes in the BIOS, save changes and restart your PC.
- Once the PC restarts, perform stress tests to check its stability.
- If things don't work out well, make the necessary changes in the BIOS and stress-test again
There you go! Your RAM has successfully been overclocked. Another great practice in terms of getting the most out of your RAM is using multiple sticks where you can e.g. use two 4GB sticks instead of a single 8GB stick for installing 8GB RAM onto your PC.
To wrap it all up
Overclocking isn’t as difficult as it has been made to look, especially in today’s day and age where a plethora of applications are available along with online guides and forums such as overclock.net .
Whenever you are overclocking, always remember that patience is the key to achieving a stable overclock successfully, do not be impatient and keep a cool head. Overclocking in its basic form is a trial and error method of manually adjusting a component to perform beyond its set limits.
Always depend on testing and benchmarks instead or whatever you feel or think is true.
If you tread carefully and patiently, you will never have to face a failed component due to overclocking. Best of luck on your overclocking journey!
If you have any questions feel free to contact me, you can use the comments section below or a contact form.
Did you find this article helpful? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share it with your friends and family!
We have a few ideas on what articles we want to write in the coming weeks, we host polls on our Instagram Page to see what our community wants more articles on.
For our next article, the community has settled on a piece about the Ultimate CPU Hierarchy.
Let us know if you have any content suggestions below and let us know what you think of this article.