Overclocking over motherboard specification
I don't know if this question would be put here, but oh well. I have an Intel P4 3.4 GHz with HT. My motherboard is a Biostar P4M900-M4. The motherboard is only rated up to this processor (3.4 GHz with HT). If I were to overclock it any, would it damage the motherboard? Would it work at all? What are the risks in doing it, if any? I know about keeping it cooled, I've already got it at 30 degrees C at its peak on full load and cooler then the room when idle. So, any input?
The CPU isn't overclocked at all, so I don't know what you mean by it's near its limit, but I know the mobo says it only supports up to 3.4GHz, so would overclocking any further even be possible? And even though the chipset on the mobo isn't very good for overclocking, wouldn't it be possible with proper cooling?
Also, if any of this sounds like really childish questions it's because I'm not so learned nor experienced with overclocking, so please just bear with my inexperience.
By "limit", I meant going on people's experience with the Pentium 4. Those CPUs cost big bucks when they came out because it was so hard for Intel to get decent yields at that speed with that design. Even on the last revision of the P4, the fastest version sold was 3.6GHz (I'm not sure which revision/version you have, but I suspect you have one of the earlier ones that maxed out at a 3.4GHz model).
MBs can often be run faster than their specs, as sometimes the spec just means that Intel hasn't released a faster CPU yet. When they do, the MB will run that, too. However, your MB is made by a company that makes lower-capability MBs, using a chipset made by VIA, which is known for cheaper, lower-capability chipsets that are normally not very OCable. Cooling can only take you so far -- it can't overcome limitations in the design.
As long as you don't boost the CPU voltage or let the CPU get too hot, I'd go ahead and give it a try. It's only overvolting stuff or letting it get way too hot that will damage it.
Actually the limit for the single core P4 was 3.8GHz or 3.73 for the Extreme Edition with the faster FSB, at least to stay in the thermal limit anyway. Of course your board is a 478 board, rather than a 775, and yes a 3.4GHz northwood is the fastest CPU for that socket. The CPU should overclock just fine (Netburst was made for high clock speed after all), but the problem is the amount of heat it will generate when you do so you should have a good cooler on there than will handle it. As for the motherboard it depends on how hot it gets. After all, you're going to overclock by increasing the FSB which also means overclocking the north bridge on your board. If it gets too hot you will fry it and end up with a dead board. Because of that you may want to put a fan on that little chipset heatsink.
If it's for gaming, then you should first use the Task Manager (CTRL-ALT-DEL) and leave it running during a game. Close out the game after a while and see if your CPU was running maxed out.
If the CPU was running maxed out then overclocking will provide a small boost. Overclocking by 10% would give a maximum of 10% more frames per second or allow a slight quality boost if frames are high enough already.
I'm guessing based on your specs that you could see your CPU maxed out but it also depends on the games and if you're using VSync (limiting to screen refresh which is usually a good idea).
VSYNC: I have an older game that runs at around 300FPS without VSync and 60FPS (60Hz monitor) with VSync enabled. Basically without VSync the computer crunches as fast as it can which is 5x more than needed.
I doubt your motherboard would have many issues. The general rule for overclocking is to go up a little at a time then back off when you get problems.
There are lots of general overclocking tips but my advice would be try a 10% overclock and if things stay stable just leave it there.
Thanks for all the information. I do normally leave VSync running at triple buffer when available. I think when I get the new power supply I ordered and get all the fans in my case working (a recent BIOS upgrade seems to make them not work when plugged into the mobo, I've tried telling Biostar but they don't care) I might try a little overclocking. A fan on the chipset would probably help a lot.
And, excuse my ignorance, but can't chipsets be upgraded? Sure, it's probably hard to do and risky, but is it possible?