CPU Overclocking Guide: How (and Why) to Tweak Your Processor


Mainstream adoption of overclocked processors, and the enthusiasm with which manufacturers have embraced tuning, has made the process simpler and much more accessible to enthusiasts and gamers. But the iterative methodology behind overclocking, and the sometimes finicky behavior of overclocked systems, means that overclocking is still, if not an art, then a skill that requires patience and practice. 

The landscape has changed, and enthusiasts are often spoiled when it comes to hardware that supports overclocking, from high-end motherboards to complete liquid cooling kits.

With VR headset requirements pushing the envelope of what is required from gaming PCs, we expect overclocking to be a hotter-than-ever (pardon the pun) trend moving forward.

Headsets like the Oculus Rift loom on the horizon with their demanding requirements for PC Hardware. VR might just be the next driver for overclocking capability development.

But overclocking comes with a few caveats. The cooling requirements of overclocked systems can require significant expenditures. Overclocking does reduce the usable lifetime of processors and other system components, and can often lead to a less stable build. Over time, the electricity cost of generating and then getting rid of extra waste heat adds up. In certain scenarios, underclocking may actually be beneficial for component longevity or additional stability. Still, having the choice and the tools at our fingertips makes all the difference in the world.

In terms of the bleeding-edge of overclocking experimentation, apart from the “faster, cooler, even faster” benchmarking competitors, hardware enthusiasts are moving into niche applications: overclocking tablets, unlocking mobile CPUs, modifying proprietary VMR circuitry, and operating processors in configurations and conditions the original manufacturers never dreamed of. Whether any of these niche activities yields more universal utility and develops the potential to go mainstream, remains to be seen.


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Gene Fabron is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes reference material across a range of components.
  • rush21hit
    Look at the voltage setting on those world records. Lots of LN2 involved here.

    Speaking as a former user of Q6600 @3.0 (Corsair Hydro series were non-existent back then) and i7 920 @2.8. Small OC, I know. Since I want my motherboard not get fried.

    Motherboard gets the most hammering in OC. Even the best of the best sometimes failed. Those capacitors can only hold so much. I just want to ensure it also last. Heck, even in normal use, motherboard tends to fail long before any other parts does.
  • blackmagnum
    Careful not to void your warranty. Leave extreme overclocking to the pros.
  • Calculatron
    Ever since the articles on the "E" series of the FX-line-up, I've tried to take efficiency into account. I run a mild overclock of 4.0ghz with just under 1.2V on my FX-8320. I can achieve a 4.7ghz overclock, but I just don't think that the performance gains are worth all the extra heat and stress on the components.
  • Nuckles_56
    There's a typo in the table of record speeds for the CPUs and the respective voltages, as there is no way that the i7 860 got to that speed at 1.152V
  • SinxarKnights
    18275176 said:
    There's a typo in the table of record speeds for the CPUs and the respective voltages, as there is no way that the i7 860 got to that speed at 1.152V

    http://valid.x86.fr/xuxjnn look for yourself. I suspect there was an error reading the voltage but I do not know, CPU-Z calls it valid though.
  • TexelTechnologies
    Its not that complicated but then again I am always surprised by how dumb people are.
  • Murdock4321
    Overclocking used to be pretty complicated and take some trial and error. With all these new processors and new bios', its really pretty easy. I'm still rocking an i7 930 @ 2.85ghz which is rock solid and has lasted me since 2010
  • leo2kp
    i7 970 @ 4GHz here with overvolt. 6 years old and still going strong.
  • jtd871
    How about an underclocking/undervolting guide for those that want efficiency rather than performance?
  • anbello262
    Well, isn't the procedure exactly the same, just lowering mult and volt instead of rising it? The stability concern (freq/volts) and the iterative methodology is the same, right?