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Guide: Overclocking AMD And Intel CPUs On A Budget

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Overclocking an unfamiliar processor to its limit usually requires increasing clock speed and voltage separately, in small increments, until additional voltage provides no increase in clock speed. But that unfamiliarity can lead to settings that significantly shorten the component’s lifespan. On the other hand, the old fashioned “safety” rule to increase voltage by no more than 10% would have left these products far short of their true potential.

Today we used four processors that have been on the market long enough to determine vital information such as the maximum tolerable voltage and life expectancy. Using slightly less than the “maximum long-term safe” voltage allowed an almost-stunning 64% clock speed gain on Intel’s Pentium E5200. Plus, if this architecture's history is a good indicator, there's a strong likelihood that the part will survive many months to several years of use. As stated in several System Builder Marathon articles, we specifically recommend this $70 processor for ultimate-value overclocking.

The biggest let-down was the Core 2 Quad Q8200, a part that actually contains two of the same dice as the E5200 under its lid. The problem of a “locked” multiplier becomes critical on an FSB-1333 CPU that can’t reach FSB-1600, and Intel doesn’t offer a cheaper, FSB-800 version to play with. If you wanted a more rewarding experience with this chip, you'd likely need to spend extra on the low-power 'S' version.

Anyone who really wants the best overclocking value from a quad-core could easily look to the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition or Core i7 920 as safe bets. The Black Edition’s unlocked multiplier guarantees a lack of drama over HT clock, while the i7-920’s well-known tolerance to increased base clock speed makes unlocked multipliers an afterthought. But while our X4 955 Black Edition proved its capabilities at 3.86 GHz, the price of entry for the competing Core i7-920 was just a little beyond the budget of today’s guide. Disappointing headroom in the Q8000-series and a price-exclusion for Core i7 allow AMD's Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition to earn our value-overclocking recommendation for quad-core CPUs.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • tacoslave
    i like these "how to" articles but i still want to see the rest of the twkr article you promised us (quad crossfire 4890's) *sigh* a man can dream can't he?
    Reply
  • snakeeater_za
    Surely people on a budget (like me) would prefer their e5200 to last longer than a 'few months or hopefully a yr to 3?' i know i will upgrade prob in a year or so, so a yr would be fine, but a few months? Pfffft. my proc vid is 1.225 and for 3.33ghz i need a vcore of 1.385 in bios which at idle is 1.36ish. So although im nowhere near 4 at least i wont suffer from electromigration and have to fork out for a new cpu! Just my 2 cents
    Reply
  • snakeeater_za
    Thats obviousl 4ghz not vcore lol
    Reply
  • Crashman
    snakeeater_zaSurely people on a budget (like me) would prefer their e5200 to last longer than a 'few months or hopefully a yr to 3?' i know i will upgrade prob in a year or so, so a yr would be fine, but a few months? Pfffft. my proc vid is 1.225 and for 3.33ghz i need a vcore of 1.385 in bios which at idle is 1.36ish. So although im nowhere near 4 at least i wont suffer from electromigration and have to fork out for a new cpu! Just my 2 cents
    It's all a game of averages. Tom's Hardware hasn't accidently killed a processor by overclocking it in a while, though I'm sure a couple editors have intentionally done so to find the voltage limit. The problem is, once again, you can only look at averages.

    3 months continuous use at 1.45 volts caused an E8500 to lose its OC stability. It had to be clocked down to become stable again, and lost much of its voltage tolerance. It wasn't destroyed however.

    1.40 volts should be significantly safer than 1.45 volts, but until a few people report on how long their cores lasted at 1.40 volts its impossible to tell "how much safer", that is, how much longer it will last. All that's known is that it should last "significantly" longer, but whether that's 4 months (33% longer) or 30 months (10x longer) is the unanswerable question.
    Reply
  • astrodudepsu
    Good show mate.

    I would have liked to see combined charts as a conclusion but that's a minor criticism.

    I'm just wondering what the 'next-gen' E5200 (i.e. the intel people's OC'er) will turn out to be? Some flavor of i5 I assume, but who knows.
    Reply
  • how is it that im running my q8200 at 3.04ghz stable at 1.25v? weird
    Reply
  • JeanLuc
    Link
    "Intel’s value-priced Core 2 Quad Q8200 uses two of the same processor dice as the Pentium E5200....."

    I don't know why you choose the Q8200 it's a notoriously bad overclocking chip, if you wanted a budget Intel Quad core that had room for overclocking you should have bought the Q6700/Q6600.
    Reply
  • ”Motherboard MSI P45 Diamond LGA-1366, P45/ICH10R, BIOS 1.5 (10/10/2009)”

    MSI P45 Diamond is not LGA1366, but LGA775. LGA1366 is for Core i7 processors only, LGA1156 is for Core i5 and i7 (only dual channel DDR3-1333/1066). LGA775 is the old socket, for Celeron D, Celeron 4xx, Pentium Dual Core, Pentium 4, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad.
    Reply
  • da bahstid
    No games? Like...none at all? Does anybody even overclock for reasons other than games?

    Otherwise, pretty good article. Though perhaps a better choice for the Intel quad would have been a 9550...I thought they were under $250 by now. Same time, I guess the Q8200 does seem to be a more difficult overclocker...Intel may have intended this to be the case so as not to gut sales of their Q9000 series. And readers may as well know before jumping on a Q8200 thinking it'll overclock like an E5200.
    Reply
  • freak77power
    I agree. Q6700 will reach 3.6Ghz with no problems.
    Reply