Overclocking your CPU can make your processor run significantly faster by applying the correct settings and having adequate cooling. It's not even as complicated as it used to be, with loads of fantastic tools to help you get your job done efficiently and effectively.
Should you overclock your CPU? It's entirely up to you. While it has its risks, you won't void your warranty unless you get too crazy – and it is, within limits, a painless, almost risk-free endeavor.
A word of warning
When you overclock a processor, several things happen. The chip runs hotter and uses more power. Both of these factors can cause problems when using the standard cooler that came with the CPU. That doesn't necessarily mean you can't overclock, but your potential overclocking margin is much less than if you used a more advanced air or liquid cooling system in your PC.
Overclocking usually shortens the life of a CPU, but not always and not necessarily for a measurable period of time. However, if it is forced to run faster and use more power, it can lead to faster deterioration. As long as you don't get extreme with overclocking, you'll likely be upgrading your system before this becomes an issue. Just think about the side effects.
If you're looking to overclock a laptop CPU, you're probably out of luck. Few allow it and fewer still have the thermal headroom to make it viable. But even if you can, we'll warn you about it on your first overclocking project.
Finally, overclocking your CPU can void your warranty. AMD and Intel usually don't cover overclocking, although it's difficult to prove that overclocking destroyed your CPU – unless you pushed way too much voltage through the chip.
Motherboard manufacturers may or may not cover overclocking. If you have any concerns, please check the warranty before trying.
Identify your CPU
Before you start overclocking the CPU, find out what you have – the chip may not even support overclocking. If so, with a little research, you can determine the theoretical maximums.
Which processors you can overclock is one area where AMD and Intel differ significantly. You can overclock the latest CPUs from AMD, especially Ryzen. Usually, you can only overclock the Intel K and X series CPUs.
Below are some recently unlocked Intel processors prepared for overclocking. If your CPU isn't on the list and the name doesn't have a K or X suffix, overclocking may not be possible. Double check if you are not sure.
|item number||Base clock||Turbo clock|
|Core i9-9900K||3.6 GHz||5.0 GHz|
|Core i7-9700K||3.6 GHz||4.9 GHz|
|Core i5-9600K||3.7 GHz||4.6 GHz|
|Core i7-8086K||4.0 GHz||5.0 GHz|
|Core i7-8700K||3.7 GHz||4.7 GHz|
|Core i5-8600K||3.6 GHz||4.3 GHz|
|Core i3-8350K||4.0 GHz||N / A|
AMD processors have been fully unlocked and overclockable for generations. Whether you have an AMD FX CPU or one of the newer Ryzen chips, they can all be changed. We could list them all here, but that would be extensive. If you have an AMD CPU, overclocking is likely on the table.
If you're not sure, don't fret. The worst thing that can happen when you can't overclock your CPU is that you try and it doesn't work. The software we recommend will let you know. In the worst case scenario, you will be disappointed.
As overclocking increases the operating temperature of your system, it will force both the CPU and system cooling to work harder than usual. If this is your first attempt at overclocking, give your PC a spring cleaning. You can clean the dust filters on your front intake fans, or remove all of the parts and wipe every surface inside.
Ultimately, you want to make sure that clumps of dust aren't blocking the flow of air in and out of your PC. Also, make sure that no dust accumulates on your CPU cooler. This is where most of the additional heat collects.
Before cleaning, turn off the PC and wear an anti-static wrist strap. We also don't recommend using a vacuum cleaner to remove dust, as static electricity may build up. If dust is hard to get to, use a can of compressed air sold by a store like Walmart or Best Buy.
When you're finally done, skip to the section for the CPU brand and follow the directions there.
Intel CPU: Extreme Tuning Utility
You can overclock Intel CPUs through the BIOS. Since this is a beginner's guide to overclocking, we recommend Intel's Windows-based Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU), which you can download here. It is a free software suite specially designed to overclock your Intel CPU.
Unlike third-party software, the Intel XTU is stable, reliable, and unlikely to cause problems independently. You will get a detailed overview of the current status of your CPU. Even if you're not overclocking, it's a great little utility that will provide a lot of information about your system. You can monitor CPU usage, temperature, and execution benchmarks.
Intel XTU may look a little intimidating at first because it has a lot of very detailed options. Once you are familiar with the tool, everything makes sense. The tons of information become very useful.
Step 1: base temperatures and power
The first time you start XTU, take some basics to make sure your CPU is ready to overclock. First, run the stress test, which is located in the left menu. Do this test for at least an hour.
You can sit and watch the test or do something else. If you leave, come back towards the end of the lesson and look at the system information in the window base.
Note the packaging temperature. If your CPU is hotter than 80 degrees, you don't have the thermal headroom to overclock. We recommend upgrading the cooling before proceeding.
If your temperature is well below – preferably well below – you have some thermal leeway to push your chip at a higher frequency (with relative certainty).
Step 2: multipliers
Although you can overclock your CPU from the Basic tab, the various components of an overclock can help you understand what is happening to the chip. This also makes it easier to achieve stable overclocking. Select the Advanced Optimization tab from the left menu and look at the Multipliers section.
Multipliers (or CPU ratios) correspond to the speed at which you exit the CPU. It's a multiplication of the BCLK frequency or the reference clock. A x32 multiplier would typically mean a turbo frequency of 3.2 GHz.
Increase your multiplier over all cores by a number (in our example x33). Although you can set the frequencies individually on different cores, we'll be pushing for all-core overclocking to keep things simple.
Now test the stability of the overclocking. Select Stress Test from the left menu and run the test again. In this case, you only need to run the test for 10 minutes. When this completes easily, increase the multiplier by one more step. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, the test reports an error result or crashes your computer. In this case, revert to the previous multiplier setting.
When you are happy with the final overclocking, do longer stress tests and play some games for a few hours to make sure the overclocking stays stable. If not, reduce the multiplier by one more step and start the stress test again. When you reach a point where you can use your PC at a higher frequency as you normally would, pat yourself on the back for a successful overclock!
If you are struggling to stabilize your overclock or if you want to see if you can keep propelling the system, try adjusting the voltage.
Step 3: core tension
Many voltage parameters can affect the operation of a CPU, but arguably the most important and effective is the core voltage (VCore). You can adjust the voltage using the Intel XTU, much like you changed the multipliers. This process can differentiate between unstable and stable overclocks, or even the difference between modest and much higher overclocks.
But be warned: you need to be more careful when setting the CPU voltage than with multipliers. If you get the CPU to run at a ridiculously high multiplier, it will simply crash and restart your system. Trying to put too much voltage through your CPU can destroy it. So proceed carefully.
Use google to see what settings other people are using for your specific CPU, especially VCore settings as these can damage the chip. Reddit's r / overclocking is a great resource for seeing what other people have been generating from the same CPU configurations.
As a rule of thumb, anything above 1.4 volts is dangerous. However, it depends heavily on the specific chip in your PC, so additional research should be considered.
When you're done, select the Advanced Tuning tab in the left menu on the XTU and increase your core voltage by about 0.025. For example, if you start at 1,250, move to 1,275. Choose Apply. If the system doesn't crash, you can run the stress test again to make sure you are still in a safe temperature range.
You can also try increasing the multiplier to see if the extra voltage will improve your CPU's overclocking ability.
Step 4: optimize, test, repeat
At this point, you will have all the tools to determine the stable overclocking of your CPU. Take it easy. Change the settings only in small steps. Perform at least one short stress test after each change. Make sure that your CPU temperatures do not exceed 80 degrees after a long stress test. Don't set your tensions too high.
If your system crashes or reboots, this is a tell-tale sign that you've pushed something too far. Go back and make some adjustments. The most important result is that you find a safe and stable frequency for your CPU. It's fun to get it on a much higher frequency, but if it's not robust enough to run applications or play games without crashing, it's not very useful outside of the bragging rights.
When you are satisfied with a stable frequency, write down your settings so that you can reapply them later if necessary.
AMD: Ryzen Master
The steps of AMD CPUs are largely the same as Intel chips, but the software is different. If you have an AMD Ryzen processor from 2017, we recommend the AMD Ryzen Master software for beginners. You can download the utility from the AMD website here.
For older AMD processors, we recommend AMD Overdrive instead. The following instructions still apply, but the software layout is slightly different. Make sure to double-check what you are doing before making any changes.
Note: You can overclock an AMD CPU through the BIOS. However, we recommend using Windows-based software for your first attempt. It's easier and faster.
Step 1: stress test
Before overclocking the CPU, make sure that the safe temperatures are not exceeded. Although Ryzen Master has an integrated stress test, it doesn't last long. Instead, we recommend the AIDA64 Extreme tool and its stability test (free trial version). If you like this tool, a full license is $ 40 for up to three PCs.
Please open it and select Tools from the top menu, followed by Stability Test. Press Start when you're ready and let your PC sit for about an hour. Make sure that temperatures do not exceed 80 degrees at any point during the test. If so, improve the CPU cooling before attempting overclock. When you have some temperature latitude, move on to overclocking your system.
Step 2: frequencies
With Ryzen Master, you cannot manually control the CPU multipliers. Instead, there are clock speeds for each physical core that you can adjust individually or across the board. To do this, select Profile 1 or 2 in the lower menu and set the control mode to manual. Make sure the All Cores setting in the left menu is selected and green. If not, click on it to change the status. You can now set the frequencies of all cores at the same time.
Click on the plus symbol of any core to increase the frequency by 25 MHz. When you're done, press Apply and Test in the top menu to apply the frequency setting you just made. Next, run the Ryzen Master's built-in stability test tool to make sure you have a stable overclock. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge in the top left of the window.
If the test passes and temperatures stay low enough, increase it another 25 MHz and repeat the stability test. If the test fails or your temperature exceeds 80 degrees, decrease the frequency again. If your system crashes or crashes after a reboot, make sure not to exceed safe and stable frequencies in the future.
Note: You can increase the frequency in larger steps if you prefer. In this case, however, there is a higher risk of your system blocking or crashing.
When you find the highest frequency, you can re-open AIDA64 and run an advanced stability test without passing the test or causing the system to crash. If your CPU passes this test, you have successfully overclocked your system. If it doesn't, decrease the frequency one step. Repeat the process until you find a frequency that will safely complete the test.
If you want to continue overclocking or stabilize an overclock, try adjusting the voltages as well.
Step 3: voltage regulation
Increasing the CPU voltage can improve overclocking stability. You can use it to overclock even further. The downside is that it can raise temperatures dramatically. Setting the voltage too high can also damage your processor. So proceed carefully. Make only small adjustments at a time.
A safe voltage for most AMD CPUs should exceed 1.4. However, we recommend researching your specific CPU to make sure you aren't setting the voltage too high.
If you want to continue, select your chosen profile and check if there is a green circle next to the voltage regulation. Manually select this option if you don't see the green circle. Then increase the voltage by one using the arrows to the right of the setting. Hit Apply and Test to see if the overclocking stays stable.
If you have a stable overclock, run the AIDA64 test for an hour to see if it remains stable for long periods of time. If it crashes or freezes, keep increasing the voltage. If your system or CPU gets too hot, consider lowering the voltage and improving the cooling before proceeding.
Step 4: rinse and repeat
When you've found a stable frequency and voltage, congratulations! You can now increase the frequencies further if you have additional voltage and temperature leeway. Save your profile to lock all of these settings and use them again in the future.
Ryzen Master should load with Windows. To apply overclocking, give your administrator consent when prompted. If not asked for your permission, launch the app and apply overclocking manually.