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Is Your CPU Overclockable? (Or Already Being Overclocked)

Trying to figure out if your CPU is overclockable or already overclocked? We can help you with that!

In years past, the only option for significant performance increases in your PC would be to upgrade your hardware or buy a whole new system. That was it. There were no shortcuts, there were no hidden features. But these days, it’s easier than ever to get a boost with nothing but software.

The way to this this boost is through overclocking and, while many people think it’s only the GPU that can undergo such a transformation, your CPU can get the same kind of upgrade.

But there is a caveat here: not all CPUs can be overclocked and some are far more fit for it than others.

This guide will help you figure out if your CPU is up to the task or if its better to wait for a hardware upgrade before exploring the world of overclocking.

P.S. – If you’re wondering about “Superclocking”, we have a separate guide covering that specifically.

How to Know if A CPU is Overclockable

Intel processors that are overclockable will have an “Unlocked” distinction and have a “K” in their name. On the other hand, all AMD Ryzen processors are overclockable. If you’re running a relatively new system from the past 3-5 years, the likelihood that you can Overclock your CPU is pretty high.

Intel Unlocked & AMD Ryzen CPUs
Intel Unlocked CPU and an AMD Ryzen CPU boxes side-by-side. Tester128 / Shutterstock

Intel CPUs are, in general, known more for their single core performance, power-saving features, and mass market reliability than they are for their pure multi-core performance, customization, and ease of Overclocking.

“Unlocked” Intel processors are meant to be Overclocked, but require being paired with an aftermarket cooling system.

If you have an AMD processor, pretty much every newer model can work.

If you don’t know your CPU model or are having trouble figuring it out, it’s very easy to find. Just go to your search bar and type in “About your PC”, and you will find the information you’re looking for.

It’s also important to note that your motherboard is a factor in your ability to Overclock your CPU. For Intel, you’ll need a z-type motherboard for processor overclocking. For AMD, almost all of their motherboards support overclocking.

If you’re wondering if your motherboard might be bottlenecking your PC, take a look at our guide to How Motherboards Can Bottleneck a PC & How to Identify It.

How to Know If Your CPU is Already Overclocked

If you’re unsure if your model is Overclocked, download a tool called CPUZ and that will show you the original factory speed compared to the current speed of the system. If these are different, you know your CPU has been Overclocked already. You can also search whatever model your PC and processor is online and find out the speed that way.

It’s one thing to manually Overclock your CPU yourself, but what about if something has been done prior to Overclock it already? If that’s the case, then furthering the clock could be hazardous to your system, so how do you find out if this is what’s happening with your PC?

Usually, if the CPU is Overclocked, it will be done manually by you, so no foreign forces generally have any input here. However, sometime you can find a processor that’s already Overclocked. These are generally found on sites that have custom rigs available.

Occasionally, some high quality retail laptops will come pre-Overclocked as well. You can usually push the Overclocking further on this systems but you need to be careful while doing so, as the system is already being pushed further than it was initially intended to.

How to Overclock a CPU

How to Overclock a CPU

While you can Overclock a system’s GPU by just downloading an Overclock tool and turning some sliders up and down, the sequence of Overclocking a CPU is much more involved.

First off, you’re going to have to access the BIOS. To access this, you must turn off your computer and then turn it back on. While the computer is restarting, press the DELETE, F2 or F10 keys repeatedly. If you do this, you will enter a whole new screen known as the BIOS. The combination for each CPU differs depending on the brand and model, but by pressing those keys, you will eventually get to the menu regardless.

The model of your computer will give you some differing visuals here, but you should be able to find something like Advanced CPU Core Settings or a menu titled OC/Overclocking. This is exactly where we want to be.

From here, you can choose between Automatic and Manual Overclocking. Depending on your level of experience, you can go with the manual option. Be forewarned: this is a much riskier option because the wrong settings could result in your overheating your system and potentially cause some nasty side effects.

Automatic Overclocking carries little to no risk, but the result will also give you barely any improvement in performance, so we’re going to explore how the riskier Manual path works.

Find the CPU Multiplier

The key to Overclocking manually is to increase the clock speed. The way we’re going to do this is by finding the CPU multiplier.

The CPU multiplier uses the clock that’s in the motherboard and increases it based on the setting you input. What we’ll be doing here is carefully raising the multiplier. You do this by typing in a number or pressing + on your keyboard.

Go very slowly here and be patient. You’re going to have to check the speed increases gradually so that you don’t mess anything up. Also keep an eye to make sure that your clock speed isn’t jumping around erratically.

If clock speed jumping is a problem for you, we’ve got a standalone guide specifically for that.

There are multiple cores at play here as well, and increasing each one can improve your performance BUT this will also increase the temperature of your system and the hotter things get, the more unstable things become.

When you find a number you’re comfortable with, save the settings and reboot your system.

From here, you should download 3DMark (here’s a link to 3DMark) and benchmark your system. This will show you how stable and how hot your system is getting as well as the speed of the clock that is running. It’s not just about the multiplier though, as you can only get so much out of this before frying your system.

Find the CPU Voltage

Elsewhere in the BIOS, we’re going to find the CPU voltage setting. At its default setting, it’s at 1.25 or Auto. You want to increase this very slowly and by tiny increments such as 1.3 to 1.4, any big jumps here could cause instability, so I wouldn’t bother with it.

By combining this with the previous CPU multiplier, you should start to see some results and you can easily end up with a system that runs almost two times as fast as it previously did in safe manner, resulting in some very noticeable and effective results.

Is Overclocking a CPU Worth It?

Overclocking is a risk that every PC gamer likely contemplates at some point in time during their time with a gaming ready rig, but the real question is if it is even worth it? This all depends on what your uses for the CPU will be.

For the casual gaming crowd, those who mostly enjoy indie games and/or games that have low graphical demand, then Overclocking your CPU isn’t necessary. If you’re trying to run graphically intensive AAA games on ultra-settings with features like ray tracing enabled, then overclocking your CPU might be beneficial.

As long as you’re doing it in a safe manner, there’s no real risk in Overclocking your CPU. In terms of the benefits you can get, it’s not only going to speed up the startup rate for games, but you might also see reduced input lag as well as a boost in graphics, speed, loading times and more by Overclocking.

AMD Ryzen 5600X CPU
AMD’s Ryzen processors are examples of affordable, ready-to-overclock CPUs. Darkwisper S / Shutterstock

Is it a must to Overclock as a gamer though? Absolutely not. It’s really reserved for the people who just aren’t satisfied with “good enough”, they want the top-of-the-line gaming experience and they will be the ones to utilize Overclocking to squeeze out every drop of performance.

Overclocking is one of the most fun things to do when it comes to tinkering with the PC, as it can feel like a way to upgrade your system at the cost of exactly zero dollars.

The key is to make sure your system actually can handle the Overclocking and that you’re not tinkering with numbers that essentially will do nothing if your processor isn’t prepared to be Overclocked. Even small extra precautions (like higher-performing thermal paste) are a good idea here.

With some careful adjustments and the proper research in hand, Overclocking your CPU can have just as many benefits of you Overclocking your GPU. The two working in tandem together can create a system that will run far faster and give you more frames per second than the machine you thought you bought.

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