A Guide to Overclocking a Computer (With Pros and Cons)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're an IT support professional, you can speed up your team's computers' performance by using the overclocking technique. Computers and other technology hardware devices operate at various speeds and functionality, and they can slow down depending on their usage or age. Learning more about this technique can help you develop technical skills and capabilities you can apply to professional and personal resources. In this article, we explore what it means to overclock and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so and share seven steps on how to overclock a computer.

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What is overclocking?

Overclocking is the process of boosting a computer component's clock speed to run it at a higher speed and efficiency beyond its original capacity. The clock speed refers to the different speeds that different computer processor chips run. When you overclock, you're manually adjusting this clock speed so it can run faster than before. Generally, you can overclock the central processing unit (CPU), the graphics processing unit (GPU) and other computer components, such as the motherboard.

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What can you overclock?

You can overclock all kinds of central processing units (CPUs) but there are some differences among different CPU producers. For Intel computers, you can overclock any CPU with a K at the end of its name, such as the Intel Core i7 9700K model. You can also overclock Intel's X series CPUs and chipsets, such as the Core i9-7900X. On the other hand, most manufacturers have unlocked AMD CPUs for overclocking so you can easily attempt to repair or improve the CPUs.

What are the advantages that can arise when you overclock?

When you overclock a computer, you can enjoy several benefits, such as:

Boosting the performance of the computer

When you overclock a computer, the efficiency and speed at which the computer processor runs increase. This is especially useful for computer enthusiasts, gamers and others who want to run programs that use up a lot of the power of the CPU. This includes web developers, graphic designers, UX and UI designers, sound engineers and others who can benefit from a better performing computer. Overclocking enables these professionals to instal and configure any software and applications that are essential to their career and use them seamlessly without experiencing computer downtime or glitches.

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Revitalising a computer with less processing power

If you have a computer that is a model with less processing power, it may take a long time to load websites and applications or you may not be able to instal more advanced software. This includes any computer that uses Intel Core i3 or lower and AMD Ryzen 3 or lower. Although these processors work well, they may not run multiple applications at the same time without glitches. Their performance may also decrease the longer you've had it.

This may negatively affect your work productivity, especially if you do most of your work on the computer. In this case, you can overclock the processor to make the computer run like a better model, such as a Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5, which runs faster and more efficiently. If you have good computer acumen, boosting the performance of your existing computer can be a more sustainable alternative than purchasing a new computer.

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Saving money

Rather than investing in expensive upgrades or even purchasing an entirely new CPU or computer, you can get your existing device to run faster and better when you overclock it. This eliminates the need to spend money on upgrades. In addition, before you even purchase a computer, you can think ahead on saving money by purchasing a computer with a graphics card and a CPU that you can overclock. This ensures that when the time comes, you can easily overclock the computer to get excellent performance out of it, instead of spending on upgrades.

What are the disadvantages that can arise when you overclock?

Although there are many advantages of overclocking a computer, there are also disadvantages that can arise, such as:

Declining usefulness

With advancements in technology, computers in recent years have modern CPUs that already run fast and efficiently. Some computer producers may also offer upgrades for free or at a cheaper price than before. Boosting the performance of a computer manually may not be as useful or necessary as it used to be.

Overheating and damaging the computer

Increasing the clock speed of a CPU can also increase the amount of heat that your CPU generates. A best practice to keep the temperature of your overclocked CPU below 85°C. Any temperature above that can make your CPU throttle its clock speed to cool down, which decreases the performance of the computer. Letting your CPU heat up for long periods of time can also seriously damage your computer permanently and lower its functional lifespan.

There are some strategies that you can use to avoid overheating. For instance, you can purchase a third party CPU air cooler or use liquid cooling, which is a method to lower the temperature of CPUs and GPUs using water rather than air. Still, CPU water and air coolers can be expensive, running anywhere from $100 to $3000. Water coolers are more effective but more expensive. Alternatively, you can buy a thermal compound, which is a grey paste that you can apply between the CPU cooler and the CPU itself, allowing more efficient heat transfers.

Safety concerns

During the process to overclock a computer, it's necessary to increase the voltage provided to the CPU. This process can be dangerous. If the voltage gets too high, it can seriously damage the computer chip or kill it immediately.

The best practice is to keep the voltage under 1.25v for absolute safety. You might increase it up to 1.3v or even 1.4v if your motherboard can handle the power. 1.4v is the maximum voltage that you may aim for, as anything above this number can be dangerous.

How to overclock your CPU

If you want to overclock a computer or processor, consider following these seven steps to minimise risks and increase efficiency:

1. Check the core temperature

Before starting the process to overclock a computer, check the core temperature of your CPU to establish a baseline. This is important because when you overclock, the temperature of your process increases. Measuring the difference can help you ensure a safe process. You can download various applications to monitor your CPU temperature.

2. Run a stress test

A stress test helps determine if your CPU and system are stable enough to overclock a computer. Often, the more intensive overclock you intend to do, the longer you run the initial stress test, for example for three to five hours. You can use free or paid software to run quality stress tests and you want to monitor the core temperature throughout.

3. Review your processor's performance

Understanding your CPU's current performance level helps you measure improvements that result from overclocking your computer. There are various programs and downloads to use as a tool, scoring the computer's performance to offer a comparison measurement. Also, consider reviewing all the apps and software installed on the computer and removing ones you don't use. This gives you an excellent base to make the process smooth and quick.

4. Open up the basic input-output system (BIOS)

To start the procedure to overlock a computer, open up the basic input-output system (BIOS) to access the settings. You do this during boot up when turning your computer on. Depending on the computer system, press either the "delete", "F2" or "F10" button repeatedly. A message box prompts you to enter setup and then core settings, where you can make alterations to the CPU.

5. Choose an automatic or manual method

Some CPU manufacturers have an automatic function to overclock a computer that you can access. Essentially, it gives you a performance increase through safe levels of boosting the computer's processor performance, though they rarely offer as much as manual methods. Depending on your specific needs, confidence and experience level, it's worth considering an automatic option versus a manual one.

6. Adjust the multiplier

If you decide to overclock a computer manually, you want to increase the multiplier within the settings. Consider doing this gradually, as a slow process to ensure the computer stays stable and maintains a good core temperature. You can increase the multiplier a little each time until you reach the desired CPU speed unit rather than starting with a drastic change and potentially encountering an issue.

7. Save the settings

When you reach a desired speed unit and multiplier, save the settings and reboot the computer. Consider performing another stress test while monitoring the core temperature to review the changes, improvements or differences in the computer's performance and stability. You can revert to previous system settings if your computer responds poorly or continue to adjust again for more as needed.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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