How to safely overclock your CPU: A beginners guide to unlock more performance

How to safely overclock your CPU: A beginners guide to unlock more performance

Overclocking processors — be it Intel or an AMD CPU — is often considered to be the telltale mark of a PC enthusiast. While it’s true that overclocking is no child’s play, it doesn’t pose much of a risk if you know what you’re doing. And in this guide, we’ll teach you how to overclock CPUs. We’ll take you through the steps involved in safely overclocking your Intel or AMD processor.

Even the best CPUs on the market with impressive benchmark numbers out of the box offer headroom that allows you to squeeze more performance. CPU overclocking, however, isn’t the only way to improve the overall performance of your computer. If you haven’t already, you can also consider upgrading to an SSD to see a performance boost. With that out of the way, let’s get to the guide.

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How to safely overclock your CPU: Overclocking pre-requisites

One of the first things you need to make sure of is if your processor even supports overclocking, to begin with. Intel designates its unlocked CPUs with the suffix “K”. These CPUs mostly land in Core i5, i7, i9, and very rarely in Core i3, families. The “KF” chips are also overclockable, but they lack an integrated GPU. On the AMD side of things, several generations of processors including the latest Ryzen 5000 chips are unlocked and overclockable.

We don’t recommend overclocking a locked CPU, though. In fact, Intel recently warned against overclocking its non-K Alder Lake CPUs.

A Gigabyte Aorus Z690 Pro DDR5 motherboard inside a PC case

Additionally, you’ll also need a motherboard that supports overclocking. In Intel’s case, the Intel chipsets with the “Z” prefix are the only models that fully support overclocking. Both B and H-series chipset-based motherboards either only support memory overclocking or nothing at all. It also goes without saying that you’ll need a good-quality high-end chip chiller to handle the thermal output of an overclocked CPU. Not all unlocked CPUs are bundled with a cooler in the box, but DO NOT overclock on a stock cooler even if you have one. You can check out our collection of the best CPU coolers on the market to find some good options.

Last, but not least, it’s also important to evaluate the power consumption to see if your PSU’s capacity is enough to keep the show running. You can take a look at our collection of the best power supply units to find some good options.

How to safely overclock your CPU: Intel processors

For the sake of this beginner’s guide, we’ll be using Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) tool to overclock the CPU instead of using the BIOS. You can download this free software here.

Baseline Performance & Temperature

One of the first things you need to do is find out the baseline temperature and performance of your CPU. This will allow you to quantify the performance gains after a successful overclock. You can hit the “Run Benchmark” button in the Benchmarking tab to find out a few things about your CPU like its maximum frequency and the maximum temperature. You’ll also get a score at the end of this test which can act as the baseline score before overclocking.

Intel Extreme Tuning Utility

Note: If your CPU temps cross the 80-degree mark during the baseline test, then it’s probably not a good idea to proceed further without upgrading your cooler. Overclocking the CPU from this point will only increase the temperature and push it further towards the TJMax values.

From here, you can either start with the ‘Basic Tuning’ to adjust a limited selection of parameters or dive deep into the ‘Advanced Tuning’ to tweak more options including Vcore, Core Ratio, and more.

Basing Tuning with Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) tool

When it comes to ‘Basic Tuning’, you’ll see “Processor Core Ratio” and the “Processor Cache Ratio” sliders. In both cases, we recommend increasing the slider progressively by small steps. Increase it by 1x, reboot, and check for stability before increasing again, rather than making drastic changes. The “Processor Cache Ratio” slider adjusts the frequency of the part of the CPU that connects the cores to the processor cache. We recommend keeping both siders at roughly the same frequency, but you’re free to experiment as long as you don’t make drastic changes at once.

Intel Extreme Tuning Utility basic tuning

Advanced Tuning with Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) tool

Moving on to ‘Advanced Tuning’, this particular tab will allow you to dive deep into more settings. We don’t necessarily recommend tweaking these unless you know what you’re doing. It’s designed for more advanced users, so it’s best to stick with basic tuning if you’re new. Under this setting, you’ll be able to change things like the Processor Core Ratio per individual core, the Vcore (Core Voltage), and more. You can also change the multiplier of all the CPU cores at once, so feel free to explore that option too.

The Vcore adjustment is also crucial when it comes to overclocking as the CPU demands more power in order to run at faster speeds and remain stable. Here, you can also use the Core Voltage Offset if you don’t know the default Vcore of your CPU. As is the case with every other change, it’s best not to exceed changes of 0.05V at a time while increasing the Vcore. Even under the Advanced tuning setting, we only recommend the Processor Core Ratio, Processor Cache Ratio, and the Core Voltage changes for most users.

Intel Extreme Tuning Utility advanced tuning

Once you think you’ve made enough changes and ensured everything is stable, it’s time to see how much of an improvement it is compared to the baseline numbers. You can check for performance improvement by running the XTU benchmarks again. You can keep tuning until you reach the desired performance level for your system.

How to safely overclock your CPU: AMD processors

The steps involved in overclocking an AMD CPU are largely the same as Intel chips. The software, however, is different. We recommend using the AMD Ryzen Master tool for beginners. You can download it from here. The Ryzen Master software works well with a lot of AMD chips, but those using a relatively older AMD processor (processors released before 2017), can use the AMD Overdrive tool instead. It’s very similar to the Ryzen Master tool, so the steps will remain mostly the same.

Baseline performance and temperature

Before we begin, it’s important to run some stress tests to identify the baseline performance and the temperature of the chip you’re using. You can use Ryzen Master’s built-in stress test, or download a third-party benchmark application like Cinebench R23, CPU-Z, and more. Make sure the CPU temperature doesn’t exceed 80-degrees during the test. You might want to upgrade to your CPU cooler before proceeding with overclocking if it does.

CPU Tuning

AMD Ryzen Master Software

As a part of the beginner’s guide, we’ll only be looking at the basic options. The first thing you need to do is switch the ‘Control Mode’ from ‘Manual’. This will allow you to manually adjust clock speed and voltages for overclocking. AMD Ryzen Master will allow you to adjust the clock speeds directly without having to use multipliers. Once again, we recommend adjusting the clock speeds in increments of 50MHz. You can hit the ‘Apply & Test’ after each increment to allow the software to boost and test.

AMD Ryzen Master Tuning

You can also increase the CPU voltage to improve the overall stability of the overclock. Higher voltages, however, will increase the temperatures, so be careful what you wish for, and only make small adjustments. Once you’ve made enough adjustments, we recommend running some benchmarks for 30 mins to an hour to make sure the CPU is stable and the temperatures are under acceptable limits.

How to safely overclock your CPU: Final Thoughts

Overclocking your CPU, as you can see, is fairly simple. It’s always best to do a little bit of research about your CPU to find out its limits or potential issues that you may run into while overclocking it. You can also head to XDA Computing Forums to discuss the potential overclocking ability of your chip or see what others have achieved with similar processors. Remember to change settings only in small increments and run at least a short burst of test after you make any changes.

If you encounter crashes or if your PC restarts, then there’s a very good chance that you’ve pushed a little too far. That’s when you stop, go back, and make necessary adjustments. It’s worth making a note that laptop processors generally can’t be overclocked unless mentioned otherwise. That’s because there are thermal limitations in laptops and you can’t change the entire cooling solution to safely overclock. If you think your laptop is showing its age then you might want to consider upgrading its memory or storage. If not, it might just be time to get a new one. We have plenty of laptops to recommend, so be sure to check out our collection of the best gaming laptops, the best AMD Ryzen laptops, and more. Good luck!

About author

Karthik Iyer
Karthik Iyer

Karthik covers PC hardware for XDA Computing. When not at work, you will find him yelling at his monitors while playing video games.

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