What is overclocking?

If you enjoy computers and like to read up on the latest hardware then chances are you have came across the term overclocking. But what exactly does overclocking mean?

Overclocking is when you alter the speed setting of a component to run at a faster speed that what the manufacturer intended. Most commonly people refer to the CPU when talking about overclocking though almost any hardware component can be overclocked including the graphics card and system RAM. By setting the components speed higher than what the manufacturer intended you do get better performance from overclocked hardware though you will get increased heat and power consumption. Overclocking is usually done through the motherboard BIOs. It’s also not possible to overclock on every CPU model. For example, with Intel’s Haswell processors overclocking is limited to ‘K’ series processors (such as the Intel i7 4770K). Commonly prebuilt computers from manufacturers do not enable overclocking so it’s mostly a feature used by custom PC builders.

While overclocking seems a nice way to get a bit more performance from your processor, it’s not ideal for everyone. Firstly, overclocking increases the power consumption and heat which makes it difficult for less experienced users to contain. By having an increased power draw and heat output, you will need a powerful CPU cooler, a motherboard with decent cooling and power delivery components, good case airflow and a high wattage power supply. Secondly, your computer may become unstable. When you increase the CPU frequency (such as from 3.4GHz to 3.9GHz) you may need to increase the CPU voltage. If the CPU does not have enough voltage then the system can crash and become unstable. Overclockers usually stress test their computer using many different software applications such as Prime95. Lastly, overclocking, if done incorrectly, can damage hardware components. This is unlikely to happen however, it is a risk if you are not careful.

So is it worth overclocking? Everyone has different answers but overclocking can result in free performance. If you have the time, it can be worth researching if your hardware can be overclocked and if your cooling can keep up with the extra heat. You will also have to consider if you have the time available to stress test and fix any instability of your computer while also being prepared for a slight risk of hardware damage in case a setting is incorrectly set, such as a too high voltage. There are many guides on the Internet explaining how to overclock for particular processors and motherboard models.

 

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