- A CPU that can be overclocked
- Thermal Paste (If you need to reset your Heatsink before starting)
- Heatsink/Cooling (Depending on how far you are pushing the computer)
- Overclocking software (Normally found in the BIOS/UEFI). Some older CPU’s may not be as easy to overclock due to the software available. For the purpose of this test, we will be using the UEFI BIOS that comes with an ASUS motherboard.
- Optional: Quality Motherboard. The biggest difference between motherboards is in features and some are designed to help regulate overclocking better than others. It is by no means necessary for newer Intel processors such as Skylake, but for older CPUs, another way to have a good system for overclocking is to invest in a motherboard with a higher quality voltage regulator module.
- A Smart Phone or Wi-Fi enabled device! When you are changing things in the BIOS, you won’t have internet access to check for information, so make sure you have something readily available in case you get stuck or need help.
If your computer is running, it already has some level of heat dispersing technology, be it a stock fan and thermal paste or even more. Some techies prefer to reset the heatsink on the CPU with higher quality thermal paste. It is usually suggested to switch the heatsink and cooling set-up out for something nicer if you are really pushing your CPU to its limits.
In fact, some CPU combinations no longer offer stock cooling out of the box as they are designed to be overclocked.
There is a lot of debate about what the best set-up is, but as a rule of thumb, the more heat that you produce overclocking without being able to disperse, the more dangerous overclocking is. As such a good cooling set-up is vital to make extreme changes but most CPUs can be overclocked slightly without much extra effort and the cooling system that came with them.
WARNING: Due to the inherent risk of Overclocking, do not attempt to Overclock your CPU unless you have thoroughly studied and are willing to take the risk of damaging or even breaking components in your rig.
This is not likely to happen with a modern CPU but being irresponsible can cause a lot of damage and cost a bit of cash. As well as be embarrassing when your friends want to play Dota and you must run out and purchase a new motherboard.
Before starting on the actual work of overclocking, make sure to do several basic system checks and system maintenance.
Update the BIOS of the motherboard, the CPU firmware, and all the drivers for your components before starting.
Next do a visual inspection of the fans, making sure that all of them are running and functioning correctly. Finally, if you see dust or significant build-up in the desktop, make sure to clean that out with compressed air.
Now it’s fun time!
Step 1: Set Up Test To Check CPU Stability
Checking for defects in the CPU before starting the journey to overclock is absolutely necessary. This can be done running a program such as AIDA64, as well as numerous programs that may come with the motherboard that was purchased.
For the purpose of this guide, we will be using AIDA64. Not all programs are equal, for instance newer versions of Prime95 not only test a very specific part of the CPU, the program may in fact override the settings that are enabled causing damage. It’s best to do some research and stick to safer programs at first.
So download AIDA64 and get this puppy running!
Open up AIDA64.
Select System Stability Test.
After this, deselect every box except for Stress CPU.
At the bottom make sure to click the CPUID button as well.
This should bring up a panel with a lot of information about your CPU.
Don’t run the test yet as we are still setting up our testing environment.
Step 2: Install CPU Temperature checking software
There are many options, often included with motherboards or other components. For this purpose, we will use a simple program called RealTemp.
Realtemp allows you to see the temperature of all the cores as well as useful information like the distance to TJ Max (Not the store, the Tjunction Max). For this 4690K, TJ Max is the temperature where the CPU is so hot, shutdown is initialized to save it from being destroyed or damaged.
Step 3: Run stress tests
Now that you are ready, turn to AIDA64 and run the test!
The test should run for 15 minutes to an hour before you stop. During this test, keep an eye out for hot temperatures, system instability, the dreaded blue screen of death, crashes, or even the program telling you that you have a naughty CPU and it isn’t running right. This will help diagnose any possible CPU problems before starting the overclocking process. Keep an eye on temperatures. At this point we are not full on testing the machine, as that will come during the overclocking process, this is just a short teaser to see if you’ve been sold snake oil.
If you notice any of these problems, make sure to research the root cause and troubleshoot before proceeding with overclocking. For instance, a case with limited airflow and a bad fan may cause unnecessary heat, and that should be remedied before going any further.
If none of these problems occur, move onto Step 4! Congratulations! Your CPU is most likely healthy enough to overclock (You can’t really tell in just a short span of time all the variables in a CPU, but you can know there is likely nothing catastrophic going on.)
Step 4: Enter the BIOS and Set-Up the System
It’s clocking time! The next step is to enter the UEFI BIOS.
The BIOS or UEFI can be reached by pressing a key as soon as your computer starts booting. Often this key is F2 or Del, but depending on the age and manufacturer of your build, it may be different. Normally the startup screen will notify you and tell you which key to press to access the BIOS/UEFI. If you have an SSD, this may be a very short time frame. Many modern motherboards allow overclocking from the BIOS/UEFI. For now, just start smashing the delete and F2 key repeatedly when the computer boots up. This most likely will bring you to promised land.
Every UEFI tends to look a little different so make sure to look up for a guide for your UEFI if you get lost.
For this UEFI we are going to enter advanced mode, which can be found at the bottom of the screen.
We are going to be working primarily in the Ai Tweaker tab.
Step 5: Should I Auto overclock?
This is the easiest and safest way to begin your journey towards overclocking!
Often a Motherboard will come with settings that allow you to automatically overclock the CPU, usually this is within very safe boundaries and doesn’t represent the full-fledged boosts you can get from pushing your CPU. If you are uncomfortable with changing voltage, multipliers, and running stress tests, this is a great option. The UEFI will usually give you a couple options, and often ask what the computer is used for (We all know gaming is why we use computers…)
Look at the guide that comes with your Motherboard to see where you should start with this.
Step 6: Changing the Multiplier
Roll up those sleeves, math is coming!
The CPU Core Ratio is where you can change the settings for the multiplier. Unfortunately, this only works on unlocked CPU as the locked ones do not allow changes on this level.
Select Sync All Cores
This should bring up a list of the cores located on your machine.
Next you can change the top core from Auto to a number
This number is known as the multiplier. It represents the Base Clock multiplied by the Multiplier. For instance, a multiplier of 45 applied to a base clock of 100 would result in a 4.5 GHz CPU. Knowing this can give you a good feel for where you should set your multiplier for dialing in the Core (For instance, setting the multiplier on a 3 GHz CPU to 50 might be such a drastic shift that it most likely will not boot)
The base-clock is usually set to 100 and best not to change (Advanced users might slightly change this by MINIMAL amounts, but messing up the base-clock is where a CPU begins to worship the fire gods).
The easiest way to overclock a CPU is by changing the multiplier on all the cores to something a little bit higher (For instance with an i5 4690K one might change it from 35 to 37 initially). You can get very different numbers here depending on the CPU you own, so make sure to do a little research and slowly increment this number.
Start by boosting the multiplier by 1! You are new at this, no need to be a hero.
Step 7: Increasing the voltage
Next Scroll down to the voltage settings. It will look like this.
Set the voltage to manual mode
The sweet spot for voltage is between 1.2 and 1.4 Volts. Overclocking inherently requires giving more voltage to the CPU to increase its strength. At this point, feel free to boost it in slight increments but do not exceed the acceptable range (1.2-1.4 is often a good range but make sure to look up what is recommended when overclocking your own CPU). When we reboot, we will dial in the best strength for a multiplier, and then eventually after finding that, start to increase the voltage. For now though, just increase it slightly.
Manual mode will run the CPU at the recommended voltage, which will be good for testing but eventually we will want to switch the CPU to adaptive mode.
Adaptive Mode versus Auto Mode
Adaptive Mode is an awesome little tool that is best for after you have dialed in your overclocking.
Adaptive means that when the CPU is idle, it will not run at the modified clock speeds and in fact will dwindle down to the normal factory settings. This greatly reduces stress on the CPU (Overclocking all day, every day, can give your CPU quite the headache). We’ll come back to this, but for now, note the location!
Step 8: Back to Benchmarking
Save your settings and boot your precious computer. This part is where the finesse begins! Going back to our first couple of steps, you need to load up your stress testing programs and start benchmarking the CPU.
Run AIDA64 for 15 minutes or so, look for problems, and see what happens. Again we are looking for crashes, the Blue Screen of Death, or unsafe temperatures (Over 80 Celsius under stress is entering the danger zone. I like to keep my CPU from even entering that threshold).
(This guy isn’t very popular at parties)
If your CPU is running smooth after a bit, go back to the UEFI BIOS and push the multiplier up by one.
Step 9: Find the sweet spot!
Finding what works best for your CPU and your hardware is different for everybody. The key is to make sure that you are falling within good ranges for temperature as well as voltage.
Keep repeating the process, until you start to see unsafe temperatures or a BOS. Once you are starting to see system decay. Reboot, and return! You can change the voltage to fine tune the CPU or drop a multiplier to a lower setting. Fine tuning is usually done by increasing the voltage in very small increments (As low as .01 volts.)
Eventually you will start to see the best balance of performance, and key in some good settings.
Step 10: Test, Test, TEST!
After dialing in your CPU, increasing voltage within a safe range, increasing the multiplier to a safe factor, and making sure you have stable performance. The next step is to run a long-term CPU test. This consists of 4-6 hours with a heavy benchmarking program such as Realbench and 24 hours of testing with AIDA64. Also feel free to use a CPU intensive game, such as Ashes of the Singularity or ARMA.
Why all the tests?
Even after a couple hours of testing, a CPU might have problems that haven’t been discovered with the current set-up. This means that a couple weeks into using an overclocked CPU, you might find yourself accidentally seeing ol’ blue screen of death pop-up and rudely ruin whatever you are working on or playing. It takes time to test for system stability and this can’t happen in a few minutes.
Different programs test different aspects of the CPU and can give you confidence your CPU is singing like a canary.
After finishing testing and finding no flaws. Go back to the UEFI and change it to Adaptive Mode. Save the changes, and reboot.
Celebrate! You have achieved a milestone in your understanding of the PC Master Race! You can now overclock a CPU. This is a big step in getting your feet wet in the customization and handling of the PC you use.