Tech Update

PC Hardware Overclocking Guide

Overclocking is probably the most exciting activity in the hardware space. Starting from overclocking Qualcomm processors in handheld devices to overclocking monster Ryzen Threadrippers, the journey has its bit of twist and flavor to it. This guide will help you get started in the hardware overclocking space and build your career as an overclocker.

Why and what if Overclock?

Overclocking is the other name for a free upgrade to your existing system. By making components run faster than their out-of-the-box speeds, performance can be widely varied.

But, professional overclocking is a bit different. It is the race to get the most out of a given component, often resorting to ultimate cooling solutions, like liquid nitrogen and even liquid helium. In a single line, professional overclocking is the tech equivalent of drag racing.

But, there is a dark side to overclocking hardware. Since hardware is run at higher frequencies and power draw than optimized for, it can end up causing physical damage to components. But, overclocking, when done within safe limits will be fine. And I won’t frighten you future overclockers with unnecessary dialogues.

Overclocking Necessaries

1. Cooling:

Pushing hardware off-limits generates a lot of heat. So, better cooling is an absolute necessity in overclocking. If you are on a stock cooler or a cooler that isn’t rated for at least 30-40% more TDP (Thermal Design Power, or the maximum heat produced in watts) than the CPU’s out-of-the-box TDP, you need to improve upon your cooling solution.

For Team Blue users: Intel CPUs always specify the TDP that the processor operates in its base frequencies. Say your processor is rated for 2.9 GHz and can boost up to 4.1 GHz. Then the advertised 65W TDP is when the processor is at 2.9 GHz. It is recommended to find out the actual TDP of the CPU on the internet, or walk the extra mile and calculate it manually.

Always get a cooler after doing a lot of research. Even many aftermarket coolers won’t perform as well as advertised.

Also, it is highly advised not to overclock using your stock cooler. They were designed for “stock” frequencies, and thus can’t handle the extra heat released due to overclocking.

No cooling is enough. You can always get better cooling.

Airflow plays a huge role too. No matter how good your aftermarket air or liquid cooler is, if your intake and exhaust aren’t good enough, it will be useless. So, two intake fans, and two for exhaust (one at the rear and one at the top rear should be good). More is always better.

2. Power Requirements

Alongside cooling, your system’s power delivery should be enough to feed the faster running components. All system builders have one common phrase, “Never cheap out on your power supply.” And, that is true.

Calculate your system’s power draw from Outervision using this link – https://outervision.com/power-supply-calculator

After you calculate your power draw, add at least 150-200W to that value, and that is the power supply you should get to run your system at overclocked rates.

Also, it is advised to say away from $5 600W power supplies. They degrade quickly and will fail to deliver the required power to the system.

3. Motherboard requirements

If you want to overclock, the motherboard is the third most important thing you should be looking for. While there is a very long story attached to choosing the motherboard for perfect overclocking, I’ll try to keep it short.

For Intel chipsets, all Z chipset motherboards are overclocking ready. This includes the Z590 chipset, the Z490 chipset, the Z390 chipset, the Z370 chipset, and the Z270 chipset. The X chipsets from Intel also support the most enthusiast overclocking. This includes the X299 chipset. Also, recently, the B560 chipset motherboards joined the overclocking capable list.

For AMD chipsets, the X chipset motherboards are overclocking ready. This includes the X570 chipset and the X470 chipset. The B550 and the B450 also support overclocking, making AMD the best option in a budget for overclocking. Although the low-end A320 and A520 chipsets support overclocking, I won’t advise overclocking on these chipsets, as often the power delivery is not optimized and the VRM quality suffers on these boards.

It is highly recommended that you watch multiple reviews before purchasing a motherboard for the sole purpose of overclocking. VRM qualities and power delivery must be optimum to enable consistent system stability with overclocked components.

4. Things You Would Need

After getting your hands on the shiny new components, you only need a few more things to start overclocking.

A. Backup Plan Having a backup plan to fall back on is the best idea during any scientific endeavor. And overclocking is no exception. System instability, including non-optimum power delivery, might end up causing damage to your storage drives, including corrupting your OS.

Although the possibility of OS corruption is fairly low, you would want to create a boot drive if you have to re-install Windows again.

B. Disconnect as much as you can

While testing which settings are the most optimum for system stability, or even while creating world records with your hardware, you would want to have the bare minimum number of peripherals and accessories as you can. Use a simple keyboard and mouse, non-RGB is recommended. Also, disconnect any speaker, webcam, etc., and try to use the maximum headroom of your power supply and components.

C. Kill RGB

RGB is your swore weapon while overclocking. Many new motherboards, like the MSI MPG B550 Tomahawk Max, have a dedicated RGB kill switch.

RGB is often described as the “Power Hog” in the overclocking world. You want to give as much headroom to the components while overclocking. Most modern RGB software has an off mode, You would like to use that if you are a novice. Or else, switch off RGB from the BIOS if you want to take it to the next level.

D. Update your BIOS

The next thing you would like to do is update your BIOS to the latest version. Newer BIOS versions allow support for new hardware, like the newer RTX 30 series of graphics cards, etc. You can simply Google “Latest BIOS version of <your motherboard’s model name>”, check out your BIOS version from the BIOS/UEFI, and if you have an update, flash your BIOS.

If you have any doubts about the process or haven’t done it before, check out this tutorial by PCGamesN here: https://youtu.be/hzmjUPF8OIY

E. Download stress software

It is crucial to check your system’s stability after applying new settings. Stress software comes to the role here. There are many stress software out there and it’s easy to get lost.

We will list some which can give you the best results:

  • AIDA64 Extreme is hailed as one of the best stress software out there. It will give you solid results.
  • MemTest64, for testing your RAM. Although MemTest86 is better, it is not recommended for beginners.
  • Benchmate: It is very crucial to test how much performance you are getting out of your system. This is where BenchMate comes in. A collection of 21 benchmark software in one cannot be a better tool for overclockers, and we love it. Although, we will use the SuperPi ko benchmark for our results mostly.
  • 3DMark TimeSpy, FireStrike: You would need this for testing your graphics card. You can get 3DMark on Steam. Go to the 3DMark page in Steam, and choose “Download Demo”. The TimeSpy, Firestrike, and Night Raid software are free, although the last one is for testing integrated graphics.

Let’s Begin!

A final word before we begin. This article will in no way be responsible for any damage that you might end up causing to your components. We advise you to stay within safe limits, going over which may turn out to be fatal for your components. Also, make sure you have overclocked capable components before you begin.

IT’S SIMPLE. As long as you stay within safe limits in terms of voltage, you can push your components. We will list the voltage limits right in here:

Processor: 1.4V is the max safe limit. Try to stick to 1.39V.

Memory: Try to stick to below 1.6V.

Graphics Card: You can max out the slider inside MSI Afterburner or if you are a geek and want a number, try to stick to a max offset of 100mV, it works for most cards. Never forget to do your research. The offsets may vary depending on your hardware.

If the above metrics frighten you, I will explain them here: When you overclock a component, it is common that you will have to feed it more power. This is why it is advised to have power headroom. Inside the BIOS, you can slide a slider, or specify your overclocked voltage. These values suggest those safe voltages, over which you may see artifacts, and finally a dead component.

If you stick to these values, you will be perfectly fine.

Let’s Do It.

So, boot into your BIOS. Go to the OC section of your BIOS. I have listed its location for some of the most famous motherboard manufacturers down below. If you have a motherboard from a different manufacturer, Google is your friend.

ASRock: OC Tweaker

ASUS: Ai Tweaker

Gigabyte: Home -> Performance

MSI: Overclock Settings (second item on the left)

CPU Overclocking:

There are three things you can tweak here. The CPU frequency, the CPU core voltage, and SoC/Uncore voltage or VID. I will explain these shortly.

CPU frequency: Clock speed is measured in GHz (gigahertz), a higher number means a faster clock speed. To run your apps, your CPU must continually complete calculations, if you have a higher clock speed, you can compute these calculations quicker and applications will run faster and smoother as a result of this.

CPU Voltage: The CPU core voltage is the power supply voltage supplied to the CPU, GPU, or other device containing a processing core. The amount of power a CPU uses, and thus the amount of heat it dissipates, is the product of this voltage and its current.

VID: VID is the voltage that the chip runs at out of the box, that is to say without being overclocked.

Only increase Uncore Voltage or VID as the last option.

So, we will start with increasing CPU frequency. The target is to get the highest possible performance with your hardware. Remember, performance is alpha. You might start getting diminishing results after crossing a certain frequency. You must not resort to using that higher frequency which gives you lower performance. The entire point of overclocking is to achieve more performance.

Increase your frequency in small steps of 25MHz, and check system stability. Try increasing voltage if the system is unstable. Remember, you must never hit 1.4V or go higher. Run AIDA64 after every frequency step up. After you have confirmed that the system is perfectly stable, go ahead and run the SuperPi benchmark. Note your benchmark result. If your system is rock stable and still has headroom, push your system higher or leave it.

Repeat the steps if you have headroom. Run the AIDA64 and SuperPi benchmarks. If the new settings outperform the old settings in the SuperPi benchmark, stick to it. Or else, go back to your previous settings.

Memory Overclocking:

There are three things here as well. XMP, DRAM frequency, and DRAM voltage. Find a short description of each of them, below:

XMP: XMP is the slightly overclocked settings that your memory modules can easily support and have factory tested for. You can easily go into the OC settings of your BIOS and choose the appropriate XMP profile depending on your needs.

DRAM Frequency: All RAM modules have their clock speed, much like the CPUs, and the frequency rate is the number that shows how fast this clock speed is. This number goes next to the memory type in its name. For example, for memory units with the names DDR3-1333 and DDR4-2400, the frequency would be 1333 and 2400 MHz.

DRAM voltage: DRAM Voltage is the voltage that goes to your RAM sticks.

After you have enabled XMP, try pushing the DRAM frequency higher. Keep increasing the DRAM voltage for system stability. Remember that 1.6V is the highest limit.

After you have confirmed that the system is perfectly stable, go ahead and run the SuperPi benchmark. Note your benchmark result. If your system is rock stable and still has headroom, push your system higher or leave it.

Repeat the steps if you have headroom. Run the AIDA64 and SuperPi benchmarks. If the new settings outperform the old settings in the SuperPi benchmark, stick to it. Or else, go back to your previous settings.

Graphics Card Overclocking:

For beginners, we would recommend using the MSI Afterburner utility for overclocking your graphics card. If anything goes wrong, simply boot into safe mode, uninstall afterburner, and your system will be fine

Inside Afterburner, the first thing you would like to do is to set up the fan profile. Go to settings by clicking on the small gear option, then head over to the fan tab. Check the “Enable user-defined software automatic fan control”. You can leave the graph as it is.

The second thing we would like to do is go to the General tab of the same settings window. And check “Unlock Voltage Control”, “Unlock Voltage Monitoring” and “Force Constant Voltage”.

After you have done these, let’s start doing the interesting stuff. Increase the core clock and the memory clock by steps of 50MHz, and test performance using TimeSpy and FireStrike scores. If you encounter system instability, increase the core voltage and retest.

Repeat the steps until you have reached the point of maximum performance. Keep running TimeSpy and FireStrike benchmarks and keep a track of the scores.

You can slide the “core voltage (%)” up to 100% in Afterburner. So, you need not worry about that.

So, that’s for it. If you want to show off your achieved clocks or benchmark results and compete with other overclockers, sign up for www.hwbot.org/ and upload your validated results there.

Arka
Extreme PC enthusiast. He splits his time between PC and console hardware, gaming, and making cool PC-related videos over on YouTube.

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