What Is Overclocking, And How It Can Help Your PC, Tablet, & Phone [MakeUseOf Explains]

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what is overclockingWhenever you buy a piece of hardware, you are the owner of that hardware. No matter what people or corporations try to do to lock in your device, it is still yours, and therefore you can do whatever you want with it. Provided that you have hardware from a manufacturer who understands those principles, you can do plenty to juice up your system, whether it be a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

One of the best things you can do — with appropriate hardware, firmware, and/or software — is to speed up your system by overclocking it.

What Is Overclocking?

Simply put, overclocking is the process of tweaking system settings so that your system (or at least components in your system) is running faster than the manufacturer set. Most commonly, people overclock their CPUs and possibly their RAM. For CPUs, this is achieved in a number of different ways.

First, each CPU core has something called a “front side bus speed’. This is the base, external frequency which all of your motherboard components runs on. The CPU uses a multiplier for its internal frequency, so that it can have accurate timings with the rest of the system. These are usually the two things — more the multiplier than the front side bus speed — which users change to overclock their CPU. To aid with the CPU’s increased need for electricity when it’s running at a higher frequency, the voltage usually needs to be increased a little bit as well for the CPU to run stably under the new frequency.

When it comes to overclocking the RAM, usually the voltage needs to be increased to automatically gain a higher memory frequency. Again, this can be done only so much before the RAM becomes unstable and your computer doesn’t run. Changes for the CPU and RAM are usually done in the BIOS, although extreme-edition hardware will usually come with capable software as well.

what is overclocking
Users also overclock their graphics cards whenever possible to get the best gaming experiences. Graphics cards have two parts, the core frequency and the memory frequency. With higher-end graphics cards, the software should allow you to do this fairly easily.

Benefits of Overclocking

Before you make the decision to overclock, you need to be aware of what benefits as well as consequences it has. As far as benefits are concerned, you’ll see a nice improvement in performance. Things should be running faster, smoother, etc. Of course, if you’re running something which requires heavy use of a certain component, you’ll experience a bottleneck and no increase in performance if you don’t overclock the component which is giving you the bottleneck.

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Consequences of Overclocking

what is overclocking
However, that’s where the benefits list already ends. The main point of overclocking is to gain extra performance, but it comes at a price if you’re willing to pay it. For example, overclocking is an art where settings have to be carefully chosen for the system to run stably. While attempting to overclock, you may find your system to be unstable, making it restart or show BSOD often. Your overclocked components will also generate more heat, so it’s vital that you make sure that your cooling solution — whether air or water — is sufficient to transport the heat. Also be aware that because of the extra stress and heat which the component has to go through when overclocked, the life of that component, before it breaks or fails in any sort of way, will be reduced. Also, it’s most likely that you’ll be voiding any warranties you may have on the components which you overclock.

Conclusion

In the end, it really depends on your needs — or wants — on whether you should actually overclock. If you run mission critical applications, then most likely not, so as to maintain the longevity of the system. If you’re a casual user, then I suggest not to overclock simply because it’s recommended for people who have plenty of experience with computers. If you’re a gamer, then you’ll most likely want to overclock because it gives you the added performance for something that isn’t considered mission-critical. When it comes to smartphones and tablets, it really depends on whether you actually need the extra performance, as you’ll be using up more of your battery. Just remember that you’ll need to root your device to achieve that, and that you set your CPU governor settings appropriately for maximum battery life.

For more information about your system’s components, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our MakeUseOf guide “Your PC, Inside and Out”! Also, if you need help with overclocking, check out MakeUseOf Answers!

What stories do you have to share about overclocking? Do you recommend it? Anything else people need to be aware of? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: OlivanderForrestal_PL, TerrorNoize

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Comments (40)
  • Douglas Mutay

    Very interesting one! Thanks.

  • sonnylim

    Good read and informative. Thanks!

  • Erlis Dhima

    Really cool post! :)

  • pahaysaz

    I’ve had limited success with OC’ing in the past. I’m going to approach it systematically this time, OC’ing one aspect or component at a time. Hopefully, I’ll see more success in the future.

    • Danny Stieben

      Remember you can always clear the BIOS’s CMOS if things go bad!

  • pahaysaz

    I think I will try progressively OC’ing my system. There’s a lot of room there for extra speed. One thing though, my system right now is hard drive limited as far as basic performance. Would you recommend a faster HDD (10K, 15K SAS), Hybrid or SSD?

    • Danny Stieben

      I would definitely recommend a SSD if money is not an issue. They’re the fastest and most energy efficient ones you can get. Hopefully I’ll have enough money soon so that I can get one too, because my HDD is my own bottleneck right now.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.