Technology Explained

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

Danny Stieben 02-08-2012

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 How To Overclock An ATI Video Card With ATI Overdrive Read More 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.

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.


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 The Ultimate Guide to Your PC: Everything You Wanted to Know -- and More While your PC's technical specs change, its function remains the same. In this guide, we're going to set out exactly what each component does, why it does it, and why that is important. Read More 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!

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  1. Douglas Mutay
    November 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Very interesting one! Thanks.

  2. sonnylim
    August 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Good read and informative. Thanks!

  3. Erlis D.
    August 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Really cool post! :)

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 6:42 am

      Thanks Erlis!

  4. pahaysaz
    August 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    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
      August 14, 2012 at 6:42 am

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

  5. pahaysaz
    August 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    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
      August 14, 2012 at 6:41 am

      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.

  6. Colin Ryan
    August 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

    We always used to do this back in the days of the 386 etc...

  7. Va Du
    August 3, 2012 at 5:01 am

    All I can say is that overclocking is crazy hard to get right. The more you push it the less stable it becomes. Even with the built in overclocking software in my Mobo that should supposedly make overclocking my processor and ram an easy feat, it crashes so randomly still.

    • jennifer
      August 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      its stupid and so are all of you guys trying to do it

    • jennifer
      August 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      get a life buy a real computer...loosers.......

      • sadden
        August 4, 2012 at 6:04 am

        please define ;real computer'

      • Danny Stieben
        August 14, 2012 at 6:39 am

        Yeah, I'm confused as well.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 6:39 am

      I have to agree. I tend to just try to get to a certain frequency and call it good right there, rather than trying to go for the absolute highest.

  8. Randy Luczak
    August 3, 2012 at 2:24 am

    good info - thanks for your explaination!

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 6:36 am

      Glad you found it useful, Randy!

  9. Elijah Swartz
    August 2, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I would recommend that if you are interested in overclocking you consider a couple things. First, run various benchmarks before you overclock and then after you do. How much improvement was there? Intel 2nd gen core processors overclock very well, but so what (the increase in actual performance isn't too great). Another thing is that overclocking causes your computer to use more electricity. You should make sure that your power supply has enough of a additional buffer of wattage to make sure it can handle it. One other thing is that in many cases, if you are overclocking, you might want to think about using 3rd party cooling and new high performance thermal compound. The stock cooling is for stock frequencies. Making your computer do more, uses more power which in turn creates more heat. Getting a good fan heat sink could be beneficial. One of the perks of using overclocking software (from within the OS) is that you can often use profiles. If you are playing a casual game or watching a movie, you won't need your device overclocked. You can switch between between normal settings and overclocked settings in seconds without having to restart.

    RAM is the fastest part in a computer, so there isn't really a reason to overclock it. Like Danny Stieben said in the article, the other parts will be the bottle neck.

    • Elijah Swartz
      August 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      I was also going to mention that when over clocking your videocard, you should stress test it to make sure it can handle running demanding games. You can stress test your videocard by using a program such as FurMark. It should be more demanding than a typical video game. Run it for a while and be on the look out for abnormalities such as white marks along edges or other artifacts. This is a sign that you overclocked the device too much. To over clock go from your stock speeds and slowly increase speeds in small increments at a time, test it with Furmark, and then attempt to increase the clock speeds by small increments, etc.To get an estimate what your card is capable, look up some results other individuals have been able to achieve.

      • Danny Stieben
        August 14, 2012 at 6:36 am

        Thanks for the input, Elijah!

  10. Rigoberto Garcia
    August 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Article with good information to start making decisions. Important point to consider is the fact that the components have a lower life due to stress they are subjected by the heat generated.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 6:32 am

      Exactly! It only gets noticed when it's too late.

  11. Collin Hoffman
    August 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    If your only concern is pushing your CPU too far, you can always buy the very reasonably priced Intel Performance Tuning Plan, which is essentially overclocker's insurance that ranges in price from $20 to $35, depending on your processor, and covers a one time replacement of your processor is you kill it.

    • Elijah Swartz
      August 2, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Intel's mid level and higher processors feature Turbo which will overclock your device when you need it assuming your temps are fine. Overclocking doesn't give you the boost it used to back in the day. There really isn't much of a reason to overclock Intel processor anymore.

      About the tuning plan, how could they possibly tell that a device was broken from overclocking than just running in a hot environment or from the heat sink being too dirty to allow ventilation. Intel processors feature something called a TJ Max (or thermal junction max). If your processor hits lets say 100 degrees Celcius, your computer will turn off right then and there. You'd have try hard to ruin your processor. The program is sort of for easily scared "suckers" or exceptionally honest people who honestly think they can break their processor. That's my opinion at least.

      • Danny Stieben
        August 14, 2012 at 6:31 am

        It sounds that in any case, the plan covers your own mistakes, and not just manufacturing mistakes (as covered by the warranty). A simple overheating case would be covered either way, then.

      • Danny Stieben
        August 14, 2012 at 6:34 am

        Plus, I must add, overclocking does give a noticeable boost. "Turbo" is very limited in comparison.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 6:30 am

      I think I heard of that plan before, but I don't know much about it, honestly. Thanks for sharing, Collin!

  12. Adjei Kofi
    August 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    In my opinion, only desktop users should overclock their cpu/graphic cards. Desktops seem to cope well with overclocking.

    • Elijah Swartz
      August 2, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      One of the biggest factors to consider when overclocking is proper cooling. Laptops are too small to allow for effective cooling when significantly overclocking. They tend to get quite warm from just regular usage sometimes. Desktops are bigger and feature more room for air ventilation (or water cooling if you do that). You can have more fans and bigger heatsinks which help dissipate the heat away. Desktops have more potential to allow for good cooling when overclocking, but not all desktops come with good cooling options.

      • Danny Stieben
        August 14, 2012 at 6:28 am

        Not only that, but mobile processors are a little bit limited compared to desktop processors so that they're more energy efficient. That's why the model number often has an "M" after it.

        When it comes to smartphones, people won't care.

  13. Robert Gorman
    August 2, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Also remember that if you Overclock your Device and it goes belly up and its still under warranty, it will render it Void ;-0

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 6:26 am

      Oh! I thought I had touched on that. Thanks for mentioning it!

  14. Humza Aamir
    August 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    A very good and informative read :).
    I wanted to know whether there are any third-party apps that can overclock a graphics card. Not the shared Intel based ones, but the ATI/NVIDIA cards? The temperature is bound to rise but I guess the FPS would benefit as well.

    • Elijah Swartz
      August 2, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      From my experience, for Nvidia videocards, the EVGA Precision program works good for creating profiles and adjusting very settings. Another thing you can do is set a fan profile to have the fan increase as the temperature does or set it at a set rate if you want. You can even enable an OSD (on screen display) for various things such as the temperature of your GPU and the framerate. For AMD Radeon videocards, there is the MSI Afterburner program. It essentially is the same as the EVGA Precision program, just reskinned. Same functionality. If I recall correctly, they both are based off of the free RivaTuner program. Either program may work with either Nvidia or AMD Radeon, but I've always used the EVGA precision for my Nvidia cards and MSI Afterburner for the AMD Radeon cards.

      • Humza Aamir
        August 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm

        Thanx. I'll give MSI Afterburner a try with the ATI card :)

        • Danny Stieben
          August 14, 2012 at 6:26 am

          Hopefully Elijah was able to help you out. I have a Radeon HD 6950, which seems to be overclocking-capable directly from the Catalyst Control Center.

  15. vineedcool
    August 2, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    in my sense only hard core gamers shuld overclock their cpu

    • Shakirah Faleh Lai
      August 3, 2012 at 6:04 am

      Yeah, basic users don't need it.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 6:24 am

      What about, as another example, those who do a lot of video rendering?

      • vineedcool
        August 14, 2012 at 7:16 am

        yea tht counts too...