This guide is meant to be read as a basic overview to visualize the steps involved in overclocking your Intel CPU. It is not a comprehensive guide and should not be the only piece of information you rely on when overclocking your own unique system. NZXT recommends searching for your own specific motherboard and CPU to find out what works best for your setup.
What is overclocking? Put simply, it’s the practice of forcing your PC hardware to operate at higher speeds than originally specified at the factory. Although overclocking your components can be dangerous, it is an extremely rewarding modification that is commonly practiced by both veteran and new users alike. And with the introduction of advanced UEFI BIOS features in recent years, overclocking has become easier than ever. Some manufacturers even have a “single click” overclock option that automatically tries to create a stable overclock with a single press of a button and a few restarts.
Here are five easy steps to overclocking your CPU:
Step 1: Preparation
Overclocking your CPU for the first time can be scary, but it really isn’t all that bad. There are several safety measures built into your motherboard and CPU settings that are designed to help protect the components. However, there are still additional steps you can take to ensure a safe and effective overclock. First and foremost, purchase an aftermarket CPU cooler! Even an entry level air cooler can significantly improve your CPU temperatures. Going one step further with an all-in-one water cooler such as the Kraken X41 or Kraken X61 will really allow you to push your CPU to its limits. Next, make sure you do some additional reading on your specific CPU and motherboard so you have an idea of what to expect for the next steps.
Step 2: Adjust the CPU Multiplier
There are two ways for you to increase your CPU clock speed (Core Frequency). Because your clock speed is essentially determined by the CPU Base Frequency x CPU Multiplier, increasing either value will result in a higher Core Frequency. For this guide, we’ll go with the simpler route which is adjusting the CPU multiplier. This requires you to have a CPU with an unlocked multiplier. (Usually denoted by a K or X at the end of the processor name, such as i7-4790K or i7-3970X)
The first step is to enter the BIOS settings. This is usually done by pressing “DEL” while the computer boots up, but may vary based on your motherboard manufacturer. Navigate to the advanced frequency settings (sometimes called “system tuning” or “overclock settings”) to view the CPU Multiplier (sometimes called CPU Clock Ratio) and Base Frequency. Consult your motherboard manual if you are having difficulty finding the settings, as each manufacturer has its own unique menu names.
Next, adjust the CPU Multiplier gradually. It will either say something like “AUTO” or whichever the base multiplier on your CPU is. You’ll want to increase the value gradually and reboot your computer into Windows each time to ensure safety and stability (which we’ll discuss in the next step).
Step 3: Test for Stability
Although your computer may boot safely into Windows after increasing your multiplier, the only way to know if your overclock is stable is to perform a stress test. There are several great choices out there, but the very simple Prime95 is our preferred software for stress testing your CPU. You’ll also want to use a monitoring software such as CAM to keep a close eye on your CPU temperatures and to confirm the increased clock speed. A simple google search with your CPU and CPU Cooler will help you determine “safe” and typical CPU temperatures.
Open up Prime95 and run the “torture test” with default settings for a comprehensive stress test on your CPU. We like to keep this running for at least a few hours to replicate the stress environment of a typical gaming session. If the test is successful and your computer does not crash or receive the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death), it means you can probably try to increase your CPU multiplier further. Repeat these steps as many times as necessary to find your optimal CPU multiplier. Once you begin to experience instability, (unsafe CPU temperature, errors, crashing or BSOD during testing) you may be able to move on to the next step.
Step 4: Increase Your Voltage
If your computer has failed the stress test for any reason other than overheating, it’s possible that your CPU is not receiving enough power to maintain the increased clock speed. One way to remedy this is to raise the CPU Vcore (Core Voltage). Head back into the BIOS settings and navigate to the “Voltage Settings”. This may or may not be separate menu from the frequency settings we visited earlier.
Increase the CPU Vcore value in very small increments (0.03 to 0.05) to increase the voltage for your CPU. Please note that increasing CPU voltage will certainly increase your CPU temperatures: which is why we do not recommend pushing your overclock further if you are experiencing issues with CPU overheating. Once you’ve increased the voltage, save your settings and reboot into windows. Repeat your stress testing from the previous step.
Step 5: Repeat as Necessary
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with adjusting the CPU multiplier, CPU voltage and stress testing, you can repeat the process several times to find the maximum overclock that is achievable with your current setup. Of course, upgrading your CPU cooler will help you push things even further. Although it can be tempting to jump to the multipliers and voltages of other users with similar hardware, keep in mind that every system overclocks differently and what works for one person may not work for you. In order to prevent possible damage to your components, go with the safe route and adjust your multiplier and voltages sparingly and be patient with your stress testing. Once you’re finally happy with your new clock speed, give your system one final stress test. This time, leave it on overnight to be sure.
While the repetitive nature of stability testing can be cumbersome, the reward of a stable overclock can be very gratifying. When performed correctly, overclocking is a safe and effective way to get the best value out of your components. Even if it’s just a minor tweak, you’ll be happy to learn your computer is a little bit faster thanks to your hard work.
Have any questions or need some help with your own personal system? Feel free to contact our support staff and they’ll be happy to help you out!