Computer Overclocking Basics, Benefits and Drawbacks

June 15, 2021

There are a few post-manufacturing processes that might be taken on by some gaming enthusiasts or other PC users to improve performance, and one of these is known as overclocking. While the technical details of this method might be a bit too complex for this space, it involves the boosting of components over and above their factory defaults within a computer, and may have several benefits – but also could come with some downsides in some settings.

At Xidax, we’re happy to offer a wide selection of gaming laptops, gaming desktops, workstations and other high-quality computing devices, plus assistance with many of the upgrades our clients often want to make to their machines. What is overclocking, which components within a given computer setup are generally eligible for it, and what are some of its benefits and drawbacks depending on your needs? Here’s an extensive primer, including how to determine whether or not overclocking is worth your time and effort.

Overclocking Basics and Uses

As we noted above, overclocking is the boosting of a computer component so it performs at a higher level than its factory defaults. The primary boosted aspect here will be clock speed, which speaks to the precise speed of the component, but it won’t always be the only area that’s adjusted.

By boosting clock speed, the goal is to get greater performance out of them. There are a few different components you can consider overclocking for your computer, which we’ll go over next.

Eligible Components

There are a few different computer components you can overclock:

  • Processor: Also called the CPU, you may be able to overclock the processor on your machine – if this is something that’s acceptable on the manufacturer end. Take AMD, for instance, which is largely compatible with overclocking – most of their CPUs are capable of overclocking, including their recent Ryzen series. Intel, on the flip side, is highly restrictive in their allowances for overclocking, mostly limiting this to their K-series or X-series processors while other products cannot be overclocked. If you’re able to overclock the CPU, and especially if you use a high-end cooling solution, you could be exposed to major performance improvements – but this process is also relatively complex, and might not even be possible if you haven’t been trained on how to perform it.
  • RAM: RAM can also often be overclocked, but the level of benefit you’ll see from this may vary. If you’re upgrading to newer RAM standards such as DDR4, overclocking could easily be viable and show you major changes in applications; in many other cases, though, overclocking RAM doesn’t actually lead to much change at all. And in a totally different bin, there are certain AMD APUs where overclocking the RAM is absolutely vital and highly recommended.
  • Graphics card: Abbreviated GPU, the graphics card in your computer is also usually capable of being overclocked. No major manufacturer locks these – however, just like RAM, there are often questions about how much benefit you’ll really see from overclocking the GPU. Performance gains tend to be moderate at best, and results are inconsistent across various GPUs. It’s totally possible that you’ll see improvements here, but just as possible you’ll actually see your GPU get worse due to overclocking. But due to software like MSI that makes it easy to overclock a graphics card, plus many resources online for this purpose, this is probably the most common form of overclocking done today.
  • Monitor: In some cases, you can overclock the display on your computer. This is often a process of running it at a higher refresh rate, and it often relates to monitors that are marketed to have a certain refresh rate, but are actually known to have higher capacity based on product reviews and tests. There are simple tools within AMD or NVIDIA monitors to overclock them, allowing you to test out various refresh rates and find the best one.

Benefits of Overclocking

Here are some possible benefits of overclocking computer components:

  • Performance: In many cases, overclocking elements of the computer allow for improved performance. This can be especially true for CPU and RAM overclocking.
  • Savings: While this was truer a decade ago than it is today, you can find savings through overclocking. For instance, take the Ryzen 2600 and 2600X – these are basically identical products, but the X comes at a higher cost. But if you simply overclock the 2600, it will close this gap and function identically, so you can save the money on the 2600X.

Possible Downsides of Overclocking

At the same time, there could be some basic downsides of overclocking:

  • Temperature increases: Higher performance naturally means more power is needed, and this tends to increase temperatures. Many overclocking setups must come with high-quality cooling to compensate for this.
  • Lifespan: If your overclocking is stable, you don’t have to worry about this. However, if you’re not cautious when overclocking and allow for an unstable overclock, component lifespan will decrease.
  • Stability: While these situations are rare, there are sometimes issues with stability for overclocks.
  • Spending: If you want to overclock many components, especially CPU or RAM, you will have to have a compatible motherboard. This, in turn, will cost more money in a lot of cases.

Is it Worth It?

So given all these factors, is overclocking worth it to you? The answer really depends. In many cases, GPU and display overclocking are definitely worth it due to their low costs; RAM overclocking costs more and is more complex, and there are many scenarios where you’ll just want to buy more RAM instead, but there are also others where overclocking will be beneficial. CPU overclocking, meanwhile, is the most expensive, but also the type that tends to bring the greatest performance benefits – this honestly depends on the specifics of your situation and how much you’re willing to spend.

For more on whether overclocking is the right choice for your gaming computer or any of our other products, or to learn about our custom laptops, desktops and workstations, speak to the staff at Xidax today.

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