Every time we read reviews or ask for clarification on forums about certain PC components, the usual song and dance starts: «That one is great, but for overclocking this one is better, the price difference is minimal!». But is it still worth overclocking the PC? Are there big improvements? What about the warranty? In short, overclocking: yes or no?
A very important note: we are talking about gaming systems for those on a tight budget. Those who want to overclock a 100 euro CPU to make it perform like a 200 euro one, spending 300 euro on cooling, certainly don't need to read this article!
PC with turboA few geological eras ago, many PCs were equipped with a turbo button. The actual function of the turbo was a bit of a nonsense, in fact its utility was to lower the CPU frequency. Video games, in particular, were in sync with the CPU frequency. Consequently, the higher this was, the higher the speed in the game, making it unplayable. If you have ever used DOSBox, you know how it works.
Despite the fact that the turbo was meant to halve performance, at a marketing level having a turbocharged PC meant having a very powerful machine that you could overclock with the push of a button! It's no coincidence that that button stayed alive longer than it should have, even touching the last 486 and the first generation Pentium. Not to mention the army of prankster geeks who arbitrarily modified the LEDs to show higher digits than the actual frequencies. It was at this time that the idea of being able to push the CPU beyond factory values, without being a computer engineer, was formed.
Disturbed producersUntil about fifteen years ago, all hardware manufacturers strongly discouraged overclocking, with so many warnings in big letters on those leaflets that accompany the product and that nobody reads. And while the manufacturers were opposing it, the media outlets were pushing the issue hard, because a "push your PC to the max!" sold more than a "Lara Croft naked, exclusive!". The dark period had begun when each component was no longer reviewed for its real value but for its potential.
This encouraged manufacturers to wink at overclockers, although not yet openly. They began to support - and publicise - the most extreme overclocks, providing the hardware themselves to be squeezed. Videos and news reports flourished with the most desparate liquid and cooler solutions. Aluminium cases were priced by Apple (just kidding, macintoshers!), the first all-in-one liquid cooling systems came to light, some motherboards promised miracles, and not overclocking your PC was considered a symptom of computer illiteracy. Intel was the first manufacturer to wink at the overclockers and, when its superiority over unlocked processors was obvious, it was also the first to make coming out with a proprietary utility and the 'Performance Tuning Protection Plan'. Basically, an insurance policy on the CPU in case of failures due to overclocking.
Consumer upheavalsWhy do people overclock their components? Excluding those who do it to push them beyond their current limits and have a sort of 'best of the best', ordinary mortals did and continue to do so to save money. You buy the least powerful hardware that overclocked yields as much as the one that costs 50/100 euro more. As things stand, however, you end up saving little or nothing, finding yourself with a less stable system and - almost always - very unsympathetic customer service. The most overclockable components are overpriced, insurance (when offered) has to be paid for separately, and the conditions of the warranty tell you: yes, overclock it, but then it's your business if you have problems! Assuming that it is very difficult for manufacturers to establish that the overclock was the cause of the component failure, unless the wretch on duty confesses, there is still quite a battle with certain support. Is it worth getting into this tunnel?
The positive aspectsThanks in part to the ease with which parameters can now be changed through numerous utilities, overclocking has become a trend. It is no longer something elitist and many people decide to give their hardware, especially old hardware, a pump. This trend has forced manufacturers to put on the market higher quality products. If you buy a GPU, overclock it and it burns out after just one year, the manufacturer cannot prove the overclock and has to replace it. Selling you a higher quality product, which would normally last 10 years but only lasts 3-4 years because of the overclock, instead suits them. Because the consumer, in order to 'save money', is forced to buy a new one. And this reasoning applies to everything: GPU, CPU, motherboard, RAM and even the power supply.
In our opinion, when assembling your new PC, overclocking should not be a factor. It is wrong to build a new system thinking you have to immediately push it beyond its limits. If there is this need, it means that it has been assembled badly, that it is already old. A well-thought-out system should not require the help before three years. After three years, it will be better to sell the old components and buy new ones, rather than risk losing some on the way. Specifically: overclocking the new CPU won't bring much improvement in gaming (different reasoning on some software), so it's useless. Overclocking the GPU may serve to achieve greater frame stability, but again, if you need the overclock right away it means the purchase is wrong. Let's not talk about RAM at all...
The right savingsA gaming PC lasts three to five years, then you have to replace almost everything. There are no miracle solutions. Building a PC that can withstand overclocking in 3 years means spend more to get less, because all components will have to be designed with overclocking in mind. From the motherboard to the unlocked CPU, from the power supply to the heatsinks. So, in order to save 100 euros on a single component, you end up spreading that same 100 euros on all the others, without achieving the same results!
A wise choice
It is to think about possibly replacing the VGA in 3 years, amortising by selling the old one, then switching to a new system after 5 years from the first expenditure (again using the old components to amortise). Do not forget that most of today's gaming motherboards are poorly dissipated. In order to provide a premium and aggressive look, they lost sight of the goal they had already achieved a decade ago. So you end up spending more to cool CPU, GPU, and maybe even RAM well, but fry the expensive motherboard recommended for overclocking. We repeat: there are components on the motherboard that should be better dissipated when overclocking, it is wrong to only look at the CPU temperature!
Beware of unsolicited overclocking
It's a complex discourse and one that goes back a long way, namely to when some mobo manufacturers slightly tampered with the FSB to gain an advantage in reviews. Today we have motherboards with MultiCore Enhancement, MultiCore Acceleration, etc. enabled by default. What does this mean? Besides pumping up Intel CPUs tested by somewhat distracted reviewers (because it's definitely just distraction, right?) this technically overclocks your CPU by playing with the voltages. As you may know, this is the best way to burn out the CPU or, in any case, make it last a short time. Talking about MCE would require a separate article, just know that must be disabled, always.
If you get the urge to overclock...
Do it by hand, don't let the motherboard do it automatically! And keep in mind that each board interprets voltages in its own way. What does this mean? It means that the adjusted value is not the real value. Some manufacturers tend to pump up the voltages slightly, others tend to reduce them, the value on the screen almost never corresponds to the actual value. And a 0.1 difference means accelerating the deterioration of components. It means fooling yourself that you have a stable configuration and find yourself without a PC in a few months.
Back to the reviews. AMD and Intel always send a reference motherboard with their new CPUs, and that is the one that should be used to test the processors. When another brand's model is used, it is useless to read the results because it becomes a review of the motherboard!
ConclusionsAs mentioned, our reasoning concerned gaming systems. We thought of those on a tight budget, those who need to preserve what they have bought so as not to compromise their future budget. Overclocking requires a little extra care, which translates into expense, and whole afternoons spent testing its stability. And at every frame drop, every Windows quirk, you wonder if it is normal or whether overclocking is the cause, so you can start testing again! Our dispassionate advice is to choose components without overclocking in mind, so that you enjoy the game sessions now, not the benchmark sessions!
Some people have asked us about delid. Let's be clear and concise: if there is a need for delid, obviously that CPU is better not to buy it. That's all.
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