What Parts of Your Computer Can You Overclock?

Ashley_Buckwell
edited April 3 in PC Tech

Overclocking is the action of increasing a computer component’s clock rate to run it at a higher speed than it was designed to run. Most overclockers target their CPU or GPU, but these are not the only components that can be overclocked. When you increase the clock rate, you are essentially making the component work harder and faster, which generally improves performance because the component is able to complete more operations within the same period. However, this performance boost comes with the downside of increased heat generation, which needs to be carefully managed to prevent causing damage to the components. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of overclocking. 

What is overclocking?

Overclocking refers to pushing the clock speed of your processor past its rated limit. Clock speed is the number of cycles your CPU or other component can complete in a second, and it’s measured in hertz. For example, a 4-GHz processor can complete 4 billion cycles per second.

Although clock speed doesn’t directly show how many instructions your CPU is executing, it gives you an idea of the relative number. All things being equal, a 3-GHz processor can complete more instructions than a 2.5-GHz processor, although things like the architecture and age of the processor and the design of the motherboard also affect CPU performance. Overclocking typically involves the primary processor. Other components that can be overclocked are the GPU, RAM, and monitor.

Pros and cons of overclocking

Overclocking can be time-consuming and expensive, especially if you have little experience tinkering with PC components. In addition to changing your clock multiplier, you may need to alter voltage settings, fan speed, and other important, fragile fundamentals. The benefits are often worth the effort though: gaming is a big reason to overclock, and depending on the game, it can make a big difference. Outside of gaming, overclocking can boost performance in 3D modeling, video editing, and image editing applications, to name a few. Basically, any application that demands a lot from your computer will benefit from overclocking.

Pros 

  • Improved overall performance 
  • Breathing new life into older computers 
  • Better gaming experience

Cons 

  • Overheating 
  • Reducing component lifespan 
  • Possible void warranty 

What computer parts can you overclock?

1. Overclock CPU

Overclocking your CPU is an easy way to make your PC run faster and improve its overall performance. In games, the CPU is known for handling AI and NPCs, and some games even offload audio processing to the CPU. The greatest benefits in CPU overclocking show at lower resolutions, where the GPU isn’t strained as much. As resolutions go higher, games become more GPU-bound and show little performance gains from CPU overclocking. Furthermore, certain applications and games favor more cores over faster cores. Games that favor more cores over faster cores, such as Cyberpunk 2077, show less of an improvement with an overclocked CPU.

2. Overclock GPU

A game's framerate depends mostly on the GPU. Graphics cards have both a processor and RAM (sometimes called VRAM or video RAM) that are separate from the PC’s core processor and system RAM and that each have their own clock speed. Acer's Predator BiFrost AMD Radeon™ RX 7800 XT OC GPU, for example, has a base clock speed of 2254 MHz and a boost clock speed of 2565 MHz.

If you overclock a GPU, more cycles are completed every second, allowing for faster number-crunching and better performance. Generally, you can overclock the processor core and VRAM of a graphics card independently. A good GPU overclock is all about finding a balance between system stability and enhanced performance, which varies depending on the cooling abilities of the graphics card and the PC.

3. Overclock RAM

Every program installed on your system works with RAM, and if the RAM speed is slow, the CPU has to wait for information from the RAM. Overclocking increases the speed of the RAM, which enables it to provide data to the CPU faster, thereby providing a boost to system performance. Gains from RAM overclocking are particularly noticeable in desktop performance. You'll notice that your desktop runs a little faster than usual, especially when accessing files and opening programs. In gaming, however, you won't see much improvement. However, when overclocked RAM is combined with overclocking of other components, you should see good results.

4. Overclock monitor

Overclocking a monitor means going past your monitor’s advertised refresh rate. The refresh rate is the number of times the monitor refreshes each second. Similar to processor speed, the monitor’s refresh rate is measured in hertz. Modern monitors start at refresh rates of 60 Hz, and quality gaming monitors can get up to 240 or even 360 Hz. The Predator X27U, one of Acer’s most recent OLED gaming monitors, has a refresh rate of 240 Hz. When overclocking the monitor, your chosen resolution will affect how high the refresh rate can go. Lower resolutions may be able to take advantage of higher refresh rates, so if you want to increase your refresh rate, it may be worth experimenting with dropping the resolution. You also need to ensure you have sufficient bandwidth to feed data from your GPU to the monitor. A 4K (UHD) 8-bit signal at 60 Hz uses 17.82 Gbps, which is almost the full capacity of an HDMI 2.0b cable, which has a maximum bandwidth of 18 Gbps. To overclock your monitor at this resolution, you'll need at least an HDMI 2.1b cable.

Safety precautions: what to expect and how to prepare for overclocking

If you want to proceed with overclocking, make sure you know the downfalls and potential risks.

  • By overclocking various components, you might end up voiding the warranty. Pay careful attention to the fine print from the manufacturer, who will often include specific clauses regarding modifications and overclocking activities.
  • An overclock-friendly motherboard is a must-have; don’t go by the processor alone. Not every motherboard allows for overclocking. If you’re buying a prebuilt PC, check the system specs before assuming it supports overclocking. Notably, the newest mod-friendly CPUs and motherboards often come with software that helps users overclock. Applications like CPU-Z allow you to glance at the clock speed, see the voltage usage, and other important tracking factors. Acer's PredatorSense utility app also provides this useful functionality.
  • When overclocking, components will start throwing off a lot more heat because they are working harder pushing themselves beyond their designed thresholds. If you're not careful, you can actually fry components. To keep your machine cool and properly functioning, you need to ensure that the fans are cooling everything properly, which may require an increase in fan speeds. An application like RealTemp can be useful if you just want to monitor processor temperature.
  • Running your fan speeds up will increase overall power consumption. You need to make sure your power supply can handle the increased load and increase voltages appropriately to each component.
  • The increased heat generated by overclocking results in increased wear on components, including components not directly being overclocked. Although newer hardware might be designed to mitigate overheating, overclocking can still cause strain. This increased strain can reduce the lifespan of these components. This is why for serious overclocking, you’ll need a decent cooling system installed inside your PC, whether that is a large processor heatsink or additional case fans.

Acer PredatorSense and overclocking

The PredatorSense utility app is a useful tool when overclocking your system. For example, it allows you to monitor system settings and increase clock speeds and GPU and/or CPU frequencies for better performance and higher FPS in games. PredatorSense also provides other useful functionality, such as creating and adjusting macros, RGB preferences, and more. Of course, the risks of overclocking still apply even when performed with the help of PredatorSense, so use it at your own risk.

In summary, overclocking pushes your components past their factory-designed limits, to offer improved performance in applications and games. Whether you think overclocking is a risk worth taking is up to you. Make sure you take into account the potential for overheating and consider the technical specifications of your device, and enjoy the faster and smoother experience. 

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Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.

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