When doing research on CPUs or pc building, the word “overclock” has probably crossed your monitor at least a couple of times. Whether you know what that means or are still trying to learn, don’t worry. We’re going to go over exactly what overclocking is, why people do it, as well as three ways to tell if your CPU is overclocked.
Overclocking your CPU, in the simplest terms, is a way to boost the speed of your processor. It tells your CPU to run at a higher rate than it was designed to. Overclocking can allow you to extend the viability/lifespan of your CPU, letting it keep pace with some of the newer, more powerful components on the market.
Of course, if overclocking didn’t have any drawbacks, everyone would do it. However, it does come at the cost of higher heat generation within the system, as well as potentially voiding the warranty on your device. If not properly managed, this can lead to system destabilization, part failure, and even total system failure.
If you’re looking to overclock your CPU, you should consider investing in a high-quality CPU cooler. Generally, liquid cooling is going to be the more efficient option for overclocked CPUs.
If you want the best for your CPU, be sure to check our guides on the best 120mm, 240mm, 280mm, 360mm AIO coolers, as well as the best custom water cooling kits currently available on the market.
If you don’t have that much room in your budget, we also put together a list of both the best budget air coolers and budget liquid coolers for your PC.
Now, for Intel, all of their models that have overclocking capabilities end in “K”. The rest are locked in at their base/turbo rates, meaning you can’t change them at all. AMD processors all come unlocked by default, meaning all models are ready for overclocking.
Most laptop CPUs typically come locked as well, but when you get to the higher end of the price range you will see machines with overclocking capabilities. These are rare, but are not impossible to find and will likely become more common as technology advances.
Why People Overclock
Before we get into how to check if you’re system is overclocked, let’s talk about why people do it and why you should or shouldn’t try it. As explained before, overclocking lets you draw out that little bit of extra power in your components, and it’s not just for CPUs!
Many components of your PC can be overclocked, including the RAM, GPU, and even motherboard chipsets. Often this is done to extend the life of an older system, allowing it to keep up with the times.
Other times, overclocking is simply a way of making sure your pc is running at the highest possible threshold, albeit at the risk of voided warranties and damaged components.
We do not personally recommend overclocking for your everyday PC, but if you have a system that supports it, and the technical know-how to do so safely, it can be an amazing boon to the power of your setup.
If you enjoy many system-heavy tasks, such as gaming, video editing, or extreme multitasking, then overclocking your CPU may be just the edge you’re looking for. Otherwise, we suggest sticking to the base/boost clock, ensuring your system stays healthy and within warranty for all of its components.
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How to Tell if Your CPU is Overclocked
Now that we understand a little bit more about what overclocking is, and who can do it, let’s start with one of the easiest ways to check if your system is overclocked. Using your PC’s task manager, you can quickly get an idea of if you’re overclocked or not.
⦁ Press ctrl+shift+esc to bring up your task manager
⦁ Navigate to the Performance tab near the top of the window
⦁ Here you should be able to see both the current speed of your CPU, as well as the base speed.
Once you have found this, you can compare the actual, and base clocks of your CPU. In this case, our machine is using a Ryzen 9 3900x, which comes with a base speed of 3.8 GHz and a maximum boost clock of 4.6 GHz.
What this means is that this particular system is not overclocked. Also, knowing the boost clock (4.6 GHz), we know that as long as the system is not overclocked, the CPU will never exceed a frequency of 4.6 GHz.
Some systems may also display the boost/turbo clock in this panel. If not, you can easily find it through a quick search of the model or through the manufacturer’s website.
This is the least useful way for getting an accurate/real-time reading of your CPU usage, and should only be used to check if it is running above its maximum clock or not, or if for some reason you can not perform the methods listed below.
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Using CPU Monitoring Software
Another quick and easy way to tell if your CPU is overclocked is using some sort of monitoring software. Now, there are as many programs as you can count, so it’s best to find one that works best for your needs. In this example, we will be using the Ryzen Master program.
When you first download and install Ryzen Master, it will default to the basic view. This is great for getting a quick glimpse at what your CPU is doing. Here you can see the basic view for the same machine in the first demonstration:
As you can see, Ryzen Master is reading the CPU at a significantly lower clock speed than the task manager was, and even includes the maximum, or boost, speed of the device.
If you want an even more detailed reading, and the ability to control various settings related to your CPU, then you can press the “Advanced View” button in the bottom left.
This will bring up a far more detailed view of your CPU, and going a step further, you can enable automatic overclocking, or even enter manual mode to change various settings yourself. Here is what the detailed view looks like:
As you can see, Ryzen Master and similar programs can offer a much higher degree of accuracy and control. Both these and the task manager screenshots were taken on the same day, under the same conditions, only minutes apart, but the readout is quite different. This is why task manager should be used only if you’re just looking for a quick check.
Also of note is that you can enable automatic overclocking, or even enable manual mode to tweak settings yourself. This is yet again a greater degree of control over the task manager. Now, let’s get into the last (and most involved) method yet!
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BIOS and CPU Overclocking
The final way to check if your CPU is overclocked is straight through the BIOS settings. Accessible by holding the appropriate key during startup (usually flashed along the bottom of the screen), your PC’s BIOS, which stands for Basic Input/Output System, is an irreplaceable tool once you get comfortable modifying settings within it.
The BIOS is the first thing to start working when you press the power button on your computer. It runs tests to make sure the system can start, communicates with all of the hardware, locates your operating system, and boots the PC.
The BIOS settings allow you to change various things related to your components. Along with allowing you to tweak or overclock your CPU, it also has options related to components such as your case fans, CPU cooler, or RAM.
Although it can be rather intimidating if you don’t know what all of these settings and buttons do, don’t worry! There are actually only a few we need to worry about. Let’s walk step by step through the BIOS menus, and use them to check if your CPU is overclocked or not:
⦁ Restart your PC, during the startup press the appropriate key to load into the BIOS menu
⦁ Once you are in your PC’s BIOS menu there will be a section for CPU overclocking. (usually, this will be named “CPU Tweaker”, “CPU Tuner” or something similar)
⦁ Navigate to this page and locate the settings for CPU Ratio, or something similar
⦁ By default, this should be set to auto
⦁ If it is not set to auto, then compare the ratio with the default, which should be listed at the top of the page
⦁ Change any necessary settings, if you do not wish to overclock your machine, then simply return all settings to “auto” or the default settings for your computer.
Once you are more comfortable with tweaking the settings in your BIOS, it is an indispensable tool for anyone looking for that extra degree of control over how their system is running.
Of course, tweaking these settings can have some serious repercussions if you don’t know what you’re doing. For this reason, you should always do plenty of research before making any BIOS changes and always start slow with any changes.
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Overclocking: The Bottom Line
Now that we’ve gone over what overclocking is, as well as the three most common ways to check if your CPU is overclocked, what are the takeaways?
The first, and most important thing, is that CPUs do NOT come overclocked by default and that not all CPUs have overclocking capabilities. This is something that has to be done by the user. If you bought your CPU brand new, and have not changed any settings yourself, it should not be overclocked.
Second, overclocking can be a safe and fun way to get a little more out of your build, but you have to be careful! If you think overclocking is something you might be interested in, be sure to do plenty of research, and make sure it’s something you/your machine can handle.
Last, but not least, the task manager is great for getting a baseline reading, but should not be relied upon. If you’re interested in accurately monitoring the performance of your machine, find some good performance monitoring software.
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