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Should You Overclock Processors for Gaming PCs?

Today's gamers often turn a typical CPU or GPU into a hot rod processor with overclocking . . . instead of adding a supercharger, they use a technique called overclocking to make a processor work harder and faster.

Instead of adding high-performance parts, overclocking involves changing the bus speed and/or the clock multiplier on your motherboard or graphics hardware — although your CPU or GPU remains the same physically, it's running at a faster frequency (and therefore executing more instructions in the same time frame because a faster frequency means more instruction cycles per second).

Overclocking can be a complicated process, and it rarely provides a trouble-free boost the first time you try it. Although there are downsides to overclocking, you'll find plenty of tutorials and articles on the web that will guide you through the process. You can locate these articles by simply searching for the word "overclocking" followed by your model of CPU or GPU on a search engine such as Google or Bing. Freeware and shareware overclocking software is also available for just about any processor.

Don't try it unless you know what you're doing, and your CPU or GPU is simply no longer fast enough to handle the games you want to play. (Overclocking is certainly cheaper than buying a new, faster PC!) Before you decide, here's a list of the important reasons why you should carefully consider the decision to overclock your CPU or GPU:

  • Your hardware must support overclocking. Some CPU/motherboard and GPU/graphics card combinations are far more suitable for overclocking than others — if your hardware doesn't support overclocking (and it's not something that's generally mentioned in a PC user's manual), there is a risk of damaging your hardware.

    If overclocking isn't mentioned in your motherboard (or PC) user manual, you may find overclocking help on the Internet by searching for the model number of your motherboard or PC.

  • Overclocking usually voids a manufacturer's warranty. If you do decide to overclock, you may be voiding the warranty from your PC's manufacturer. (This also applies to the manufacturer of your motherboard, CPU, and graphics card.)

  • Overclocking will shorten the life of your CPU/GPU. Due to the effects of heat on the structure of today's chips, even processors running at their rated speed eventually degrade — this process takes many years, so it's not normally a concern.

    However, the extra heat produced by overclocking a processor automatically shortens its operational life. (Those who overclock are usually aware of this, but they argue that the rate of processor development will make any processor obsolete in three or four years anyway.)

    Because of this ever-present danger from heat damage, smart PC owners who do overclock invariably invest in the best possible fans and cooling systems for their processors. Without such heavy-duty cooling, overclocking a processor will quickly destroy it.

  • Overclocking can produce lockups and errors: This makes sense — if you're pushing hardware beyond its design specifications, you're going to introduce problems if your overclocking configuration isn't exactly right.

    Overclocking usually involves a long process of tweaking your processor's frequency to achieve the most trouble-free operation — but even with the best settings, you're likely to experience occasional lockups. (An overclocking PC gamer accepts this as part of the deal.)

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