Overclocking has been popular with PC enthusiasts for decades now. Heck, I’ve watched Linus Tech Tips talk about overclocking since it was owned by NCIX. And whether you agree with the benefits of overclocking, it’s made a huge impact on the PC gaming culture as well.
But what are some of the risks that come with modern overclocking? Can it actually fry your CPU?
Overclocking has the chance to damage your CPU, but new hardware has much better safety features. Today’s motherboards will shut off before high voltage becomes an issue, but poor cooling can cause serious problems. The lifespan of your CPU is hardly affected by overclocking.
Now, this is not the case for every CPU out there. Of course, you’ll need to be cautious whenever you start to tinker with your PC components like this. Proper cooling, voltage control, and system monitoring are all important when you overclock.
What Is Overclocking?
Your CPU sends out a signal to the rest of your computer to send and receive data to process. This happens a specific number of times in a second.
This is what we know as the Gigahertz frequency (HGx) you see on CPU specs or better known as a Clock Rate. For an average modern-day CPU, the base clock speed is around 3.5GHz, or about 3,500,000,000 pulses every second.
Yet crafty PC enthusiasts have learned in the late 80 something special. If they can increase the voltage directed to their CPU, the clock speed will increase. Sometimes by a pretty drastic change.
By doing so, their computer can become faster, sometimes by a huge margin. There are even cases of CPUs close to doubling in power. Heck, people have taken this idea and ran with it to overclock graphics cards and RAM to squeeze out more power.
Should I Overclock my CPU?
With the changing times comes new upgrades and new technology. Nowadays, overclocking your CPU is almost a thing of the past. Most modern CPUs today have clock speeds that are almost at their limits, though.
But the performance difference for these new chipsets is negligible at best. That doesn’t mean it’s still not an option though, as most AMD and Intel CPUs now come unlocked, giving you the option.
Today’s CPUs are already pushed pretty hard to their limit out of the box. If you look at some of the new CPUs that are topping out around 4GHz, your max is only around 5GHz. That’s a 25% increase, but at the cost of higher power consumption and higher PC temps.
Here’s a great example of the difference between 4GHz and 5GHz, courtesy of Youtube. In reality, you’re only gaining around 10-20 extra FPS. That’s a pretty small increase for all that effort.
I don’t think it’s worth it, in the end. The eye can’t perceive frame increases beyond 60fps, so why bother when you’re already at 110fps?
What Are the Chances of Damaging Your CPU From Overclocking?
With modern technology, the chances of damaging your CPU are pretty slim. Along with that does come with the risk of damaging other components though, not only your CPU. Most motherboards and CPUs will shut themselves off before any risk of serious damage.
The biggest risk of overclocking is the decreased lifespan of the CPU. Overclocking means you’re running at a higher temperature and voltage than it was designed to run at a constant rate. This means you can end up aging your transistors at a faster rate.
Transistors will age over time anyway; this could still reduce their lifespan by up to a year. In reality, most CPUs last for 20+ years though, so it’s not a huge issue.
What Kind of Damage Can Overclocking Do?
So we covered what the chances are, but what about the actual damage to your CPU? Can it do some serious damage?
It’s important to remember no two computers are the same, regardless of components. You can’t always have completely equal machines even if they both are identical builds. There’s always going to be a chance of variation.
Reduced CPU Lifespan
Because you’re running your CPU at higher temps, its internal components will wear down faster. This is a natural process and happens anyway, the increased heat will speed it up regardless.
Sadly, there’s not much data I can see out there that shows how impactful this degradation can be. It looks like it could be anywhere from six months to a year off your CPU, but there isn’t enough information.
Component Damage Due to High Temperatures
Overclocking causes your PC to run hotter, which means that if cooling isn’t properly managed it’ll lead to serious problems. Most CPUs can operate between 50C (122F) and 80c (176f) while under load.
Without a good cooling system, the ambient temperature in your case will rise. It can also degrade other components like your graphics card or your motherboard.
Stuttering and Reliability
If your clock speeds or voltage are wrong, you can start to experience stuttering and frame loss. If your system starts to lose frames when under stress, this could be why.
The easiest way to track this is to adjust your overclock until you find the “sweet spot”. Building up from the base clock speed to a comfortable max will prevent stuttering.
How Can I Prevent Damage from Overclocking?
Naturally, if you overclock your PC or do any tweaking, you’ve got to take some precautions. Modern overclocking is as simple as adjusting some BIOS settings. But you still need to be cautious and watch your temps.
Also, you’re (probably) going to void your warranty too, so yeah. If you still want to overclock your PC, there are things you should be doing to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Update your Motherboard BIOS and Drivers
Naturally, before you do anything, you should make sure everything is up to date. This means checking your manufacturer’s website for new drivers and updates. This will make sure everything will work and there are no critical issues that could arise.
Check your PC’s Metrics
Once you’ve got your CPU overclocked and stable, you should be watching your PC’s stats. You want to make sure that everything is within safe ranges. HWiNFO is probably the easiest tool to use for watching your system’s info, and it’s free to boot.
Have Sufficient Cooling
As we discussed earlier, you’re going to need to manage not only your CPU’s temps but the ambient temps as well. Having good cooling is essential to preventing damage to your system. That means making sure all your case fans are working properly and that you have a good CPU cooler. If you don’t know what a good option is, check out our article on the Best Low Profile CPU Coolers for Overclocking
Wrapping It Up
Overclocking is becoming a thing of the past, but it’s still a popular thing among PC enthusiasts. If you’re keen to try to maximize the power in your Threadripper or Alder Lake, you’re free to try it at your own risk. It may not have the same impact on today’s chips as in the past, but some people crave that performance.
While it probably won’t do serious damage to your CPU when you overclock, there’s still a potential for adding extra wear and tear. Your other components might suffer in the long run, as well as risking a sudden shutdown. Making sure your temps are in check is the easiest way to do this, paired with good monitoring software.
Can Overclocking Damage My Computer?
Modern hardware makes it very difficult to damage your PC components. If you operate far beyond the bounds of your PC’s limits you can eventually damage your CPU, GPU, or Motherboard.
What’s the Most I Can Overclock My CPU?
Right now, most modern chips cap out at around 5GHz when overclocked. This is due to the fact that going beyond this requires an insane amount of power. Overclocking competitions can surpass 5GHz, but only for short periods of time. For sustained speeds, we would need to have vastly better cooling technology available.
How Can I Prevent My CPU From Becoming Damaged from Overclocking?
Making sure your CPU temps are stable is the easiest and the most important factor. Whether you have a water-cooled system or an aftermarket fan, you need to be sure that your CPU operates between 50C (122F) and 80c (176f) while under load.