OK all you overclocking rookies! Thinking about upgrading your wimpy computer into a lean, mean, overclocking machine? So, you want to become an expert computer tweaker? Then you’ve come to the right place.
This article will arm you with general overclocking information most of us with overclocking experience seem to take for granted that “newbies” already know. However, from the trend of the questions asked by many beginner overclockers, maybe not everyone actually does know the overclocking basics. Read on and you too can join the ranks of the few, the proud, the computer overclockers.
I will assume that you already know at least a little about working on computers. Hopefully, you aren’t afraid to open up the case to install a new PCI card or swap harddrives. You do have enough sense to unplug the power cord before opening up your computer case, right?
I will also assume that you know static electricity can kill electronic components, especially CPUs, so you should always ground yourself on the metal computer chassis before working inside the case. I usually rest my bare wrist against a non-painted metal surface of the case as I work. You really don’t need a lot of fancy tools. Most work can be accomplished by just using a Phillips screwdriver, a regular screwdriver, and a pair of needle nosed pliers.
Overclocking is running your computer at a faster clock speed than the manufacturer’s specifications.
But, why do we overclock our computers? Well, this brings us to the philosophy of overclocking. Different people have different reasons for overclocking. For some, it’s to save money by maximizing their computer components. Gamers overclock in order to increase frame rates in their favorite 3D game.
For others, it’s a challenging hobby, not unlike hotrodding a car. A few folks do it for bragging rights and to have a faster computer than their buddies. Personally, I do it for all of these reasons and much more. I get a great sense of pride when I say, “Yeah, I built this sweet machine all by myself (with a little advice from my Overclockers.com Forum friends), plus it benchmarks faster and cost much less than a store bought OEM computer!”
No two computers will overclock the same, even if they’re identical. Just because “Joe Overclocker” is running his Celeron chip at two million MHz, does not mean that your CPU will do the same. Often, it’s several different factors (including luck) that allow some systems to overclock more than others. There are absolutely no guarantees in overclocking. Despite your computer geek skills and knowledge, you are dealing with random chance to a degree.
Is there a risk of damaging components when overclocking?
Why yes, of course. However, if you use common sense and follow the basic guidelines laid out in this article, then the risks are extremely low to nearly non-existent. Too much heat and too much voltage are the most frequent methods of frying components. Overclock at your own risk! Don’t blame me if you toast a component! Also, most warranties are void if they find out you were overclocking.
Computer Case: There are two schools of thought here:
One is to take a generic cheap-o case, cut and hack holes into it, and then mount a host of fans into the newly modded case. Most cases have one exhaust fan at the power supply and one intake fan in the front lower area. You probably need at least two more case fans, another intake and exhaust. Plan ahead when installing extra fans. For example, put the intakes all in the front and the exhaust fans in the back, so they’re not fighting each other.
For those that aren’t handy with power tools or just plain lack the time to modify a case, then spend the extra money and get a good case with all the cooling stuff already built into it. Consider getting a case big enough where nothing overhangs the motherboard. Removable mobo tray and side panels are great features.
Power Supply: You need a good quality power supply for overclocking, because bumping up the CPU core voltage, using multiple fans, water cooling pumps, and other stuff like that requires lots of extra wattage. Most cases already have a power supply. If you tried to save money by getting a cheap generic case, then you got a cheap generic 235 watt power supply too.
In my opinion, a 300 watt power supply is minimum nowadays, and if you’re ever planning on running a power hungry AMD processor or peltier, then think about buying a 400w unit.
Motherboard: It does not pay to be cheap here. If you can’t afford a good motherboard, then save some bucks, mow some lawns for extra cash, beg your spouse, borrow from Mom and Dad, or do whatever you have to do to get enough money to buy a high quality motherboard. DO NOT SKIMP! This is the heart of your machine. Personally, I like Abit and Asus. You want a mobo with lots of FSB and voltage adjustments that can be easily changed in the BIOS.
CPU: Do a whole bunch of research, ask lots of questions, and then do a fair amount of shopping around before investing in a processor. Look at the Overclockers.com CPU database to see which chips have been successfully overclocked. Personally, the best Intel chip for your overclocking buck right now is the Celeron 600 or the P-III 700. I don’t have much AMD experience, but the Duron or the Athlon are very definitely worth considering too. Choose which motherboard you want first and then find a CPU to match your system.
COOLING!: This is extremely important when you’re overclocking. I can’t stress cooling enough. Heat is the enemy! Do not try to raise the core voltage until you have good cooling. Forget the factory retail CPU heatsink and fan. Forget the Golden ORB, it’s overclocking days are over. For the price, it’s real hard to beat GlobalWin or Alpha coolers right now.
When installing your CPU cooler, use a good quality thermal paste. Do not attempt to use that crappy thermal tape that comes with most coolers. Arctic Silver thermal paste is probably the best. However, for the budget minded, Radio Shack thermal paste is a good substitute.
Other things you can do to improve cooling are as simple and cheap as rerouting power wires and securing them out of the way. Additionally, round your flat data cables by wrapping them with electrical or duct tape and moving them out of the way. This trick vastly improves air circulation through the case interior and cost very little to do.
RAM Memory: This is another place that you should not get cheap generic parts. Buy the best and the most you can afford. The minimum should be PC-133, preferably one 256 meg stick rather than two 128 meg modules. Mushkin, Crucial, Kingmax, and Corsair are all good brands. Lots of PC-150 memory available right now too. Choose CAS-2 rated RAM because it’s faster and more overclockable than the normal CAS-3 memory.
Video Card: Fortunately, most of the newer AGP 3D video cards seem quite tolerant to overclocking. I prefer the GeForce 2 video cards, especially the Hercules brand, but there are lots of other good GF2 cards on the market. Many folks swear by the Radeon cards too, but I don’t have any personal experience with them.
The 3dfx Voodoo cards are real decent graphics cards, but they went out of business, so future support will be non-existent; I’d probably avoid the Voodoo cards if I were you. There is a new budget video card out called Kryo II that is looking promising, but we don’t know how well they’ll overclock yet.
Harddrives: High quality harddrives are worth there weight in gold to the overclocker. Extreme overclocking can cause data corruption and, in rare occasions, scramble your harddrive. Usually the drive is not permanently damaged and can be reformatted, but it’s a huge hassle if you don’t have your data backed up.
Plan on spending a little extra and get a fast ATA100 harddrive that spins at 7,200 RPM – if your motherboard supports it. Maxtor has a great warranty and I’ve had good luck with them, but right now the overclocking king is the IBM harddrive in either the 20 gig or 30 gig flavor.
Other Components: Overclocking usually causes the PCI bus to run out of spec (faster than normal), therefore, you’ll need to buy, beg, or borrow good components that will run OK when overclocked. CD-ROM drives, sound cards, modems, and other miscellaneous components should all be high quality and selected because they can handle being overclocked. The old style ISA cards should be completely avoided if possible, they will just hurt performance. In fact, choose a motherboard without ISA slots for best results.
If you have built a computer following these basics, then the actual overclocking part will be quite easy. Make sure you have good cooling and watch your CPU load temps like a hawk. The better motherboards will have temperature monitoring capabilities.
After each step of the overclocking process, thoroughly test your computer system for stability. I use the following programs: SiSoft Sandra, Prime95, 3DMark2000, and the Unreal game demo loop. Monitoring temps and testing for stability is critical during all phases of overclocking.
First, make sure the computer runs OK at the default settings. Your objective is to find the highest, stable CPU speed. So for:
INTEL CPUs: Increase the front side bus (FSB) speed a little at a time, then test for stability. Intel’s CPU multiplier can not be changed, so increasing bus speed is the only way to overclock. Repeat until it becomes unstable.
AMD CPUs: Increase the front side bus (FSB) speed a little at a time. AMD’s CPUs can be altered so that changing the CPU Multiplier is possible (see Beginner’s Guides for details). Note that you may have to decrease the multiplier if the CPU becomes unstable. Test for stability. Repeat until it becomes unstable.
For best performance, you want to find the highest FSB and CPU speed that will run your system without any problems.
If the computer won’t boot, crashes, freezes up, pops up error messages or gives you the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD), then it’s unstable. Raise the voltage one notch at a time until it becomes stable again (check CPU load temps each time). For safety’s sake, don’t raise the CPU core voltage anymore than 10% to15% above default.
Congratulations! You have now completed Overclocking Basic Training and you’re on the way to becoming a seasoned veteran.
Bryan Bain (batboy)
Senior Forum Member