Overclocking for beginners

Overclocking might have an exotic image but it's not too difficult to start. At the entry level, an Intel desktop app provides an immediate performance boost.

Overclocking has had an exotic image but it’s getting easier. An Intel application actually lets you overclock your chips from the desktop. Here at Computex I’m learning how to do that.

Overclocking is running your processor and memory at higher than their rated speed to get more performance.

Professionals like these use liquid nitrogen to keep their chips from overheating while they push them faster and faster.

There are international competitions on sites like HWBot, which is running this one at Computex, and thousands of people participate .

And it turns out that getting started isn’t so difficult.

This computer has a more modest water cooling system and the overclocking is done through a Windows app. Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility lets you tweak and test to your heart’s content, so I sat down and gave it a go.

“So the first thing we have to do when we’re trying to overclock one of these computers is figure out where we are starting from so we run a benchmark to see, in its normal state, what the computer can do.”

The computer I’m using is pretty powerful. It has Intel’s latest Core i7 processor in it, the 10-core Broadwell-E.

“So, the benchmark is complete and we’re on 2142.”

Now comes the fun part. I’m going to push the chip to run faster and than means it also needs more voltage, because without the power it will crash. But I need to be careful not to overheat the chip.

“So I’ve increased the core voltage for the processor from about a volt to 1.3 volts and we’ve increased the multiplier to 42 times from 35 times. That means that in theory we are now running at 4.2GHz instead of 3.5GHz. The multiplier works with the clock speed on the board. It’s 100MHz times the multiplier, so 100 times 42 is 4.2GHz.”

It sounds complicated, but you soon get the hang of it.

Could getting extra performance be this simple?

Turns out it is.

2577 that means more performance with just a few clicks.

So I kept adjusting, the number kept rising.

“2608. More points.”

And then I flew too close to the sun.

“Knock this up another notch to a 45 multiplier, 4.5GHz, and let’s see how we do this time. And we didn’t get very far at all. It didn’t even start.”

But giving up isn’t on the cards. You just start messing with something else. In this case, I bumped up the clock speed and more performance!

“That’s a new record for me, 2717.”

But now the blue screens of death were becoming a more regular occurance.

“Oh, did it stop? We’ve crashed the computer.”

I had entered the zone where skill and experience started to take over from amateur luck. But I’d done pretty well to this point and had fun. My 4.44GHz was still way off the record 5.7GHz, but it’s a start.

Now this won’t work on every PC. Computers from major brands often can’t be overclocked. You’ll need a compatible motherboard and unlocked processor — one that ends in a K or X.

You’ll also discover that no two chips are the same. It’s all down to small differences in the silicon and the manufacturing process that don’t show up at their advertised speeds but do at the limits.

OK, let’s see if I can push this faster.