How to Overclock an Intel CPU: Get the Most MHz from Your Processor

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Overclocking Intel processors used to be a very complicated manual process that found enthusiasts knee-deep in the BIOS, sifting through a myriad of complicated settings. Nowadays, motherboard manufacturers have created automatic overclocking software and one-button predefined presets in the BIOS that can greatly simplify the process of extracting the utmost performance from one of the Best CPUs for gaming, but that isn’t always the best option.

Simplified alternatives can produce satisfactory Intel overclocks, but they often apply an unnecessary amount of voltage and generate excess heat, so there’s always room for improvement. More often than not, you could achieve better results by taking the time to manually overclock your Intel CPU instead of having a piece of software do it for you. Furthermore, you also get to learn more about your system, and, as they say, knowledge is power.

As always, we have to remind you that there are risks involved with overclocking. First, you’re voiding the warranty whenever you run an Intel processor outside of the manufacturer’s specifications. In addition, there’s always a possibility of premature failure if you overclock a CPU incorrectly. Finally, you’re at the whims of the silicon lottery — not every chip can achieve the same overclocks.

Nevertheless, today’s modern chips have a plethora of in-built safety mechanisms that help reduce the risks associated with overclocking. As a result, if you take a common-sense and responsible approach, you can squeeze every single megahertz out of the processor without assuming unnecessary risks. Here’s how. 

Overclocking Checklist 

Do I own an overclockable processor?

Intel designates its overclockable CPU models with the “K” suffix. These overclockable models land in the Core i9, i7, i5, and occasionally, i3 families. And, of course, there are the KF-series (overclockable and graphics-less) models. Intel has also released special-edition models like the Core i9-9900KS that support overclocking, but those have become rare.

Does my motherboard allow me to overclock?

Intel chipsets with the “Z” suffix are the only models that fully support overclocking all of the tunable parameters.

In addition, Intel also now allows memory overclocking on locked SKUs compatible with B560 and H570 chipsets, meaning all 10th-Gen Comet Lake, 11th-Gen Rocket Lake, and 11th-Gen Comet Lake Refresh processors. We also expect those policies to apply to 12th-Gen chips and 600-series motherboards. However, you still cannot overclock core frequencies on locked models.

The second important aspect of the motherboard is the power delivery subsystem that’s commonly known as the voltage regulator module (VRM). If you’re not sure of the quality of the VRMs on your motherboard, our list of the Best Motherboards is a great place to start. There you can find the best models for overclocking and links to more resources, like our in-depth motherboard reviews and guides.

Can my CPU cooler keep my overclocked processor cool?

Never overclock on a stock cooler. In fact, it’s a blessing that Intel stopped including stock coolers with the brand’s K-series chips — that way, users don’t fall to the temptation of overclocking their chips with these largely useless chunks of aluminum.

Both aftermarket air and liquid coolers are good at what they do and can provide you with some overclocking headroom. However, cooling is one of the biggest limiting factors to your overclock, so you’ll need to right-size your cooling solution to your chip. In addition, other factors, like budget, clearance space inside your case, and personal preference, will influence your choice of cooler. If you feel your CPU cooler isn’t up to the task, we’ve detailed what we consider the best air and liquid coolers in our Best CPU Coolers 2021: Air and Liquid article.

Does my power supply have sufficient headroom?

It’s important to evaluate your power supply’s capacity to see whether it has the necessary headroom to accommodate the increased power draw. An underpowered power supply might lead to unwanted system shutdowns, restarts, or, in a worst-case scenario, the power supply could die and take a few of your components with it.

For context, our tests show that modern overclocked CPUs can pull more than 320W of power after overclocking. Therefore, we recommend that your power supply has at least 150W to 250W of headroom over what’s required for stock operation. You can see the basic guidelines with a power supply calculator, then head to our list of Best Power Supplies to assure that you have an adequate unit for your system. 

Get To Know Your Motherboard 

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