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What Is an Overclocked CPU?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 19 July 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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A computer’s performance is usually dependent on the speed of its Central Processing Unit (CPU). To increase the speed of a personal computer, one usually has to upgrade the machine. There is, however, a way to change the speed of the processor; an overclocked CPU is one that is set to run at a faster clock rate than the manufacturer has specified it to. A 2.4 gigahertz processor can be set to run at 2.5 gigahertz or higher, for example, either by changing its software settings or manually adjusting it or other components on the motherboard. The change often enables computers to run faster, but can put the CPU at risk for overheating.

Most CPUs and their accompanying microprocessors are characterized by their clock speed, which is a value based on how many instructions are performed each second. Each device is typically able to work with a certain set of instructions, and process a maximum number of bits with each instruction. An overclocked CPU runs at a higher speed and voltage than it was designed to, which can cause a build-up of heat if there isn’t an adequate cooling system in place.

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Computer performance isn’t always increased by changing the clock rate of the CPU. Memory modules generally have to support the increase in power and speed as well. Most processors include components called a frontside bus, which enables the overclocked CPU to communicate with the computer system, and a multiplier. Depending on the processor, the clock cycles of one or both of these components can be increased. Sometimes the procedure involves a manual change of switch settings on the motherboard, or the resetting of a software interface called a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS); both often have to be adjusted.

Overclocking usually requires an understanding of the motherboard’s layout. An overclocked CPU can typically be boosted only to a certain level; to avoid immediate damage, it is usually recommended to raise the performance 50 megahertz or less at a time. It is also generally important for one to write down the original settings in case an overclocked computer does not function as expected. It can then be more convenient to return the system back to its original settings.

The risks of working with an overclocked CPU include the potential for a device’s failure. Parts of it can actually melt if the temperature is too hot. If some components fail, then data may be corrupted. Overclocking a CPU can cause a computer to crash and freeze often, while some manufacturers even void the warranty on the hardware if they don’t support the process.

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