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Overclocking an Intel or AMD processor is considered the best practice for getting the most out of your PC. Older systems could push far beyond what was set by the manufacturer at the factory. Modern processors usually have boosting technologies included that allow for some degree of stock overclocking, but you can still push these further with the right supporting hardware. Even the most powerful processor on the market will still have headroom available for bumping the clock speeds up slightly and fine-tuning other metrics to extract yet more performance.

But doing so won't matter much if you're not utilizing the best hardware elsewhere in your system. It's important to look at overclocking your PC as a whole, as well as the CPU.

What you need to overclock a CPU

The Intel Core i9-13900K

The most important part of overclocking a CPU is to ensure it actually supports this feature because not all processors are capable of being overclocked. Intel designates Core CPUs that are capable of overclocking with the "K" suffix — like the Intel Core i9-13900K. A "KF" processor would also support overclock but does not come with integrated graphics.

For AMD, things are more straightforward as just about every desktop Ryzen processor can be overclocked. If you do have a locked processor, we'd recommend against performing any kind of overclock. In fact, Intel had previously warned against overclocking its non-K Alder Lake CPUs.

It's important to also ensure your motherboard is capable of delivering enough stable power to the chip and will be able to handle overclocking. A $150 motherboard won't be able to push the latest AMD and Intel processors as hard as a $500 board, for instance.

Then there's the chipset. Some are just unable to perform any overclocking or are limited to memory modules. For instance, you can only overclock Intel processors with its Z-series of chipsets. Finally, you're going to require a decent CPU cooler. It doesn't necessarily have to be the best, but the TDP should be higher than the default listed for your chip. We'd recommend an AIO with at least a 240mm radiator. Do not use the included stock cooler.

Last but not least, it's important to evaluate the power consumption to see if your PSU's capacity is enough to keep the show running. You can take a look at our collection of the best power supply units to find some good options.

How to overclock an Intel CPU

Intel Core i5-13600k

We'd always recommend going through the BIOS of your motherboard to apply an overclock, which can usually be achieved automatically. On how to enter your motherboard BIOS (usually pressing the delete key during startup), be sure to check your motherboard manual. For the sake of this guide, we'll use Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) tool to overclock the CPU. You can download this free software here.

Baseline performance & temperature tests

One of the first things you need to do is find out the baseline temperature and performance of your CPU. This will allow you to quantify the performance gains after a successful overclock. You can hit the “Run Benchmark” button in the Benchmarking tab to find out a few things about your CPU, like its maximum frequency and maximum temperature. You'll also get a score at the end of this test, which can act as the baseline score before overclocking.

Intel Extreme Tuning Utility

Note: If your CPU temperature crosses the 80-degree mark during the baseline test, it's probably not a good idea to proceed further without upgrading your cooler. Overclocking the CPU from this point will only increase the temperature and push it further toward TJMax values. Hitting TJMax may be considered "by design" with the latest CPUs, but we'd always recommend running the chip cooler, if possible.

From here, you can either start with the "Basic Tuning" to adjust a limited selection of parameters or dive deep into the "Advanced Tuning" to tweak more options, including Vcore, Core Ratio, and more.

Basic Tuning with Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU)

When it comes to basic tuning, you'll see the "Processor Core Ratio" and the "Processor Cache Ratio" sliders. In both cases, we recommend increasing the slider progressively by small steps. Increase it by 1x, reboot, and check for stability before increasing again, rather than making drastic changes. The "Processor Cache Ratio" slider adjusts the frequency of the part of the CPU that connects the cores to the processor cache.

We recommend keeping both sliders at roughly the same frequency, but you're free to experiment as long as you don't make drastic changes at once.

Intel Extreme Tuning Utility basic tuning

Advanced Tuning with Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU)

This particular tab will allow you to dive deep into more settings, but we don't recommend tweaking these unless you know what you're doing. It's designed for more advanced users, so it's best to stick with basic tuning if you're new. Under this setting, you'll be able to change things like the Processor Core Ratio per individual core, the Vcore (Core Voltage), and more. You can also change the multiplier of all the CPU cores at once, so feel free to explore that option.

The Vcore adjustment is crucial for overclocking, as the CPU demands more power to run at faster speeds and remain stable. Here, you can also use the Core Voltage Offset if you don't know the default Vcore of your CPU. As is the case with every other change, it's best not to exceed changes of 0.05V at a time while increasing the Vcore. Even under the Advanced tuning setting, we only recommend the Processor Core Ratio, Processor Cache Ratio, and Core Voltage changes for most users.

Intel Extreme Tuning Utility advanced tuning

Once you think you've made enough changes and ensured everything is stable, it's time to see how much of an improvement it is compared to the baseline numbers. You can check for performance improvement by running the XTU benchmarks again. You can keep tuning until you reach the desired performance level for your system.

13th Gen Intel Core i5
Source: Intel
Intel Core i5-13600K

Intel's Core i5-13600K is a brilliant processor for the price. It's fully unlocked, has a hybrid core design, and can be pushed hard with lesser cooling. We'd recommend starting here on your Intel overclocking journey.

How to overclock an AMD CPU

AMD Ryzen 7 7700
Source: XDA-Developers

The steps involved in overclocking an AMD CPU are largely the same as with Intel chips. The software, however, is different. We recommend using either the BIOS or AMD Ryzen Master tool for beginners. You can download the latter here. The Ryzen Master software works well with many AMD chips, but those using a relatively older AMD processor (released before 2017) can use the AMD Overdrive tool instead. It's very similar to the Ryzen Master tool, so the steps will remain mostly the same.

Baseline performance and temperature tests

Before we begin, it's important to run some stress tests to identify the baseline performance and the temperature of the chip you're using. You can use Ryzen Master's built-in stress test or download a third-party benchmark application like Cinebench R23, CPU-Z, and more. Make sure the CPU temperature doesn't exceed 80 degrees during the test. You might want to upgrade to your CPU cooler before proceeding with overclocking if it does.

CPU tuning with AMD Ryzen Master

AMD Ryzen Master Software

As a part of the beginner's guide, we'll only look at the basic options. The first thing you need to do is switch the "Control Mode" from "Manual." This will allow you to manually adjust clock speed and voltages for overclocking. AMD Ryzen Master will allow you to adjust the clock speeds directly without having to use multipliers. Once again, we recommend adjusting the clock speeds in increments of 50MHz. You can hit the "Apply & Test" after each increment to allow the software to boost and test.

AMD Ryzen Master Tuning

You can also increase the CPU voltage to improve the overall stability of the overclock. Higher voltages, however, will increase the temperatures, so be careful what you wish for and only make small adjustments. Once you've made enough adjustments, we recommend running some benchmarks for 30 minutes to an hour to ensure the CPU is stable and the temperatures are under acceptable limits.

AMD Ryzen 5
Source: AMD
AMD Ryzen 5 7600

The AMD Ryzen 5 7600 may be the entry-level processor from AMD with a TDP of just 65W, but you can push this chip hard. It's perfectly suitable for gaming, as well as other intensive applications once you've cranked up the settings with a stable overclock.

Getting the most out of your PC

Overclocking your CPU, as you can see, is fairly simple, but it's always best to do a little bit of research about your CPU to find out its limits or potential issues that you may run into while overclocking it. You can also head to XDA Computing Forums to discuss the potential overclocking ability of your chip or see what others have achieved with similar processors. Remember to change settings only in small increments and run at least a short burst of test after you make any changes.

If you encounter crashes or if your PC restarts, then there's a good chance that you've pushed a little too far. That's when you stop, go back, and make necessary adjustments. It's worth noting that laptop processors generally can't be overclocked unless mentioned otherwise. That's because there are thermal limitations in laptops and you can't change the entire cooling solution to safely overclock. If you think your laptop is showing its age then you might want to consider upgrading its memory or storage. If not, it might just be time to get a new one. We have plenty of laptops to recommend, so be sure to check out our collection of the best gaming laptops, the best AMD Ryzen laptops, and more. Good luck!