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Have You Played… Overclocking?

Don't be afraid, don't be very afraid

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I admit, sometimes my diversions into more general computing topics in this series can be only tenuously argued to represent ‘playing’, but I stick to my overheated and unstable guns when it comes to overclocking. It’s totally a game. High stakes, potentially high reward, potentially calamitous – but increasingly rarely so. To the extent that I really do think most players of PC games should give it a shot.

Yeah, used to be this stuff involved a reasonable chance of slagging expensive components, and even though that’s broadly a thing of the past, it wasn’t so long ago that both the legacy of that and the complexity of the steps involved in a perfectly safe overclock made it far too scary for most of us.

I’ve been overclocking since the days of ceramic pens on AMD CPUs, but even so, in the past I frequently hit ceilings on how far I’d be prepared to go – either because the maths of front side buses and whatnot got too involved, or because it got into the realms of expensive and fiddly cooling solutions. CBA with that stuff – and, the good news is, it’s basically not necessary now, unless you’re shooting for sky-high numbers purely for the sake of it.

These days, there are two stages involved in overclocking. The first is to take the name of the processor or graphics card you want to overclock and type its name into Ask Jeeves along with the word ‘overclock.’ You’ll have to deal with some numberwang and a whole lot of willy-waving, but it won’t take long to get a quick sense of what overclocking figures people are generally settling on without too much stress.

Step two: basically, go to your BIOS if it’s a CPU or a free utility such as MSI Afterburner or EVGA Precision X if it’s GPU and pop those numbers in. Should take you, ooh, two minutes. Start low rather than high, see how it goes for a little while, and if it’s all fine try a little higher.

I won’t be glib – before too long with CPUs you’ll be getting into the realm of voltage overclocking, and that requires a little more research in order to be safe. Many BIOSes handle that stuff for you, to a point, so don’t worry overly. And the gains can be immense – usually at least 10% more from your graphics card, for instance, while my CPU runs almost a full third (from 3.3 to 4.2GHz) faster than out of the box simply as a result of spending a minute to change a couple of BIOS numbers.

Yes, it’s inherently scary if you haven’t done it before, and the gains can differ wildly depending on what hardware you do have. But once you’ve done it once, you’ll always do it – and it’ll almost certainly delay having to upgrade your PC for a while.

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Who am I?

Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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