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Beginners Guide to Overclocking

Discussion in 'Overclocking & Cooling' started by Jokester, 12 Aug 2006.

  1. Jokester


    Joined: 7 Aug 2003

    Posts: 42,290

    Location: Aberdeenshire

    Before we start, a word of warning, overclocking may void your warranty and increases the risk of premature death of you're hardware. The use of extreme voltages can lead to instant death of hardware if you are careless. Overclocking can also kill your Windows install so back-up anything important!

    The Basics
    Overclocking is the process of making your hardware run faster than it was orginally sold at. It's possible because of the way Intel and AMD run their manufacturering processes. All processors of a common core design are created equally and a process of speed binning is used to decide what speed it's sold at. This is essentially testing a sample (or perhaps all) from a batch to determine how quick they can run at. But if the process produces more chips that can run at a higher speed than they can sell they will often sell these CPUs at a lower speed. It's these chips that are the best for overclocking.

    The Essentials - Hardware
    CPU - Read around the forums and see what the current "buzz" is as regards chips offering excellent overclock potential.
    Motherboard - Often overlooked, but absolutely essential. The MB itself must be a good overclocker. There's no point getting a good clocking CPU if the motherboard itself isn't
    RAM - Though not essential due to memory dividers, RAM can be overclocked as well. In many cases vendors sell the same RAM chips in their mid range (and even cheaper) RAM as they do for their high end RAM. Only difference is the price. More info on RAM can be found here and here
    CPU Cooler - Air, water or phase, more info on water/phase can be found here. The cooler a processor the faster it can run and the more volts you can put through it.
    Thermal Interace Material - TIM is the compound between the CPU and HS. It displaces any air between the two surfaces improving heat transfer (air is an insulator). IC Diamond, Arctic Silver 5, Coollaboratory Liquid Metal and Arctic Cooling MX-3 are considered some of the best performing TIMs, but the TIM supplied these days with most heatsinks will perform to within a degree of two of these so it's not something to worry about if you don't have any. Review of some TIMs here

    The Essentials - Software
    BIOS - The BIOS contains the basic settings of your system and is where all the overclocking options are contained. Manufacturers often release improved BIOSes that offer better overclockability and stability. Refer to the MB manual for information about updating you're BIOS.

    Monitoring Software - It's handy to know what voltages and temperatures you're tinkering are producing. A program specific to your MB is often supplied on the driver disk, others include:-
    Speedfan - Gives CPU, MB and HD temperatures and also voltages
    Core Temp - Neat little program that tells you the core temperature and also the max safe temperature
    Real Temp - Similar to Core Temp above

    **Getting Core Temp to Work in Vista64**
    Read here to find out how to get Core Temp to work in Vista64

    Stability Testing Software
    Prime95 - Is also considered one of the main benchmarks for stability - make sure you enable the checking options in the advanced menu
    Intel Burn Test - IBT is considered the other main test, though with Prime using AVX they are both similar in effectiveness.
    OCCT - Nice little program that provides a good quick stability test but also contains the Linpack stability test as well which is considered one of the main benchmarks for stability


    3dMark - Whole suite of graphics benchmarks that can also be used to test CPU/RAM stability to some degree
    Memtest86 - RAM tester, in my opinion it no longer cuts it, Prime Blend seems more sensitive to RAM instability
    Windows Memtest - Does a better job of detecting memory errors than memtest86 in my opinion

    Other Tools
    Clockgen - Allows overclocking in Windows for supported MBs
    Systool - Gives a whole suite of overclocking tools
    ThrottleWatch - Provides useful indication on whether your CPU is throttling or not
    CPU-Z - Provides fairly detailed CPU and RAM information
    Everest - Suite of handy tools

    Basic Concepts
    Before starting overclocking make sure you know how to clear the CMOS (the memory that holds the BIOS settings) in case of settings that don't let you get back into the BIOS. Details on how to do this are in the motherboard manual but it typically involves moving a jumper on the motherboard or removing a battery (or both).

    Front Side Bus (FSB)/Base Clock (Bclk)
    The FSB is the key frequency that we are interested in. The CPU clock speed and RAM speed are derived from it as well as the A64s Hypertransport frequency (though HT provides most of the functions previously associated with the FSB, the CPU clockspeed is still manipulated by the FSB option in the BIOS). This is now commonly referred to as Base Clock on Intel systems, but is equivalent to the FSB.

    CPU Multiplier
    The CPU multiplier determines the overall speed of the CPU by multiplying the FSB. For example a multiplier of 10 and a FSB of 200MHz results in a clockspeed of 2000MHz (2GHZ). Most CPUs have restricted multipliers, A64s are locked upwards, Intels are generally fully locked. AMD "Black Edition" and Intel Extreme Edition or "K series" chips are fully unlocked (within reason). Can also be refered to as FID on A64s.

    Vcore is the voltage supplied to the CPU. Increasing this voltage in moderation allows you to overclock the CPU more at the expense of higher loads temps. What's a safe Vcore? Personally I'm quite happy with a 20% overvolt on air if temperatures are acceptable, others might not be comfortable with that. Can also be refered to as VID on A64s. VID on Intel means something else and should not be confused with Vcore.

    Vdrop is the difference between the selected voltage in the BIOS and the actual idle voltage, typically this is about 0.05V though new P35 boards seem to be a lot less affected by it. THIS IS NOT Vdroop.

    Vdroop is the difference between idle voltage and load voltage. The droop is actually related to the current draw of the CPU and is a peculiarity of Intel CPU design specs and as such AMD setups don't suffer from it to any great deal. Vdroop gets progressively worse as you load more cores up on multicore CPUs. Most recent Intel based boards now have the option in the BIOS to override the circuit in the motherboard power circuitry to pratically eliminate Vdroop, this is commonly called Load Line Calibration or LLC. Intel advise that enabling it may shorten the lifespan of your CPU and/or motherboard, so be aware. Other boards can usually have it overriden by a simple pencil mod, or with the addition of an extra resistor by soldering. 680i boards are notorious for high Vdroop with quad cores.

    RAM Divider
    When I refer to RAM clockspeed I always refer to the actual clock rate, not the double data rate. For PC3200 RAM this is 200MHz, not the 400MHz quoted for the DDR. Dividers describe the relationship between the FSB and the RAM clock speed. BIOSes typically do this in two methods, the first is to give you the RAM speed in relationship to the FSB at stock (so for example 166MHz would represent a ratio of 5:3 - FSB:RAM). Others will just give you the actual ratio so that you can work it out for yourself. More recent boards now give you the actual RAM speed and this chances as you chance the FSB. Might also be called DRAM Frequency.

    VDIMM is the RAM voltage. Always set the RAM voltage manually, as many MBs will default to 2.6V for DDR and 1.8V for DDR2, when in fact to run at their rated speed most high performance chips will require significantly more (2.8-2.9 typically for DDR and 2.2 for DDR2). Visit the manufacturer's website to find out the specific voltage for your RAM. Note that RAM can be overclocked by increasing the voltage above this value as well. Also now commonly referred to as VDDQ, care should also be taken with matching the RAM sticks required voltage to that of what is safe for integrated memory controllers, particularly on i1366 or Sandy Bridge based chips.

    Chipset Voltage
    The chipset helps interface the CPU with other components on the MB and each type of chipset has specific features like whether it supports SLI or Crossfire or RAID. The chipset may have multiple voltage settings associated with it such a Vnb, Vsb, Vmch, Vchipset, Vfsb, Vpll. Each having an effect on memory stability or maximum stable FSB.

    Hypertransport Frequency/Multiplier - A64s
    This is specific for A64s and X2 processors, the hypertransport is 1000MHz, derived from 5xFSB. Many boards can't handle significant overclocks of this bus, so it's best to reduce the multiplier to 4 or 3 depending on how high the FSB is. The performance difference between 800 and 1000MHz is insignificant so don't be concerned if you're particular combination results in a relatively low value. Hypertransport settings may also be referred to as LDT frequency etc.

    PCI/AGP/PCI-E Clockrate
    These need to be locked, in the bad old days these were often derived from the FSB mean as you increased the FSB so did the PCI bus. This would often prove do be limit of overclocking not the CPU. Where the option exists it's best to set these to PCI - 33MHz, AGP - 66MHz, PCI-E - 100MHz. Leaving them on Auto may lead to unpredictable results.

    Cool and Quiet/Speedstep
    AMD's Cool and Quiet and Intel's Speedstep is a feature that underclocks your CPU when it's idle to reduce power consumption. For Speedstep, the multiplier is reduced to x6.

    Temperatures are the enemy of overclockers. Reducing temperatures has a direct effect on your ability to overclock a CPU, so by using increasingly aggresive cooling methods will nearly always allow you to overclock further for a given voltage. What's a maximium safe temperature? Use Core Temp to give you indication of the maximum temperature that a CPU is designed for. Recent P4s and Core 2 Duos will throttle if they get hot. Throttling is where they either reduce the clockspeed by reducing the CPU multiplier or by inserting idle instructions into the CPU to reduce the temperature. Typical figures are otherwise about 60C for A64s and a bit more for P4s/Core 2 Duos, though throttling should protect them. Do further research to find out what is considered safe for your particular chip.

    The process of overclocking is an iterative process, where you gradually make changes and test to see how stable it is. You should only be making one change at a time so that you can assess if the change improves things, if it doesn't change it back and change something else. Also keep a note of your last stable settings so that you can revert to them if you reach a point where several minor increases in voltage etc makes no difference to stability.

    If you're not comfortable with any of the voltages you're applying or temperatures you're reaching then stop and get a second opinion as there is plenty of people on the forum who are willing to give advice.

    First off, in the BIOS set as many settings as possible to manual rather than auto. And switch on/off any features particular to your board that hinder overclocking (things like Cool and Quiet for example).

    Finding Max CPU Clockspeed

    1. Increase the FSB by 5MHz.
    2. Decrease the RAM divider if required to keep it at stock or less
    3. Run the standard OCCT stability test
    4. Run it for 1hour, it may be worth testing for FSB stability as well if you haven't already proven FSB stability at this point. If it passes return to 1, if it fails goto 5. Keep an eye on temperatures whilst testing.
    5. Increase the Vcore a notch and repeat the testing phase until temperatures are getting close to the maximum for your CPU, or the voltage increases don't allow you to overclock any further.

    Once you've reached a point where you've maxed out voltage/temperature or you've reached a point where you're not comfortable with the voltage you're using run Prime/Linpack etc for longer to check for stability. If you find that it's not quite stable after the longer testing knock 5MHz off the FSB and retest until stable.

    Finding Max FSB

    Additionally, for CPUs that allow you to change (lower) the CPU multiplier, it is handy to determine what the maximum stable FSB of you're MB is. If you don't have the option to lower multipliers skip this section.

    1. Increase the FSB by 5MHz.
    2. Reduce the multiplier and RAM divider if requried so that both are at stock speeds or slightly less.
    3. Boot into windows and run Prime Large FFT Test, this will also stress the chipset and RAM so will be testing the FSB not just the CPU.
    4. Run it for 30mins monitoring temperatures, if it doesn't fail goto 1 again, if it fails, go to step 5.
    5. Increase the chipset voltage a notch and go back to 4.

    Eventually increasing the voltage will have little effect on increasing the FSB. At this point run a full range of tests and increase the duration of your Prime testing to 8 hours (some recomend more, some less, for me 8 hours is how long I'm at work give or take). If it fails any tests, reduce the FSB by 5MHz and retest until the required level of stability is achieved.

    Sandy Bridge "K series" Overclocking
    Due to the integration of functions into the CPU that where previously handled by the NB it is no longer feasible to get meaningful FSB overclocks with Sandy Bridge chips. To get round this, Intel have released K series chips, which when coupled with P67 motherboards will allow you to overclock using the multiplier.

    It's worth noting that you can exceed safe Vcore with everyday cooling (particularly water) and so care should be taken when overclocking SB chips. Intel has the following guidelines for safe voltages:-


    The datasheet currently doesn't give a safe limit for Vcore, but the recommendation is to not exceed about ~1.38V for long term use. The use of 1.5V seems to induce degradation of chips in a matter of weeks!

    SB chips have a FSB (or to be more specific bclk) of 100MHz, so increasing the multiplier by 1 will increase the CPU speed by 100MHz. This is quite a big jump, particularly once you are near you maximum stable overclock, so you may find that you suddenly need to make quite large changes in voltage to get it stable at that final clock speed.

    Memory Overclocking
    I'm not going to say much about RAM overclocking, though the process is roughly similar to that of CPU overclocking. With A64s it's easy to test RAM overclockability by reducing the CPU multiplier so that when you increase the FSB the CPU is still below it's stock speed and only the RAM is running faster than stock. On Intels once you've established a stable CPU overclock you can increase the RAM divider to start overclocking the RAM and then manipulate the FSB so that the CPU remains below the stable maximum. You may find that with both overclocked you're CPU overclock might be slightly reduced. On top of overclocking RAM you can also tighten timings, more information can be found in the Memory stickies.

    More on Stability Testing

    To maximise the stress on the system when running the tests change it's priority to Real Time. This ensures that it gets priority over other programs that are also running and maximises the stress on the CPU.

    Small FFT
    Hits the CPU the hardest, doesn't use RAM much if at all so is a very good indication of CPU stability.

    Large, In Place FFT
    Increases FFT length, making use of more RAM. This provides a good test of NB and RAM stability when overclocking the FSB

    Blend runs a mix of Large FFT for several hours, then Small FFT for several hours before starting the sequence again, as such you must leave it for a considerable amount of time to be thorough (24hours is a good starting point).

    How Long to Run?
    Very much a personal preference this one, my opinion is that for the overclocking process 30mins is enough, as it'll typically fail in the first 10mins if it's not very stable. Only once you reach a point that you can't get anyfurther should you be looking to run extended testing for x hours. 2 hours might be enough for some, 24 hours for others, but it seems reasonable to do it during the hotest time of the day.

    More of a benchmarking tool than a stability test, but the 32MB test can give a quick indication of overall stability and tests both RAM and the CPU. For multi cores you must install the program into a separate folder for each core and run each one at the same time.

    Select Calculate in the menu bar and then whatever test you want to run in the drop down menu.

    Graphics benchmarks that also stress the CPU and RAM so can be used as good overall system stability tests. 3dMark is also sensitive to things like driver issues and of course GPU overclocks so it's a good idea to run these before you start chaning things to make sure that any issues are ironed out first.

    Memtest86 is a RAM tester that runs off a bootable floppy/CD. Some tests (tests 5 and 8 I think) are thought to be more likely to fail than others and also which test it fails on should give an idea apparently what setting to change to make it stable. 20 loops is enough in my opinion.

    Either way, lately I've found Prime Blend to fail within seconds due to RAM when Memtest has ran for several loops without finding a single error. Alternatively Windows Memtest also seems to give good results.

    What is a Stable System?
    In my opinion a stable system is one that doesn't crash/error when using whatever programs the user uses. Many will argue that it's only stable if it doesn't crash no matter what you throw at it, but if you're not ever going to be fully stressing the system why bother spending days ensuring it?

    Either way, you can only prove a systems instability and your mileage may vary.

    Getting That Little Bit More

    Improve Your Motherboard Cooling
    Replacing the manufacturers supplied TIM on the northbridge and voltage regulators can help reduce their temperatures increasing stability at high frequencies. If you use conductive goop make sure you don't join any conductors.

    Remove Your Integrated Heat Spreader
    Guide here, only applies to S939 A64 chips. Can lead to you damaging your CPU.

    Voltage Modifications
    Careful selection of your motherboard these days can mean you won't require to make any physical modifications to the MB to get the voltages you need. Volt mods require either to use a pencil to decrease the value of a resistor by rubbing on it with the tip leaving a layer of graphite or to solder resistors in place or in parallel to change the particular values of resistance on the board. I would advise that you do your own research before starting though.

    Previous Overclocking Guide

  2. Jokester


    Joined: 7 Aug 2003

    Posts: 42,290

    Location: Aberdeenshire

    Please feel free to offer constructive critisicm, corrections additions etc. I've probably got something wrong, missed something out or not given enough information on certain topics. I'm aiming to get as much information into this post as possible so that information is easy to find rather than having trawl through a thread with the information scattered through it so any suggestions for changes will be greatfully received.

  3. The Asgard


    Joined: 27 Jan 2003

    Posts: 5,760

    Location: Chesterfield, UK

    Nice Thread m8.

    Follow this thread and you will get a problem free OC.

    The only thing I would add is that the Maximum Overclock you will get is pretty much down to luck. All chips do not clock the same. Just because one person can achieve a certain OC does not mean you will too, even if you have the same hardware. Remember any Overclock is free performance. :)
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2006
  4. mc_bob


    Joined: 29 Aug 2005

    Posts: 1,552

    Location: Reppin' up North London

    Liking that a lot :)

    Very good and easy to follow, printing it atm for future reference :D

  5. sunlitsix


    Joined: 27 Oct 2004

    Posts: 11,029

    Location: Stoke on Trent

    nice guide [​IMG], i would change the 3d mark part to be more specific to the 06 version.
    3d mark 06 is more system bound and would test the whole system's stability more than previous versions
  6. welshtom


    Joined: 17 Aug 2004

    Posts: 3,462

    Location: Pencoed

    3dmark 06 is so nvidia biased its wrong,
    SP2004 prime the new rev for stability.
    3d mark 01 is good for overall system performance, with 3d mark 05 being good also.
    3dmark06 is largely useless imo
  7. Darkwave


    Joined: 25 Oct 2005

    Posts: 13,779

    Great guide. [​IMG] I vote for sticky. :)
  8. probedb

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 24 Jun 2006

    Posts: 1,462

    Very good guide :) I'm going to give this a go in Oct when I get my new Core 2 Duo system....one question I have.

    Is step 2 in both the above guides necessary each time round the loop? Surely you won't need to do this every time?
  9. jas72


    Joined: 31 Jul 2006

    Posts: 10,276

    Location: Belgium land of chocolate

    nice guide there jokster.

    I've never overclocked before and have a question.

    For point 2

    Does that mean that when you raise the FSB by 5mhz the multiplier and RAM divider change? What are stock speeds for these do you mean unclocked speeds?


    Under RAM divider: I think the last 2 chances are supposed to be change.
    Under FSB point 2: Change to required.

    :D nice guide I'll try using it when I get my new components see what happens.
    Last edited: 21 Aug 2006
  10. Jokester


    Joined: 7 Aug 2003

    Posts: 42,290

    Location: Aberdeenshire

    Say stock speed was 10x200 (with RAM at 200 on a 1:1 divider), Increase the FSB to 205, but reduce the multiplier to 9 and the RAM divider to the next notch down. This way you're only testing the chipset so you can establish just how far the board can go.

  11. probedb

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 24 Jun 2006

    Posts: 1,462

    So basically testing just the chipset without affecting the memory or the CPU? Thanks for answering :)
  12. andrew_slater


    Joined: 6 Aug 2006

    Posts: 28

    Location: Nottingham

    grate guide mate this will be my first oc and had no idea what i was doing .
  13. geordiepaul


    Joined: 7 Mar 2005

    Posts: 124

    RAM Divider? Does this have a different definition depending on motherboard? Got an Asus M2N32 and I can't find anything called a RAM Divider?

    (As you can tell i'm a noob to this)
  14. Jokester


    Joined: 7 Aug 2003

    Posts: 42,290

    Location: Aberdeenshire

    It may also be called DRAM Frequency.

  15. Tim_Cdy


    Joined: 1 Nov 2006

    Posts: 49

    Location: Brighton

    Hi. Found the guide extremrly helpful. Thanks Jokester ;)
    Last edited: 6 Nov 2006
  16. moogle


    Joined: 4 Nov 2006

    Posts: 2,636

    Location: London

    More volts but up to a limit ;)

    but a cool guide in all for beginners. I'm going to overclock my athlon 4200 hopefully and get some good benefits. its just above the lowest x2 3800.
  17. mikeyrodge


    Joined: 14 Nov 2006

    Posts: 9

    really good guide goin to print it now to help me with my first time overclockin when i get my new components
  18. Defcon5


    Joined: 4 Sep 2005

    Posts: 6,423

    Location: Whitwood, West Yorks

  19. tomanders91


    Joined: 26 Nov 2006

    Posts: 3,955

    Location: guildford, surrey

    very nice guide, will help me alot even though im still pretty confused :(
  20. Markatomic


    Joined: 22 Sep 2006

    Posts: 333

    Location: Kent, England

    Hey hey just finished my first OC!! Guide was really helpful!