As a general rule, any inexpensive, or in this case free, performance gain within the boundaries of a PC potential capabilities is always worth it. Overclocking is a system-wide boost that improves a PC across the board and from a conceptual point of view, logic dictates that imbibing hardware with more inherent value for the dollar spent is a no brainer.
If you end up forking out cash to support overclocking, then the worthiness of overclocking starts to plummet drastically, unless the overclocker sees it as a passion project whereby pushing hardware to extremes is a hobby and challenge rather than a requirement for a specific task.
There’s a profound satisfaction to be found in tinkering to find the ideal equilibrium between clock speeds and voltages to keep a system stable with a noticeable performance boost.
Harking back to a dominant theme with these types of questions, whether overclocking is worth it within a particular context depends on what souped up components will be used for once pushed to their limits.
Is Overclocking Necessary?
Context matters. Right now, consumer PC’s are more powerful that they have ever been and components are designed to live up to the demands of even the most demanding tasks such as serious gaming, video editing, and music production.
A PC with a decent spec rap sheet is more than capable of performing most functions without a hitch, especially gaming rigs fitted with the latest GPU and a modern CPU that will handle anything even the most demanding AAA title can throw its way. With this in mind, there is no reason to overclock, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
Most top tier machines don’t benefit all that much, if at all, from overclocking. They are more than capable of running the most recent games on ultra settings and with a degree of headroom to spare.
When Overclocking Comes Into Its Element
Where overclocking stands to produce tangible dividends is on machines with not precisely outdated specs, but those that are a few years old. Getting that much more out of CPU or GPU to crank up in-game graphical settings or boosting the FPS by a few frames can be enough to transform the gaming experience for some.
These benefits, however, largely depend on what the machine is being used to do. Our focus at GamingScan is gaming so let’s focus on the wonderful world of video games. The benefits of overclocking also depend on the game. As a brief overview, games are either CPU centric or GPU centric. Overclocking the CPU for CPU hungry game will pay dividends and increase FPS rates, while on the flip side a GPU demanding game will see a boost in performance from overclocking the GPU.
To delve a little deeper, overclocking a GPU doesn’t provide an incremental boost in performance as is the case with a CPU. The results are far more esoteric and unpredictable, defined by a lot of trial and error. This differing responsiveness to overclocking comes down to how a GPU works especially the choreographed communication between chipset and VRAM.
Equally, overclocking can lead to what is called bottlenecking between the CPU and GPU, whereby one or the other component is stunted by the inbuilt performance limits of the other. If bottlenecking is an issue, the only viable solution is to upgrade the culprit component to bring it in line with the other.
So whether overclocking is necessary hinges on how much of a performance gain it provides, what games are played, the existing hardware in a PC, and whether buying better components isn’t a more viable long term solution.
The art of overclocking is shrouded in words of warning and stories of CPUs being fried to kingdom come due to overambitious clock rates and unsatisfactory cooling arrangements. These cautionary tales represent the extreme of where mismanaged and haphazard forays into overclocking can lead but by no means define the experience for the majority.
There is an inherent risk; after all, you are pushing components beyond their base factory settings, these having been defined within limits that the manufacturer has deemed ‘’safe’’. But in reality, manufacturers are overcautious.
They have to be or run the risk of being the target of unabashed vitriol from hordes of belligerent consumers who’ve suffered from hardware-breaking issues. They, therefore, set these limits within bounds that are overly conservative to ward off even the slightest possibility of overheating or damage from standard, everyday use.
In reality, components, especially the most likely targets for overclocking like the CPUs and GPUs, can be boosted well beyond their base speeds with little to no risk. As always with such matters, a hefty dose of thorough research, common sense, and a firm understanding of the limits of specific hardware are sufficient to make overclocking a safe, and enjoyable, experience for all.
To summarize, the risk is often overstated but isn’t to be ignored. Don’t be put off by fears of destroying your PC with one push too far. In most cases, overclocking the system too far will cause it to crash, but won’t cause irreparable hardware damage. A quick reboot, rejig back to stable settings, and the machine will be back to functioning as usual.
If you’re intrigued by overclocking and have a machine with components geared towards such a pursuit (look for the ‘’K’’ at the end of Intel CPUs for example), then overclocking has worth in providing an avenue, or platform, for exploring that curiosity.
As for real-world results measured in frames per second or other game related metrics, then the chances are that overclocking will provide a marginal performance boost that is far outweighed by investing in newer, performance enhancing equipment. But then again, there is a lot of sense in getting even small improvements from spending absolutely nothing and rekindling the dormant, untapped power in a PC.
You won’t know until you try. Read up, get that knowledge, and use common sense.