Overclocking Methods

The general performance of the computer can be significantly increased by setting overclocked methods for some of its subsystems that will impose an increase in their operating speed. One of these subsystems is the processor, which plays the leading role in processing data and managing the other subsystems of the computer.

By raising the processor operating frequency and/or the frontside bus frequency (which determines the processor operating frequency), you will be able to considerably improve the overall computer performance. The other subsystems, such as the video adapters and storage subsystem, often undergo a similar process.

This method of increasing the operating speed is called “overclocking”. This is the widely used and generally accepted term, used in computer-related literature and on the Internet.

You should note that along with increasing the frequency you must often also increase the voltage to those components subject to overclocking. In no case can the authors be held responsible for any damage resulting from an attempt to overclock any computer subsystem. Any overclocking is done at your own risk.

The main idea of setting overclocked modes for certain components and subsystems is to increase the computer's performance without serious financial invest-ments into its upgrade. In most cases, to switch the computer subsystems to overclocking mode, it is suffi-cient to change a few settings on the motherboard.

Usually, this comes down to changing the position of a few jumpers or switches. Sometimes, however, you must replace or add a few elements. This is especially true for the elements intended to guarantee effective and reliable cooling of the system.

Long ago, overclocking meant no more than raising the clock frequency of the processor. For example, XT computers based on i8088 processors rated to run at 4.7 MHz, could be overclocked to run at the frequencies from 6 to 12 MHz. I80386 processors rated at 33 MHz could be overclocked to 40 MHz.

This ability to be overclocked was often already included in the computer design by the manufacturers. Although they didn't usually advertise this, it was not unusual to find a Normal/Turbo button on the front panel of the system unit, which would switch the computer to run at a higher clock frequency.

Now, many users of computers based on Pentium processors from Intel, or similar processors from other companies, have the opportunity to increase not only the internal clock frequency of the processor at which data is processed, but also the frequency of the processor system bus.

The frequency of this bus determines the external frequency of the processor. Note that in technical literature, this bus is often referred to as the host bus, FSB (Front Side Bus), CPU Bus, or SB (System Bus).

Raising the frequency of this bus can appreciably improve the computer performance, since this speeds up data exchange with the memory, the video adapter, the hard drive, etc.

Some Overclocking Problems

As was previously mentioned, the overclocking method has been in use for a relatively long time. Nonetheless, there are a several factors that limit the use of this mode that best exploits the components and subsystems of the computer.

First of all, you need to remember that overclocking increases the probability of failure of components running in forced mode. For instance, overclocked processors release larger amounts of heat. This disturbs the heat balance. As a result, the temperature of the processor case increases, and the semi-conductor chip located inside overheats.

Sometimes, this overheating is so intense that the processor can fail. A similar problem may arise for the other overclocked elements, such as the video adapter chipset and its memory.

Keep in mind that modern video adapters allow you to overclock these elements separately. The problem of disturbing the heating rate of the overclocked elements can often be solved by more intense cooling. Incidentally, this applies not only to overclocked modes.

Proper cooling, in general, serves as a precautionary measure, ensuring the stable and prolonged work of the computer components, even while working in the recommended modes. In overclocked modes, however, the problem of cooling is much more complicated.

Often, even effective cooling is not sufficient to compensate for the negative effects of overclocking on the components. For this reason, the overclocked processor may possibly not last for the entire warranty period. Generally, this is not a matter of importance.

As was mentioned before, the elements usually become obsolete much more quickly than they physically age. In the process of using the computer, many of its elements will be replaced by newer ones before they fail due to the irreversible processes in the semiconductors caused by overclocking.

Furthermore, the reliability and life cycle of modern components are so impressive (hundreds of thousands of power-on hours before failure, more than 10 years of guaranteed trouble-free usage) that when overclocked within reasonable limits and with proper control over the heating mode, this reduction in the component's life cycle is insignificant.

It's recommended that you replace your processor every 1 or 2 years, and this time period is showing a tendency to decrease. The same applies to video adapters and hard drives.

The next problem is perhaps more essential. When overclocked, the overall stability of the system is often disturbed. There is always the probability that after overclocking any component, your system will become unstable.

Of course, it's not very wise to perform important tasks that demand a high level of reliability on computers whose components have been overclocked. Due to the possible instabilities, data may be damaged or even lost.

This is exactly why you should test the computer thoroughly in every possible manner after the overclocking process is completed. It's recommended that you use such popular testing programs as WinStone, WinBench, and the like.

In order to test the system, it makes sense to run applications that use the maximum amount of system resources. This may be a sufficiently complex application, or a game. It's also advised that you initialize a number of tasks for simultaneous execution.

If it appears that a certain component of the computer is not stable, you must figure out the reason for this, and change the functioning modes. In order to increase the functional stability of the overclocked components, you may need to carefully raise the voltage.

Or, you might need to decrease the clock frequency, or even return everything back to its original state. There is no universal cure. Overclocking is a creative process. The result depends on the overclocker's experience and persistence, on the elements used and their interaction, and also on the drivers and programs used.

Often, the result can even depends on the individual specimen. Your most important task when overclocking, then, is to increase the performance while maintaining the stability of the entire computer system.

Switching Modes through BIOS

Setup Preparing the subsystems of the computer is accomplished by arranging the corresponding jumpers and switches on the motherboard and expansion cards. In addition to this, you must adjust a series of parameters found in BIOS Setup.

There do exist certain motherboards, however, that allow you to carry out this adjustment by simply changing these parameters in BIOS Setup. These are motherboards that use Soft-Menu technology. In the case of one of these motherboards, you don't need to open the case of the computer and look for the appropriate jumpers and switches.

Setting the appropriate modes is done through parameters that control the FSB, PCI, and AGP bus frequencies, the voltage supplied to the processor, the value of the multiplier (if possible), certain features of the memory functioning, etc.

Setting the values of these parameters is done in the appropriate menus in BIOS Setup, those like Ad-vanced Chipset Setup, BIOS Features Setup, and Chipset Features Setup.

You should, however, note, that before choosing the necessary modes and beginning the set up you ought to become acquainted with the documentation that accompanies both the computer motherboard and extension cards.

Increasing the Voltage and Cooling

When overclocking, you should keep in mind that in order to guarantee the functional stability of the processor at high frequencies — the values of which can be more than 1.5 times than the clock frequency set by the manufacturer — you must also increase the CPU voltage.

The necessity of this is clear, and stems from the theory of the digital device operation at high frequencies. According to this theory, in order to guarantee steep front impulses for high frequency signals and a high performance for the semiconductor elements, a relatively high level of current and voltage is necessary.

You should note that raising voltage should be done very carefully, since there is a possibility of the irreversible failure of the given element. Besides, at a high voltage more electrical power is used. As a result, the heat flux rises, and without an additional heatsink, the processor under these conditions will get extremely hot.

Therefore, it's advised to intensify the cooling system of the processor by, for instance, installing a more powerful fan. There are instances where Intel Pentium processors will work reliably with a voltage of 4.6 V, which is significantly higher than the standard level recommended for and set for processors of this type.

When overclocking components, always remember to effectively and reliably cool them. This may sometimes require that you install a more powerful cooling fan or cooler for the processor.

It may also require additional cooling of certain other devices. Indeed, as was previously stated, raising the frequency of the processor bus influences the functioning of most of the computer subsystems. When beginning the procedure of overclocking, you must be prepared for these problems.

When it comes to cooling, it's best not to risk it; otherwise, there is the possibility that a component may fail due to extremely high temperatures. Besides this, you should once again recall that intensive heating an element shortens its trouble-free operating life.