Intel has made it a lot easier to overclock your CPU — pushing it past its default clock speeds to make it even faster, at the risk of potentially frying your chip. Here's what you need to make it happen.
There’s one big caveat: You’re going to need one of six supported 9th-generation CPUs (all in the Coffee Lake family) in order to enjoy its new, simple overclocking utility. You’re also going to need 16GB of free space on one of your drives, but I doubt that will be an issue for most system-builders looking to overclock their systems.
First, let’s talk CPUs. Don’t bother installing the (Windows-only) Intel Performance Maximizer unless you’re rockin’ one of the following:
If you don’t know what you have in your system — well, first off, overclocking might not be for you. Assuming you’re forgetful, you can always pull up the System section of Windows’ Control Panel, which will tell you exactly what CPU you’re using:
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, I don’t think Intel checks these things; I can probably use this app with any ol’ CPU,” you would be wrong. I tried that exact same approach, in the spirit of life hacking, and couldn’t even finish installing the app:
Once you’re in, the Performance Maximizer app will let you know that overclocking is serious business. It could harm or destroy your CPU should you (or the utility) mess something up. (Intel also drops in a little link to its Performance Tuning Protection Plan, a $29 upgrade to your 9th-generation processor’s standard warranty that allows you to exchange your fried CPU for a working one, should your overclocking go south.)
After you select where you want the utility to eat up the 16GB of reserved space it’ll need to work its magic, it will then “run some tests on your system to customise your overclock.” According to the utility, you could be in for “several hours” of testing, with quite a few system reboots along the way, during this process.
Also, the entire process might not work (or you might not get as good an overclock as you were hoping) if you customised any performance-related settings in your motherboard’s BIOS, if you’ve already enabled some kind of auto-overclocking feature in the BIOS, or if you’ve used other overclocking applications to adjust your CPU’s frequency. (Other BIOS requirements for using the application can be found in Intel’s user guide.)
When the utility is done — a process that takes “quite some time,” notes Wccftech’s Keith May — your results might not be as awesome as they appear at first. For example, when May ran the utility, it overclocked his Core i9-9900K processor from 4.7GHz (all-core, turbo) to 5.10GHz, a 8.5 per cent increase. That might not sound like much, but it’s a decent boost in the overclocking world (especially if you don’t have to fiddle with any settings yourself).
The problem? As May describes, his system might have hit 5.1GHz, but it didn’t stay there for long:
While he saw some slight performance boosts in his Cinebench benchmark, the Intel overclock also spiked the temperature of his hottest measured core by 10 degrees celsius.
Again, these are all expected outcomes of overclocking, but May didn’t sound overly excited by the final outcome: around a 100 MHz all-core increase for his chip, on average.
“Maybe your mileage will go further than mine, and I got real excited at first—I thought, man, 5.1. That’s pretty cool. I’ve only ever pushed this thing to five gigahertz,” May said.
Our advice? As always, if you’re looking to overclock your system, take some before-and-after benchmarks to see if the extra wear and tear is worth the results.
Use utilities like HWiNFO to get a sense of what your system is doing before and after (for voltages, clock speeds, and temperatures) so you can better understand how much Intel’s utility is helping you out, if at all.
You’ll probably see the best results if you overclock your processor manually, but that’s not something everyone is comfortable doing. Intel’s tool is easy, even if it might not push your system to its very peak. Make sure you do a little sleuthing to see if it’s worth it.
This story has been updated since its original publication.