At, MrNekopan writes:

I recently upgraded my desktop PC that I’ve been using for four years now. I put about $200 into it, and it is now capable of any task I throw at it. However, I did not change the CPU — it remains an Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.00 GHz. It seems to be bogging the whole system down from its full potential, and upgrading it further is way beyond my budget. So I was wondering: is it ever safe to overclock a CPU, and if so, to what point?

Extreme OverclockingOverclocking is a great way to get higher performance out of your PC. Unfortunately, overclocking generates more heat from your CPU than stock hardware is built to handle. Some motherboards and processors are built specifically to allow for a certain amount of overclocking, and these are certainly recommended for anyone hoping to get a bit more out of their hardware.

The trick to overclocking is properly balancing system cooling with performance. As you crank the CPU higher, the excessive heat can cause the unit to become unstable. Extreme overclockers invest a lot of money in liquid cooling systems that maximize heat distribution so you don’t end up with a brick of a system. Even with proper cooling, the life span of an overclocked CPU or GPU is generally lower than that of one run with default settings. It’s just the nature of the beast. A bulb that burns twice as bright lasts half as long.

Stock cooling fans and heat sinks on CPUs and GPUs do a really poor job of keeping an overclocked unit cool. Pay close attention to your motherboard, CPU, and heat sink specifications. Post your build (in its entirely) on overclocking forums and seek out the advice of folks who have faced the challenges and know a bit more about whether or not you’re on the right path.

CPU stepping is tricky for someone who has never done it before. A little knowledge goes a long way. Do your research and find out if your processor has the right architecture for overclocking, and what you might need to do to make the process as smooth as possible.

Overclocking is much more common today than it was 15 years ago when hardware manufacturers did very little to support the practice. Today, there are desktop programs made by motherboard manufacturers to make overclocking as simple as clicking a button. This doesn’t mean your hardware will last just as long as if you left it alone, but it isn’t the long and difficult process it once was.

Is it safe? It’s certainly safer than it was before, but there are still plenty of reasons to play it safe unless you really need that extra boost to performance.

Image: Wikimedia