CPUs typically last for as long as 20-30 years, but you can overclock them to make your computer run faster. When you do this, there are significant consequences. We’ll help you understand the pros and cons of overclocking in this article.
If you’re not sure how much you need to overclock your CPU, you can read our article on how fast your processor needs to be. If you’re wondering does overclocking reduce CPU lifespan, then read on to find out more. We’ll cover the extent to which it does and the reasons behind this.
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What Exactly Is Overclocking?
The CPU is like the computer’s brain. Overclocking is a typically safe process that allows you to speed up the rate at which your CPU operates.
Most everyday computer users will not need overclocking. But power users who want to maximize their computer’s potential, and gamers who need high performance, both use overclocking. When you overclock your CPU, it boosts the CPU multiplier, affecting how much greater the internal clock rate is than the external clock rate.
For example, a 100Mhz external clock rate with a 36x multiplier will provide an internal clock rate of 3.6Ghz. This figure determines the speed of your processor, and overclocking happens when you increase that multiplier.
Although it may sound complicated, increasing the multiplier is as simple as selecting a higher number from your computer’s BIOS settings.
Does Overclocking Reduce CPU Lifespan?
Overclocking reduces the lifespan of the CPU because you are pushing it to its limits. But it’s essential to understand how this occurs. One of the biggest culprits of reducing your CPU lifespan is the increased heat caused by overclocking. When you overclock the CPU and force it to run faster, it demands more energy to power it, producing excess heat.
Does overclocking reduce CPU lifespan by making it run hot?
This energy is expelled as heat (referred to as thermal design power) and makes the CPU and surrounding motherboard circuitry run hot. However, if you’re only overclocking the CPU to a moderate degree, the negative impact shouldn’t be severe. At most, overclocking will knock a few years off the life of your CPU, although if you push it far beyond the baseline clock rate, it will likely fail faster.
As a guide, you should ensure the CPU temperature remains under 85 degrees to reduce the risk of overheating. Controlling the voltage is also vital for heat regulation, and you shouldn’t exceed 1.4 volts.
Does overclocking reduce the CPU lifespan by using the stock cooler?
If you are going to overclock your CPU, you should be aware that the stock cooler attached to the CPU - known as its heatsink - won’t be sufficient to cool the CPU. That means you should buy a customized one.
You’ll also need to monitor the CPU temperatures carefully to ensure throttling does not occur. Throttling is how the computer manages power distribution for the CPU. If it’s too hot, it will reduce the clock rate to compensate.
How long will an overclocked CPU last?
Once you’ve overclocked your CPU, you’ll need to prepare for it to have a shorter lifespan even if you take the precautions we've outlined in this section. We've mentioned that you can expect a CPU to last for many years, but if you overclock it to its full potential, that will reduce to around five years.
That’s because you’re putting the CPU under additional pressure. However, computer systems generally go obsolete after a few years, so by the time your CPU finishes its lifespan, it will be time to upgrade your computer anyway.
Your CPU’s lifespan may also be affected by other factors, and these include the efficacy of your cooling system, the age of the CPU when you begin overclocking, and the quality of the components.
Is It Bad To Overclock Your CPU? (Potential Damages)
The CPU can take damage from overclocking if you do it incorrectly. Both the CPU and the motherboard can be damaged. The most severe damage will occur if you increase the CPU voltage to high levels.
This can burn out the CPU and cause damage to the circuitry on the motherboard. Another consequence of overclocking can be the notorious BSOD. This means Blue Screen of Death, which occurs when your computer’s operating system crashes, and you have to restart the computer or take it for repairs.
Generally, if you’re only overclocking the CPU to a mild degree and not pushing the clock rate or voltage far beyond the initial manufacturer settings, you shouldn’t notice any damage. It’s only when you push it too far that problems arise, and you can discover the limits through further research about overclocking or testing the CPU if you can afford for it to fail.
What are the risks of overclocking?
If you do overclock your CPU improperly, then you risk extra time and money spent replacing the CPU, as well as any lost data caused by your computer crashing while work was in progress. Data saved to a hard drive should be undamaged, but you may lose anything you didn’t save at the time of the crash or CPU failure.
You may find that you can sustain a high clock rate in the CPU for a while, but after that, you’re limited by frequent overheating that leads to throttling. If this happens repeatedly, it can shorten the life of your CPU, and the best way to deal with it is to reduce the extent to which you’re overclocking it.
How To Tell If Your Computer Supports Overclocking?
To check that your computer supports overclocking, access the BIOS when your computer powers up. You can typically do this by pressing one of the F keys before the operating system has loaded.
Once you’ve done this, you can navigate through the options using the keyboard until you find settings to adjust the CPU core ratio or frequency - this means the same as changing the CPU’s multiplier.
If the setting is adjustable, you’ll know that it supports overclocking because if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to adjust the multiplier. Ideally, your computer should have modern and advanced CPUs and motherboards. Despite these being faster and not needing as much overclocking, they have more support for it.
How can I tell if my PC is overclocked?
If you suspect that your computer has already been overclocked and want to check whether this is the case, you should research your CPU’s manufacturer specifications. This will tell you what the baseline multiplier and voltage are. If you enter the BIOS and find that the settings are higher than the manufacturer specifies, you’ve got an overclocked CPU.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What CPU can overclock to 5Ghz?
Not many CPUs can be overclocked to 5Ghz, as it’s a very high clock speed, but some can. Most of them are recent releases, and an example includes the Intel Core i9-11900K, which you can overclock to 5.3Ghz.
Is CPU overclocking permanent?
No, CPU overclocking is not permanent, as you can simply change the settings in the BIOS. However, if you damage your CPU by pushing it too far, it can sustain permanent damage that reduces its lifespan.
Does overclocking damage RAM?
No, it doesn’t, as the RAM is located separately on the motherboard and won’t be overly affected by any excess heat generated by the CPU. CPUs also have dedicated heatsinks to ensure heat doesn’t build up.
What is a normal CPU voltage?
CPU voltages can vary depending on the age of your computer system and the model of CPU that you have fitted, but the general range is 0.9-1.3 volts.
Related: How To Undervolt A CPU Step By Step
You should now know the answer to the question ‘does overclocking reduce CPU lifespan?’ is yes. You should also know how to overclock your CPU, whether you should, and the risks if you do.
Holly Curell is a US-based freelance writer & editor extraordinaire. With over a decade of writing technical manuals, blog articles, & even company communications, Holly has a passion for providing value to readers on everything she knows about tech-related topics. When she’s not writing, Holly enjoys reading, hiking, wine, & wandering the aisles of Trader Joe’s. Holly is currently based out of North Carolina, where she lives with her husband Ken & their three children.