In the realm of bodybuilding, when athletes want to perform better, they take supplements before a workout that allows them to do so. These supplements allow them to get one more rep in, or get in an extra set.
Using this same logic, when we want more out of our CPU, we use something called overclocking. It’s a process where we increase the processor’s clock rate or speed beyond its normal value. Overclocking gives you more performance, but at a cost.
One of the big questions that first-time overclockers ask is this: does overclocking reduce CPU lifespan?
The short answer here is both YES and NO, and we’ll explain why in this article.
What Exactly is Overclocking?
Processors come with their default setting for voltage and clock speed. These settings are intended to guarantee smooth performance of your system as a whole.
But some processors can be overclocked, which allows you get more power and speed within range. If your processor has a max clock speed of 3.2GHz, an overclocked CPU could push it to 3.4Ghz or 3.6GHz.
However, not all processors are built the same way. Let’s assume that your CPU has a clock speed of 3.8GHz as advertised. Overclocking would give you about 4.0GHz. With the help of what’s called a silicon lottery (we’ll explain later), you could get a CPU that could be overclocked up to 4.5GHz (higher than the advertized overclocking limit).
This boils down to luck because CPU manufacturers don’t know the maximum speed of individual CPUs that roll out the factory line. They just advertise the speed that you’re guaranteed and then have you rely on the silicon lottery.
What Parts of The Computer Can Be Overclocked?
Technically speaking, you could overclock every component in your gaming rig, but these parts outside of the CPU can be more beneficial than others:
The Graphics Card or GPU
Apart from the CPU, the graphics card or GPU is the second most overclocked PC hardware. GPU overclocking will require the installation of a program, like MSI Afterburner. This will allow you to overclock the GPU without going through the BIOS.
Contrary to popular belief, GPU overclocking doesn’t really have noticeable benefits in terms of getting higher FPS. Relatively speaking, you’re still getting more or less the same performance from your overclocked GPU.
If you’re playing an AAA title at 50FPS at ultra settings, overclocking could get you another 5 to 10 FPS. It’s not that noticeable, but what you will really see is that parts of the game where your frames tend to drop will smoothen out.
But like the CPU, overclocking a GPU will still rely on the silicon lottery.
RAM or Memory
Overclocking your RAM, much like the GPU, doesn’t give you a noticeable increase in terms of performance. But unlike the GPU and CPU, overclocking your RAM is far more difficult. Putting in too much voltage or making it run too fast will cause your PC to crash.
Does Overclocking Reduce Lifespan?
More importantly, does overclocking have an impact on your CPU lifespan?
The answer to both these questions is a YES.
BUT… Yes, there’s a BUT.
Overclocking a CPU means you’re running more voltage through the hardware. And when the voltage is higher, you get higher temperatures as well. Higher temperatures will eventually shorten your CPU lifespan.
However, light overclock doesn’t really increase the CPU temperature by that much, so it won’t really have an impact on lifespan. Extreme overclocking, on the other hand, will greatly shorten the lfiespan.
CPUs tend to last more than 5 years, but overclocking might give your CPU a lifespan of less than that. You’d be looking at 3 to 4 years, but by then, you’d have saved enough money to purchase a new CPU.
Does Overclocking Benefit the CPU?
Overclocking the CPU gives you a performance boost outside of its default range. In some cases, you’d probably get more FPS out of your video games or shorten rendering time.
Resource intensive applications might run faster and smoother on an overclocked CPU too, but then again, overclocking isn’t exactly what you need to do every single day. The majority of the more resource intensive applications and AAA games aren’t exactly too reliant on CPU power.
What Exactly is a Silicon Lottery?
Let’s assume that you have two CPUs of the same brand and model. Both can be overclocked too.
Silicon lottery refers to the difference in performances between two chips of the same model. What you basically have here is that the CPU will share the same stock settings, but the overclocked speed will always be different. When you overclock your CPU from 3.6GHz to 3.8GHz, and another CPU at 3.6GHz can overclock to 4.0GHz, that’s silicon lottery in play.
One chip will always be better at overclocking than the other chip. All other specs, like power consumption, memory clock speed, and the default limit will be the same.
How Risky Is It To Overclock Processors and GPUs?
Overclocking will gradually reduce CPU or GPU lifespan, but it’s not going to be an instantaneous thing. For example, if your CPU has a lifespan of 5 years and you overclock today for the first time, the CPU lifespan does not immediately shorten.
Overclocking reduce CPU lifespan the more you do it. In rare cases, you might risk having your entire system explode when you do it wrong.
Other risks associated with overclocking include:
- Voiding or terminating factory warranty
- Permanent damage to the motherboard’s CPU socket
- Overheating issues
- Electrical damage
What Are The Impacts of Overclocking on CPU Lifespan?
There’s no direct impact on your CPU lifespan, but rather, overclocking contributes a lot of factors that cause parts of the CPU to gradually deteriorate.
How rapid the deterioration is will depend on the conditions of your CPU and system unit as a whole. If you have a laptop CPU and you are planning to overclock it, you’re going to reduce the lifespan significantly if you don’t have an answer to the heating issues.
The overclock setup and overclocking speed will vary on the CPU model too. Having the same CPU model doesn’t mean you get the same overclocking speed. Let’s assume two different PC’s with the same CPU model.
One CPU has a liquid cooling setup with proper airflow, and the other system is only reliant on intake and exhaust fans with minimal airflow. Which of the CPUs will be greatly affected by overclocking?
The CPU with minimal airflow and ventilation will take more brunt of the heat damage from overclocking compared to the first PC with other cooling components. This is because the temperature range of the liquid-cooled PC is managed by how the whole system was built. The system is capable of handling extra heat from overclocking.
The second PC with minimal airflow and poor ventilation might handle more heat than necessary because it’s not cooled down fast enough.
When you overclock properly, you’re not increasing the temperature range by any more than 20 degrees Celsius, so the CPU lifespan doesn’t decrease that much. Even a less than sturdy CPU could handle overclocking without any major issues as long as the temperature limit is within range.
Many processors are built to handle the higher voltage, higher temperature ranges, and other compromises that come with overclocking. Depending on the desktop build, stress test for overclocked CPUs will show different results.
A liquid cooled system will probably do a better job at keeping the CPU cool while overclocked as opposed to other coolers.
How How Can A Processor Get Before It Gets Damaged And How Hot can a Processor Get Before It Damages Other Components?
CPU temperature should be somewhere around 60 to 70 degrees Celsius, or 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Overclocking could get you up to 80 degrees Celsius or 175 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s still relatively manageable.
CPU degradation starts when the temperatures hit about 90 degrees or so as this is already considered very hot. Intel and AMD’s respective processors can withstand working at about 80 degrees Celsius safely but it doesn’t mean you need to be reaching that limit all the time, especially if you overclock your CPU.
The trick here is to know your CPU limits and manage the temperature to within its maximum tolerable limit when you’re overclocking. Your cooling system plays a major role in doing just that, at least for the temperature side of things.
How Do You Know Your CPU Is Overheating?
Outside of this graphic, the first sign of an overheating CPU is when the FPS starts to drop significantly or when things start to slow down.
The reason for this instantaneous slowing down is that the CPU is trying to cool itself down. When throttling happens, that means your cooling system couldn’t remove excess heat immediately and the CPU can’t handle the extra heat. It will slow down to give itself room to breathe for a few minutes.
This throttling is also a form of thermal protection that many processors are equipped with. Some will automatically stop certain functions, so your PC will slow down immensely to prevent itself from overheating.
To make sense of how throttling works, let’s use an example of a sinking ship. When a ship takes in water, the affected compartments will automatically close down to prevent water from getting into other parts of the ship. Nearby compartments will automatically do the same thing.
For processors, the equivalent of closing compartments to prevent water from coming in is shutting down some of the CPU cores. When these cores shut down, you lose out a fraction of the CPU’s performance.
Throttling due to overheating is only temporary though and only takes a good couple of minutes, depending on the tolerance limit of your CPU and how effective your cooling system is.
The Big Question: Should You Overclock Your CPU?
There’s no correct answer for this because it’s circumstantial. You don’t need to overclock your CPU if you’re already getting enough FPS for games and resource-intensive tasks, or if the whole system is running smoothly.
Overclocking is a good alternative to upgrading your CPU. If budget is an issue and your CPU is the next thing to be upgraded, then overclocking it might not be such a bad deal.
The Wrap Up
Does overclocking reduce CPU lifespan? The answer is a big YES, but again, the impact of overclocking is gradual. Just because you overclocked once doesn’t mean you cut its life span by half already. It doesn’t work like that.
The only factor that you have to consider when we’re talking about overclocking and CPU life span is heat. As long as your system is capable of getting heat out as quickly as possible, overclocking shouldn’t have a significant impact on the CPU life span even if you do it frequently.