Can You Overclock a LOCKED CPU?

Alex Alex 01 August 2020
Can You Overclock a LOCKED CPU?

If you're a computer hardware enthusiast, you probably know that if you want to overclock your CPU, meaning run it at a higher speed, then it would be best to buy an unlocked processor.

An unlocked processor means that it has an unlocked multiplier. That is an adjustable number that the base clock of your processor gets multiplied by to determine the actual frequency it runs at. Now, all of AMD's modern desktop CPU offerings are unlocked, and so is Intel's K and X series. But team blue actually sells many CPUs that have locked multipliers, meaning that the user cannot adjust them. And the only way to overclock manually is to adjust the base clock, which can be quite tricky.

You see, there isn't really any way to hack an Intel chip to unlock it. Unlocking a chip is a physical process that occurs at the factory on the die itself. Can You Overclock a LOCKED CPU?So there's no code to try to break through on a non-K series chip. You can't unlock the multiplier, end of story.

But it turns out that there are still other ways that motherboard manufacturers have used to boost performance on locked chips. To find out more, we reached out to Nick Shih at ASRock, and we'd like to thank him for his contributions.

Intel chips contain something called microcode, which you can think of as being similar to firmware.Can You Overclock a LOCKED CPU? The microcode is what is fundamentally responsible for controlling the CPU's behavior, including what clock speeds it'll run at. Previously, there was a loophole in the microcode where it wouldn't check the processors base clock against a hardware clock governor, allowing ASRock to come out with a feature called SkyOC that would allow users to crank up the base clocks really high for significant performance boosts. Talking 30% in some cases. 

SkyOC worked with original non-K Skylake CPUs, and users seemed to enjoy the feature, but Intel more aggressively locked down the ability for a user to make base clock adjustments shortly thereafter, meaning the feature basically died before it had much of a chance to see widespread adoption. However, a newer method has since appeared on the scene. ASRock calls it base frequency boost, or BFB, while Asus calls it Asus Performance Enhancement.

Even though Intel has placed restrictions on base clock overclocking on locked CPUs, what they didn't lock down is the chip's power limits. This means that your system will simply raise the power limit to 125 Watts from 65. The CPU will detect this, understand that it has more thermal and power headroom to work with, and raise its own clock speeds accordingly. ASRock claims this method can bump your frequencies up by a gigahertz or even more, depending on what chip you're using.

However, there are some important caveats. One is that since you're raising the power limit, you'll generate significantly more heat. So as with overclocking an unlocked CPU, you'll want to make sure that you have a good cooler on hand. Another is that overall, you shouldn't expect to get the same caliber of results as you would with a CPU that has an unlocked multiplier from the factory. Although raising the power level will obviously make your chip faster than it would otherwise be, unlocked CPUs typically are the top of the range ones and are a better option for those who are chasing the ultimate in performance.

The thing is, Intel typically uses better quality Silicon in these unlocked chips so that overclockers will have an easier time raising their speeds and setting records. So even though some of the cores in a locked chip might be amenable to having their rates adjusted, there might be others that simply aren't able to do it. So at the end of the day, solutions like BFB are more for people who want to get more performance out of a locked chip that they already own, or they got for a super great deal, as opposed to people who are looking to make a decision about what to buy. Besides, who knows what Intel's gonna pull the rug out from under us yet again.

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