Intel processors have offered excellent overclocking headroom for years, and with the 10th Generation CPUs, this hasn’t changed one bit! Many people stay away from overclocking, fearing they might damage their hardware. While an overly-aggressive overclock might be problematic for your hardware, fine-tuning your performance will net you an excellent performance gain with minimal-to-no risk to your precious hardware.
We'll try answering a few basic questions in this post – How do you get started with overclocking? What kind of performance gains can you expect?
A quick disclaimer.
Most CPUs and motherboards have built-in protections to cut the power before you can damage your hardware, but we are pushing the CPU beyond standard operational settings. Do note that though we’ve taken every measure to ensure safety, following along indicates you do so at your own risk.
That said, we aren’t aiming to break any world records here. So, you should be able to follow along without any issues.
Before we begin, do keep in mind that not only do different processor models overclock differently, but different chips of the same SKU (model) do as well! So, you might have a Core i9 10900K that achieves an excellent overclock, while someone buys another 10900K and ends up with wildly different results. Nonetheless, you’ll enjoy better performance either way.
Our Hardware Setup
You don't necessarily need the exact same hardware we’re using, but we do recommend using the same/similar MSI motherboard, a powerful CPU cooler, and of course, the same CPU.
- Motherboard: MSI MEG Z490 ACE (LGA 1200 Socket)
- Processor: Intel Core i9 10900K
- CPU Cooler: MSI MAG CoreLiquid 360R AIO Liquid Cooler
- Memory Kit: 32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 4600 MHz
- Power Supply: Cooler Master V850
- Case: MSI MPG GUNGNIR 110R ATX Case
Intel's Core i9 10900K is a powerful 10-core, 20-thread processor and does need adequate cooling, especially if you want a meaningful overclock. MSI's MAG CoreLiquid 360R is an excellent 360mm AIO water cooler, and it will do an excellent job of keeping our processor cool while we squeeze more performance out of it.
A Baseline Performance Test
Let's do a quick benchmark runs so we have a performance target we can compare against after we’re done overclocking. You can do the same on your end as well if you like because your baseline results will likely vary a bit.
Baseline Cinebench R15 (Multi): 2665 Points
Baseline Cinebench R20 (Multi): 6394 Points
Baseline Blender BMW Render: 2 minutes & 46.98 seconds
Baseline Blender Classroom Render: 8 minutes & 54.62 seconds
Overclocking the Intel Core i9 10900K
Setting up the BIOS
Before we start making tweaks to our processor performance, we need to get into the motherboard BIOS. You can do this by tapping the delete key (or furiously smash it) when you power on your PC.
You should see a black and red interface pop up if you're in the BIOS.
Now, hit the F7 key on your keyboard to get into 'Advanced mode to make manual tweaks to your motherboard and CPU. Your interface should immediately change to something like this.
Head down to the ‘Overclocking Settings' box using either your keyboard or mouse and press enter/click. Your settings should open like this –
Use the arrow keys again to navigate to the option labeled ‘CPU Ratio,’ and enter the value ’51.’ Hit F10 and a window will pop up to confirm the changes you made. Click 'Yes' to commit the changes and reboot.
That's it. You've taken the first, most simple step to overclock your 10900K! The CPU should now be running at 5.1 GHz on all 10 cores.
You'll notice that we left all other settings on ‘Auto’ in the last step. While Auto will deliver the same benchmarks and performance, we can tweak it to get us better efficiency by dialing in the voltage.
Do keep in mind that seemingly tiny voltage increments might be enormous jumps for the processor, so make sure you change the next set of values carefully.
Go back to the BIOS and head to the ‘Overclocking Settings’ tab like last time. Now, keep going down the OC menu until you see an option called 'DigitALL Power.' Click it.
The Digitall Power menu should have an option labeled ‘CPU Load Line Calibration Control.' Click that, and a new menu like this will pop up –
Select Mode 2 here; press enter. Press the 'Esc' key to go back to the previous menu and scroll down to the option labeled 'CPU Core Voltage.'
You should be able to enter a voltage value here. Enter the value ‘1.320’ here. Make sure you don't miss the decimal point! Press Enter and then press the F10 key to exit and save. You'll again see a window with the changes you made, re-confirm the numbers and press 'Yes' to commit.
Assuming your reboot completes successfully, all well and good! Before dealing with memory frequency, you can go ahead and run a few benchmarks to test stability and performance.
Now, for our memory kit. Reboot into BIOS again.
Head to the Overclocking Settings tab again and go down the options until you find the menu item labeled ‘Extreme Memory Profile (XMP)'; click on it. You should get a popup like this one –
Enable the profile. The memory kit icon on the top left should light up now like this –
The exact frequency you can achieve depends on your memory kit. However, the process of enabling the XMP profile remains the same. Here our memory will run on the preset 4600 MHz profile. Press the F10 key to save and exit the BIOS, confirm the changes, and click yes.
Wait for your reboot to complete!
Overclocked Benchmark Results
Let's see what extra performance we were able to squeeze out of this Core i9 processor and our Z490 motherboard, shall we?
Cinebench R15 (Multi): 2746 (3% improvement)
Cinebench R20 (Multi): 6551 (2.4% improvement)
Blender BMW Render: 2 Minutes & 40.86 Seconds (3.6% improvement)
Blender Classroom Render: 8 Minutes & 37.27 Seconds (3.17% improvement)
We can see that we seem to have got a 3% bump in performance using the same hardware as before.
Optimizing for Daily Use
While it's possible to hit higher frequencies like 5.2GHz, for daily use, 5.1 GHz is an excellent choice. Our temperatures do sit at around 90°C with this overclock, and if your work involves CPU-intensive applications like renders, we suggest dialing down the overclock further back to 5GHz.
The 0.1 GHz decrease nets us a whopping 10°C drop in sustained peak temperatures!
You can also set your fan profiles in the hardware monitor section of the BIOS. Open your BIOS and navigate to the tab named 'Hardware Monitor.'
You should see a screen like this –
Here you can set fan curves for all your connected fans, including CPU cooler radiator fans. Set higher speeds if you regularly see high temperatures (90°C and above).
Can You Overclock Any Intel Processor Using These Instructions?
Overclocking Intel CPUs is fun, no doubt about it! However, there are a few conditions you need to meet before you can apply the guide to other processors and motherboards:
- You need a Z490 motherboard to get access to overclocking features on Intel processors.
- You also need a 'K' Intel Core CPU, which indicates it is unlocked, and an overclock is possible. A few examples are – Core i9 10900K, Core i5 10600K, Core i9 9900K.
- A good 360mm (recommended) or 240mm AIO Liquid Cooler for better thermals.
That's about it!
Please note that different CPUs will have distinct levels of stability. So, voltages and frequencies you need to dial in for a stable experience will likely vary from one processor to another.
What performance gains did you get with your overclock on the 10900K? What frequency, voltage, and temperatures did you get? We’d love to know about your experience! Leave us a comment below.