Overclocking is a practical way to get more out of your CPU (central processing unit).
This process is achieved by carefully maximizing the frequency of your CPU and balancing that with voltage regulation in order to run your processor above default specifications. This can result in increased performance from your CPU when done properly, and, as a result, potentially better performance from your PC overall.
This guide will cover how to use Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU) to easily overclock your CPU. Achieving a stable overclock manually can be time-consuming, but this free software dramatically simplifies the process.
Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU) is aimed at intermediate-level users that have some basic knowledge about overclocking and how it works. If you don’t, we recommend that you check out our guide to overclocking before proceeding.
For this guide, we will be using an Intel® Core™ i9-9900K desktop processor, and our recommendations and results will reflect that. Some settings may vary depending on the processor you use, as there are variabilities even between identical models of CPUs. Don’t assume you will get identical results to ours, even when using similar hardware.
Altering clock frequency or voltage may void any product warranties and reduce stability, security, performance, and life of the processor and other components.
Overclocking in Windows Using Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU)
For a long time, overclocking was done manually through the BIOS, the basic input output system that loads the operating system. While you can still overclock using this method, Intel has streamlined the process by offering a software solution that can be used within Windows.
Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU) offers a user-friendly interface and works with most modern motherboard brands and models, making it an ideal all-in-one overclocking option.
You can download Intel® XTU for free here.
Monitoring Your System
Monitoring the temperature of your CPU is critical when overclocking. Fortunately, Intel® XTU has built-in temperature monitoring systems and will alert you when critical levels are reached, and when safeguards are activated.
One such safeguard is called dynamic frequency scaling or thermal throttling. This process triggers when the CPU temperature reaches or exceeds the maximum intended threshold and protects the CPU by reducing performance until lower temperatures are restored. The reduced performance will be reflected in the Intel® XTU benchmark results.
In the Intel® XTU interface, you will notice an indicator change from Blue (OK) to Yellow (Not OK) when this happens.
There are other precautionary measures you may encounter when using Intel® XTU, and it’s important to know what they are in case you encounter them while overclocking:
- Power Limit Throttling. This setting allows your CPU to consume more power (Watts), even if that exceeds the recommended specification.
- Current Limit Throttling. This allows you to adjust the current limit drawn by the CPU, using the “Processor Core ICCMAX” slider. Make sure your system has a sufficiently powerful cooling solution before adjusting this, as it can have a substantial impact on the heat your CPU generates.
- Motherboard VR Thermal. This occurs when the transfer of power through your motherboard’s VRM (voltage regulator module) is generating excessive heat. To resolve this issue, you may need to increase the maximum allotted motherboard temperature, or reconfigure your cooling system to more effectively cool the area of your motherboard near the CPU.
Power settings and temperatures are carefully monitored for a reason. When adjusting these parameters, keep in mind the sensitivity of the electrical components. Do not make large adjustments between tests, and ensure you have a proper cooling solution when attempting to change these variables.
Refer to “Power consumption and heat output” for more information.
Now that you know about the safety parameters you might encounter, let’s start the first step of the overclock.
Step One: Establishing Baseline Performance
Before making changes to your setup, it’s good practice to establish a baseline performance number. This will allow you to easily quantify any performance gains achieved by the successful overclock.
To establish this, we can use Intel® XTU’s two integrated benchmarking options.
Basic Tuning: In this tab, simply click the “Run Benchmark” button. This will test the performance of your system and provide a score.
Benchmarking: The benchmarking tab offers the same “Run Benchmark” button. This section offers additional information that might be useful for more experienced users, such as your processor’s maximum frequency and the maximum temperature reached during the benchmarking process.
Once the benchmark is complete, it will provide a score, which will serve as your baseline performance metric. When testing our Intel® Core™ i9-9900K processor, we received a benchmark score of 3239 marks. Your score will likely be different, but make sure you write this number down, as you’ll be referencing it again later.
Step Two: Adjusting Performance Settings
Now that we have a performance score, we can begin adjusting the parameters of the CPU’s operation and attempt to overclock.
You can read in detail about the fundamentals of overclocking here, but the basics of the process are as follows: start by adjusting the CPU Core Ratio. Then, apply the changes, and boot into Windows. If the boot is successful, run your benchmark and see if the score has improved. If the system crashes, go back into Intel® XTU, return to the last known viable settings, and try again. This is where saving your settings in a profile can come in handy.
When you’ve found settings that result in a successful overclock and a stable system, you can save the profile in Intel® XTU so that you have a known working configuration. This can be useful when replicating different tests and for saving successful tests.
In order to save a profile, head to the “Profiles” tab and click “Save”. You will be able to name your profiles and organize them.
To load a saved profile, visit the “Profiles” tab and select the one you’d like to load. Click the “Show Values” button to pre-load the settings (changed values appear in yellow), and then click “Apply” to use those settings.
There are two methods to achieve an overclock in Intel® XTU: Basic Tuning and Advanced Tuning.
As the name implies, this option offers a limited selection of parameters to adjust. This is a good place to start for first timers.
From this tab, adjust the “Processor Core Ratio” slider and increase it upwards by 1x. It’s best to increase these multipliers progressively by small steps, reboot, and then check for stability, rather than changing any settings dramatically.
The same applies with the “Processor Cache Ratio” slider. This adjusts the frequency of the part of the CPU that connects the cores to the processor cache. Setting the Cache Ratio at a lower frequency than the Core Ratio can result in lower performance. If this is your first time overclocking, it’s recommended to keep them at roughly the same frequency, though feel free to experiment to see what works best.
If you do want to experiment with the Processor Core Ratio, only increase by one multiplier at a time, apply the changes, then test.
Once you have made and applied your changes, head to “Step Three: Measure Performance Gains”. If your system has become unstable resulting in a freeze or shut down, simply restart your system, and the last known functional settings should be restored.
The Advanced Tuning tab offers more options that allow you to further control how your CPU operates. This is designed for more advanced users that have a solid understanding of the principles of overclocking.
Here, you’ll be able to change the Processor Core Ratio per individual core. To change the multiplier of all the CPU cores at once, use the arrow located on the right of the last listed core slider. You can also make more refined changes to your Processor Cache Ratio in this segment, and, as explained in the Basic Tuning segment above, it’s best to keep these two settings roughly comparable when attempting your first overclock.
Another section allows you to adjust the Vcore (Core Voltage). For a CPU to run at faster speeds, it might require more power in order to remain stable, which is where adjusting the Vcore becomes important. These can be increased in order to keep up with higher core ratios if you are encountering system instability.
If you don’t know your default Vcore but still want to increase it, you can use the “Core Voltage Offset” slider. This will add your current Vcore to the value selected. When changing these settings, it’s best not to exceed changes of 0.05V at a time.
Notes on Adjusting Voltages:
- If you want to change the CPU Vcore (core voltage) to a specific value, simply select it with the “Core Voltage” slider.
- Both “Core Voltage” and “Core Voltage Offset” sliders are added together when applied. This means that if you set the Vcore to 1.1V, and then add an offset of +0.2V, you will be effectively applying a Vcore of 1.3 volts.
The Advanced Tuning section provides many settings you can experiment with, but if you’re new to overclocking, the primary settings to focus on are the Processor Core Ratio, Processor Cache Ratio, and potentially the Core Voltage. You likely won’t damage your CPU by adjusting other settings due to built-in safety features, but unless you know exactly what these settings do and how they will impact your CPU, sticking with those three fundamentals might be best.
Remember to make any adjustments slowly, and never to change more than one setting at a time. Once you have made an adjustment, click the yellow “Apply” button in the Intel® XTU interface.
Step Three: Measure Performance Gains
After making changes within Intel® XTU, and ensuring your system is stable, it’s time to see if those changes positively impacted the CPU’s performance.
To determine this, run the benchmark utility again, and compare the result to your previous score. If the right changes were made, you should see an increase in the measured performance from the benchmark. This number will vary depending on your individual CPU, but, when overclocking, generally higher is better.
If you’re satisfied with the performance increase, you may proceed to the next step and verify the system’s stability. Otherwise, repeat the tuning process until you reach the desired performance level for your system.
For the purposes of this article, we are using the Intel® XTU benchmark to measure the CPU’s performance. Depending on how you intend to use your CPU, you can use other benchmarks that might more accurately reflect your workload, whether that’s video encoding, photo batch processing, in-game performance, and so on.
Learn more about the various available benchmarking options here.
Step Four: System Stability and Stress Testing
The final stage of the overclocking process ensures that your system will remain stable when using the overclocked CPU. Running a simple benchmark probably isn’t sufficient in determining overall system stability, as most benchmarks don’t adequately simulate a long-term, high-stress CPU usage environment. To thoroughly test stability and validate an overclocked CPU for heavy usage, a longer test is required.
Fortunately, Intel® XTU comes with integrated stress tests, located under the “Stress Test” tab. You can pick which component to test (CPU, memory, or integrated graphics) and decide the duration of the test, from a few seconds all the way up to 30 days.
Here are some useful durations to consider:
- 5 minutes for a quick stability test. This probably won’t reflect a 24/7 workload, but will be more rigorous than the Intel® XTU benchmark.
- 30 minutes to establish solid stability, and to provide some insight into the temperatures of the CPU under load. This is a solid method for testing your cooling solution.
- 3 to 5 hours or longer to validate a 24/7 stable overclock.
Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU) simplifies the process of overclocking, so you can enjoy the benefits quickly and safely.
If you enjoyed the process, you might be interested in overclocking your RAM, and if you’re looking for hardware that supports overclocking, check out our guide to choosing the right motherboard.