Intel Warns Against Overclocking Non-K CPUs As Motherboard Makers Enable Workarounds

Intel Alder Lake Underside
You may have seen the story last week about Der8auer overclocking a Core i5-12400's six cores to 5.2 GHz, or even this morning's story about HiCookie taking a dual-core Pentium Gold chip to 5.8 GHz (from 3.1 GHz) on liquid nitrogen. Both of those stories have one thing in common: they're overclocking Intel 12th-gen CPUs that aren't really intended to be overclocked.

Intel never officially supported processor overclocking in any fashion until the release of the first "K" chips back in 2010. The "K" designation on a CPU indicates that it is unlocked and can be overclocked easily by manipulating multipliers. K-SKU CPUs also come with higher power limits by default, and despite not including stock coolers, they typically command a premium as well.

intel laminar rm1
The stock cooler probably isn't going to get you an 80% overclock, though.

Many users still want to overclock the "non-K" CPUs; CPUs that are not officially designated as overclockable. This has been possible in the past, mostly through manipulating the CPU base clock. As a super-brief refresher, the CPU clock is derived by applying a clock multiplier to a base clock. Non-K CPUs lock down the CPU multiplier, but on certain platforms it has been possible to raise the base clock.

Alder Lake happens to be one of those platforms. There are some caveats, though. You need a motherboard that both exposes the capability in the system setup utility and also includes an external clock generator. That way you can raise the base clock to the sky without affecting other system components, like the PCIe slots. Historically, expansion cards really don't like it when they're fed the wrong clock and doing so can cause all kinds of problems.

Further making this impractical is the fact that all of the known motherboards that support BCLK overclocking for Alder Lake are expensive Z690-chipset boards that take difficult-to-obtain DDR5 memory. This kind of overclocking could represent an amazing a value proposition if you could use a less expensive motherboard and ubiquitous DDR4 memory. Famed overclocker Der8auer says such a board is on the way, but we'll have to wait and see what it looks like.

der8auer cpuz cinebench
Der8auer overclocking a locked Core i5 by over 800 MHz.

Naturally, Intel isn't too excited about people getting free performance on budget-priced processors. The company made a statement this morning about the topic:

"Intel’s 12th Gen non-K processors were not designed for overclocking. Intel does not warranty the operation of processors beyond their specifications. Altering clock frequency or voltage may damage or reduce the useful life of the processor and other system components, and may reduce system stability and performance."

As Tom's points out, while this statement disapproves of enthusiasts' cheap-CPU shenanigans, it doesn't give the impression that Intel is going to take steps to lock things down immediately as it did with the Skylake version of this very same trick. That may be due to the aforementioned impracticality, though. If Der8auer is correct, and cheap motherboards do show up that allow you to slap an extra GHz on your $200 six-core CPU, Intel may put the kibosh on this practice altogether.

Then again, competitor AMD doesn't lock down any of its desktop processors. As long as you don't buy one of the cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel motherboards—which probably don't have the power delivery hardware to support overclocking anyway—you can run as much voltage as you want through your Ryzen CPUs to clock them as high as you can. It's possible that AMD's competitiveness of late may encourage Intel to let this one ride for awhile. Time will tell.