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To overclock, or not to overclock your PC?

UpgradeAMD and Intel used to used to abhor overclocking PC processors. No longer. Here's how you can get more from your chip... safely.

Being blessed with a baby face neither age nor hard living can crack (check your attic for a hideous portrait), I’ve never been one for cosmetics.  But it’s difficult to remain inured against the razor-blade arms race. Each time one manufacturer adds a new blade to its hyper-engineered face scraper, its rivals respond. This hairy version of Moore’s Law means the first 100-blade shaver can be only a matter of time away.

As in grooming, so in computing. In the battle to gain headlines and early adopters AMD and Intel have pushed along multicore processing technology faster than they count votes in Sunderland. Trouble is, the software most people use can’t keep up.

It’s rare for the majority of PC users to take full advantage of multicore processors. With the exception of video rendering, software apps rarely need to stretch the hardware, nor are they able to do so.

This explains the rise of function-led devices such as netbooks and tablet PCs. Apple will tell you that the iPad’s chip isn’t important – it’s what the device does, and how well it does this that matters.

Both AMD and Intel recently introduced technologies that access latent multi-core power, ‘safely’ overclocking the cores that are being used, while others stand cool and idle. Intel has also approved some chips for overclocking.

This is an about turn for both Intel and AMD. Previously, chip makers viewed any overclocking in the way surgeons regard aromatherapists: at best useless, at worst dangerous. You couldn’t get a warranty because, manufacturers said, an overclocked processor would get hot, then break.

The Intel and AMD technologies take speed tweaks out of users’ hands, while some legitimate PC makers now sell pre- overclocked systems, with Intel’s approval.

Should you buy one? Only if you can pay less for a PC that does what you need, and you get a multi-year, cast-iron warranty.

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