Why overclocking is not the best option for a low-mid level gaming rig…

I know that having an overclocked CPU in a low-mid level gaming rig is the popular choice and is what is usually recommended on these boards, but if you really think it through, it’s probably not the best option. Let’s examine the popular reasons for overclocking…

#1 “It’s a free upgrade in speed”…actually, no it is not! Just consider what has to be done in the build to accommodate an overclocked CPU. First is you need a good aftermarket cooler, and those are not cheap! You could spend anywhere from $30 on the low end to well over $100 for an aftermarket cooler. Second is that you are forced into buying a Z97 based motherboard, which are usually more expensive than their H97 counterparts by a good $20-$50. Third is that you have to look for a case with better cooling and/or buy extra case fans so your system doesn’t overheat during intense gaming sessions. Not only does this add money to the build, probably $20-$60 more, but it also adds more noise due to more fans that need to run faster. Lastly, the price of an overclockable CPU will be higher than its stock counterpart buy $10-$30.

#2 “An overclocked CPU is much faster than its stock counterpart”…when it comes to gaming, not really! Let’s consider the most popular overclocked CPU now, the i5-4690K. While some people can get up to 4.8Ghz or higher on this CPU, most people consider 4.4Ghz an average overclock for that CPU, which is a 25% jump in speed. I read a lot of reviews on that CPU, and while the synthetic benchmarks did show a decent jump in speed, the same could not be said for real world gaming benchmarks. In these real world benchmarks, which are mainly game benchmarks at 1080p measured in FPS, the average difference in FPS between the i5-4690K at stock speeds vs overclocked speeds was around 3%, and it was rare to see it go over 5%. While that does make the overclocked CPU faster, the real world difference would be hardly noticeable. Do the research yourself and you will see what I mean.

#3 “Everyone else is doing it, so there must be a reason”…the popular choice is not always the best or even the smartest choice. I think we all know this lesson.

#4 “I think it’s cool to have an overclocked CPU in my gaming rig”…this one I can’t argue with. If you want an overclocked CPU in your gaming rig for no other reason than you are able to do it and think it’s cool, then go for it.

With that being said, having an overclocked gaming rig will usually results in lower overall performance than a smartly built gaming rig with no overclocking. Below is an example of just this. I used a budget of $1000 max for just the rig itself, including OS. I tried to build an overclocked system using some of the most popular options in each category. I then took that same system and lowered some of the parts to work with a stock CPU, then took the money I saved and upgrade other parts…


Overclocked gaming rig…
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor ($224.99 @ SuperBiiz)
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler ($26.98 @ OutletPC)
Motherboard: Asus Z97-A ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($129.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($52.99 @ Newegg)
Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($52.49 @ NCIX US)
Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 960 4GB SuperSC ACX 2.0+ Video Card ($224.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Case: Corsair 450D ATX Mid Tower Case ($89.99 @ Newegg)
Power Supply: XFX 550W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($58.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 (OEM) (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
Case Fan: Corsair Air Series SP120 High Performance Edition 62.7 CFM 120mm Fan ($16.98 @ OutletPC)
Total: $965.37
Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-05-02 10:16 EDT-0400


Stock gaming rig…
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

CPU: Intel Core i5-4690 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor ($218.99 @ Directron)
CPU Cooler: Arctic Cooling ACFZ11-LP Fluid Dynamic Bearing CPU Cooler ($17.71 @ Amazon)
Motherboard: Asus H97-PRO GAMER ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($95.98 @ Newegg)
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($52.99 @ Newegg)
Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($52.49 @ NCIX US)
Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 970 4GB Superclocked ACX 2.0 Video Card ($329.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Case: Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case ($47.99 @ Micro Center)
Power Supply: XFX 550W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($58.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 (OEM) (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
Total: $962.11
Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-05-02 10:28 EDT-0400


As you can see, I used the money I saved to go from a 960 to a 970 GPU, which will results in a good jump in gaming performance. I could have used that savings elsewhere, like upgrading the CPU to a Xeon or i7, or added an SSD boot drive, or upgraded other parts. I went with the GPU upgrade as it would provide the biggest increase to gaming performance. I even had enough money to add a lower end aftermarket CPU cooler, which will keep the CPU cooler than the stock cooler would and also runs quieter.

Remember that this is only one example, but it does show what can be done when not overclocking. I didn’t include higher end gaming PC’s because if you have a good amount of money to throw at a gaming rig, then why not overclock. But for those who can only afford a low-mid level gaming rig, while getting an overclocked CPU may be the popular choice, it is not always the best choice. In the end, see what money could be saved by using a stock CPU and if it can give you an upgrade elsewhere that increases the gaming performance by more than a few %, that’s probably the better option.

I know this won’t be a popular thread, so flame away…
2 answers Last reply
More about overclocking option low mid level gaming rig
  1. I see where you're coming from on this and I agree with a lot of your points, however your builds may cause a lot of people to question the comparison because of how you spent significantly more on parts like the case and fans on the Z97 build and less on the same type of part on the H97 build. I balanced it a bit to further go on your point.

    This is what I would say is a more fair comparison of builds:

    Non-OC:
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

    CPU: Intel Core i5-4590 3.3GHz Quad-Core Processor ($178.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    CPU Cooler: Arctic Cooling ACFZ11-LP Fluid Dynamic Bearing CPU Cooler ($17.71 @ Amazon)
    Motherboard: ASRock H97 PRO4 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($83.89 @ OutletPC)
    Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($52.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($52.49 @ NCIX US)
    Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 4GB WINDFORCE 3X Video Card ($319.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Case: Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case ($47.99 @ Micro Center)
    Power Supply: XFX 550W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($58.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 (OEM) (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $900.02
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-05-02 15:22 EDT-0400
    OC:
    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

    CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor ($224.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler ($26.98 @ OutletPC)
    Motherboard: ASRock Fatal1ty Z97X Killer ATX LGA1150 Motherboard ($101.98 @ Newegg)
    Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($52.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($52.49 @ NCIX US)
    Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 4GB WINDFORCE 3X Video Card ($319.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Case: Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case ($47.99 @ Micro Center)
    Power Supply: XFX 550W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($58.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8.1 (OEM) (64-bit) ($86.98 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $973.38
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-05-02 15:22 EDT-0400

    Both are able to have 970s and the price of the H97 build is lowered significantly, and the Z97 build has been changed to be able to accomodate a 970 at about $10 more than your original builds.

    At the end of the day, I do agree with your points and I usually recommend a non-oc build if people are on budgets, but some features that may be gained from Z97 may be worth the extra. :)
  2. Different shortcuts will be taken depending on the budget and end goal of each person. For example, if I wanted SLI, then I would need a Z97 mobo even if I am not overclocking. Plus there are more lower end Z97 mobo's coming out so the price difference between the two isn't a lot. But that is why I picked a H97 mobo designed for gaming in my example, so the functionality wasn't much different and the features you lose in the H97 are not ones that one would often use in a low-mid level gaming rig.

    Another example is the case. Personally, I would want a little better cooling on an overclocked system than the Corsair 200R can provide, but that's my opinion and it doesn't mean the 200R or a similar priced case wouldn't do a fine job.
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