Budget PC builders are in for a treat: It’s been officially confirmed that you can now heavily overclock Intel’s cheap Skylake chips with a BIOS update.
Tech site TechSpot confirmed it through hands-on tests—the team overclocked a Skylake Core i3-6100 from its default clockspeed of 3.7GHz to 4.7GHz, after motherboard maker Asrock provided them with a beta BIOS that required switching off the integrated graphics.
Why this matters: Up until now, Intel’s last few generation of chips have limited overclocking to pricier “K”-series CPUs. With an apparent work-around discovered, higher clock speeds and essentially “free performance” may become far more attainable for those who can’t afford a K chip.
“Overclocking” is the term for running a CPU’s clockspeed above its rating from the factory. This may sound dangerous—and it can be if done improperly—but many CPUs are artificially limited to lower speeds by Intel at the factory to help meet prices.
Here’s a car analogy: It’s like if Ford sold a top-end Mustang that could hit 150 miles-per-hour, but then took the same car and set its computer to limit the top speed to 120mph. In this case, Intel’s cheapest “K” Skylake chip is the $242 Core i5-6600K with a factory clock speed of 3.5GHz. The same chip has an equivalent Core i5-6500 for $192 at 3.2GHz. If you could take that cheaper CPU and overclock it to the same speed, why buy the pricier part?
An architecture change within the sixth-generation chip that has separated the chips’ “BCLK” (“base clock”) from other components appears to be the culprit behind the newly-enabled overclocking. The base clock is one of the internal clocks that regulates the overall megahertz of the chip. With Haswell, or Ivy Bridge, for example, the base clock was hooked up to other sections of the CPU that would cause instability when the base clock was increased even in small amounts. That’s no longer the case, and after months of speculation over whether or not base block overclocking could work, it has been now confirmed.
Maybe only dual-cores?
Something to note: TechSpot’s overclocking confirmation was only achieved with the dual-core Core i3 chip. Anandtech’s attempt at performing a base clock overclock of a quad-core Core i5-6500 hit a wall well before TechSpot’s dual-core would. But it isn’t known whether that’s the result of the motherboard used or of board vendors still tweaking their BIOSes to enable the overclocking.
PCWorld reached out to officials at Intel for a comment, but we have yet to hear a response as of Friday afternoon. However, since the launch of Skylake, Intel has maintained that design changes would make it overclocking friendly. What’s not clear is if Intel intended to make the non-premium K-chips overclockable too.
As mainstream desktop PC sales have slowly deflated, the company has increasingly relied on its enthusiast and gaming crowd, which has no problem paying a premium for overclocking-friendly chips.
If a ground swell of PC builders suddenly reach for the overclock-ready cheaper chips to make ends meet, Intel could see this practice as a threat to its premium K-chips. There is certainly precedent for it, too.
Intel’s chipset for its Haswell series included the Z-series for overclockers alongside the cheaper H- and B-series chipsets. When motherboard vendors discovered a way to enable overclocking on the lower-cost H- and B-series, Intel moved to update the microcode on its CPUs to prevent the practice, and caused buyers to move back to the higher-margin motherboards with the Z-series chipset.
It’s very likely that Intel could look the other way, too. The company has truly been friendlier to overclocking—it has sponsored extreme overclocking contests using liquid nitrogen and liquid helium, and even threw a bone to budget builders with its $72 Pentium G3258 “anniversary edition” in 2014 that was ready for overclocking.