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Choosing the Right Components for Overclocking

A CPU on a wooden table, surrounded by other computer parts for use in building a computer

Choosing the right components for your PC can be critical for memory overclocking. It’s not only about matching a memory kit to a motherboard, but selecting the right class of motherboard, processor, power supply, case, and cooling that will influence stability and how far the speeds can be pushed.

In a previous article, we talked about using a combination of Kingston’s Configurator and motherboard qualified part lists (QVLs) to select a compatible overclockable memory kit. In this article we’ll take a closer look at other components that make up the PC and offer advice on choosing parts that will contribute to overclock potential and stability.

First, we’ll assume you’re starting a new PC build and not an upgrade, though aspects of this article will also apply to upgrades.

For most, every new PC build starts with a budget. Planning for how much you want to spend will help you decide between going with more basic specs, or choosing high-end, and on which components you want to carve out more budget. It’s entirely possible to build a great system without spending a lot of money. Nearly all component suppliers feature product portfolios to fit the needs of budget conscious builders.

Motherboard

A next-gen CPU illuminated by futuristic lighting

The motherboard can be a confusing place to start due to the vast amount of choices on the market. One way to narrow the options is to know which of the two big processor brands you want to go with: Intel or AMD. Both brands offer models that range from low- to high-end. High-end models typically feature more cores and higher speeds, as well as the ability to overclock memory. Low-end models may be better for power savings and have plenty of performance for most applications, but sometimes limit or block memory overclocking. One important consideration is whether to get a processor with support for on-board graphics, or to go with a graphics card. If you decide to build a system without using a graphics card and want to take advantage of graphics capabilities integrated in the processor, you’ll have an interest in reviewing the processor models that offer this feature.

Each year, Intel and AMD introduce new generations of processors and chipsets. A chipset refers to key components and interconnects that manage the flow of data across a motherboard. Processors and chipsets are tied together, though sometimes older motherboards can use next-gen processors with firmware (BIOS) updates. An example of chipset and processor combinations would be Intel’s 700-series, which is tied to their 13th Gen Core family of processors. The Intel 700-series comprises the Z790, H770, and B760 chipsets. AMD’s 600-series chipsets are the X670E, X670, and B650, and are associated with the Ryzen 7000 series processors. There are also high-end platforms that offer more memory channels and higher core count processors, such as Intel’s X299 and AMD’s TRX40. In addition to improvements to the processor’s capabilities and support for faster memory technology, each chipset generation adds new technology and improvements over the last. These include the latest USB interfaces, ethernet speeds, storage interconnects, and PCIe generations.

Motherboards come in three main sizes: ATX, microATX (mATX), and mini-ITX. ATX is the most common size motherboard for desktop PCs and provides the most features, such as multiple M.2 and PCIe slots, and multi-channel memory sockets. Most PC cases are built to fit these motherboards. MicroATX boards are smaller in height than an ATX motherboard, which can see a reduction in the number of PCIe and M.2 slots. MicroATX boards are also typically less expensive than ATX boards for this reason. Mini-ITX motherboards are becoming more popular as PC enthusiasts start building small form factor PCs. These boards can cost more than a typical ATX board since the manufacturers try to cram the features of an ATX board into a small footprint.

Once you’ve decided on a chipset and motherboard form factor, you’ll want to browse the options from each of the motherboard vendors to select the right one for you. The four biggest brands (ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte, and MSI) typically feature two or three series for each chipset, representing low-, mid-, and high-end options. Higher-end boards will feature support for the fastest memory overclock speeds and use the best materials (capacitors, interconnects, board thickness) for a stable experience. Mid- and low- end boards are great options for a budget conscious builder and will support good overclockability with reliable materials.

Processor

The Intel Core logo, a blue square with the words ‘intel CORe’ in white and blue gradient

After selecting your motherboard, you’ll need to choose a processor model. For Intel, the CoreTM Processor family offers a broad range of options to choose from, beginning with the low-end Core i3, to mid-range Core i5, to high-end Core i7 and Core i9. For extreme performance PCs, Intel’s Core X-series offers the most multi-thread processing cores, the most memory bandwidth, and support for memory capacities over 128GB. This series pairs with their HEDT (High-End Desktop) chipset and is a different CPU socket than their mainstream Core i3 - i9 series. The best budget for performance builds using Intel will be with their mainstream chipsets and processors, and it’s recommended to go with Core i5, i7, or i9 if you want to be able to overclock memory, as Core i3 and lower-end models may block overclock support. Generally speaking, the more cores and faster speeds (measured in GHz), the more expensive the processor will be. Also pay close attention to the letters at the end of the model number, as these denote specific features the processor supports. For example, the Core i5-13600 can be ordered as 13600K/T with Intel 770 graphics, or 13600KF/F with no on-board graphics.

The AMD Ryzen logo, the words ‘AMD RYZEN’ in a futuristic font

For AMD, the RyzenTM series processors line up in a similar fashion to Intel. Ryzen’s mainstream processors are Ryzen 5, 7, and 9 series, with more cores and faster speeds as you go up the ladder. AMD also supports integrated graphics models and they make it easy to identify these by adding a G to the model number. Models without a G would require a discrete add-on graphics card. Their extreme performance series is called Ryzen ThreadripperTM and, similar to Intel Core X-series, provides more memory channels, more cores, and faster speeds than their mainstream models.

Case

A white PC tower on a desk with its components including RGB Kingston FURY DDR5 Beast displayed on the outside, with an RGB keyboard and a monitor displaying the Kingston FURY logo

This is where form and function can play a big part in the PC’s ultimate purpose. While there are many cases on the market to choose from, designs can vary. Some cater more to style, with clear panels and RGB lighting, while others prioritize no frills and maximum airflow. Builders need to ask themselves if they want a PC that hides under a desk and is rarely seen, or whether they want a PC they can appreciate aesthetically. In either scenario, airflow is always the most important factor. Excessive heat within a PC case is the biggest threat to stability and overclock potential. Having cool internals ensures all the electronics stay within their safe operating thresholds. The main thing to look out for is if the case can support your chosen CPU cooler. If you’re going with an air-cooler type heatsink, then sufficient case width will be important to verify, as some can stand very tall off of the processor. If you’re going with liquid cooling, then selecting a case that can support a radiator is important, and in the correct length. Some All-In-One (AIO) self-contained water coolers have a limited length of tubing between the radiator and heatsink, so be sure to select a case that has a few options for radiator mounting just in case. Also important is whether the case supports the length of your graphics card, and potentially the number of PCIe cards being installed. Graphics cards can come with one, two, or even three fans, depending on how much cooling is required to keep the GPU stable and efficient. Cards with three fans can be quite long, even extending beyond the width of the motherboard. Lastly, a case with cable management is highly recommended, particularly if you plan to show off your PC. Most mid- to high-end cases have very well-designed layers and cutouts to hide and organize the dozens of wires connecting components.

Cooling

A close-up of a blue CPU cooling fan in a black PC case

Cooling can be tricky due to the wide variety of options and prices between air coolers and water coolers for the processor. Air coolers can be perfectly fine for low- to high-end processors but tend to not be as efficient as water coolers, nor as quiet. Air coolers move heat away from the processor, but if the case does not have good ventilation, that heat ends up trapped, affecting other components. Planning the airflow for the case becomes critically important with this type of heatsink, with front fans positioned to draw external air in, and rear or top fans to force hot air out. Consider also where the PC will be located. If it’s in a bedroom or office that doesn’t get good circulation and ambient air temperatures get warm or hot, an air cooled heatsink may not be the best option. Water coolers used to be something only professionals dabbled with due to the complexity of routing and assembly, not to mention the dangerous potential for leaks. But these days All-In-One (AIO) water coolers are relatively inexpensive and efficient options for all levels of PC builders, though there will be a few more steps to installation than an air-cooled system. Low-end models may feature only one or two fans with a shorter radiator, while high-end models will have three or more fans positioned on longer radiators. One or two fan models are sufficient for cooling mainstream processors and PCs performing light to medium workloads and games. Three plus fan models should be considered for high performance PCs.

Storage

Kingston FURY SSDs

When considering storage options, it usually boils down to how much do you need, and how fast do you want it. Traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDD) will be the lowest price per gigabyte options, and potentially highest capacities per drive, but at sluggish speeds. Since they rely on spinning internal disks to store data, noise and vibration can sometimes be a nuisance. These days HDDs are primarily used for large data storage, such as photos, music, videos, and backups, with the operating system and main applications placed on Solid State Drives (SSDs). SSDs have no moving parts since the data is stored on flash chips, and they come in multiple form factors and feature options for high-speed interconnects. 2.5” SATA based SSDs fit nicely into cases and connect via cables to the motherboard for read/write performance in the 500MB/s range. Some high-end motherboards also support 2.5” PCIe NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) drives using the U.2 interface/connector, which can provide read/writes up to 14x faster than SATA. Most U.2 PCIe NVMe drives, however, are targeted at data centers, so finding inexpensive options with features aimed at PC users might be tricky. Arguably the best SSD form factor for desltops and laptops is an M.2 SSD drive. They are caseless and install directly onto the motherboard, much like a memory module. M.2 drives come in a few different interfaces, so it’s important to know which socket type your motherboard has: SATA, PCIe AHCI (older) or PCIe NVMe. Most desktop boards today feature multiple M.2 PCIe NVMe sockets, and these provide the fastest read/write options for PC storage. You’ll want to check your motherboard model to see what type of PCIe slots it features (PCIe Gen 3.0, 4.0, 5.0), and in what length (2230, 2280, 22110, etc.), to narrow down your list of potential drives. Faster drives and higher capacities can also run pretty warm, so many vendors provide heatsinks or heat spreaders with the drives to keep them cool. The motherboard may also feature removable heatsinks.

Graphics

Close up of a video graphics card with a powerful GPU containing multiple fans

Choosing a graphics card is similar to choosing a processor model. There are two main GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) manufacturers: AMD and NVIDIA, though Intel recently re-entered the graphics card business. AMD and NVIDIA debut new GPUs generally on a yearly cadence, and graphics card vendors offer options for low-, mid- and high-end models. The differences between the models are usually tied to performance (more cores, higher resolutions, higher frame rates), amount of on-board memory (GDDR, HBM), and number/type of outputs (HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, VGA, etc). As mentioned in the cases section, graphics cards can also come in different lengths, with high-end cards typically being the longest using 2-3 fans to keep them cool. When debating how extreme your graphics card needs to be, consider your planned usage for the PC. Will you be gaming with the latest bleeding-edge titles? Will you be doing 3D rendering and producing your own videos? Or will you be crypto-mining? Start your selection process by checking the recommended graphics requirements of your application or game. This may narrow your list of options considerably if the requirements are high.

Power Supply

The power supply (PSU) can be relatively easy to choose, so long as you follow a few simple guidelines. Power supplies are rated by their efficiency, and today’s baseline is called “80 Plus.” 80 Plus means that the power supply is 80% efficient, losing a maximum of 20% of its power to heat. PSU vendors differentiate their models based on the usage of various metals, sometimes precious, and feature naming conventions from low to high like Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Greater efficiency through the use of better materials means less energy gets lost to heat. Next, you’ll want to decide how many watts your PSU will support. For this we recommend using a PSU wattage calculator, easily found on a web search, which will factor in all the various components you plan to use in your PC and recommend a minimum amount of wattage to support it. Lastly, and most important, is to confirm how many and what type of connectors the PSU features. These will correspond to the type and number of power connectors on the motherboard, graphics card, and any storage drives not directly mounted to the motherboard. Consider also the need for extra outputs to support water cooling or RGB options, if not powered by the motherboard. Still not sure what to choose? Check your motherboard vendor, as they maintain lists of qualified power supplies under the QVL section for each model board.

The Total Package

Once you’ve collected all the parts you need for your customized overclocking system, you’ll need to put it together. This might be a new challenge for you, but fear not. There are guides to help you assemble your system safely and effectively. We at Kingston have one of our own, which can be found here.

Best of luck with your build!

#KingstonIsWithYou #KingstonFURY

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