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verb [transitive]

to make changes to a computer so that it operates faster than the manufacturer intended


noun [uncountable]


noun [countable]

'Usually, overclocking the processor or the graphics card requires fiddling with softwares or tweaking BIOS settings, something not everyone is comfortable doing. Erazer X700, however, lets you overclock the processor with just the press of a physical button on the cabinet.'

StudentNewsIE 21st January 2013

'Snyder also said Intel remains strongly committed to desktop CPUs and chipsets, citing K series CPUs, which allow end-user overclocking …'

Australian Macworld 26th January 2013

'The monitor will always remain the main focal point of a PC, no matter if you're a casual user, die-hard overclocker or hardware enthusiast.'

Hardware Info 15th January 2013

Stronger, better, longer, faster … From the wheel to the World Wide Web, it seems that as humans we're programmed with an insatiable desire to improve on the efficiency of our inventions. Nowhere is this more obvious than in computing technology, where each new stage seems to be superseded before it's even had a chance to make much of an impression. But for those technophiles among us who still aren't satisfied, and get frustrated by the limitations of what hardware manufacturers put out there, then there's an emerging way to satisfy your need for speed – a now widely-exploited technique known as overclocking.

despite its risky side, overclocking is becoming increasingly popular amongst tech-savvy consumers, though it largely remains a technique undertaken in a personal, rather than professional, setting

In layman's terms, the verb overclock refers to the action of making adjustments to the workings of a computer so that it operates much faster than the manufacturer's specifications intended. In practice, this involves modifying something known as the clock rate, which is the frequency at which a computer's central processing unit (CPU) is running. The higher the clock rate (i.e. the more 'clock cycles' there are per second) the faster the computer will run, hence the term overclock.

One crucial aspect of overclocking is that it involves increasing the operating power of the computer – so that the computer runs faster, but still remains stable. The inevitable trade-off is therefore increased energy consumption and fan noise, and there can be serious consequences if the machine is overclocked too much, potentially damaging the system through excessive voltages and even causing it to overheat. The process of overclocking therefore often involves the addition of special cooling equipment.

Overclocking is, however, despite its risky side, becoming increasingly popular amongst tech-savvy consumers, though it largely remains a technique undertaken in a personal, rather than professional, setting. Computer manufacturers have in turn begun to respond, with some models more recently including special overclocking switches which allow the system to be automatically speeded-up according to a set of pre-determined settings. This kind of development has led to use of the derived term pre-overclock, usually appearing as participial adjective pre-overclocked (bundle/computer/PC/system).

Background – overclock

The terms overclock/overclocking have emerged in the last couple of years or so, steadily gaining ground as consumers wise up to the technique as a way of purchasing cheaper hardware but getting the performance associated with much more expensive models. The countable noun overclocker is also used, and refers both to a mechanism used in the process and to a person who 'does' it, as illustrated in the third citation above. There's also an opposite term underclock, which describes the technique of making a computer run more slowly, usually in order to reduce power consumption. Underclocking is often used as a way of improving battery life and can be set to kick in when a device is using battery rather than mains power.

The word overclock features the prefix over- in its classic sense of 'more than' or 'too much' (e.g. overheat, overconfident). Other recent examples of its use include overparenting (jeopardizing your children's independence by doing too much for them), overvote (to vote for more candidates than permitted to in an election) and oversharing (giving out an excessive amount of personal information).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 12th March 2013.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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