Motherboard makers find loophole to overclock locked Intel processors

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In the past, if you wanted an Intel processor that you could overclock, you’d need to buy an ‘unlocked’ model – designated by a ‘K’ at the end of its model number – but motherboard makers are finding novel ways of getting around this limitation with their new products.

As found when reviewing the Asus TUF Gaming B460 Plus motherboard, there’s a feature known as Asus Performance Enhancement (APE). This allows a 65W CPU to run at 125W (or higher), and essentially ‘tricks’ the processor into running at a higher clock speed.

ASRock has a similar feature in some of its new motherboards, known as Base Frequency Boost. And, as PC Gamer points out, it looks like Gigabyte is also offering something comparable, with an owner of the Aorus B460 series motherboard posting images on the CoolPC forums that show them using a locked Intel Core i7 10700 Comet Lake-S processor. At its normal settings, the CPU runs at 3.8GHz and scores 3,637 points in the Cinebench R20 benchmarks.

However, by tweaking the power limit in the BIOS, the Intel Core i7 10700 manages a peak of 4.5GHz, then settles down at 4.33GHz and scores 4,679 points in Cinebench.

This is a big boost for a supposedly locked processor.

Will Intel be happy? 

While consumers will be pleased that they could get a performance boost for free, and without having to splash out on a ‘K’ series processor, will Intel be happy?

We’ve reached out to the company for comment, but we can’t imagine it would be. First of all, pushing a CPU above its power limit always brings an element of risk, and it will likely void your warranty.

Non-K CPUs have locked multipliers, which means you can’t increase the clock multiplayer of a CPU, which traditionally increases the frequency the CPU runs. If you want to overclock the Intel Core i9 10900, then, you’d be out of luck. You’d need to buy the Intel Core i9 10900K instead.

However, features found in new motherboards allow people to tweak the processor’s Power Level 1 (PL1) settings, which seems like it’s an effective way to get around Intel’s lock.

If you have a compatible processor and motherboard and want to try this out, then keep in mind that it could void the warranty of your CPU. You’ll also want to make sure you have a beefy cooling solution installed as well.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.