While you can often get notable extra performance by overclocking your gaming laptop, there are significant drawbacks, and only some models may make it worth your while to attempt pushing their clocks beyond specifications.
Enthusiast gamers have been overclocking their desktop systems for ages, but now that gaming laptops offer serious gaming performance there’s interest in doing the same for mobile gaming PCs. However, is there any worthwhile headroom in the world of laptops?
What Is Overclocking?
In case you’re not super-familiar with the concept, overclocking is the practice of setting a processor’s clock frequency to a level higher than it was officially designed for. So how is that possible?
Computer components operate in cycles, with the “clock speed” determining how many cycles the processor goes through in a second. The Intel 8086 CPU that modern IBM-compatible PCs descend from operated at between 5Mhz and 10Mhz. That’s five to ten million cycles per second. Today CPUs operate at speeds up to 6Ghz or six billion cycles per second.
All things being equal, the higher you make the clock frequency of a processor, the faster it will perform because it can get more work done in a single second.
Why Overclock a Gaming Laptop?
It may seem like a silly question, but gaming laptops have significant differences in their design considerations compared to desktop computers so it’s fair to ask why anyone would want to overclock one. Clearly, the idea is to get more performance from the computer, but aren’t gaming laptops already pushing the limits of their power and cooling envelopes?
The answer to that is complicated, and it will differ between brands, models, and individual laptops. Unless we’re talking about the highest-end laptops that push their CPUs and GPUs to the limit, there’s usually some headroom for the components themselves. They aren’t running at the highest performance they can because the laptop wasn’t designed to power them at those speeds or to remove the resultant heat.
This means there’s likely at least a little bit of additional stable performance to be had with many laptops, and free performance is always an attractive idea.
The Risks of Overclocking Your Gaming Laptop
Overlocking your laptop carries the same general risks as overclocking a desktop gaming PC:
- Components may have a shorter lifespan.
- Permanent damage to components is a small possibility, especially if you increase voltages.
- Your system may become unpredictable and unstable.
One key factor that makes overclocking a gaming laptop particularly challenging is heat. Often the standard settings for laptop CPUs and GPUs let the chip’s temperature go much higher than it would in a desktop. The end result is that you don’t have much, if any, thermal headroom for overclocking.
This makes it more likely that components will suffer heat-related issues or your system will throttle or even shut down to protect itself from critical overheating.
The Drawbacks of Overclocking Your Gaming Laptop
While overclocking is technically easy these days, even if you find a worthwhile stable overclock for your gaming laptop, there are still some downsides.
The most obvious ones are heat and noise. You laptop’s cooling system will kick into high gear to keep your GPU and CPU temperatures under control. Especially if you have overclocked both components. Many gaming laptops offer customizable fan curves, so you can try to optimize the level of noise and heat for your specific system, but higher clock speeds mean more heat and it has to go somewhere.
The power consumption of your system will also go up. This isn’t really an issue when on battery, since the CPU and GPU clock down dramatically when unplugged, but you’ll still be pushing more watts through your power supply and computer as a whole.
Since laptops work on strict power budgets, this can lead to instability or it can lead to competition between different components for power, causing uneven performance in the system.
That being said, your author has been using a 2022 MSI GS66 Stealth gaming laptop with a 200Mhz overclock on both the GPU and VRAM for months, and it’s behaved perfectly. This underscores the fact that each laptop can be different when it comes to overclocking, even two identical units.
Other Ways To Improve Gaming Laptop Performance
It’s natural to want the most performance out of the gaming laptop you paid for that’s possible, but there are alternatives to overclocking your laptop that can add a little more oomph to its benchmark scores:
- If your laptop has a MUX switch, activate dGPU (dedicated GPU) mode.
- Use a cooling pad when gaming at a desk to give your boost clocks more headroom.
- Make sure you have the latest GPU drivers, which often come with a few percentage points of performance improvement.
- Undervolt your laptop to make it run cooler and hit higher clocks automatically.
In many cases, these small and safe tricks can give you a performance increase similar to a small overclock or even enable higher overclocks if you’re feeling particularly adventurous!