To understand the difference between a Locked vs Unlocked CPU, you have to understand what is “clocking” and “overclocking“.
What is Clocking and Overclocking?
Clocking is a measure of how fast your CPU can run. For example, if your CPU has a clock speed of 4 GHz, it means that your CPU can execute 4 billion cycles per second. In older generation computer systems, this was measured in terms of Mhz (megahertz) which meant millions of cycles per second.
By overclocking your CPU, you can essentially run your CPU faster and thus get more performance out of it.
Difference between Locked vs Unlocked CPU
A CPU’s performance is not so easy to measure like that of a GPU. It can get a hell lot confusing and complex as well. There are multiple factors that one needs to consider while measuring the performance of a CPU if you are picking it for Gaming SPECIFICALLY. The lock status of a CPU is just that.
The short answer:
An unlocked CPU can be overclocked easily and very fast as these CPUs come with something called an unclocked clock multiplier. A locked CPU, on the other hand, cannot be overclocked easily nor the way in which an unlocked CPU is overclocked. A locked CPU can only be overclocked via BCLK (Base clock) overclocking.
The Detailed Explanation:
How Do I Know If My CPU Is Locked Or Unlocked?
The “unlocked” or “locked” status of a CPU actually refers to something called as the CPU’s clock multiplier. An unlocked CPU can be overclocked to run faster, easily just by adjusting the multiplier of the CPU. A locked CPU cannot be overclocked in this manner.
This again can be a bit different, for different brands as well. A few brands, like Intel, actually make it easy to identify the lock status of a CPU.
For example, in a mainstream Intel Core gaming CPU, there is a designated letter “K” that is present at the end of the model number. The same is true for designations that have letters such as “HK” and “KF” as well. We’ve written extensively about intel and its naming nomenclatures here. Do give it a read for further understanding.
While that was with Intel, AMD has a whole other game going on. You don’t need to look at almost anything. This is because all of AMD Ryzen’s CPU’s are unlocked. Pick anything ranging from the budget-friendly Ryzen 3 model to the ultra-premium Ryzen Threadripper or the Ryzen 9. All are unlocked and ready to be overclocked for your performance thirst.
Ryzen CPU’s come with a letter “X” at the end of their model numbers. While this is no way related to the thread multiplier, it merely stands as an indicator that your CPU is a bit faster and thus, it can run even better when its overclocked.
How Can I Unlock A Locked CPU?
Now that we’ve understood the difference between a Locked vs Unlocked CPU, we have to understand how to unlock a locked CPU. If we can, how do we overclock it?
The first thing you need to understand is that it is almost impossible to unlock a locked CPU. You have to understand that a CPU lock is not some software limitation imposed onto the chip/board that you are trying to bypass. CPU locking is done at a manufacturing level and as this is a physical process, it cannot be undone. You cannot unlock them using any software, tool or anything as such.
While you cannot unlock a CPU, you can most certainly try and overclock it. The solution is simple yet more of a hack. All you need to do is adjust the base clock speed of the CPU and you can thus overclock it. This method is called as BCLK overclocking.
BCLK overclocking usually works best to increase a CPU’s power limit and this can help boost the base clock’s speed. But you HAVE to be aware that this method comes with some MAJOR drawbacks.
For starters, it will increase the amount of heat generated by your CPU and this may directly impact your performance. While you may get good speed initially, it is all but stable. Soon enough, you will be experiencing unstable speeds. Honestly, the kind of boost you would be getting by overclocking a locked CPU is just not the same as that of an unlocked CPU.
This brings us to our next and most important question.
Is Overclocking A CPU Actually Worth It?
You have to understand that, by definition, overclocking is basically pushing a CPU’s clocking speed beyond its capacity. We are basically going beyond the limit of its standard factory settings.
What this means is that you are increasing the number of instructions a CPU can process per second. While this may increase your CPU’s single-core performance (raw), it also ends up increasing the amount of heat generated by your CPU. Unnecessarily high speeds might just end up damaging your CPU as a whole.
While overclocked CPU’s are obviously better performing than those at basic factory settings, you have to be absolutely sure that the performance gain you got from overclocking is actually different than the factory setting.
In gaming, if you already have a high definition and high spec CPU custom-built for performance, there is no point in overclocking it. This is one of those cases where there might actually be not a lot of difference. Obviously, if you are running a CPU intense game, the story would be different but this also may end up bottlenecking the GPU. You don’t want that just for a few frame performances.
Not just that, overclocking may also need you to buy a pricey CPU cooler that needs to manage all the heat that is being dissipated by the system. Only then can you get the most out of the CPU.
Intel’s unlocked CPU’s come with a stock cooler inside of them. Even AMD too adds some really good Wraith Prism and Spire coolers to its Ryzen model CPUs. But these 5000 models are not so great to control and manage the heat generated due to overclocking.
The one thing that you HAVE to remember is that overclocking is not for everybody. Some of the best and pro gamers across the world are not proponents of overclocking. If you are one among those who are more of an enthusiast and WANT to have something that puts you out of the ordinary, then you WILL find overclocking to be largely filled with fun.
In Conclusion to Locked vs Unlocked CPU
Should you or should you not invest in an Locked vs Unlocked CPU suffice?
The answer boils down on wheather you really want to or not. Ok that sounds arrogant but its true. Do you REALLY want an enhanced CPU but do not have a budget for it, go for the unlocked one and overclock it. It certainly future proofs it. If you are someone who wishes to be content and game great with what you have, go for a locked CPU. They are still the greatest.
If you are an average gamer (like me) don’t worry much about overclocking your PC or anything. Just focus on gaming and being the best at it. If you are on the hunt to find the best CPU for gaming, make sure you check out our article The Best CPU in 2021. We’ve included a great selection of CPUs fit for gaming.