Before you try to improve your computer's speed and performance by overclocking, take some time to consider whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Unless you're working with a spare system that you don't use for important work, it's important to understand that an overclocking failure can cause enough problems to do some serious damage.
It's entirely possible that your overclocked system could work flawlessly. But these are some of the major things that can go wrong:
You can destroy the CPU. Worst case, the processor doesn't work at any speed after you try to boost its speed. This is uncommon, but it can happen.
The system could slow down. If you choose the wrong jumper settings, or if the settings you use create a wrong configuration, the overall performance of your system may actually degrade, even if the CPU is running faster.
The system can become unreliable. An overclocked system may appear to start and run faster than it did before, but you might see some other problems, including system crashes, hardware or software conflicts, and intermittent POST failures.
You can reduce the life of your system. Even if the computer appears to work properly at a higher speed, the CPU produces more heat and added stress on the system that can gradually break down its internal circuitry.
You can lose data. When you restart your computer after overclocking, the processor and chipset might have trouble working with your hard drive. A serious conflict or other problem could damage the drive's boot files or data files. And when Windows tries to load, the CPU's unpredictable performance can corrupt the system registry.
You can void the warranty. If your computer or any of its components are still covered by the manufacturer's warranty, overclocking the processor violates its terms. If you fry a CPU or damage a hard drive, don't expect to get a free replacement.
You can damage other components. When you increase the speed of the system bus, you're also forcing everything connected to the motherboard to run faster, even if some of those components can't handle the higher speed. Your computer's RAM, the chipset, the graphics controller, and the expansion cards plugged into the PCI sockets are all at risk.
Overclocking is often promoted as an economical alternative to buying a new computer or replacing the CPU and motherboard. However, that's not always true; if you have to spend money to replace the CPU's heat sink or install additional input and exhaust fans to compensate for the increased amount of heat inside the case, you might end up spending as much or more than the cost of new components. If the computer breaks down as a result of your overclocking efforts, you have to buy or build a replacement-that's a just-about-perfect definition of a false economy.
In many cases, the improvements produced by overclocking may not make any real difference. Most of the time, even a 20 percent increase in speed is not enough to notice. Unless you're running test programs rather than real applications, the practical benefits are minimal. If you're serious about making your computer run faster, buy a faster computer. Even a new mid-range processor and motherboard almost certainly performs better than a five-year-old system pushed to its limits.
Finally, overclocking has potential impact on the other people who use the computer. A server that supports dozens or hundreds of individual users should be as reliable as possible and not subject to downtime caused by a flaky processor or an enthusiastic overclocker trying to push the machine beyond its published limits.