Locked vs Unlocked CPU: Which one Should You Buy


When buying or assembling a PC, choosing the best CPU is challenging as there are hundreds of variations and unique performances for each and every one. And in the performance side, CPUs are much more complex than any other piece of hardware on your computer. If you are familiar with different models of CPUs there are always two different options to continue with either using a locked or an unlocked CPU. In this article, we will provide the best guide and comparison between Locked vs Unlocked CPU and which one should you buy for your dream build.

What does Locked and Unlocked Means?

The locked and unlocked really matters most if you are willing to overclock your CPU. These two types of terms refer to the CPU clock multiplier. If the multiplier is unlocked, the user can overclock the CPU to improve and boost the performance while the locked models don’t allow the users to do the same. If you are going to overclock your CPU after buying, make sure you are purchasing an unlocked CPU and don’t try overclocking if you don’t have proper knowledge about that process.

CPU Circuit
CPU Circuit

The next big question is to know which models are unlocked and which is locked. This is pretty much easy with AMD processors because almost all AMD Ryzen CPUs are unlocked even the cheapest and least powerful 3 models. In some cases, the CPU name ends with X at the end like Ryzen 5 3600X. This indicates that the CPU is slightly well designed to overclocking with a higher clock speed. But this doesn’t mean that a non-X CPU model can’t be overclocked and always remember you can always overclock any X or non-X Ryzen CPU.

On the other hand, Intel is completely different as most of the Intel CPUs on the market are locked and if you want to buy an unlocked model, there are special K, KF, HK and X variant models which are especially used to indicate Intel unlocked CPU models. (Eg: i5 10600K,  i9-10900K, i9-10980HK). Even though the KF model is unlocked, it still lacks intergraded graphic performances while the HK indicates the high performances comes as an unlocked model.

Can you unlock a locked CPU?

None of those companies is ready to issue warranty replacements if the CPU gets damaged during the overclocking process. Always remember not to deal with overclocking unless you are ready with a proper understanding of how you should control it. Most of the people think that buying an unlocked model is enough to get a replacement if the CPU gets damaged but they don’t. These locked or unlocked barriers are not something controlled by a software as it refers to a physical process that takes at the first place in manufacturing. So if the CPU is defined as a locked model, it cannot be unlocked.

locked vs unlocked cpu

The only possible way of boosting the performances of a locked CPU is to adjust the base clock speed of the CPU by adjusting and increasing the power limits which increase the temperature and heat generation as well. This may cause freezing the computer, blue screen errors and system unstable issues.

However When talking about the intel CPUs, they contain a special set of instructions called Micro Codes which is typically similar to the firmware which is fundamentally responsible for chips behaviour. In the previous chips, there was a loophole where it wouldn’t check the processors base clock against a hardware clock governer. Using this loophole, ASRock introduced a service called SkyOC which allows the users to boost their CPU for higher limits for a significant performance boost.

ASRock BFB Technology

This SkyOC worked with Skylakes non-K CPUs but Intel stopped the users from adjusting the base clock after a short time period. All the technologies which came after that including the ASRock’s Base Frequency Boost(BFB) and Asus Performance Enhancement developed by Asus are just adjusting the power limits so the CPU itself understands that it has more power headroom and thermal power and raise its own clock speed accordingly. If someone is going to boost the CPU in this way, there should be a proper cooling option to keep the CPU safe without damaging by getting overheated.

Is Overclocking Worth it?

This completely lays on what you are trying to accomplish. In most of the parts, overclocking is done as a hobby or just to test the results of different models in different conditions. Even the overclocking is possible with your CPU, no one is recommending to use it for long term use. By overclocking process, the CPU is getting squeezed till it gives the last drop of performance but you’ll only get a bump of few more megahertz in the normal air or water cooling system.

Overclocking a CPU
Overclocking a CPU

Even if you use a thousand dollar expensive cooling setup, mostly two or three Gigaherts can be gained with lots of unstable errors on the system. But this doesn’t mean that overclocking is the most useless thing that a user can waste both their money and time. The only problem is people don’t whether they do want to overclock to get the performances they want.

Different types of programs utilize the CPU and GPU in different ways. While some applications and games are heavily tied with CPU performances including video editing and encoding, file compressing even some applications doesn’t care the CPU performances that much. Most of the demanding game titles just care about more GPU performance that your GPU can give rather than the CPU.

CPU Performances in Overclocking
CPU Performances in Overclocking

Overall overclocking the CPU for gaming doesn’t makes so sense that much but if you are compressing files or any other application using heavy calculations, then the overclocking will be a good choice for some extent. If you are a gamer, try overclocking the GPU rather than the CPU which will boost 5 to 10 frames or even more.

In the earlier times, overclocking wasn’t that easy but now it’s easy to use firmware and overclocking software combined with power-efficient chips that don’t need a super expensive motherboard. Most of the users love overclocking just as a hobby and a way to get more performances freely. Even though the overclocking typically voids a standard CPU warranty, modern chips are so reliable that this isn’t much of a concern for many of them. Now you’ll know the differences of locked vs unlocked CPU and which one should you pick inside your rig to get the best performances.

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