Complete guide to underclocking
15th Oct 2009 | 14:15
Discover how to underclock, and its near silent possibilities
The main advantage to underclocking, also known as downclocking, is that it enables you to throttle back on your fan speeds. This in turn means that your machine doesn't produce as much noise as it would if left at the intended speed.
Downclock your processor enough, and you may even be able to get away with passive cooling – which is perfect if you're looking to build a media server for the living room, and don't want your films spoiled by the dull hum of fans.
It's a worthy goal aiming for the silent PC, and while the likes of the hard drive and PSU will add to the overall sound levels, it is definitely possible to go silent everywhere else.
You do need to be careful with this though – and may need an exhaust fan still, but being able to knock out any fans is worth while, and you'll soon notice the difference.
It's worth noting that underclocking is a lot more commonplace than you may think as well. Indeed it's the basis of Intel's SpeedStep and AMD's Cool'n'Quiet technologies, which are primarily used in laptops.
Whenever your laptop is unplugged, there's a good chance that it'll ease back on the clocks a little so that your battery life lasts that little bit longer and so the fans are running at full whack the entire time.
If your particular laptop processor doesn't support automatic downclocking itself, then following this guide can add to the stamina of your battery, and lift the pressure off the system fans at the same time. It's worth checking your BIOS for both technologies as well - use them if they're there.
Downclocking: How to run your machine quieter
1. If you've ever dabbled with overclocking, then you'll already be aware that you need to keep an eye on system temperatures as you tweak your processor settings.
When it comes to underclocking, you'll need to keep both eyes on those temperatures, as your machine won't be able to cope with a spike in temperature quite as easily. To this end you'll need a good way of monitoring your machine temperatures (not just your processor temperatures either, your whole system).
There are numerous tools available for this, but one that stands out for us is CPUID Hardware Monitor. Leave this running, perform the tasks you need on the machine in question, and you'll be able to see just how hot the various components in your machine actually get.
2. It's also useful to see just how slow your fan runs when you set it using the other tool you'll need when underclocking: SpeedFan.
SpeedFan gives you close control over your processor fan (among others), which enables you to ease back the speed at which it is spinning while monitoring overall system temperatures.
You will need to configure it though - click on the Clock tab and enter the details of your specific motherboard.
3. When it comes to actually setting your clock speeds, we'd still recommend altering settings in the BIOS. Underclocking the processor itself is fairly straightforward – just drop the FSB or the multiplier (if you can), apply the changes and you're done.
With underclocking there shouldn't be any worries about it crashing, failing to get into Windows or anything like that.
Just make sure your machines is still running stable by running a benchmark you trust the results of. We're using the CPU intensive X.264 encoding benchmark here, as we know that it pushes the CPUs to the limit.
4. Once you are happy that you're not sacrificing too much performance for your downclock you can pop back into the BIOS and set the fan speed to a lower level (or use SpeedFan if your motherboard is supported).
This is where a little trial and error is needed to make sure that you don't turn the fan down so low that it is literally throttling the performance of your CPU.
Again it's a case of tweaking the fan speed down a little (using the manual setting offered in your BIOS), rebooting into Windows and making sure it can handle it by stressing the processor again.
If the fan is still a little loud, then ease your processor back further until you are happy. Rinse and repeat until you've got the silent rig of your dreams.
First published in PC Format Issue 231
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