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Locked vs Unlocked CPU - What Is the difference?

Locked vs Unlocked CPU - What Is the difference?

The CPU is a complicated piece of hardware with lots of different specs. All of which sound important and in some ways. All of them are important as well but not for everything. If we zoom in on gaming, in particular, we can see that something like hash memory doesn't really play a key role here.

That said gauging a CPU's performance, especially in games isn't as easy as gauging a GPU's performance which makes today's topic really tricky at first glance.

In today's article, I'll be covering the difference between locked and unlocked CPUs. How this difference impacts performance and ultimately which type is better?

Locked and Unlocked CPU - What does it mean?

As always we'll start things off by explaining the terminology.

The terms locked and unlocked refer to a CPU's clock multiplier. If the multiplier is unlocked, you can adjust it to your will, this process is better known as overclocking. Needless to say, the clock multiplier unlocked CPUs is locked so you can't use it to overclock the CPU. Locked CPUs can technically be overclocked via BCLK overclocking.

I'll briefly touch upon the benefits and detriments of overclocking in this article.

How can you tell if a CPU is locked or unlocked?

Locked vs Unlocked CPU - What Is the difference?

Surprisingly enough, this is super easy barely an inconvenience. If you're looking to get an unlocked Ryzen CPU you can literally not go wrong.

All Ryzen CPUs are unlocked, including the cheapest and least powerful Ryzen 3 models. Some Ryzen models end in an X-like - the Ryzen 53600X. This X denotes that the model has a slightly higher clock speed out of the box and that it is better equipped for overclocking.

But as I've said, you can overclock any non-X marked model without any issues. However, things are quite different on the intel side of things. Here most of the CPUs are locked. You can distinguish the unlocked models by the K designation.

The i510600 K is one such model like all of intel's unlocked CPUs. It comes without a stock cooler and it yields more results from overclocking than the Ryzen models. KF and HK designations are also used to mark unlocked models.

On their own, the F and H designation indicate models that lack integrated graphics and that offer high performance respectively. So KF means unlocked but still lacking integrated graphics.

HK means its high-performance CPU that's also unlocked. And that was it for the terminology. Now let's see what the implications of these limitations are like in practice.

Can You Unlock or Overclock a Locked CPU?

Locked vs Unlocked CPU - What Is the difference?

No doubt one of the first questions many of you are going to ask yourself at this point is whether there's a way to unlock and then overclock a locked CPU?

Some may assume that this is indeed doable but that it isn't recommended because it voids the warranty and makes the CPU unstable but this isn't the case.

The so-called lock that locked CPUs have isn't a software limitation that can be circumvented with the right tools and some know-how. It refers to a physical process that takes place during the manufacturing process.

So, if a CPU is locked you can't overclock it. At least not in the traditional sense. There is such a thing as ''BCLK'' overclocking that's done by adjusting the base clock speed of a CPU. Locked CPUs can be overclocked in this way.

It works by increasing the CPU's power limit which boosts the base clock speed but also increases the heat generation. Worst of all, it can cause the CPU to become unstable. So the detriments are fairly severe.

Especially, when we take into consideration that the performance boost that can be achieved by a ''BCLK'' overclocking isn't as good as with regular overclocking. This all takes us to a singular question is, regular overclocking even worth it?

Is Overclocking Worth It?

Overclocking is best approached as a hobby and hobbies for the most part are activities we indulge in because they're fun. The fact that overclocked CPUs outperform non-overclocked CPUs of the same model is a fact.

We're not trying to dispute that but for gamers, it's simply not something that is worth pursuing solely for the benefit of a higher FPS count. Because here's the thing, the in-game performance you can get from overclocking a CPU comes down to just a handful of frames.

So, if the very process of overclocking sounds like a headache and a chore then you shouldn't do it. Remember also that you will have to get an aftermarket cooler in most cases if you're looking to overclock your CPU.

So, it's not like it's an entirely inexpensive hobby either for example, the Ryzen 5 5600x comes with a wraith spire cooler. The wraith spire can handle the CPU out of the box ok but it doesn't leave any headroom for overclocking.

In the end, if you're unsure whether you should overclock your CPU, just remember one thing with overclocking getting there is half the fun if this is the case go for it. If not you can ignore it. It won't really make a noticeable difference anyway.

Big Disclaimer

In this segment, I've been referring to the way overclocking affects gaming in particular. Overclocking can yield a more noticeable performance boost when using certain CPU-heavy software. It can also make a CPU more future proof and it can help mitigate bottlenecks.

But for gaming, it's not something you should feel obliged to do under any circumstance, even though, it will make your game run a bit better if you can do it.

Should you buy a K or non-K Intel CPU?

People who are trying to buy Intel systems, is it worth it to pay the little extra premium for that little K right next to the part number?

Generally, what do you get with a K part?

One it's unlocked. So that means you can overclock it. You can run at higher clock speeds than it's supposed to for people who are just getting into this. That's always a plus, more performance. The actual truth is very few people actually ever overclock K parts.

Over the years Intel has said over and over again. ''We're always surprised by the amount of people who buy K parts because the K part has turned into the CPU that everyone once has the best reputation''. It gets reviewed all the time. Those are the high-performance parts that can be overclocked, that's all the coolness.

Will you go to the store you want the exact same thing that they're talking about on the forums, on YouTube?
You buy the K part that machine never sees any overclocks its entire lifetime. So why pay the 40 to 50 bucks for it?

So generally, you won't miss it, I think you can be fine without it. The other thing is if you buy a K part and you do intend to overclock, you also have to have a motherboard that supports overclocking. Higher-end Intel motherboard Z series, newer chipset supported, a lot of the older ones don't support it lower end.

Lower-end ones are intentionally nerf to keep you from overclocking. Probably fair to keep you from blowing the motherboard up too but they also are locked.

So remember K part also means generally price your motherboard. In fact, that's probably what the salesperson is going to talk to you into is like well you're overclocking this. Now you need this big cooler that's the other thing K parts don't come with coolers. So if you buy a non-K part, you're gonna get the minimum piece of flair Intel cooler. It'll run all day fine never. You'll never have a problem with it.

Generally, at the higher end, the i7 i-9 you get higher clocks. So even if you never overclock you might get to maybe 300 higher clock speeds out of it sometimes on turbo. They may also be you know quote unquote better CPUs who knows. But most people cannot feel 2 to 300 megahertz. You'd be pretty tough unless you play the game benchmark to see the difference.

So it's fine to go with the non-K part. But again this all does come back to go to the store and you will talk yourself into the K part because you go in 5 years we'd rather have maybe you want that option. Put a custom water loop in there and overclock it. So a lot of people you know you're sold on the performance. Nobody likes to intentionally wall themselves off from potential performance upgrades.

So maybe that 50 bucks is worth it in his up it's more than 50 because you got to buy heatsink 2 and the other board might be cheaper you might feel better. I mean that's honestly what a lot of people who buy the K part are it's just performance cuz it looks better.

Would you rather buy the non-K part save little money on the processor, motherboard, and upgrade sooner or get that K part and then later down the road overclock it to get yourself that little extra boost?

If you're being very pragmatic, very practical, you're gonna go for save money, now put it into other components. Get you more in the long run but your friend shows up they got a brand-new 99, you only have a 9900 he or she's got 2 to 3 hundred more megahertz than you that's some people that's really gonna burn them. Especially, if your friend is kind of gonna rub it in your face. Wow, you know the K part, I have the K part.

So Yes, if you want to avoid those situations which is real that is a real situation that is not even made-up then Yes it's worth it. The K parts also are higher performing parts. If you're gonna overclock them a little bit if you even do the auto overclock by turning MCE on you can get a little more performance out of it.

Some people who like to run the drag strip, they want to like to run the quarter-mile. They like to run those benchmarks then Yes it is worth it.


Whether a CPU is unlocked or locked will determine whether or not it can be overclocked. All Ryzen CPUs are unlocked but only the K designated until core models get this treatment. Locked CPUs can technically be overclocked by means of ''BCLK'' overclocking but this technique is not something I recommend.

It can easily lead to an unstable performance and even in the best-case scenario, it will only result in a negligible performance boost. Whether or not you should overclock your CPU is entirely up to you.

If you plan on overclocking then an unlocked CPU is a must but otherwise, it doesn't matter all that much. All we can say is that this is completely unnecessary for gaming on modern CPUs. It's much more important that you pick the best CPU for your needs.

That about does it for this article I hope you found it helpful. You can let me know if you have by sharing it with friends and leaving a comment.


Q. What is overclocking?

A. Overclocking is the process of boosting the clock speed of a computer's processor beyond its default maximum. This is done by overclocking the processor's front-side bus (FSB) and the clock multiplier, which are usually set by the manufacturer. Overclocking a computer allows it to run at higher speeds than it would otherwise be able to, which can help to reduce load times and increase performance in some applications.

Q. What is an Unlocked multiplier in a CPU?

A. An unlocked multiplier is a CPU feature that allows the user to overclock the CPU. When overclocking, the user can manually set the multiplier to a higher value than what the CPU is originally set to. For example, if the CPU is set to a multiplier of 10, then the user can manually set the multiplier to 11. This is often done to get higher performance out of the CPU. This feature is not present in all CPUs, but it is common in CPUs that are considered "overclocking friendly."

Q. Is overclocking a CPU safe?

A. Yes, overclocking your CPU is totally safe. A CPU can be overclocked, which is a process of increasing the clock speed of the CPU. When overclocking, it is important to know the limitations of the CPU and to use caution when increasing the voltage. If a CPU is overclocked, it can cause it to overheat, which can cause it to shut down or damage other components. This can happen because overclocking changes the settings in the computer's BIOS, which are the instructions that tell the computer how to work.

Q. Is an unlocked CPU better?

A. Unlocked CPU is worth it for a user who wants to overclock or upgrade their CPU in the future. For example, to use GPU-intensive software or want to build a high-quality future-proof gaming PC, then it's better to spend money on unlocked GPU. 

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