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Locked vs Unlocked CPU – What Is The Difference?

How does a locked CPU differ from an unlocked CPU? What is the best option for you? What is the point of an unlocked CPU? Come on, let’s find out.

A CPU with an unlocked clock multiplier can be overclocked quickly and easily.

The only way to overclock a locked CPU is to use BCLK overclocking.

Choosing the right CPU for your new gaming PC can be quite confusing if you don’t know what to look for. In gaming, a CPU’s performance is harder to judge than a GPU’s. Additionally, there are a number of features to keep in mind.

When choosing a CPU, many will focus on whether it is locked or unlocked.

Related: Optimum Temps for CPU and GPU While Gaming in [2021]

How does an unlocked CPU differ from a locked one? What should you choose? We’ll answer exactly that in this guide, so keep reading!

How To Know If A CPU Is Locked Or Unlocked?


First, let’s distinguish between locked and unlocked CPUs.

“Locked” and “unlocked” refer to the CPU’s clock multiplier. The CPU can be overclocked freely if the multiplier is unlocked, but a locked CPU cannot be overclocked in this manner.

Fortunately, you can check whether the CPU you’re interested in is unlocked very easily.

For mainstream Intel Core gaming CPUs, look for the letter “K” at the end of the model number. K-designated Intel CPUs are unlocked, as are CPUs with two-letter designations such as “KF” or “HK”. Check out this article for more information about Intel’s CPU naming scheme and different designations.

See: CPU Hierarchy – CPU Tier List For Processors Guide [2021]

With AMD Ryzen CPUs, you won’t have to look anywhere else. All AMD Ryzen CPUs are unlocked, from the budget-friendly Ryzen 3 to the high-end Ryzen 9 and Ryzen Threadripper monsters.

It’s also worth noting that some Ryzen models have an “X” designation at the end of the model number. This has nothing to do with the multiplier, and merely indicates that the CPU is a bit faster and therefore performs better when it comes to overclocking.

Can You Unlock A Locked CPU?

One question that some will ask is: can you unlock and overclock a locked CPU?

As far as I know, it’s impossible to unlock a locked CPU since this is a physical process that occurs during the manufacturing process itself, meaning that a locked CPU doesn’t have some software limitation imposed on it that can be bypassed with certain programs or utilities.

CPUs can be overclocked by adjusting their base clock speed, and this is known as BCLK overclocking.

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BCLK overclocking increases the CPU’s power limit, which boosts its base clock speed. Nonetheless, this method of overclocking has some disadvantages: it increases the level of heat generated by the CPU, it can lead to unstable performance, and the overall performance boost wouldn’t be as noticeable as with an unlocked CPU.

Is Overclocking Worth It?


The important question is: should you even care about overclocking?

In case you don’t know, overclocking is the process of increasing a CPU’s clock speed (expressed in Hz) beyond the factory setting, thereby increasing the number of instructions it can handle each second. Essentially, this improves the CPU’s single-core performance, but it also generates more heat.

CPUs running at overclocked speeds perform better than those running at stock factory settings, but is the performance gain actually noticeable?

The answer to this question is usually no when it comes to gaming. CPU overclocking generally results in a few frames of performance gain, depending on how CPU-intensive a game is and whether the CPU is bottlenecking the GPU.

Moreover, not only is the performance gain very limited, but overclocking also carries an additional cost, as you have to purchase a relatively pricey aftermarket cooler in order to take full advantage of a CPU’s overclocking potential.

AMD and Intel are both affected by this. Intel’s unlocked CPUs don’t come with a stock cooler included, and while the more powerful Ryzen models used to come with very good Wraith Spire and Wraith Prism coolers, Team Red took a step back in that department, and the latest Ryzen 5000 models either come without a cooler or they come with Wraith Stealth coolers that aren’t very good for overclocking.

That said, overclocking is largely an enthusiast’s game. As the saying goes, getting there is half the fun, so the very process of trying to squeeze every bit of processing power out of a CPU is part of the fun for the overclocking enthusiast. For gamers who don’t count themselves among that crowd, this process would probably feel like little more than a chore that would offer very little gratification in the end.

In certain CPU-heavy professional programs, overclocking a CPU can result in a greater performance boost, it can make a CPU more future-proof, and it can reduce bottlenecks. It’s just that it doesn’t offer as big of a boost to gaming as many believe.



In the end, should you invest in an unlocked CPU or is a locked CPU sufficient?

A CPU that is unlocked makes sense if you are going to use CPU-intensive professional software in addition to gaming or if you simply have the money and want to build a high-quality, future-proof gaming PC.

Overclocking shouldn’t be on the top of the priority list for the average gamer, since stock clock speeds combined with technologies that automatically boost clock speeds will provide more than enough processing power for running the latest games.

However, picking the right CPU for gaming is a broader topic, so if you’re looking for one, we suggest checking out our selection of the best CPUs of 2021, since you’re bound to find a good match.

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