The Top 5 Best Overclocking CPUs of All Time

Author:Daniel Dobrowolski

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Friday , September 01, 2017

We count down another Top 5 best CPUs of all time. These CPUs are special, at least to most HardOCP readers, as these are judged only by the value to enthusiasts due to being highly overclockable in nature. Extra points are awarded for market influence and performance. It's a tough call as there are so many to choose from over the years.

The Top 5 Best Overclocking CPUs of All Time

Last week we discussed The Top 5 Best CPUs of All Time. We laid out our criteria for out picks, but this week we are going to do it a bit different. This week it is simple. The Best Overclocking CPUs of All Time! We are assured this time to not have any differences of opinion and no discussion will be required except to post in the HardForum thread, "I agree...100%." That said, let's dive in with number 5.

5. - Intel Core i7-980X "Gulftown" (2010)

Intel's Core i7-980X is a bit of an odd choice I'll probably take some flack for. Due to the high cost it sort of flies in the face of what a good overclocking, enthusiast class CPU should be. CPUs should be a good bang for your buck. Despite it's high price, that's exactly what Intel's "Gulftown" CPU was. While expensive, it offered two more cores and a die shrink which extended its overclocking headroom. It overclocked as well if not better than the typical i7 CPUs of the day with many of these reaching 4.5GHz or more. These CPUs offered the best performance available at the time. Thanks to the extra two cores Gulftown was propelled into a class of its own. Paired with the X58 chipset and triple channel RAM, these CPUs aren't that bad today when paired with a modern GPU. For long relevance, incredible performance, and overclocking capability the Core i7 980X takes our #5 spot.

4. - AMD Athlon XP 1700+ "Thoroughbred Rev-b" (2002)

The "B" revision of AMD's Thoroughbred core made for a great overclockable at an incredibly low price. These CPUs could easily match much more expensive CPUs without too much trouble or voltage. The 1.46GHz stock clocks weren't all that impressive but the performance offered by this chips at 2.2GHz or better was impressive for the money. AMD hasn't had too many amazing overclockers over the years but this one had it all. Value, performance, and a high success rate for overclocking. You can't ask for more than that.

3. - Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2007)

It's hard to forget what was essentially the first mass market Quad Core CPU that was affordable. These CPUs were incredibly expensive at first launch. Later steppings fell to incredibly low pricing. These CPUs were powerful and remained relevant for a very long time. If you got one of the better G0 chips you could find yourself taking a 2.4GHz CPU and overclock to 3.4GHz or more without too much trouble.

2. - Intel Core i7-2600K (2011)

Beside the original review linked above from 2001, we have a couple of reviews that we have included this CPU in lately. The Definitive AMD Ryzen 7 Real-World Gaming Guide and the Kaby Lake 7700K vs Sandy Bridge 2600K IPC Review. Both which outline just how good the 2600K still is today when overclocked.

The 2600K makes the #2 spot on the list due to it's long life span and market relevance. Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture and the i7-2600K in particular are the benchmark by which people judge CPUs and their worth as an upgrade path. These CPUs are 6 years old but remain relevant today when paired with a modern graphics card. At a mere $300 or so if you had a Microcenter near by, your investment went further than it probably ever has with any other CPU past or present.

1. - Intel Celeron 300A (1998)

For many of us, the Celeron 300A was the first mass market CPU to be an overclocking monster. It introduced many of us to the world of overclocking as it allowed us to get the best possible performance for very little money. The Celeron 300A came with a default clock speed of 300MHz and would easily reach speeds of up to 450MHz in most cases. Thanks to it's small but full speed L2 cache, this CPU was actually faster than the Pentium II 450MHz CPU that was Intel's top offering in both performance and price. This CPU was the epitome of what overclocking was all about and it's the chip that caused us to look at motherboards as vehicles for overclocking in addition to their features and general performance. 150MHz improvement may not sound like much, but it was a huge jump back in those days and due to this CPUs influence on the market, I had to make it number one on my list.

Honorable Mention: Intel Celeron 533A (2000)

This is easily the least overclockable CPU on our list. Honestly, I wasn't sure if I should include it and I only did for one reason. ABIT's BP6. With the ABIT BP6 you could get n`ot only one, but two Celeron 533A's overclocked to 800MHz. This made for a very powerful and unusual setup. Its one thats near and dear to many of us who've been in the hobby for the last couple of decades.

Closing Thoughts

I know the list is dominated by Intel CPUs and for good reason. AMD CPUs are traditionally not overclockable to the same degree as Intel's due to their designs simply not having the same headroom for improvement. That comes down to manufacturing capability and product binning being in Intel's favor. I felt that AMD's Athlon XP 1700+ was easily one of the best AMD ever offered. Processors requiring the pencil trick were a bit trickier and therefore I didn't include any of those. There were a few other gems but in terms of headroom, total performance and bang for your buck Intel's often had AMD beat over the years. Not all the CPUs here were necessarily cheap but all of them offered significant performance gains and were able to get close to or match the top processors of their day. The CPUs chosen here had extremely high success rates and weren't guaranteed but failures were so rare as to turn heads whenever someone couldn't make one of these work.