Updated at: 22-03-2023 - By: Leo Hall

To what extent does purchasing a locked CPU differ from purchasing an unlocked one, and which better serves your needs?

In this article, I will address these and other questions so that you can make a well-informed choice.

OK, so let’s get down to business.

The Basics of CPU Clock Speed

Let’s get the fundamentals of central processing unit clock speed out of the way first.

Understanding the differences between locked and unlocked CPUs, as well as their pros and cons, requires first defining clock speed.

What, then, is the true meaning of computer processor “clock” speed?

How quickly a central processing unit (CPU) can carry out a set of instructions is indicated by its clock speed, which is expressed in megahertz or gigahertz.

Since clock speed is far from being the only thing to consider in CPU performance, the actual performance you see between different CPUs can vary greatly despite appearing to share the same CPU speed, due to factors such as CPU architecture.

Clock speed is still meaningful and useful, despite the fact that it is difficult to make a direct comparison across product lines due to variations in CPU architecture.

Clock speed is useful for comparing the performance of different CPUs of the same architecture or otherwise identical CPUs because, for one, it is generally true that a newer architecture will be faster at the same clock speed as the previous architecture.

Examining Intel’s 10th Generation Core processors will serve as an illustration.

There were 6 cores and 12 threads in the mid-range Intel Core i5 10600K of that generation, and they were all rated to run at up to 4.8 GHz.

Locked vs Unlocked CPU - What Is The Difference? [Simple Guide] - YouTube

Comparatively, the top-tier Intel Core i7 10700K’s 8 cores and 16 threads reached speeds of up to 5.1 GHz.

That’s a sizable increase in both cores and threads, as well as a 300 MHz increase in maximum clock frequency before user overclocking occurs.

Is the 10700K always superior to the 10600K? I wouldn’t say that at all, no.

Having a clock speed that’s so close to that of the 10700K meant that the 10600k could achieve performance that was competitive with the latter.

When all CPUs in a generation share the same underlying architecture, the primary way manufacturers differentiate performance is by including more cores on more expensive processors, which drives up the price.

However, there is no guarantee that a performance boost will occur simply by adding more cores and threads.

An application needs to be multi-core or multi-threading optimized to make use of a CPU’s full number of processing cores.

That is to say, it requires special construction to make use of multiple CPU cores.

Such a standard is typically followed by default in high-end professional software, especially rendering software.

However, not all programs can scale to use all of the available cores at once. This is especially true of older programs and games.

They are examples of workloads that are best suited for a single CPU core. Performance differences between CPUs that only differ in core or thread count will be negligible.

Increasing your CPU’s clock speed is most beneficial for tasks that rely heavily on single-core performance.

This is why enthusiasts and gamers alike love unlocked CPUs and CPU overclocking in the PC hardware market.

Let’s dissect what all that means in detail right now.

What is an Unlocked CPU?

A CPU that has been “unlocked” is one that has been freed from any speed limitations.

The ability to overclock, or deliberately increase your CPU’s clock speed, is the primary benefit of purchasing an unlocked CPU rather than a locked one.

What is an Overclock?

Overclocking is when a user voluntarily increases the clock speed of their central processing unit (CPU), graphics processing unit (GPU), or other devices that allow for this.

However, increasing the clock speed isn’t just a free way to boost performance; doing so requires more energy, and doing so too quickly can cause the system to become unstable and crash.

Unlocked processors are the only ones that can take advantage of this function.

What is a Locked CPU?

One definition of a “locked CPU” is one that prevents users from changing the processor’s clock speed in software.

Locked CPUs are limited to operating speeds specified by the manufacturer, with maximum speeds limited by the “Boost Clock” setting.

What is a Boost Clock?

A Boost Clock, also known as Turbo, is the inherent capability of a central processing unit (CPU) to increase or decrease its own clock speed based on the demands of the system and the ambient temperature.

However, the CPU handles almost all of this automatically, so the user doesn’t have to do anything special to get their Boost Clock working.

You’ll need good CPU cooling, though, if you want to maximize your boost clock to the fullest extent possible, which is especially true if you’re using a locked CPU and can’t unlock it yourself.

When the CPU reaches high temperatures under heavy load, Boost Clocks and Turbo frequencies can’t be maintained, so a good cooling solution is essential for making the most of these features.

Intel, AMD, and different Locked vs Unlocked CPU principles & naming

To be honest, I can’t go much further with this article without addressing the obvious: Intel is the only company still producing locked desktop CPUs.

Intel has long separated its overclockable processors into a separate category denoted by a “K” or “X” designation.

These CPUs are priced significantly higher despite being functionally equivalent to their non-K counterparts.

It’s also more expensive because not all Intel motherboards allow overclocking; you need a high-end chipset that allows overclocking.

In contrast, AMD’s A-series motherboards are its entry-level boards and are the only ones that can’t be used to overclock any of AMD’s processors.

Overclocking is possible on AMD processors beginning with the B-series and higher, and the starting price is typically in the same ballpark.

Locked vs. Unlocked CPU – What is the Difference? - TechyRay.Com

Intel’s decision to charge more for overclocking is annoying, but it doesn’t come without a silver lining.

Namely, by locking the feature to high-end motherboards, you’re more likely to get favorable results.

Because AMD’s mid-range boards are also overclockable, it’s possible that you’ll end up with a motherboard that can’t quite push the overclock you’re trying to achieve.

The best overclocking experiences typically involve high-end motherboards with top-notch construction and support for features like increased memory speeds.

Do your homework before making any major purchases, especially with regards to the motherboard, if you intend to overclock your CPU.

The choice of motherboard, whether Intel or AMD, is crucial.

Locked vs Unlocked CPUs: Breakdown

Locked vs Unlocked CPUs: Compatibility

Both locked and unlocked Intel CPUs should be functional with all of the same supported motherboards.

In order to overclock your Intel K-series processor, you will need a motherboard from Intel’s Z-Series.

In this category, there were no winners.

Locked vs Unlocked CPUs: Pricing

The cost difference between a locked and unlocked version of the same CPU will be substantial.

This will typically cost $50 or less, but may occasionally be more or less depending on market conditions and other factors.

Regardless, the trend is toward higher prices for unlocked CPUs due to the additional features they offer.

Motherboards from Intel’s higher-end Z-Series are also more expensive than those from the company’s H- and B-Series.

The end user not only has to pay more, but also gets much less performance for their money than if they had opted for a locked processor.

Generally, it’s a lock that the winner will be Locked.

Locked vs Unlocked CPUs: Performance

This is a tricky category to call because many CPUs are offered in both locked and unlocked variants that have the same or nearly the same specs.

However, even when not overclocked, an unlocked CPU will typically have higher boost clocks or more reliably achieve those clocks. Boost clocks are easier to achieve on unlocked CPUs because they typically have higher TDP ratings (are allowed to draw more Power Draw).

Find out how the Intel i9 12900K stacks up against a regular Intel i9 12900 below:

A look at the differences between Intel’s locked and unlocked 12900 and 12900k processors

However, there is not much of a performance gap between locked and unlocked CPUs unless overclocking is being done.

Even with a locked CPU, you can get the most out of its potential if you follow my earlier recommendation and go with a fantastic cooling solution.

The winner is unlocked (with a minor advantage without overclocking and a significant one with it).

Can You Unlock A Locked CPU?

Some people might then wonder if it’s possible to overclock a locked CPU after having it unlocked.

The fact that a locked CPU cannot be unlocked is due to the fact that the locking process is performed physically during production, and not just as a software restriction that can be bypassed by using a specific program or utility.

However, it is possible to overclock locked CPUs by increasing or decreasing their base clock speed, a process known as BCLK overclocking.

BCLK overclocking works by increasing the power limit of the CPU, which in turn raises the base clock speed. However, there are significant drawbacks to this method of overclocking, such as the fact that it causes the CPU to overheat, can cause unstable performance, and wouldn’t result in a noticeable performance boost compared to an unlocked CPU.

Is Overclocking Worth It?

Our discussion has finally reached the meat of the matter: how much should you care about overclocking?

To begin, for the uninitiated, overclocking is increasing the frequency (in Hertz) of a central processing unit (CPU) beyond its stock factory limits. This allows the CPU to handle more instructions per second. As mentioned above, this boosts the CPU’s raw single-core performance at the expense of increased heat.

Even though it’s common knowledge that overclocked CPUs outperform their factory-default counterparts, the question remains whether or not this performance boost is actually noticeable.

So, the general rule of thumb in the gaming world is to say no. The actual number of frames gained in-game from CPU overclocking depends heavily on the CPU-intensiveness of the game and whether or not the CPU is bottlenecking the GPU, but in most cases, the increase is negligible.

Not only is the performance boost negligible, but overclocking also incurs additional cost because a high-quality aftermarket cooler is required to maximize the CPU’s overclocking potential.

This is true of both AMD and Intel hardware. Unlike Intel’s unlocked CPUs, Ryzen’s newest 5000 series either doesn’t include a cooler or comes with a Wraith Stealth cooler that isn’t very good for overclocking. Intel’s unlocked CPUs aren’t available with a stock cooler, and the more powerful Ryzen models used to come with very good Wraith Spire and Wraith Prism coolers.

Nevertheless, overclocking is typically played by those with a keen interest in the subject. Overclocking enthusiasts enjoy the challenge of trying to achieve the maximum possible performance from their CPUs because, as the old adage goes, half the fun is in the journey. However, for players who don’t fit that description, this process may feel like more of a chore with negligible payoff.

It’s worth noting that overclocking a CPU can make it more future-proof, can help mitigate bottlenecks, and can yield a more noticeable performance boost in certain CPU-heavy professional software. The thing is, it doesn’t provide as much of a boost to gaming as you might think.


Are Unlocked CPUs Good For Productivity?

It’s highly improbable that the majority of productive tasks would noticeably benefit from having a locked or unlocked CPU.

While it’s true that a faster CPU is better, many productivity workloads actually place more strain on your storage and memory than they do on your CPU.

While the 10700K in my computer doesn’t really feel the strain, the RAM certainly does when I open dozens of tabs and a few windows.

An unlocked CPU will perform better than a locked one in cases where the productivity task at hand places heavy demands on processing speed. Though this isn’t typical, there are exceptions.

How Do I Know If My CPU is Unlocked [Quick Way to Identify]

Are Unlocked CPUs Good For Rendering?

In a word, yes.

Unlocked processors have a small performance advantage out of the box, but a stable overclock can easily cut your rendering times by 5-10%, depending on the specifics of your system.

Only a few specialized rendering programs use graphics processing units exclusively.

It’s likely that you’ll be making heavy use of both, especially when dealing with real-time rendering needs or 3D graphics.

There are many factors that affect rendering speed, but having a powerful computer is a good place to begin.

If you’re stuck with a locked CPU and need to speed up rendering for professional workloads, upgrading your memory or solid-state drive may be the answer.

In rendering applications, both of these solutions can improve responsiveness and render times, though for different reasons.

It’s common for 3D rendering and related processes to encounter memory issues when dealing with larger scenes, so I suggest prioritizing RAM upgrades.

If you run out of RAM while processing these kinds of tasks, your computer will likely resort to using the paging file on your hard drive instead, which is ridiculously slow and can cause serious interruptions.

Having the swap file stored on a solid-state drive (SSD) rather than a hard disk drive (HDD) is preferable, but it still isn’t a replacement for sufficient RAM.

A solid-state drive (SSD) is the first thing I’d recommend upgrading to if you frequently work with large files or do intensive tasks like video rendering or compression/management.

When rendering videos, you’ll have to deal with many large, high-resolution project files all at once.

In the editing timeline, loading these files and scrubbing through them is made much faster and more responsive by a powerful SSD.

Are Unlocked CPUs Good For Gaming?

Yes, without a doubt. Overclocking has been growing in popularity, and it turns out that PC gamers are the biggest reason for this.

To put it simply, your gaming performance is a function of your CPU power, up to the limit of your GPU power.

The central processing unit (CPU) is responsible for all the heavy lifting, calculating the optimal resolution and settings for a given framerate.

It’s your GPU’s job to make everything look good, but unlike CPUs, you can improve its relative performance by reducing settings or resolution.

As a result, in situations where the GPU is not a limiting factor, having an unlocked CPU, especially an overclocked one, allows for more raw FPS.

Gaining a high frame rate in games, such as 144 Hz or higher, requires a powerful central processing unit.

Many older applications, especially games, are limited to using just one or a few cores at a time, rather than all of them, as was mentioned earlier in the article.

Since older engines’ single-core performance is typically the bottleneck, overclocking on an unlocked CPU is especially beneficial for games of this type.


Whether you choose a Locked or Unlocked processor depends on your budget and your plans for overclocking.

The unlocked CPU is the better option if overclocking is a priority and you don’t mind spending more on the CPU and motherboard* to enable it.

A locked CPU could be a good choice if you’re not interested in overclocking and want to save money.

Consider an Intel F-Series processor, which can help you save money by eliminating the need for expensive dedicated graphics hardware.

*Primarily for Intel.

Over to You

Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned something about locked and unlocked CPUs.

In the end, it all comes down to what will best serve your purposes.

Many users, even tech-savvy professionals, would rather not have to worry about CPU overclocking and have their PC function normally out of the box.

Attempting to overclock your computer can quickly become a complicated and expensive endeavor.

Furthermore, when enabled, overclocking offers substantial benefits to the end user.

Everyone can see the value in being able to get more performance out of your CPU by overclocking, provided you can do so reliably without destroying your system or incurring a significant increase in your electricity bill.

With any luck, this article has shed some light on the topic and helped you make a more informed decision. If you’re still on the fence about whether to purchase a locked or unlocked CPU, feel free to ask us in the comments or on our forum!