If you’ve been looking through processor tech specs, you might have noticed that many computers list a clock speed and an accelerated or ‘boost’ clock speed. This is because of modern processor technologies like Intel’s Turbo Boost, AMD’s Precision Boost, and Turbo Core. These brand process names refer to different multi-core CPU processes that redirect power to specific cores to boost processing performance or lower power consumption. The clock speed of a CPU has a major impact on how quickly programs load and how smoothly they run. Jump in for a down and dirty of the difference between a processor’s base clock vs boost clock.
The CPU Space in General
The need for portable devices to last longer on a small source of power has pushed microchip producers like AMD and Qualcomm to leverage every bit of power consumption optimization they can employ. One significant way these microchip manufacturers have achieved this is by developing processors with a high number of cores with ‘base clock speed’ and ‘boost speed’ cores.
During light tasks, the OS (operating system) utilizes the low power consumption cores. But when activities become heavier, like multitasking with multiple tabs open. Something like this requires more power. The CPU switches to higher speed cores to get the job done.
Ultimately, our desire for more efficiency in portable computers has led to all-day batteries in mobile devices with up to a never before heard of 16 hours of battery life in some laptops. What does that mean for you when looking at CPU clock speeds?
Defining Base Clock vs Boost Clock
First, it might be helpful to explain a bit more about the CPU before jumping into defining exactly what the base and boost clock rate are to gain a complete understanding. So, let’s start by breaking things down into the basics.
Measuring the CPU
The CPU (central processing unit) is the brain of a computer system. The more capable the brain is, the more functional your machine will be. When you’re looking at the hardware specs of a potential new laptop purchase. The number used to denote the speed of the processor is the CPU speed. Commonly expressed in GHz (gigahertz), this tells you the CPU’s Clock Rate or Clock Speed (more about Hertz in a moment).
What’s a CPU’s Clock Speed?
CPU clock speed is the measurement of how fast a CPU can complete a clock cycle per second. The faster a CPU’s clock cycles, the faster your machine’s processing power. Each cycle is a low-level calculation needed to complete sets of instructions that culminate into different programs every second.
If you’re using Windows or the macOS, there are millions of subprograms constantly running that make every individual function of your OS possible. That’s why it’s important to have a high clock rate and a decent amount of RAM to run resource heavy programs.
NOTE: You can get more out of your CPU by terminating unnecessary processes that run in the background. Also, be sure to manage any programs that enable themselves to run in the background. Every program requires dedicated resources that could be funneled into the task on which you are currently working.
Clock cycle speed is measured in Hertz. 1 Hertz is 1 cycle. So, when you see the CPU on a laptop’s spec sheet labeled as having a 2.8 GHz clock speed. That means it completes 2,800,000 cycles per second.
High-end PC desktop-level CPUs run at around 3.6 GHz and 4.5GHz when boosted. Low-powered CPUs, like those found in Chromebooks usually only have a 1.8 GHz clock speed that can go up to 2.4 GHz when boosted.
Ah, now we’re getting into it.
The base clock speed of a CPU is usually the lower of the set of numbers you see for the processor on a spec sheet. This is the speed of the cores that are regularly utilized for most functions.
For laptops, this is the most important clock rate to consider because it’s used to determine program specification requirements. While most modern processors in the Intel Core i5, i7, AMD Ryzen 5, or Ryzen 7 range can handle nearly all average daily activities. You’ll need to check the specific CPU requirements of the most resource heavy software you use often to keep from overspending on this component.
Some processors like Intel’s “H-series” CPUs give you the ability to adjust the base clock rate or overclock it. But this is usually best left to professionals because for one thing, enabling a high rate without meeting the hardware requirements can lead to peripheral power failure and system shutdown.
The boost clock is a higher speed mode that is enabled by transferring power to faster cores. A boosted clock speed means the CPU will be using more juice to run. Without forcing your CPU to overlock, boost clock speeds offer a higher-powered processing power by utilizing the faster cores of a multicore processor.
Most boost clock speeds can only be activated under the right conditions. This intricate process is designed to handle ‘the heating problem.’
Running a CPU at 4 GHz for an extended period can raise temperatures to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Fluctuating between low and high power consumption stabilizes temps and access to power.
In some gaming laptops, plugging in the power supply will enable boosted clock rates for better gaming performance. However, this is a feature unique to specific machines like gaming and workstation laptops that are designed for intense heavy use and demanding computing, like gaming or 3D modeling.
Power and Temperature
As mentioned, boost clock speeds need to meet specific conditions to be activated.
- The temperature must be within a certain range.
- And the power supply has to be large enough to supply the CPU with enough juice for a boost.
This is generally not a problem for desktops as desktop tower cases have cooling systems that guarantee those conditions are met. Laptops on the other hand have the battery to deal with which generate its own heat. And overall, laptops have less efficient cooling systems.
These requirements are almost always considered by retailers and computer manufacturers when assessing their customer’s needs. So, if you find yourself questioning whether or not you need to get a heftier machine to use boost mode, don’t be afraid to ask.
In the power supply department, it’s better to be safe than sorry if you’re building your own desktop computer. Be sure to pick up a large 1050-Watt power supply to satisfy your customization desires.
FAQ About Boosted Clock Speeds
You probably still have a lot of questions about boost clock speeds. But it’s our hope that the preceding has been able to answer some of your more immediate questions. Below are a few frequently asked questions to fill in the gap:
Should I overclock my CPU?
You will almost never need to overclock your CPU. Overclocking is most done by hobbyists experimenting with machines and specific, purpose-built computers optimized for specializations.
The possible dangers to your machine by the heat from an overclocked processor without an adequate cooling system may completely disable your laptop or desktop computer.
That being said, if you’re trying to get some more use out of an older machine, overclocking it may push it hard enough to keep up a little bit longer. Just be sure to stay vigilant and give your system adequate cool-down time.
Is a faster clock rate the only way to make my computer faster?
Not at all! More often than not, when a user wants more speed, their desire is to reduce loading times.
There are two factors to loading speed for resource heavy programs. The first is the transfer speed of the hard drive. The second is the amount of available RAM. Simply upgrading memory to a 16 to 32GB capacity will help you switch between programs more quickly.
By switching to a faster writing MHD (mechanical hard drive) or an SSD (solid-state drive), you’ll see every aspect of your PC load so quickly you’ll think it’s a new machine.
NOTE: An SSD is the best upgrade any computer could ask for. The read and write times are five to ten times faster than a traditional hard disk drive.
Why is my CPU slower than it said it would be?
Your CPU is most likely performing at its idle or base clock rate. This is likely because it doesn’t need to use more power and its conserving energy.
But if it never goes above the base clock speed, you may not have a large enough power supply to support higher clock rates. This can also happen if you’ve installed a new internal component and under allotted power usage to the CPU.
There’s also the possibility that your computer advertised its overclocked performance and so you’re already at the boost clock speed. Check your CPU model to find out if your processor has an adjustable clock rate.
As important as the base clock and boost clock are to the speed at which programs will load onto your laptop and how smoothly they’ll perform. A CPU is not the most important hardware in a computer system. Rather it is one component that needs to be taken into consideration with all the hardware making up your computer. As ever, knowing the kind of CPU you should get for your machine comes down to what you plan to do with it. But the more informed you are about each component within the system, the better a purchase you will make and the happier you’ll be with your system.