5 Ways to Overclock a Netbook (Really!)

The words overclocking and notebook appear in a sentence together about as often as Steve Ballmer is spotted at a Linux convention. Netbooks prioritize portability over performance. Overclocking is all about taking already lightning-fast gear and pushing it to its upper limits – warranties, power consumption and security are cursed. To the right?

In fact, “people have been overclocking netbooks since day one,” according to Brad Linder, who writes the Liliputing blog. It started with the very first Eee PC 701, which Asustek Computer “intentionally underclocked…to improve battery life,” Linder said. Frustrated hackers have developed tools such as Eeectl and SetFSB to “properly sync” the Eee’s CPU, he says.

Quick to learn, Asus soon began shipping its own overclocking app, the Super Hybrid Engine, with every Eee. This allows users to increase the speed of most Eees by up to 10% while honoring the warranty. And the brand new Asus 1101HA can run up to 30% faster.

Netbook maker MSI also makes it easy for users to tune its Wind netbooks and make them up to 24% faster.

Then there are extreme modders like Team Australia in Adelaide. Using a jar filled with dry ice to cool the exposed motherboard of an MSI Wind U100 netbook, they were able to push its Intel Atom N270 processor to 2.4GHz, a 50% increase from its rated frequency of 1. .6GHz.

Of course, most of us aren’t interested in performing science experiments for bragging rights. We just want apps to load faster or high definition videos to play stutter-free.

But outside of Asus and MSI, few other netbook makers officially endorse overclocking, let alone the bundled tools to enable it.

Fear not: we detail five (fairly) easy ways to overclock your netbook below, none of which require access to exotic cooling materials, and only one of which requires skill with a soldering iron. (There’s also a bonus tip for Acer Aspire One owners – no overclocking, but lots of hardware tweaking.)

Here’s the fine print: most solutions require your netbook to be running Windows rather than Linux. And the fine print: your netbook’s battery life will definitely decrease, while netbook fan noise will increase. Your netbook could crash or freeze if you crank the speed – and the temperature – too high, too fast. And if you accidentally fry your motherboard using these third-party apps, don’t expect your vendor to honor the warranty.

Now, overclocking!

1. Play with your front side bus with SetFSB

Method: A free and open source tool, Abo’s SetFSB lets you adjust the speed of your CPU, memory, and key controllers.

Models: Virtually all netbooks running the Intel Atom processor, including Asus Eees, Dell Minis, and even Minis from Hewlett-Packard (more on that later). Not only can SetFSB work with netbooks, but it also works with many laptops, net-tops and desktops. The SetFSB website has the full list of compatible chipsets and motherboards.

Operating systems: Officially Windows Vista, 2003, XP, 2000, NT4, Me and 98. SetFSB would also work on Windows 7.

Difficulty level: Potentially difficult, due to the need to select the correct clock generator for your processor and to use separate temperature monitoring software such as Everest Ultimate Edition. ODOC has a good guide on SetFSB, while NotebookReview.com has another guide with an in-depth discussion.

The scuttlebut: SetFSB is widely considered the best multi-PC overclocking tool – when your hardware is cooperating.

About Jon Moses

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