The Raspberry Pi is a capable little microcomputer, but sometimes it needs a little nudge to muster enough power for what you need. Let’s dust off an old Pi and overclock it to better handle newer and more demanding applications.
Why Overlock the Pi?
The Pi platform has evolved pretty rapidly over the years, and the early models are getting a little long in the tooth compared to their descendants. Newer Pi applications, like RasPlex, greatly benefit from more power. Rather than go out and purchase new Pi units to replace your old ones, however, you can do a little tinkering under the hood to increase the processor clock speed. You can’t overclock your way to new hardware and extra memory, but there’s a good chance that it will give you enough processing power to extend the useful life of your old Pi unit.
Even better, the process is pretty low-risk, as long as you stay on the more conservative side. The Raspberry Pi foundation has always erred on the side of stability and the hardware they use is more than capable of being overclocked without issues.
Before we proceed, though, we do want to emphasize one thing: if you don’t have an actual reason to overclock (e.g. the system feels sluggish while using it) then it’s probably not worth mucking around with overclocking—we have plenty of older Pi units doing low-demand things (like serving as a weather station) and there’s no need to overclock them.
Will It Void My Warranty?
When the Pi first came out, any bit of overclocking would void your warranty. But in 2012, the Pi Foundation, after lengthy internal testing, decided that overclocking their devices was safe and they now offer a configuration tool, built into Raspbian distributions, that will help you easily configure your Pi with overclocking presets. These presets are designed to push the limits of the hardware but to still operate within known safe parameters for the device. One of those parameters, for example, is that the hardware is throttled if the chip reaches 85 °C (185 °F). You cannot void your warranty by using their configuration tool (or equivalent settings) because the device will never be allowed to exceed any warranty-voiding conditions.
That said, you can sidestep the parameters set by the configuration tool and manually tweak those settings (as well as additional settings not found in the configuration tool) and push the Pi beyond the limits approved by the Raspberry Pi foundation—but you have to be really tinkering around, and purposely manually set these options to even get close to voiding your warranty.
Let’s take a look at both methods below—starting with the warranty-safe Raspi-Config tool.
Option One: Overclock the Raspberry Pi with Raspi-Config (Recommended)
By far the simplest way to adjust the settings on the Raspberry Pi, assuming you’re running Raspbian or a derivative, is to simply boot the device and then use the Raspi-Config tool to make adjustments.
If you’re using any revision of the Raspberry Pi 1 or 2, the config tool has a built-in menu for overclocking it. If you’re using a Raspberry Pi 3, you won’t see an overclocking menu entry for two reasons: 1) overclocking is not currently officially supported on the Pi 3, and 2) the Pi 3 design is so good that it’s already running extremely close to maximum settings all the time anyway, so there isn’t a whole lot of utility in overclocking it in the first place.
If your device is already at the terminal, you’re right where you need to be. If your device boots to the desktop, press Ctrl+Alt+F1 to kill the desktop and switch to the terminal view. (You can return the desktop when you’re done by entering the
At the terminal, type
sudo raspi-config and press Enter. (If you’re already logged in as root, you can drop the sudo part.) This will launch the configuration tool with a simple interface. Select entry 8, “Overclock” to continue.
You will see a warning that overclocking may reduce the life of your Raspberry Pi (because overclocked devices run hotter, and heat is the enemy of all electronics). You’ll also see a useful note about holding down the Shift key during boot if your system is unstable, which will boot the system with the default settings so you can troubleshoot it, and a link to the very informative eLinux wiki page about Raspberry Pi overclock settings. Choose “OK”.
Finally, you’ll be able to select the overclock preset you wish to use.
There are two camps regarding how you should approach overclocking. Some people prefer to start by stepping up the overclocking from a lower setting to a higher setting, backing off if there is any system instability. While that’s a really great rule to live by if you’re overclocking gear with untested settings, it’s a tad on the tedious side when you’re using settings pre-approved by the hardware manufacturer. We’ve never had any trouble cranking up the default overclocking settings on any of our Pi units, so we tend to err on the side of cranking it up right away and only turning it down if we have any problems (which we never have). With that in mind, we feel really comfortable telling you to just slam it up to “Turbo” and enjoy.
On the off chance that slamming it up to the “Turbo” setting does cause you any headaches, the culprit is almost always your power supply, and not the Pi itself (which is more than capable of operating within the overclock parameters found in the settings menu). We’d recommend trying a different power supply or purchasing a higher quality one, preferably one designed for the Pi. Remember, as a temporary fix, you can always hold down the Shift key during the boot process to adjust the settings down until you get a new power supply.
Option Two: Overclock the Raspberry Pi Through Config.txt
The Raspi-Config tool is just a nice little GUI wrapper for a simple text file that serves as the Raspberry Pi’s BIOS. On any Raspberry Pi, you can easily edit the config.txt with a plain old text editor by simply booting down your Pi unit, mounting the Pi’s flash memory (the SD card or microSD card) on your PC, and editing it like any other document. Afterwards, simply save it, pop the card back in your Pi, boot it up, and take the new settings for a spin. Here’s what the settings for the “Turbo” overclocking mode (the one we just set above), look like in the configuration file text:
arm_freq=1000 core_freq=500 sdram_freq=600 over_voltage=6
If you’ve used the Raspi-Config tool and you’re happy with the overclock settings, it’s best to just call it a day. If you want to really push the envelope or you just like messing around with the settings, then you can proceed with caution and really dig into a wide range of available overclock settings.
If you’re running Raspbian, the default configuration is sparse, and you’re largely on your own when it comes to forging ahead. Some distributions like OpenELEC, OSMC (formerly Raspbmc), and such will have pre-populated configuration files with settings selected by the creators of those projects to optimize functionality like video decoding and playback. Either way, you’ll definitely need to carefully study the list of available parameters at the eLinux wiki and the Raspberry Pi documentation before you start tweaking. In addition, be liberal in your use of search engines and project forums—the best advice we come across is the advice delivered through the sweat and tears of other users, posting their experiments onto the Raspberry Pi forums, the OSMC forums, and so on.
With that knowledge in hand, proceed slowly and tweak your settings bit by bit until you’ve reached a stable upper threshold where your device isn’t crashing or running too hot. As long as you’re cautious and don’t attempt to maximize values right out of the gate, you shouldn’t have any problems.
That said, if you’re worried about voiding the warranty on your Pi, there are a few settings you should avoid using. While it’s perfectly okay to overclock your Pi according to the Pi Foundation, it’s not okay if you disable certain safety features and push the Pi too hard in the process. If you overvolt the Pi by manually setting the
over_voltage setting above 6 and any of the following:
- Enable the
- Disable the
current_limit_overridesetting (which offers hardware protection)
- Set the
temp_limitabove aforementioned throttle point of 85 °C
…then you’ve voided the warranty. If those conditions are met, then a permanent “sticky bit” is set in the CPU, and any warranty claim will not be honored as you have knowingly exceeded the safe operating parameters of the hardware.
Checking the “Sticky Bit” to Confirm Warranty Status
Your Pi won’t blow up if you configure it into a warranty-voiding configuration. In fact, we’ve read quite a few user accounts detailing how happy they are that they cranked up the settings and turned off the voltage limiter so they could overclock with more power. But it will void your warranty, and comes with a small amount of risk, so proceed with caution.
Of course, you may also want to see if you’ve voided your warranty already—maybe you overclocked in the past and forgot what you changed. Checking the “sticky bit” that flags your warranty as void is easy. Just fire up your Pi, navigate to the command prompt, and run the following command:
Look at the highlighted text below, labeled “Revision”.
If your revision number is a small 4 digit alphnumeric character string, you’re golden. The sticky bit has not been set on your processor. If, on the other hand, the revision number is prepended with “1000”, your warranty is void. In the above example, instead of “000f” then, it would read “1000000f”.
Whether you go the easy route and just use the Raspi-Config tool (or change the simple settings in the config.txt that the tool would have changed) or you dig in and overclock your Pi until you can smell ozone wafting off it, it’s not difficult to get more power out your Pi and extend its useful life.