What Is an Unlocked Processor?

There’s more to a computer than meets the eye, and it’s easy to neglect most of its features, provided it serves your purpose. However, being aware of more than basic features will equip you with knowledge when purchasing a PC. 

For instance, you may come across processors that are unlocked and locked. Each has its benefits, but most people prefer the unlocked version for its speed.  

When it comes to locked versus unlocked processors, you need to determine the main purpose of the PC or laptop. That will aid you immensely in the purchase. So, what are the differences between a locked and unlocked processor?

Unlocked Processors: What Are They?

Manufacturers produce unlocked processors so users can easily custom-tune their processor settings to their liking. Unlocked processors allow you to adjust the voltage, memory, core, power, and other settings to increase performance. Moreover, it helps to speed up your components and processor-intensive tasks like transcoding and image rendering. 

Peak Level Performance

Gamers and PC enthusiasts usually prefer unlocked processors to push their PC to perform at a peak level. Reviews suggest that unlocked processors perform better for rendering software or high-end games. 

You can overclock your processor beyond the usual range and use it to modify an existing computer. But, the downside is that unlocked processors can emit excess heat which will potentially damage your motherboard. To ward off that issue, it requires high-quality aftermarket coolers to exhaust the heat.


Overclocking is a feature that is exclusive to unlocked processors. It’s the process of manually adjusting the processor’s clock speed or other devices that support the feature. An increase in clock speed introduces system instability because of the intense power draw it requires. So you have to be on guard not to push things too far. 

What Is an Unlocked Processor

How to Identify if a Processor Is Locked or Unlocked


Usually, brands leave indications on the processor to help users differentiate if it’s locked or unlocked. For Intel core gaming processors, one indication that it’s unlocked is the letter “K” found at the end of the model number.

Intel also uses two-letter designations like “HK” or “KF” to indicate unlocked processors. 

AMD Ryzen

If you’re going for the AMD Ryzen processors, you’re in luck. Their processors are unlocked regardless of whether they are budget-friendly Ryzen 3 models or high-end Ryzen Threadripper models.

Ryzen uses the letter “X” designation at the end of the model number. However, it does not signify a lock status. It is to let users know that the processor is slightly faster than their usual processors. Meaning it will fare better when overclocking. 

What Is the Difference Between an Unlocked and a Locked Processor?

Clock Speed

The main difference between unlocked and locked processes is the adjustment of the processors’ clock speed. You can make manual adjustments with unlocked CPUs, but it is impossible in locked models. Getting a PC with a locked CPU might be ideal if you use it regularly without putting too much strain on it. 

Locked CPUs have a feature in their design known as a boost clock or turbo boost. The feature helps the processor’s clocking speed to increase by a small margin. However, it is an automated process, and you can’t boost it manually.


Locked processors are the best fit for new PC builds, while unlocked processors are for PC modifications. In any case, locked CPUs are not inherently incapable of deviating from their basic performance range.


Unlike unlocked processors, locked CPUs do not overheat when in use, allowing you to use the processor for a long time. 

You need to install additional CPU fans or heatsinks to counter this issue. Having one is vital in your set-up, especially if you plan to use the PC for prolonged periods. It will help disperse the heat and protect the components of your CPU from heat damage.


Locked processors tend to be more affordable compared to unlocked processors. Moreover, locked CPUs are less flexible. Unlocked CPUs offer higher performance potential and flexibility, so the extra cost is usually worth it.

Motherboard Compatibility

You can use unlocked processors with any motherboard. They do not require any specific requirements regarding BiOS support. On the other hand, you need to buy specific motherboards that offer compatibility with locked processors. For instance, you can only use Intel K-Series CPUs with Intel Z-Series motherboards

What Is an Unlocked Processor

Can You Unlock a Locked CPU?

A locked processor is a swell option for day-to-day usage, especially if you don’t try overclocking it. In order to keep the speed consistent, the processor will adjust the clock speed automatically without affecting the software’s performance.

But, it’s impossible to unlock a locked processor because the design is physically locked in the factory and does not allow it. This means a locked CPU has no imposed software limitations you can circumvent by installing a program. What you see is what you get. 

It is possible to overclock locked processors. You have to adjust the base clock speed for it to happen. This is referred to as BCLK overclocking.

BCLK overclocking increases the processor’s power limit, boosting its base clock speed. But, it’s not without its drawbacks. BCLK overclocking will increase the amount of generated heat by the processor, leading to unstable performances. Also, the performance boost will not yield as good results as unlocked processors would. 


Unlocked processors are ideal for individuals seeking to increase the overall speed of their computers. You can readily purchase an unlocked processor of any brand; they have indicators to differentiate locked from unlocked processors. 

If you’re building a new PC, you’re better off with a locked processor. If you want to enhance a system, an unlocked processor is the better option. You cannot unlock a locked CPU because it’s physically locked in the factory.

So if you need the features of an unlocked processor, you will have to purchase an unlocked CPU.