Overclock Your Raspberry Pi - Squeeze More Power Out of Your $35 Computer

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Introduction: Overclock Your Raspberry Pi - Squeeze More Power Out of Your $35 Computer

About: I'll do just about anything if I have the materials and tools handy.

After recently purchasing my Raspberry Pi, I found many of the Linux distros to be slow and often sluggish. Unless you are using it as a pure media centre, you'll definitely want to try this method to make browsing the web and typing up documents a smoother experience. This method is totally free, involves no soldering and, if you stick with clock rates and don't tamper with the voltage, doesn't even void your warranty. I am in NO WAY an expert, especially with hardware, but this is very commonly done among the Raspberry Pi community and reasonably safe as long as you follow the instructions well.

Step 1: Requirements

You won't need much for this to work, unless you really want to push the Pi to its limits.

 - A Raspberry Pi
 - A Windows PC with Notepad++ installed http://notepad-plus-plus.org/download/v6.1.8.html
 - A small heatsink and thermal paste (If you're going to go past 750 or 800mhz)

The heatsink can be bought from Jaycar (if you're in Australia) or Radioshack (If you're in America) or where ever else you can find a  Pin grid array (PGA) heatsink. http://www.jaycar.com.au/productView.asp?ID=HH8580

Step 2: Create a Config.txt File

Once you have Notepad++, install it with the default settings and open it. Here you'll have to go to Settings>Preferences>New Document/default directory and tick the Unix checkbox that appears, rather than Mac or Windows. Once this is done, open a new file and type the following: 

carm_freq=800
gpu_freq=300
sdram_freq=450

If you're feeling bold you can adjust them a little higher, but if you're going to go to 900 you definitely need a heatsink as well as bring the GPU down about 50mhz to make up for the power being supplied to the unit.

Once this is done, save your file to the boot partition of your SD card as "config.txt". The boot partition will be the only partition that shows up on Windows usually(about 60mb in size) - if it doesn't show up, you'll have to put your config.txt on a usb and transfer it onto the SD card with a Linux machine like Ubuntu. 

Step 3: Finishing Up

If you bought the heatsink, now's the time to grease up your CPU and firmly press it down. Let the grease solidify a bit before continuing, so that it doesn't slide off. Once this is done, boot the Pi.
If it doesn't boot, or has a kernel panic, don't worry - just edit the config.txt file and bring all the values down a bit until it does boot. Remember the default CPU clock frequency is 700mhz. 
You should notice about a 15-20% increase if you run any benchmarks, more if you bought the heatsink and took it to 850mhz or 900. If you take it over 900 without a boost in voltage, it probably won't boot, and conservative old me isn't going to ruin my warranty by screwing with such things. If you run into any problems, then you can just wipe the config.txt file to get it back to normal.
Sorry for the lack of pics on the heatsink, I ran at 800 without one for a little bit but as soon as I get one (probably this weekend), I'll upload it.
You can do all this on the pi itself too, and just reboot it.
Good luck!

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    44 Comments

    1) should that be gpu_freq?
    2) Can you edit it with the pi itself, then reboot?

    2 replies

    Yeah sorry, ill fix that, and you can as far as i know, in fact its probably faster doing that, i just thought people are more comfortable in a windows environment

    Overclocking does indeed give some extra power, heatsinks are typically very cheap (think 10% of the price) and can help a little bit, as outlined here:

    http://www.rootusers.com/raspberry-pi-heat-sinks-temperature-before-and-after/

    you don't need heat sinks at all as the chip can take the heat of 85 Celsius i think so its pointless

    1 reply

    I don't think I'd particularly feel comfortable with my $25 ARM CPU hitting 85C.

    I know that the processor has a default frequency of 700mhz but what is the default for the other clockable parts like the gpu and such

    I'm not super familiar with Linux (especially Raspbian) but don't you need to put "sudo" in front of any command unless the user has sudo privileges?

    1 reply

    not sure you could ask that question on this site or google it. I have a Raspberry Pi and i use sudo every now and then for commands but I am still not sure.

    Will it make the internet and games run faster?

    This make me think a bit more. I'm thinking you should liquid cool the rasberry pi so it will work even better. it looks to me like the most practical computer to liquid cool. Small, Easily containable, it seems perfect

    1 reply

    Um, liquid cool the rasberry pi? I don't see how that would be practical, or why it would be necessary at all, but I suppose it would be a nice project.

    For a nice set of 3 heatsinks go here:
    www.etsy.com/shop/nhslzt

    Don't forget the heat sinks! https://tindie.com/ellisgl/raspberry-pi-copper-heat-sink-kit/

    Just go to the official Raspberry Pi site http://www.raspberrypi.org/ and do it the approved way.

    cpu is faster and faster, bottle neck is not only cpu freq but also memory etc.
    a10 solution called uputer is faster:
    http://www.quickembed.com/Tools/Shop/Solution/201208/260.html

    1 reply

    If you read through it, the instructable shows how you can increase the SDRAM and GPU frequencies, I didn't go into great depth with those because I'm unsure how far you can push those up. As far as the bottleneck situation goes, I really don't think that the RAM is much of an issue, and the GPU only gets pushed up by smaller increments. You only have to look at dedicated chips to see the difference: An intel i5 3570 can be pushed from 3.7Ghz to 4.5 with a nice cooler, but the highest you can push most graphics cards is only 50 to 150mhz as they operate differently . The same goes for the SDRAM, normal RAM can only be clocked up by about 20 to 50mhz.

    Great instructable, would definitely considering doing this to my raspberry pi.

    Just a side note is that the pin grid array heatsink shown has a 5.9°C per watt thermal resistance, that means the device will be 5.9 * thermal power above ambient.

    Whist it will prob do the job when I do this I will definitely monitor the device to insure the temperature doesn't get above 85°C

    1 reply

    Thanks for clarifying that, I don't think you really need the heatsink at all if you're going to go to just 800, but I like to have something there because I'm a bit paranoid, especially at higher frequencies.
    Also, as some of the other comments have pointed out, the day after I posted this the newest version of Raspbian was released and includes adaptive overclocking which is faster and much more efficient that this method. It overclocks both the voltage and the frequency, but as far as I know it only works with Raspbian, and I like to use XBMC with mine to use a media centre, so it's still relevant somewhat.

    I have been waiting months and still do not have one yet. Credit card is ready. Wish I could get one to show what really can be done.

    Most of the people I see doing linux demos for the raspberry, really do not know how to use linux in the sense of a lean machine. The early distros for the raspberry were not optimized for that unit. They are beginning to come out now. There is also allegedly ways to overclock the Raspberry Pi as seen from an earlier comment.