Around the gaming fraternity worldwide, GPU overclocking is one of the most-talked-about processes. To put it bluntly, GPU overclocking is a free way to gain some extra performance out of your graphics card. The whole idea is about pushing the card to its absolute limit and squeezing every bit of power it has to offer beyond the rated specifications.
If you are experiencing screen stuttering while performing graphic-intensive tasks on your PC, there is a good chance that overclocking the GPU might fix the problem. In case you were planning to upgrade your GPU, it’s time you postpone it; at least for the time being, you overclock the card and see if that does the magic.
The only thing that stops so many users from overclocking is their fear of wrecking the device. To some extent, extreme overclocking can indeed shorten your component’s lifespan and decrease system stability. However, none of the downsides stay relevant when you know how to do it the safest way.
Keeping that in mind, our aim with this article is to show how easily overclock a graphics card and can be safely performed by anyone interested in testing their card. It doesn’t matter if you are completely new to the overclocking scene or have already got your hands on the process; the following article will help you get the job done with much ease.
What is GPU Overclocking? – A Detailed Overview
GPU overclocking is simply a process of bumping up the stock clock rate of a graphics card. The clock speed is measured in MHz, which refers to the speed at which pixels are being processed. The higher the GPU clock rate is, the better and enhanced all-around graphical experience the user gets.
Like other PC components, GPUs are also configured to run at a particular standard speed by the manufacturer. However, there is some wiggle room available to the graphics card that allows it to tolerate more power or higher speed than it was configured to operate out of the box. And here comes the action of overclocking that allows us to utilize that extra processing power the graphics card contains.
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To achieve any sort of overclocking, you will require altering the component’s clock speed and its voltage supply. Effective overclocking is all about finding a balance or middle ground between high clock speed and temperature.
The farther you go in increasing your GPU clock rate, the more heat will be raised. And if the temperature is too much for the system to bear, it will result in reduced stability, security, and life of the component. Whereas extreme heat puts the GPU at the risk of sustaining permanent damage. Therefore, modifying these specific parameters in a stable environment without compromising performance and safety is the key.
GPU overclocking is more of a trial and error process where you have to find a balance to ensure stability. The aim is to get the best out of your graphics card while maintaining the safest temperature.
Is Overclocking Safe?
To keep it to the point, yes, overclocking is relatively safe if you know how to play under the rules. The procedure of overclocking is quite simple and straightforward, but what is important that matters more than anything is knowing how to perform it safely.
There is no doubt how overclocking has been portrayed over time has made new users hesitant to give it a try. Although it’s common to wonder how GPU overclocking will affect the health of the components, forming a conclusion based on some internet blogs can be deceiving.
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At a certain point, while overclocking the GPU, your system may start producing visual artifacts or get crashed. And that is when you know you have exceeded the tolerance power of your card and need to dial down on the settings to achieve some stability.
The possibility of you causing any hardware damage is none with the method we have shared below. Your system gets susceptible to physical damage when you are performing advanced overclocking methods that require the removal of the voltage limitations so you can feed more power to the PC graphics card. It’s better not to get your hands dirty with high-level overclocking unless you are a professional because there is much risk involved. Rest assured, keeping the video card’s temperature in check will ensure no damage to the unit and system.
We would say GPU overclocking is rather a straightforward process, and it’s safer to perform if you know how to do it the right way. And this is quite a theme of the following article, where we have mainly focused on the safety aspect of the GPU overclocking.
How Impactful GPU Overclocking Is?
The general rule of thumb says that the higher you overclock your GPU, the more performance gains you will get. Simply stated, it really depends on how much you are willing to push your GPU further beyond its out-of-box specs. Keep in mind, there is always a trade-off that you are making with the safety to get better graphical fidelity or performance. As you go further in increasing the clock speed of your GPU, it will draw more power and that, in turn, produce more heat. Now, to keep the temperature in control and not let it exceed the safety criteria, you will need to deploy a proper cooling system.
Now, if you are wondering how far you can go with overclocking, we would say it is quite dependent on the GPU manufacturer. You can run a quick search on your graphics card company forum to know what speed range your GPU can tolerate to its maximum. Mainly, it will give you an idea of how much you can expect from overclocking your video card. Also, keep in mind that no two GPUs are made equal despite being manufactured by the same company with the exact model and specs. Thus, it varies on the scale of how much you can overclock it.
The returns in the FPS will always be linear. Although there is no fixed percentage or a rule to determine how impactful GPU overclocking can turn out for you, we believe anywhere between 10-20% of boost is considered more than good. Furthermore, depending on how demanding the game is, the performance will vary.
The key factor that dictates the amount of margin you will achieve on your GPU performance will be proportional to the sacrifice you have made. To deal with a higher temperature, you’ll be required to set up additional cooling measures or, if not, bump up the fan speed at the max if you’re fine with the loud noise. So make sure the performance you’ve squeezed out of your graphics card is worth the price you have paid to gain it.
Best Tools for Overclocking Your GPU
If you have made your way through the above sections by now, you must be cleared on the basics of GPU overclocking. It’s time we get into the actual method and reveal the programs you will need to overclock your graphics card.
An Overclocking Tool: Currently, there are multiple GPU overclocking tools available that you can make use of. For this article, we will be using MSI Afterburner – arguably one of the best out there. It is an all-encompassing tool that works exceptionally well for both AMD and NVIDIA video cards.
The non-cluttered and user-friendly interface of the MSI Afterburner is what makes it an excellent choice for beginners to get started with GPU overclocking. If you are looking for an alternative to try your hands on, we advise you to go with EVGA Precision. It works well for non-EVGA cards.
NOTE: Don’t get obsessed with finding the ‘best overclocking software’ ever made; it’s a time-waster that most new users get caught up in. Almost all tools work the same and provide results with little to no difference. Moreover, the values or settings we need to tweak around will remain identical across programs.
A Benchmarking Tool: The role of a benchmarking tool is to stress test the GPU by pushing it to the absolute limits. It pressures the graphics card to fully utilize its processing power and at the same time forces the cooling and the temperature to work at their max. Benchmarking tools are majorly used for stability or stress testing, mainly after overclocking.
You can also use it to create a synthetic benchmark to see how much your GPU can handle heavy utilization. Although there are many programs available in the market, we suggest you go with MSI Kombustor. It’s easy to use and, most importantly, newbie-friendly. Unigine Heaven Benchmark is another great alternative you can make use of.
Overclocking GPU – The Easiest Way – A Layman Guide
We are assuming by now you must have downloaded and installed both overclocking and benchmarking tools on your PC. The following tutorial demonstrates the use of MSI Afterburner and MSI Kombustor for GPU overclocking.
Before you get started with the method, we want you to know that overclocking – be it a CPU or GPU – isn’t about copying the exact values someone else has modified for their component. You shouldn’t aim to achieve the same speeds or temperatures as another person who has the exact GPU as you because you might not get the same results.
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Overclocking is more of a trial and error process where you try to find the best possible speed for your video card while at the same time keeping the temperature in check. All you need is a basic understanding of overclocking (essentially a trade-off) and simply following the general scheme of steps to achieve increased performance and stability.
It doesn’t matter which company’s graphics card you are trying to overclock; the following is the universal tutorial that will work for every GPU out there.
Step 1: Benchmark Your GPU’s Stock Settings
Always make sure to benchmark the score of your graphics card with the stock settings, so you can compare the results after overclocking. It will help you to look back and know how far you have come with your GPU overclocking and if it’s worth the multimedia performance you have gained.
As previously mentioned, for the sake of this tutorial, we will be making use of MSI Kombustor as our benchmarking and stress testing program. So if you haven’t installed the tool yet, do it now, and launch it. If this is the very first time you are getting your hands over MSI Kombustor, don’t freak out at the different settings you see on the app’s interface.
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The first thing you have to do to get started is select a Preset option (from the menu given on the right-side) for which you want to benchmark your GPU. The general rule of thumb is to choose the settings at which you’d run most games. For example, ‘BENCHMARK – Preset 1080’ or higher is an excellent place to start with, even for modern graphics cards, as it will push your GPU to 100%.
So without wasting any time, simply click on one of the preset options you would like to go with and leave the rest of the settings default unless you know what you are trying to do. As soon as you hit the button, you will see MSI Kombustor playing through a series of scenes while you wait. The whole process will hardly take 2-3 minutes to complete. Once the benchmark gets complete, you will see the score information on your screen.
Now, you know the performance of your graphics card at its stock configuration. Take a note of it as we go ahead with overclocking.
Step 2: Tweak the Fan Controllers Settings
Open the MSI Afterburner application and click on the ‘K’ button on the left-pane to launch the MSI Kombustor. Next, hit the “Run stress test” option on the Kombustor app, and it will instantly start running a stress test on your GPU. Minimize the size of the application tab so they both can fit side by side on the screen, as it will help you to analyze better.
In the MSI Afterburner, move the “Power Limit” and “Temp Limit” slider all the way to the maximum. This doesn’t cause any risk to the system, so don’t worry about it. Next, you have to adjust the “Fan Speed” percentage, for which we suggest you keep it anywhere between 50 to 100. As you go beyond the mark of 70, your GPU fans will start getting pretty loud. Once you are done tweaking the mentioned settings, hit the checkmark button, and you’ll notice your GPU working up to the increased values you have set.
Step 3: Increase Core Clock and Memory Clock
Now, it’s time to play with the core frequency, an essential factor that determines how far a graphics card can be pushed.
In starting, increase your Core Clock by 20 MHz and tap on the check button to apply the changes. Wait for a minute while you keep your eye on the Kombustor’s screen to make sure it is not producing any artifacts. Now, once you have made sure that your GPU is handling the pressure quite well, increment the Core Clock by 20 MHz again, making it 40. Keep in mind once you reach the point of 50, from there, bump up the Core Clock by 10MHz each time.
You have to keep repeating the process until you notice the Kombustor program throwing visual artifacts on the screen or completely shut itself down. This is when you will know you have reached the maximum limit of your GPU’s core clock.
Now, the trick is to set the core clock speed reasonably lower than at the rate benchmark crashes. You can either set it the same as the last stable speed or 10-15MHz less, at which Kombustor went down. Provide the input and hit the checkmark button to apply the changes. Let the Kombustor app run for some time and observe how it’s performing at the new speed. You have to ensure it’s stable and working seamlessly.
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Next, we must repeat the same process for the Memory Clock and find the highest possible speed the graphics card can tolerate. Start incrementing the Memory clock by 10 MHz on each step and keep on pushing it as far as the Kombustor doesn’t break. At any point, you notice the stress test having issues, or it crashes down, you know that’s the maximum limit you can go up to. So your next step will be to move a little bit down on the scale or simply set the Memory Clock as its last stable speed.
Once you have figured out reasonably stable settings for both Core Clock and Memory Clock, you have almost completed the process. Now, you can run a final stress test on the newly found speed settings, and if everything goes well, that’s the overclocked values for your GPU. Save the settings as Preset 1, and hit the Windows icon on the MSI Afterburner, so you don’t have to tweak it every time.
NOTE: For your knowledge, there is one more area or setting, known as Core Voltage, which, if you wish to modify, can push your graphics card a little further. But we won’t advise you to play with the Core Voltage unless you are an advanced overclocker and well-versed with the subject. For the sake of this newbie-friendly overclocking guide, we have intentionally not included the step for tinkering the GPU’s Core Voltage.
Final Words on Overclocking GPU
We hope by now you have been convinced of how straightforward GPU overclocking is. It’s more of a trial and error process that requires testing the component’s limits. You may not get the stable core frequency in one go and have to benchmark a few different settings, but that’s the part of the process. If you still have any doubts surfacing around GPU overclocking, feel free to comment them down below. We will be more than happy to assist you.