How To Overclock Your GPU

If you ever heard and understood the idea of overclocking you likely wanted to know exactly how to overclock your GPU. We’re going to explain the process, but also help you understand why it may benefit you and what you can expect from it.

As expected, the key reason for overclocking your GPU is to get better performance.

Now, the reason why you might be overclocking may vary. Your card might be getting older and can’t perform at the level it used to when it comes to modern games. Or you may simply want to squeeze in a few extra frames to gain a competitive edge in online games.

Although we prefaced this guide with you having heard and having a full understanding of what overclocking is, it can’t hurt to repeat the material.

Table of ContentsShow

What Is Overclocking?

Overclocking
Overclocking increases the performance of your hardware

To understand this, first, you must be aware of exactly how the graphics card functions. Essentially, it’s a smaller scale computer with a processor and RAM, called VRAM in this case. And just like the CPU and RAM, the GPU and VRAM have their own clock speeds which determine how fast they can perform operations.

Each of these clocks comes out of the box with a certain “factory” setting that the manufacturer can guarantee is safe and that there won’t be any issues with the default settings.

The process of overclocking calls for the end-user to manually change these clocks and attempt to get their hardware running faster. As a side note, the underclocking process has the user manually lower the clock in order to get lower temperatures inside their cases.

How Much Can The GPU Overclock Affect Performance?

Gaming PC

It’s a quite reasonable expectation to know how much can your GPU’s performance improve if you decide to overclock it.

The answer to this isn’t as simple as we’d like as it largely depends on just how much your willing to push your GPU. Other key components are having a good PSU and proper cooling in place in order to maintain stability of the GPU as overclocking can shake that balance.

It simply isn’t reasonable to expect a 50% improvement to your GPU’s performance, but in most cases (and if you do things the right way) you can get a solid 10-20% boost.

What’s Necessary Before You Overclock Your GPU

In the days when the whole concept of overclocking was rather novel, there was a certain air of mystique surrounding the process and a layman would be puzzled if they witnessed it.

However, nowadays the process has become extremely streamlined and simplified and there isn’t much preparation required. In fact, you might not even have to open your PC case.

Still, it would be recommendable to do so, simply to make sure that the cables inside haven’t shifted (provided you took care of cable management in the first place) and that they aren’t blocking the air from freely flowing through the case. If they have, make sure that the graphics card can ‘breathe’ as its fans will have the need to cool a bit more than before.

Tools

msi afterburner screenshot
MSI Afterburner

As we mentioned earlier, this whole overclocking process has evolved and now it can be done without ever needing to enter BIOS. You need a few free simple Windows tools and you’re good to.

One of the key component to overclocking is benchmarking. When you think about it, it’s logical that you’d need a benchmarking tool in order to compare the state before the overclocking and afterwards.

Related:The Best GPU Benchmarking Software For 2020

Although for the most part, MSI Afterburner would be an ideal tool for this job, we have to recommend using something else like 3DMark or Unigine Heaven. In fact, it may be for the best if you used both since that way you’ll have the insight from multiple perspectives.

heaven unigine screenshot

For the actual overclocking, we recommend MSI Afterburner. If the MSI branding confuses you, just know that it can be used on any graphics card, founders edition, and AIB alike.

The GPU Overclock Process

Although the whole process is relatively simple, there may be some unexpected bumps in the road here and there and we’ll try our best to help you navigate through.

Step 1 – Benchmarking

In order to determine what the current state of your system is and how well it can perform, it’s absolutely necessary to run a benchmarking test. This means, before starting the actual overclocking process and simply running it with your GPU at its standard clock.

Ideally, you would want to run any of the previously mentioned benchmarking tools and take note of the performance, but you would also want to run the stress test inside the game you want to play. Of course, this may harder to accurately measure if there’s no built-in benchmarking tool within the game. Luckily, a lot of the modern AAA games pay attention to this detail as well.

After you ran all these tests, either write them down or take a screenshot. This is necessary in order to compare the performance boost you’re about to get when you overclock your GPU.

Step 2 – Overclocking

The main event. Well, let’s not look at it that way. The truth is that you may need to repeat the whole process a few times to get optimal results.

Still, it is these steps that you will have to do in order to get even the least incremental results. And the thing is, you will want to take things slowly, this can be a touchy process and there’s no need to rush it. Sure, you can google the top clocks for your GPU, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your graphics card will be able to pull off the same results.

Boosting The Core Clock

First, you’ll want to boost up your core clock. We suggest doing this at around a 5-10% increase. Unfortunately, if you’re using MSI Afterburner you won’t be able to adjust the clock by percentages and will have to instead use your own math skills (or Google) and calculate that 5-10% boost based on the base clock.

If you want to be extra safe, upping the clock by just 5% is almost guaranteed to keep the GPU stable, but likely won’t bring any noticeable results.

Upping The Memory Clock

As you might’ve guessed, the overclocking process isn’t unique to the graphics card and the CPU is also a subject of strenuous overclocking. However, unlike with the CPU, the GPU really won’t have the same awesome results with just the core getting overclock.

Memory clock is a key component to getting the stored data quickly to and from the memory and thusly getting a better performance out of your graphics card.

Much like the core clock, we recommend increasing the memory clock in small increments, just to keep on the safe side.

Fine Tuning

There is an interesting school of thought that suggests running a looping benchmark might be the easiest way to see how much you’re improving the performance of your card and also to see what its limit is. The same logic could be applied to the core boosting part of the overclocking process.

In fact, this isn’t a bad approach at all and it’s a quite good solution if you’re able to spot any artifacts like stray pixels or other graphical glitches.

Of course, either way you will reach a limit and that likely will show itself in a form of a Windows freeze or a reboot. It’s not ideal, but it’s also nothing to worry about.

When that happens, you will know that you have hit your limit.

After this step, you should go back to your overclocking tool and lower whichever item you were messing with last. If you upped to core clock by 25Mhz, simply lower it and that should be it. Otherwise, you’re going to have the same freezing and rebooting issues happen again and again.

Increasing The Power Limit

Once you’ve pushed all the metrics as much as you could, there is still something that can help you improve the performance and that is increasing the power limit.

What this does is give your graphics card more energy and capability to go outside of its previously set limits.

Giving your graphics card more juice will be noticeable when you try to run a demanding game and notice that the noise coming from inside the case is getting louder and that’s simply the product the fans working harder.

Step 4 – Fine Tuning

Despite saying the same thing in the previous step, this is different. There, you were to slowly increase the core and memory clock speeds to get the best result out of the whole overclocking process.

However, it’s important to note that this exact step is optional.

This means that even if you decide to skip it, you will have still gotten something out of the GPU overclock process. Of course, this step is key if you’re looking to get the most out of it.

We continue right where we left off and that’s with increasing the power limit.

Essentially, what we’re getting here is another chance to repeat the same process. However, we have the responsibility to let you know that there simply isn’t much more room left for further overclocking and that when you increase the power limit to its maximum, you likely won’t be able to increase core and memory clocks by as much as you did in the previous step.

In this step is where your patience will hopefully shine through. We are aware that the whole process beforehand has been touchy-feely and that if you’re unexperienced that it might’ve been a little nerve-racking as well, but if you persist here, you won’t have to tweak any more and you will get the best possible performance out of your GPU.

Step 5 – Benchmarking Again

This final step isn’t necessary for the GPU overclock process, but it’s important to give you the right overview and show you just how much you actually managed to improve your GPU’s performance.

Naturally, it is of the utmost significance to use the exact same benchmarking tool that you used when you first measured the base performance. Run the test a few times, just to be sure and then compare the numbers to the original ones.

Once you have the numbers, you will be able to correctly gauge just how much you managed to improve your GPU’s performance. Hopefully, it is at a satisfactory level now and you can game to your heart’s content.

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Aleksandar Cosic
Aleksandar Cosic

Alex is a Computer Science student and a former game designer. That has enabled him to develop skills in critical thinking and fair analysis. As a CS student, Aleksandar has very in-depth technical knowledge about computers, and he also likes to stay current with new technologies.