If you ever heard of and understood the idea of overclocking, it’s likely that you want to know exactly how to overclock your GPU. We’re going to explain the process, but also help you understand how it can be beneficial and what you can expect from it.
It goes without saying that the key reason for overclocking your GPU is to increase your performance.
Now, the reason why you might want to try overclocking may vary. Your card might be getting older and can’t perform modern games at the level it used. Or you might simply want to squeeze in a few extra frames to gain a competitive edge in online games.
Although we prefaced this guide with you knowing what overclocking is, it can’t hurt to repeat the material.
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What Is Overclocking?
Before you understand this, you should be aware of exactly how the graphics card functions. It’s essentially a smaller-scale computer with a processor and RAM (named VRAM in this case). 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 certain “factory” settings, guaranteed to be safe by the manufacturer. As such, supposedly you won’t have any issues with these default settings.
The process of overclocking calls for the end-user to manually change these clocks and attempt to get their hardware running faster. In case you’re wondering, the opposite process (underclocking) in turn consists in manually lowering the clock in order to get lower temperatures inside the case.
How Much Can The GPU Overclock Affect Performance?
It’s quite reasonable that you’d want to know how much your GPU’s performance can actually improve if you decide to overclock it.
The answer to this isn’t as simple as we’d like it to be. It largely depends on how much you’re willing to push your GPU. Other key components are having a good PSU and proper cooling in place in order to maintain the stability of the GPU, because overclocking can shake that balance.
It simply isn’t reasonable to expect a 50% improvement in 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 concept of overclocking was rather novel, there was a certain air of mystique surrounding it. A layman might have been puzzled if they witnessed it. Nowadays, the process has become extremely streamlined and simplified, so there isn’t much preparation required. In fact, you might not even need to open the PC case.
Still, we would recommend doing 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 need to cool more than before.
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 go.
One of the key components 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 process and after it.
Although for the most part MSI Afterburner would be a suitable tool for this job, we have to recommend using something else like 3DMark or Unigine Heaven. In fact, ideally you’d want to use both. That way you’ll have insights from multiple perspectives.
For the actual overclocking, we recommend using 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 Overclocking Process
Although the whole process is relatively simple, there may be some unexpected bumps along the way and we’ll try our best to help you navigate through them.
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 before starting the actual overclocking process.
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 be harder to accurately measure if there’s no built-in benchmarking tool within the game. Luckily, a lot of modern AAA games pay attention to this detail as well.
After you’ve run all these tests, either write down the results 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’s these steps that you will need to follow in order to get even the least incremental results. Remember 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, although this is not likely to bring any noticeable results.
Upping The Memory Clock
As you might already know, the overclocking process isn’t unique to the graphics card; the CPU is also a subject of strenuous overclocking. However, unlike the CPU, the GPU won’t have the same jaw-dropping results by just overclocking the core.
Memory clock is a key component to getting the stored data quickly to and from the memory and 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 be on the safe side.
There is an interesting school of thought that argues that running a looping benchmark might be the easiest way to see how much you’re improving the performance of your card and check its limit. 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. It’s actually quite a good solution if you’re able to spot any artefacts like stray pixels or other graphical glitches.
Of course, either way you will reach a limit that will probably show itself in the form of a Windows freeze or a reboot. This is not ideal, but it’s also nothing to panic about.
When that happens, you will have found 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 the core clock by 25Mhz, simply lower it and that should fix 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. We’re talking about increasing the power limit.
What this does is give your graphics card more energy and capability to overcome its previously set limits.
Giving your graphics card more juice will be noticeable when you try to run a demanding game and hear the noise getting louder inside the case. Don’t worry, that’s simply 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 step is optional.
This means that even if you decide to skip it, you will still have gotten something out of the GPU overclocking process. Of course, this step is key if you’re looking to get the best possible results. We’ll 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 isn’t much more room left for further overclocking. Also, when you increase the power limit to its maximum, you 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. If you’re inexperienced, it might’ve been a little nerve-racking as well, but if you persist now, 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 overclocking process, but it’s important to give you a good overview of the results. This will show you just how much you actually managed to improve your GPU’s performance.
Naturally, it’s absolutely vital 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 how much you improved your GPU’s performance. Hopefully, it’s at a satisfactory level now and you can game freely to your heart’s content.