MSI Afterburner is quite a popular GPU monitoring and benchmarking tool. Fortunately, it is also an easy piece of software to download and use. Besides monitoring, it can also be a perfect tool for overclocking and underclocking your GPU.
One thing that used to and might still confuse novices is the MSI name, so let’s clear that confusion upfront. Although it was developed by MSI, this software can be used on all graphics cards, regardless of who made them.
This means that graphics cards from the AIB partners of AMD, Nvidia and Intel can use this tool, which includes partners like EVGA, Gigabyte, MSI and more.
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What Is MSI Afterburner?
If you have heard of this piece of software, you likely have some sort of an idea of what it is and what it’s capable of. Of course, for such a powerful and useful tool, it’s important to know the full extent of its capabilities in order to use them to the fullest.
As we mentioned in the introduction, MSI Afterburner is a great tool for monitoring and benchmarking. However, its real shine comes in its overclocking and underclocking capabilities.
The great thing about MSI Afterburner is that it helps you slowly and carefully adjust not only the GPU’s core clock, but also to tinker with memory clock as well as fan speed, power limit and core voltage. All of this makes it a great tool, but the reason why we would give it a gold star as the best one is its simplicity and ease of use.
Besides being able to modify and experiment with the key settings of your GPU, you’re also able to monitor how these changes affect it in real time. MSI Afterburner comes with a really neat, and more importantly, resource-efficient overlay display, which can help you directly judge just how much you managed to improve frame rate in video games.
Another cool thing that it can boast about is the ability to create different profiles for your settings. So, for example, you can have a separate overclocked profile for your gaming needs.
Should You Use MSI Afterburner?
After reading all of that and hopefully being fully aware of what MSI Afterburner really is and what it can do, you might wonder if all of that is necessary for someone like you. As usual, the answer is that it depends on your needs.
If you’re a casual gamer with a budget or mid-tier card, or maybe last generation’s or even the previous generation’s flagship, you might be surprised by just how much Afterburner can help you improve FPS. In this case, we definitely recommend giving it a try and seeing for yourself.
Despite what you might’ve expected, if you’re using the latest top-of-the-line graphics cards, Afterburner can also be a really grateful tool. You can use it to make sure that your 4K cards are performing exactly like they’re supposed to, or you can use it for overclocking and tack on even more FPS.
A key feature that’s often overlooked is the ability to control fan speed. If your GPU is overheating, this is not an issue that you should take lightly as it can damage and hamper your gaming experience. Afterburner’s fan speed control allows you to manually adjust at what temperature fans will spin and at what speed. Of course, you can set it up yourself regardless, although it’s recommended to let the software take care of it.
How To Download MSI Afterburner
As we mentioned before, one of the biggest reasons why MSI Afterburner is such a great tool is because it’s easy to download and use. Admittedly, MSI does change its website from time to time, and at some point, they may change how to actually get the setup file, but for now, the procedure is as follows:
- Go to MSI’s website using this link – click the ‘Download MSI Afterburner’ button. Again, we have to mention that, due to periodic redesigns, the actual layout or button might be different, but if you look for the button that says ‘download MSI Afterburner’, you’re more likely than not to find it in that exact form. There used to be available options for additional versions, like the one for Android, as well as for MSI Kombustor, which we’ll touch upon a little further down.
- Extract the downloaded zip file and click the setup file – be warned that you might get an alert from your antivirus software, but if you used the link above, you should be fine.
- Install MSI Afterburner – this step is relatively straight-forward with the usual license agreement and installation destination. You’ll also be given the option to install RivaTuner Statistics Server, and it’s highly recommended that you do. RTSS is a great tool that helps you with monitoring performance while you’re overclocking. After you click ‘Install’, the wizard will complete the process and you can run MSI Afterburner.
Before we get into the possible uses of MSI Afterburner, let’s briefly mention MSI Kombustor. This is MSI’s stress test tool that’s actually pretty decent and can allow you to run stress tests at various presets (like 1080p, 1440p, etc.). It’s also great at showing you the details of the test while you’re running it. Of course, it can also save a log file for you to review later and it’s a pretty reliable benchmarking tool overall.
Although it used to be available directly from MSI’s website, nowadays you can find it at this link. Just like MSI Afterburner, it’s quite easy to download and use, just make sure to download the latest version to get the best testing.
How To Use MSI Afterburner
Now that you have everything set up, you want to dive headfirst into the magical world of overclocking. Still, before you get there, there are a few things that you need to be wary of.
Caution and patience should be at the top of your priority list when undergoing any sort of external modification to any part of your PC, especially sensitive ones like the GPU and CPU. What we mean by this is that you should overclock your GPU (or CPU) in small, relatively even, increments rather than guessing what the optimal performance would be.
Let’s talk a little bit about the options that MSI Afterburner offers.
MSI Afterburner Layout
Right below the Afterburner logo at the top-middle position, you will find three buttons: Kombustor, Help and Information. The ‘Kombustor’ button will only be available if you have it installed. If you don’t, you can still click it and you’ll be taken to its download page.
As mentioned earlier, Kombustor is a stress test tool that’s quite decent for immediate testing after overclocking. However, there are other, better and more extensive stress test software pieces like FurMark, 3DMark or Unigine Heaven, and we warmly advise you to use those.
At the time of writing, the ‘Help‘ button just leads you to the Afterburner page, but that’s likely the result of a recent redesign and will probably be brought back soon. The ‘Information‘ button in turn will give you some rough specifications of your CPU and GPU, but nothing that’s not better observed via a different tool, like CPU-Z for example.
The Most Important Part
Immediately below these three buttons are general GPU sliders that you will use for overclocking or underclocking.
The first one is locked out by default, for safety reasons, and that’s actually a pretty good decision by MSI. It’s labeled ‘Core Voltage‘ and it’s expressed in millivolts (mV). Its use is to add additional power to the GPU or to lower it.
Directly under core voltage control is a ‘Power Limit‘ slider, expressed in percentages. This will adjust the master GPU power limit, but only if your card supports it.
Up next is ‘Temperature Limit‘, which should be used in conjecture with core clock and memory clock increases. The temperature limit is almost necessary as the higher clock speed will produce higher heat output and you don’t want to have your GPU shut down on you.
The next slider is ‘Core Clock‘, which will allow you to change the GPU’s core clock. This means more processing power and better performance. However, as mentioned earlier, you need to have other settings aligned in order to get that performance boost with stability.
The ‘Memory Clock‘ slider goes hand-in-hand with the core clock slider and is essential to get data returned more quickly. As with the core clock, you need to have everything else set up in order to ensure a stable process.
The ‘Fan Speed‘ slider directly below is used to control the master GPU fan speed and it’s set to ‘Auto’ by default which, honestly, is the best solution. You can tinker with this setting as much as you want, but the easiest way to handle the fans is to leave the software solution to deal with it.
If you have a 3-fan deal on your graphics card, then your GPU software might enable you to adjust all three fans individually, but that sort of precision is mostly not required.
The Other Buttons
After that most important section of the software, we have three really important buttons: ‘Settings‘, ‘Reset‘ and ‘Apply‘.
As expected, the first one will open an additional window for the software settings, while the second one will reset all settings to their default values, and the last one serves to save your current settings.
The lower tab is useful for some minor settings and information, such as choosing whether or not the Afterburner will open on Windows startup, the name of your graphics card as well as its driver version, and help you save different overclocking profiles.
While the first two are as straight forward as it gets, the last one is actually quite useful. There might be a particular game where you’d want to have your GPU running at its very best while you may want to keep it at its default clock otherwise.
The clocks on each side of this middle slider column help you visualize your GPU clock, memory clock, voltage and temperature. They are useful for keeping track of your modifications. Since it’s easier for most people to memorize things visually, this can be a great tool to help you keep your eye on things.
At the very bottom of the window is the monitoring window, which suffers from Afterburner window inflexibility in that it’s only able to show one graph at a time.
Finally, we have the OC Scanner, which is located at the top left-hand corner. OC Scanner is described by MSI as a one-click overclocking tool. Although there are a few more clicks, the premise is relatively unchanged. It uses Nvidia’s algorithm and it will run a process to determine what settings are optimal for overclocking your GPU.
To allow the OC Scanner to work to the best of its ability, you must enable voltage control and voltage monitoring inside the settings window.
After you do that, you will want to push the ‘Core Voltage’, ‘Power Limit’ and ‘Temperature Limit’ all the way to the right. Although it may seem counterintuitive, each of these sliders is set up by a graphics card manufacturer to shoulder the load up to the GPU’s capability. So you won’t fry the GPU by doing this.
After you do this, you can click the OC Scanner and run the ‘Scan’ option. This will test the GPU at four different voltage levels and, using the aftermentioned algorithm, it will determine the highest stable frequency of your graphics card.
After running the scanner, it’s best if you run the ‘Test‘ option as well. That way you’ll know how much confidence MSI generated for the OC profile determined a moment ago. Generally, anything over 60% should be okay, but it would be for the best if you could get it to 90%.
After all this is done, you can apply the settings in Afterburner. It’s also our recommendation to save them in a separate profile so you can easily switch between the two modes.
Although overclocking isn’t the only use of MSI Afterburner, it’s certainly the best. Due to how easy it is to download and use, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s often considered one of the most recommended overclocking tools.