What to Know
- To understand your GPU's overclocking potential, go to Overclock.net and enter your information.
- Update your drivers and download reputable overclocking software. Use the software to establish a baseline.
- In the software, raise clock speeds and note benchmarks. Stress-test your overclock settings and fine-tune as needed.
This article explains how to overclock a video graphics card (or GPU) past the stock settings to boost desktop or laptop gaming performance.
Research the Graphics Card
The first step in overclocking is to research your graphics card. If you’re unsure what your system has:
- Click the Start Menu.
- Click Settings (the gear icon) to open the Windows Settings menu.
- Click on Devices.
- Click on Device Manager (underneath Related Settings) to open the Device Manager window.
- Click on the > next to Display Adapters to show the make and model of your video graphics card.
Head over to Overclock.net and enter your graphics card information with the word ‘overclock’ into the site’s search engine. Look through forum posts and read how others have successfully overclocked that same card. What you want to look for and write down are:
- Maximum core clocks
- Maximum memory clocks
- Safe maximum temperature (when in doubt, 90 degrees C is good to use)
- Safe maximum voltage
This information will provide a reasonable guideline about how far you can safely overclock your GPU.
Update Drivers and Download Overclocking Software
Hardware performs at its best with up-to-date drivers:
Next, download and install the tools you’ll need for overclocking:
Establish a Baseline
Just like any good before/after transformation photo, you’ll want to know where your system started prior overclocking. So after closing all open programs:
- Open MSI Afterburner. If you want a simpler interface to work with, click Settings (gear icon) to open MSI Afterburner’s properties. Click the right arrow at the top until you see the tab for User Interface. Within that tab, select one of the default skin designs (v3 skin works well) from the drop-down menu. Then exit the properties menu (but keep the program open).
- Write down the core and memory clock speeds shown by MSI Afterburner. Save this configuration as "Profile 1" (there are slots numbered one through five).
- Open Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 and click Run. Once it’s done loading, you’ll be presented with 3D rendered graphics. Click Benchmark (top left corner) and give the program five minutes to shift through the 26 scenes.
- Save (or write down) the benchmark results given by Unigine Heaven. You’ll use this later when comparing pre- and post-overclock performance.
Raise Clock Speeds and Benchmark
Now that you have a baseline, see how far you can overclock the GPU:
- Using MSI Afterburner, increase the Core Clock by 10 Mhz and then click Apply. (Note: If the chosen user interface/skin shows a slider for Shader Clock, make sure it stays linked with the Core Clock).
- Benchmark using Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 and save the benchmark results. Low/choppy framerate is normal to see (the program is designed to stress the GPU). What you’re looking for are artifacts (or artefacts) — colored lines/shapes or bursts/blips appearing across the screen, blocks or chunks of pixelated/glitchy graphics, colors that are off or incorrect, etc. — which indicate the bounds of stress/instability.
- If you do not see artifacts, it means the overclock settings are stable. Continue by checking the "Maximum GPU Temperature" recorded in MSI Afterburner’s monitoring window.
- If the Maximum GPU Temperature is at or below the safe maximum temperature (or 90 degrees C), save this configuration as "Profile 2" in MSI Afterburner.
- Continue by repeating these same five steps again — if you’ve reached the maximum allowable clock speed, continue to the next section instead. Remember to compare your current core and memory clock values to the ones written down when researching your card. As the values get closer together, be extra vigilant about artifacts and temperature.
When to Stop
If you see artifacts, this means that the current overclock settings are not stable. If the Maximum GPU Temperature is above the safe maximum temperature (or 90 degrees C), this means your video card will overheat (leads to permanent damage/failure over time). When either of these happen:
- Load the last stable profile configuration in MSI Afterburner. Clear the monitoring window history (right-click) before benchmarking again.
- If you still see artifacts and/or a Maximum GPU Temperature above the safe maximum temperature, decrease the Core Clock by 5 Mhz and click Apply. Clear the monitoring window history before benchmarking again.
- Repeat the above step until you do not see any artifacts and the Maximum GPU Temperature is at or below the safe maximum temperature (or 90 degrees C). When this happens, stop! You’ve successfully overclocked the Core Clock for your GPU!
Now that the Core Clock is set, perform the same process of raising speeds and benchmarking — this time with the Memory Clock. The gains won't be as big, but every bit adds up.
Once you've overclocked both the Core Clock and Memory Clock, save this configuration as "Profile 3" in MSI Afterburner before stress testing.
Real-world PC gaming doesn't happen in five-minute bursts, so you'll want to stress test the current overclock settings. To do this, click Run (but not Benchmark) in Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 and let it go on for hours. You want to make sure that there are no artifacts or unsafe temperatures. Mind you that the video graphics card and/or whole computer can crash during a stress test — this is normal.
If a crash happens and/or you see any artifacts and/or a Maximum GPU Temperature above the safe maximum temperature (switch back to MSI Afterburner to look):
- Decrease both the Core Clock and Memory Clock by 5 Mhz in MSI Afterburner and click Apply.
- Continue stress testing, repeating these two steps until there are no artifacts, no unsafe temperatures, and no crashes.
If your video graphics card can stress test for hours without problems, then congratulations! You’ve successfully overclocked your GPU. Save the benchmark results given by Unigine Heaven, and then save the configuration as "Profile 4" in MSI Afterburner.
Compare your original benchmark score with this last one to see the improvement! If you want these settings to load automatically, check the box for Apply Overclocking at System Startup in MSI Afterburner.
- Actual PC games are the true test of successful overclocking. If your computer crashes during a game, decrease both the Core Clock and Memory Clock by 5 Mhz in MSI Afterburner and click Apply. Repeat as necessary, remembering to save stable configurations.
- Pay attention to the benchmark scores. GPUs can have a "sweet spot" for best results — higher clock speeds (even if stable) doesn’t always translate to improved scores. If benchmark scores start to go down sharply after several increments, consider reverting to a previous configuration with the best score.
- Unlocking Voltage Control (via MSI Afterburner settings) can provide compatible graphics cards extra power necessary to clock speeds even higher. However, more voltage leads to higher GPU temperatures (so watch carefully). If desired, increase voltage by 10 mV, benchmark with Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0, and check temperature in MSI Afterburner. If everything looks good, go through the process of raising clock speeds until you find the best stable configuration. Increase voltage by another 10 mV and repeat again. Never raise core voltage past the safe maximum.
- Adding more/improved PC cooling can help keep GPU temperatures lower.
Why Overclock a GPU?
Those who play games on computers — the kinds that require a decent video graphics card — may sometimes encounter video lag or choppy frame rates. This means that the card’s GPU is struggling to keep up, typically during data-intensive parts of games. There’s a way to surpass this deficiency and improve your system’s gaming prowess, all without having to purchase an upgrade. Just overclock the GPU.
Most video graphics cards use default/stock settings that leave some headroom. That means there is more power and capability available, but it's not enabled by the manufacturer. If you have a Windows or Linux OS system (sorry Mac users, but it’s not as easy or worth it to attempt overclocking), you can increase core and memory clock speeds to boost performance. The result improves frame rates, which leads to smoother, more pleasing gameplay.
Important Overclocking Best Practices
It’s true that reckless GPU overclocking can permanently stop the graphics card from working (i.e. bricking) or shorten the lifespan of a video graphics card. But by proceeding carefully, overclocking is quite safe. There are some important things to bear in mind:
- Not every graphics card is designed to and/or capable of overclocking as well as others.
- Two identical graphics cards can overclock at different values; results will vary (typically based on a system’s hardware and the games being played) from one computer to the next.
- Overclocking a GPU won’t make unplayable games (i.e. your system doesn’t meet the minimum requirements) playable. But it will let you enjoy playable games at higher video resolutions and/or frame rates.
- It’s usually easier/safer to overclock a desktop computer than a laptop since the former is generally better at dissipating heat.
- It’s normal to experience a computer crash and/or a blue/black screen during any overclocking process. So don’t be alarmed when it happens. Just continue (reboot if necessary) where you left off.
- Overclocking may void a manufacturer’s warranty (not a big deal if the warranty has expired).