If you want a little extra oomph out of your PC’s graphics card without spending tons of cash on a new model, overclocking the GPU is a surprisingly simple way to go about it. And it has indeed become simple, on Windows-based PCs at least—while the process is time consuming, it doesn’t require any particular knowledge or advanced skills. Here’s how you go about it.
Warning: while the risk is pretty low, there’s still a chance that overclocking your GPU could damage it or other components in your computer. Proceed with caution, and don’t sue us if you tower catches fire or steals your car.
What You’ll Need
Before we get started, you’ll need a couple things:
- A Windows-based PC: It’s possible to overclock GPUs on macOS and Linux, but Windows is still the home of PC gaming by a huge margin, so that’s what we’re going to use in this guide.
- A discrete graphics card: PCI-Express-based desktop cards are still the primary means of playing high-end PC games. This guide should work for AMD and NVIDIA mobile cards in laptops, but we don’t really recommend overclocking those, since heat dissipation is much more difficult in laptops. Don’t try this on Intel graphics or other integrated systems.
- A benchmarking tool: You’ll need something that pushes your card to the absolute maximum of its power to test its stability as you overclock. You can use the built-in benchmark in one of your favorite PC games, or go for a separate program designed for benchmarking. We like Unigine Heaven, since it displays stats like clock speed and GPU temperature during the run—very handy if you only have one monitor.
- MSI Afterburner: This is the Swiss army knife of Windows-based GPU overclocking. Don’t be fooled by the name: though the software is provided free by graphics card maker MSI, you don’t need an MSI card—it should work on any NVIDIA or AMD-based GPU.
- GPU-Z: Another staple of PC overclocking. It’s best to keep it open while you’re working to watch your results in real time.
Once you have all your tools installed and ready to go, let’s get started.
Step One: Google Your Card
Every graphics card is different: in its basic design from NVIDIA or AMD, in the customizations added by manufacturers like ASUS or Sapphire, and of course, in the tiny variations and imperfections from the manufacturing process itself. GPUs are highly complex machines—we’re not playing with Happy Meal toys here.
The point is that your results from overclocking will be specific to your machine and your card. Just because someone else with an ASUS GTX 970 STRIX got one result doesn’t mean you’ll get that same result—you need to go through the (lengthy) process yourself to see what your card can handle.
That said, it’s best to know as much as possible about your hardware before diving in. Do a Google search with your card model and “overclock” to see the results that others are getting just to get a ballpark estimate, and to learn the particular foibles of your card.
For example, my card, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, has a rather famous memory issue that makes the last half-gig of video RAM perform much poorer than the other 3.5GB. That doesn’t really affect my efforts to overclock the GPU itself, so I’ll go ahead and proceed. A generic search for “GTX 970 overclock” reveals plenty of threads on Tom’s Hardware and NVIDIA’s official forums, a full specific guide on ExtremeTech and even a few YouTube videos. Perusing the results before continuing can only be helpful.
Oh, and while you’re preparing, it’s a good time to check and see if you’re running the latest version of your graphics card’s video driver.
Step Two: Benchmark Your Stock Configuration
In order to see the results of your work, you’ll first need to see where you’re starting from. So before you do any overclocking, run your benchmark tool to get a baseline reading. Make sure you crank the graphics settings up high—you want each of these benchmarks to be pushing your GPU to 100% of its power. (Check GPU-Z while running the benchmark or afterward to make sure it pushed your card to 100%—if it didn’t, crank the graphics settings up in your benchmark program).
I used three different benchmarks for my tests, so on my stock GTX 970 before any changes in the Afterburner app, the results were thus:
- Shadow of War benchmark: 40.9 average FPS, 79.9 maximum, 24.2 minimum
- 3D Mark Sky Diver: 33683 graphics score, 7814 physics score, 16826 combined score
- Heaven: 1381 overall score, 54.8 average FPS, 123.6 maximum, 24.5 minimum
Save your results in whatever format’s available. (Some in-game benchmarks don’t have a save option, but you can just write them down.) If you’re using Heaven, note that in order to actually record a run you need to click the “Benchmark” button in the upper left corner.
Step Three: Use Afterburner to Boost Your GPU Clock and Voltage
The Afterburner overclocking…
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