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Overclocking seems scary, but you might be stunned by how simple and safe the process is. No, your PC won’t explode. It may, however, be able to perform at clock speeds one generation above its release. That means big performance boost for almost no money!
Have you considered overclocking your video card AKA Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) to increase your Frames Per Second (FPS)? If you’re not sure how to start, let us guide you on the path to PC enlightenment.
What Is Overclocking?
What exactly is overclocking? The term overclock refers to a PC’s ability to increase clock speed of a component above stock. PC components like Central Processing Units (CPUs) and GPUs operate at a clock speed. Clock speed is expressed in cycles per second (Hz) and indicates the rate at which the component can perform tasks.
Overclocking your component means manually changing the rate at which your component performs. For GPUs, this includes both the Core Clock (CC) and the Memory Clock (MC). The CC determines the speed at which 3D objects are rendered in games, while what fills that shape (textures) is determined by the MC. The MC only refers to the memory capacity of your GPU, not your computer’s RAM.
There is also the added parameter of voltage. Typically speaking, changing voltage is the main fear of beginner PC overclockers. If voltage settings are increased to an unsafe level, you could damage your GPU — if not immediately, through long-term wear and tear. Yet a voltage increase can mean the difference between lower-end and higher-end overclock speeds. If one is delicate with voltage raising, you could see a pleasant spike in gaming performance.
Phase One: Overclocking Programs
Overclocking is a process and requires basic tools for stress-testing and benchmarking. This assortment achieves great results and will provide accurate readings.
MSI Afterburner is used for AMD and NVIDIA GPUs alike. The user interface is easy to use, and Afterburner provides a live monitoring software as well. This will be the main overclocking tool you use. It contains settings to change voltage, core clock, memory clock, and fan settings.
Similar overclocking tools include EVGA Precison X series and SAPPHIRE Trixx Utiliity, although the same parameters and utilities in these tools are present in Afterburner.
Disclaimer — Before continuing, there are a few things I should mention. Firstly, overclocking will not outright void your warranty. The profile settings are saved onto your PC and your PC alone. Secondly, if your GPU is stuffed in a small case and fan speed configurations are not set, your overclock will lead to overheating and will shut down the PC. Always take appropriate precautions and ensure proper cooling before overclocking your components.
Benchmarking and Stress Testing
Stress testing ensures the stability of your GPU overclock. Stress-testing software tests the working limit of your GPU. If your overclock is unstable, your PC will run into a variety of graphic issues. If you run into issues like PC shutdowns, then restart your PC and lower your overclock settings. PC crashes due to overclocks do not imply a serious PC or GPU failure. This is normal and can be reverted by adjusting overclock settings.
Unigine is an excellent manufacturer of GPU stresstesting software. Valley and Heaven are both high performance stress-testing programs. Additionally, they provide a comprehensive FPS and Unigine score to gauge how well your GPU performs. Benchmark the GPU until you notice graphical glitches. Then proceed to lower your settings until you receive a clear picture.
HWMonitor is a great monitoring software, which provides real-time minimum, maximum, and present temperatures, voltage readings, fan speeds, clock speeds, and more. Although Afterburner provides its own readings, it’s best to gauge your temps and speeds using more than one monitoring software.
RealTemp also provides trustworthy temperature readings. Through the overclocking process, your PC as a whole will heat up. The higher its performance threshold, the hotter the component. Ensure that your component temperatures remain below 80 C. If a PC overheats, it may shut down to preserve the parts.
A safe overclock accounts for external parameters like temperature. To ensure that the GPU performance, not the temperature, is the area of focus, take measures to cool it down before an overclock.
Phase Two: Clock Speed Increase (Overclock)
Before increasing clock speeds, ensure that your monitoring software are open. Use them to assure yourself of two things: one, that your clock speeds are accurate, and two, that your idle temperature readings are low (30–50 C).
It’s difficult to find your optimal overclock settings. Although overclock settings do range depending on the GPU, other factors play a part. Cooling, motherboard model, and CPU model contribute to your graphics card performance. You are the only one that can determine an optimal overclock. Yet searching for your GPU’s stable overclock settings can steer you in the right direction. For example, a post on Reddit’s PCMasterRace subreddit suggested a CC of 1080 MHz and a MC of 1500. I will use this as a test setting and attempt to surpass it, modifying a few Afterburner settings.
Otherwise, begin raising CC by +100 and then adding increments of +10 after every test. When you begin receiving visual artifacts, begin raising voltage by increments of +5.
To enable voltage control and voltage monitoring, click on Settings, and ensure Unlock voltage control and Unlock voltage monitoring are checked. Once you’ve found a stable overclock, with minimal visual artifacts, begin raising the MC by similar increments as the core clock.
The power limit controls the amount of power the GPU can receive. As you increase parameters, especially voltage, the GPU will require a larger electrical flow. Leaving this at zero may bottleneck peak performance. For beginner overclockers, leave your Power Limit at zero to enjoy the benefits of slight overclocking. For the more adventurous overclockers, crank the power limit up to its highest setting for more overclock head space.
For AMD users, you will typically only have the Power Limit setting. NVIDIA GPUs will include a Temperature Limit (Temp Limit). This parameter limits the performance of a GPU during high-temperature readings to prevent a bottleneck due to overheating. Yet it may also prevent your GPU from maintaining peak performance at relatively low temperature levels. Increase the Temp Limit as much as you do the Power Limit. Only perform this action, however, if your PC is appropriately cooled.
In Case of Shutdown
An unstable overclock will result in one of two things: a crash or graphic artifacts. Neither one will result in irreversible damage. If you do experience a shutdown, simply restart your PC and lower your overclock settings.
Saving Settings & Profiles
Settings are very easy to save, as are profiles. Profiles allow users to save overclock settings for one-button use. To save a setting preference, click Save and select a number. To load that same configuration, click on the number and select Apply. To delete the preference, right-click the number.
Head to Settings and click on the Profile tab. From here, you can assign hotkeys to your overclock profile and dictate when overclock settings take place. Rendering 2D objects, it will automatically use a lower profile setting than for rendering 3D objects. 2D objects include movies, browsers, and other programs, while 3D objects include some image editing software and most PC gaming. Finally, click on Apply overclocking at system startup to activate your overclock setting at startup.
Phase Three: Stress Test
Stress testing tests the stability of your overclock. Stress-tests are separate from benchmarks. Benchmarks gauge a PC’s performance. Stress tests push your GPU to its clock speed and temperature limits. A proper stress-test will result in one of two events: visual artifacts or a crash. A crash indicates that your overclock is unstable and should be lowered. This implies either that your CC is too high and should be lowered or your voltage should be raised to match the CC.
Visual artifacts — a discoloration or tear in a frame — will not crash your PC. Yet they are indicative of an unstable or imperfect overclock. At first sign of artifacts, exit the test and adjust your settings. Begin dialing back CC, voltage, and MC until you do not see any more artifacts during stress tests.
Before undergoing a stress test, double-check your settings. Because you’re trying to push your GPU to its limit, ensure that you have the highest settings possible enabled on your software. If you’re experiencing resolution bottlenecks — where your GPU overpowers your 1440 x 900 resolution — you can adjust your GPU settings to test your GPU at 1080p settings and beyond.
Phase Four: Benchmarks
You can begin benchmarking your GPU’s performance once you’ve managed stable overclock settings. Here is the breakdown of each setting I used:
NOC (No Overclock)
- Clock Speed — 980
- Memory Clock — 1425
ROC (Reddit’s Overclock)
- Clock Speed — 1080
- Memory Clock — 1500
SOC (Self Overclock)
- Clock Speed — 1100
- Memory Clock — 1560
- Core Voltage — +10
- Power Limit — +20
The graph below shows the FPS numbers I reached throughout my testing. I received these readings using Bioshock Infinite’s benchmarking utility.
Remember, different games stress GPUs differently. For example, an overclock setting that was giving artifacts in the stress-testing tool may not show artifacts even in games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto V. It is, however, an indication that your overclock is not optimal. It is best to avoid all artifacts or crashing of any kind.
The benchmark numbers show a steady increase in FPS. You may note that overclocking works most effectively to reduce lag during moments of heavy on-screen activity. Although overclocking only provides a modest bump in overall gaming FPS (+7 overall FPS in this case), this is a free performance boost that’ll only cost some time and testing.
If you performed all of these steps safely and cautiously, you’ll be able to enjoy a free performance upgrade for years to come.
Go and Overclock Your GPU!
Overclocking may seem like a dangerous way of squeezing juice out of your graphics card. Yet, like everything default, that just doesn’t do it for some of us. Overclocking your GPU is a right, and those who bother learning about video card overclocking can stretch their GPU farther than it has ever performed.
Do you overclock your GPU? What methods do you use? Let us know in the comments below!