While it won't likely mean your old video card can magically run the latest games on ultra settings, overclocking your video card is a solid way to eke a bit of extra gaming performance out of your computer. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do it properly.
Image: Nataliia Natykach/Shutterstock (speedometer).
Overclocking -- or running your video card at higher speeds than it runs by default -- is a good way to boost the performance of your computer, but it isn't as simple as clicking a few "turbo" buttons and getting back to your game. Just like overclocking your computer's processor, overclocking a video card takes patience, stability testing and carries a bit of a risk if not done properly. Thankfully, it isn't quite as involved as overclocking a processor, and it's probably the best way to increase your PC's gaming performance without actually buying new parts. Here's how it's done.
What You'll Need
Everyone has different opinions on what tools are the most effective for overclocking your video card, but I've found these tools strike a balance between ease of use, effectiveness, and safety:
- A Windows machine. Our tutorial today is for Windows machines, since that's where the vast majority of gaming is done.
- An NVIDIA or AMD video card. It doesn't matter which one; our method will work with nearly any video card out there.
- An overclocking program like EVGA Precision or MSI Afterburner. Despite their names, neither requires an EVGA or MSI graphics card. They'll work with almost any video card out there, no matter the manufacturer. They're nearly identical programs, so it really doesn't matter which one you use (though we'll be using EVGA Precision in our examples, as it's what I use).
- The Furmark video card stress test. Some people like to use ATITool, though I haven't found this to be quite as effective as Furmark.
- Patience. Seriously, this is going to take awhile. Grab yourself a cup of tea.
Step One: Raise Your Clock Values
Once you've installed the necessary tools, it's time to jump right in. Start up Precision or Afterburner and take a look at the window. You have four values you can adjust: Core Clock, Shader Clock, Memory Clock and Fan Speed. The shader clock is only adjustable on NVIDIA cards, so if you have an AMD card, just ignore this setting. Afterburner users also have a voltage slider, which we're going to ignore for this tutorial. If you want to push your card even further, you can look up specific guides to tuning your card's voltage, but we won't be going that far today (as it can be a little different for every card). I usually like to keep the fan speed on auto.
To start, we're going to tweak the core clock. If you have an NVIDIA card, make sure the "Link" button next to core and shader clock is on. You could unlink them and overclock them separately, but I've had issues with this in the past, so I just leave them linked together. Now, raise the core clock by 5-10MHz, and hit the Apply button. We're going to do this by baby steps -- that way, as soon as your stress test starts to have issues, you know exactly where your card's limits are.
Step Two: Stress Test Your Card
Open up Furmark. Set your resolution to the resolution of your screen, check the fullscreen box, and hit the "BURN-IN test" button. You'll see a big fuzzy doughnut on your screen, with a graph of your video card's temperature at the bottom. During the stress test, you'll want to do two things:
Scan The Screen For Artefacts: If your video card is pushed too far, you'll start to see what are called artefacts on the fuzzy doughnut. These can manifest themselves in different ways, usually in black lines or "snow" on the doughnut. See our gaming episode of the show for an example of what artefacts would look like. Note though that they might not be as obvious as in that video -- even if one or two of those black lines show up, you've pushed your card too far, so you'll want to scan the doughnut pretty closely.
Watch Your Temperatures: Make sure your temperatures don't get above 90 degrees Celsius. If you want to be more conservative, that's fine, but 90 degrees is the limit I generally try to watch for.
Run the test for about 10 to 15 minutes, then head to step three.
Step Three: Rinse And Repeat
If you didn't see any artefacts, and if your temperature stayed within its limits, then ramp up your core clock in Precision again, by 5-10 MHz, hit Apply, and run Furmark again. Do this until you start to see artefacts, or until your card reaches an unsafe temperature. Once it does, back it down to its previous value and run the test for an hour or so. You don't really have to scan it for the full hour; you can come back and just watch it for the last 10 minutes (though you might want to check in on it once in a while).
Once you've got your core clock at its highest safe value, move on to the memory clock and repeat all the steps above. Once your memory clock has reached its highest value, congratulations! You've overclocked your card as far as it can go, and you should notice a nice little boost in your gaming performance. Remember that every card is different, and just because your friend or some guy on the net got a certain clock speed running, that doesn't mean you can too. Trust your instincts, and when in doubt, be conservative. You don't want to fry anything.
Note that if you're running two video cards in SLI or Crossfire, you'll want to go through this process for each card separately, as each card can have different limits. Unplug one of your cards and go through the entire process with your first card, find your maximum speeds, then swap your second card in and do the same. When you've found the maximum values for each, take the lowest of each value and set Precision or Afterburner to use those values. Hit the "Sync" button under the list of GPUs in your overclocking program, and it will use those values for both cards.
Dig through the settings of your overclocking program, too. You'll find a lot of cool stuff in there, including the ability to customise your automatic fan settings, hotkeys for different overclocking profiles and more. We aren't going to delve into every little bit of these programs today, but this should give you a good start to overclocking your card and getting the most out of your PC. Got any of your own overclocking tips? Be sure to share them with us in the comments.