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
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
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
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.