If, like me, you want to have complete control over how fast your NVIDIA GPU's fans are spinning, RivaTuner was your go-to program. But, with RivaTuner being very long in the tooth — the last version was released in 2009 — it's time to move on to something newer, and that something is MSI Afterburner.
Afterburner was developed by MSI in conjunction with RivaTuner's Alex Unwinder, so you won't be straying far from the tweaking tool tree, but its user interface is much friendly than the older program. It's also less powerful, but there are enough knobs to turn to satisfy most PC gamers.
The biggest absent component is D3DOverrider, which forces triple buffering and vertical synchronisation in Direct3D applications, as these settings in the NVIDIA control panel are only for OpenGL. However, D3DOverrider is a separate program to RivaTuner (despite being bundled with it) so it's easy enough to load it without having RivaTuner in the background.
The custom fan settings panel in Afterburner, shown to the right here (click the image to expand it), has undergone significant changes. The panel is accessible by clicking the "Settings" button on the main interface, followed by selecting the "Fan" tab.
RivaTuner requires you to set up a series of chained events, triggers and profiles to get your video card's fan (or fans) speeding up when required. In Afterburner, it's a simple matter of shifting points on a graph to set how fast the fan should be spinning (as a percentage) at certain GPU temperatures.
The graph settings are not made live immediately, you need to hit OK for them to take effect. Automatically controlled fans are notorious for spinning slower than they should, so drag the first point (the idle speed) up in five per cent increments until the noise of the fan is just audible. You can set it higher if you want, just find a noise level that you won't mind listening to while you're browsing the web or working.
I prefer to get the fan running faster sooner when it's under load, so, as you can see in the graph, I've compressed the fan speed/temperature points so we hit 100 per cent fairly quickly. You're not stuck with the initial points — you can add new ones by clicking anywhere on the green line.
The fan speed update period sets how often the temperature should be checked and the fan speed adjusted. This polling requires CPU time — while it's not much, try to keep your polling times above one second (1000ms) and no higher than five.
Temperature hysteresis allows the fan speed to "float" as the GPU cools. A setting of five or 10 degrees is recommended, and means the fan will allow the GPU to cool by this amount before switching to a lower fan speed. This helps prevent fluctuating speeds as the temperature crosses the thresholds on the graph.
When you're happy with the settings, you'll need to fire up a demanding 3D game, or use the GPU burn-in tool Furmark. Furmark can easily be run in a window, so you can still monitor the video card in Afterburner. Run Furmark, hit "BURN-IN test" (don't worry about configuring anything, the default test is surprisingly demanding) and watch the temperature — if it gets too high and stays there, then you need to move the graph points in Afterburner more to the left. If the fans aren't running fast enough, then the points will need to be moved upwards.
It will take time, perhaps 15-30 minutes, to find the right combination of graph points for your video card. Seeing as we're coming into summer, now's as good a time as any to make sure your GPU stays cool.
As far as I'm aware, MSI Afterburner can work with AMD cards, but I can't say what degree of control you'll have over the fans, or any other settings for that matter. Best to try it and see.