Trying to get the best performance from your favorite games without having to spend money on a new graphics card? Overclocking can give you significant performance benefits, but there are some serious risks involved. Any time you want to increase the speed of your computer to a level beyond what the manufacturer has specified, you risk damaging the graphics card. However, if you approach this procedure with caution and patience, you can do it safely without the risk of serious problems.
Part 1 of 5: The preparation
Step 1. Update your video card driver
Before you start overclocking, make sure you have the latest drivers for your video card installed. You can download the latest drivers from Nvidia's or AMD's site depending on the brand. With the latest drivers, you know your card will run as stable as possible. Newer drivers often increase overclocking performance as well.
Step 2. Download your tools
To be able to overclock you need several programs, all of which are available for free. These programs provide performance benchmarks, and allow you to adjust timing, voltage, and control temperature.
- Download a benchmark program - there are several available, but one of the fastest and most intuitive is Heaven. It is available free of charge through Unigine (the developers). Another popular program is 3DMark.
- Download an overclocking program. While both Nvidia and AMD have proprietary overclocking programs, MSI Afterburner is one of the most popular and widely used programs. Despite the name, this program works with almost any graphics card from both Nvidia and AMD.
- Download a monitoring program. While benchmark and overclocking programs can report the temperature and speed of your graphics card, sometimes it's good to use a different monitor to check all your settings. GPU-Z is a lightweight program that can monitor the temperature, clock speed, memory speed and every other aspect of your graphics card.
Step 3. Research your graphics card
Overclocking without knowledge can cost you a lot of time and give you a lot of headaches later. Try to find out what clock speeds other users are getting with the exact same card. You should also check what is generally considered the highest voltage on your card that is still safe.
- Do not immediately apply such numbers to your card. Since every card is different, it is impossible to predict what could happen if you enter the wrong numbers. So rather use them as a guideline when overclocking to assess how effective your numbers will be.
- Search forums like Overclock.net to find other overclockers with the same card as yours.
- Overclocking a laptop GPU's GPU is unwise. Laptops have a much harder time getting rid of the heat, and overclocking can quickly lead to dangerously high temperatures.
Part 2 of 5: Benchmarking your graphics card
Step 1. Open your benchmark program
You have to install it first after the download. Most users can leave the settings at the default value during installation. Once your program is installed, you can begin the benchmarking process.
Step 2. Adjust the benchmark settings
Before you start benchmarking, you can first adjust the graphics settings. Adjust them to your liking, and make sure the resolution is set to "Desktop". If the benchmark program does not perform well with the chosen settings, you can change them later.
Step 3. Click Run
The benchmark program will start and after a few moments of scene loading, it will start playing on your monitor. If the performance is bad, you can close the program and lower the settings, but this is not necessary. You should see how the performance improves during overclocking, without having to adjust the settings.
Step 4. Click on benchmark
Once the scenes start playing, you'll see a row of buttons at the top of the screen. Click the Benchmark button to start the benchmarking process. In Heaven there are 26 different stages, and it takes some time to complete everything. After the benchmark is over, you get a score based on the performance of your graphics card.
Step 5. Keep your score
Write down the score you got. This makes it easier to compare results while increasing the speed of your card.
Part 3 of 5: Increase core clock speed
Step #1. Open MSI Afterburner
On the left side of the program window you will see a list of sliders and on the right side a hardware monitor. You can now also launch GPU-Z as an additional monitor to verify readings.
Step 2. Find the "Core Clock (MHz)" slider
This slider controls the clock speed of the core of your GPU. If your card has a slider for Shader Clock, make sure it's linked to the slider for Core Clock. You will see a link icon if the two are linked.
Step 3. Increase the Core clock speed by about 10MHz
When adjusting the clock speed for the first time, it is always advisable to do this in small increments, such as 10 MHz. This value allows you to see improvements without accidentally going too far.
Step #4. Click Apply
The changes should take effect immediately. Look at the readings in the GPU-Z to make sure the new speed is displayed.
Step 5. Run the benchmark program
Once you've made and verified the initial adjustment, it's time to run the benchmark program again and get a new score. While running the benchmark program, note whether the image quality or frame rate improves noticeably.
If the benchmark program runs without any problems, then the overclocking has been stable so far and you can continue
Step 6. Repeat the "raise and benchmark" procedure
Keep increasing the speed in 10MHz intervals, checking the results in the benchmark program each time. Sooner or later you will notice that the system becomes more unstable.
Instability will manifest as black screens, graphic stutters, artifacts, bad colors, smudges, etc
Step 7. Decide how you want to proceed
As soon as you encounter an instability, return to the settings that were still working properly, or you can increase the voltage again. If you don't notice any obvious improvements, or don't want to risk damaging your graphics card from the higher voltage, return to the last speed that worked well and move on to part five. If you want to continue speeding up the map, leave the speed as it is and move on to the next part.
Part 4 of 5: Increase the core voltage
Step 1. Click the Settings/Settings button in MSI Afterburner
The Core Voltage sliders are locked by default to prevent accidental damage to your card. This alone should make you realize how dangerous this is to do. Uncheck the "Unlock voltage control" box in the General/General tab, and click OK.
Step 2. Increase "Core Voltage (mV)" by about 10mV
You probably won't be able to pick exactly 10mV as voltages can only increase in fixed steps. Click apply.
Step 3. Run your benchmark program
Once you've increased the voltage, run your benchmark program to see if the overclocking is stable now. Remember, you left the settings at a speed that was unstable, so if it's stable now, you can move on to increasing the clock speed.
Step 4. Repeat part three
If the overclocking is now stable, you can increase the core clock speed again in 10MHz steps, benchmarking the system after each step. Repeat this until you run into an instability again.
Step 5. Watch the temperature
As the voltage increases, the temperature of your GPU will rise. If you continue the process of increasing the voltage, be sure to pay attention to the temperature readings using GPU-Z. Keeping the temperature below 90°C (194°F) is recommended, but many overclockers prefer even lower values, such as 80° and below.
A better computer case and graphics card cooling can also help increase overclocking capabilities, but this can be costly and time consuming
Step 6. Increase the voltage again
Once you get to the next plateau, increase your Core Voltage again by 10mV. Benchmark and repeat the Core Clock process. Don't forget to keep an eye on the temperature, as this is one of the main limiting factors on how much you can overclock the card.
Step 7. Do not exceed the voltage limit
Remember the notes you took from your graphics card? Make sure you don't exceed the safe voltage limit of your card when making the adjustments.
Step 8. Know when to stop
At some point, overclocking will no longer be effective. Think of reaching the temperature threshold or the maximum voltage, or that the clock speed is just not stable anymore, no matter how much you increase the voltage. If so, you can move on to the next step.
Step 9. Repeat the procedure with the Memory Clock (MHz)
Once you hit the core clock limit, it's time to do the same with the memory clock. Repeat this process by increasing Memory CLock in steps of 10MHz, and then increase the voltage again if your system becomes unstable (only if you haven't reached the safe maximum voltage or temperature yet).
Make sure you keep running the benchmark after each adjustment. Increasing the memory clock may lead to an improvement, but at some point it will actually come at the expense of performance. Pay close attention to the benchmark scores to align it all just right
Step 10. Overclock SLI cards
Overclocking SLI cards is much the same as one card. Overclocking will have to be done on each card individually, and the slower card will always dictate the overall speed. Since no two cards are alike, one of the cards will be slightly slowed down by the other. Follow the steps above for overclocking each individual card.
Part 5 of 5: Test the stability
Step 1. Start your benchmark program
Running a stress test will take a significant amount of time, so make sure you don't need the computer for the next few hours. It's a pretty automatic process, but you'll need to look every once in a while to evaluate performance.
Step 2. Click the Run/Run button
Instead of starting "Benchmark" in Heaven, click Run and just let the program run. Heaven will continue to cycle through the screens until you give another command.
Step 3. Watch for errors
While the scenes continue to play, keep an eye out for stutters, artifacts, or a complete crash of the computer. This is an indication of an unstable system from the overclocking, and you will then have to go back and lower the settings. If the stress test (4-5 hours) passes without any problem, then it's time to start gaming.
Step 4. Launch the game
Benchmark programs are great, but they're not the reason you're overclocking; it's about the games. Open your favorite game and achievements. Your old settings should now work much better, and you should be able to choose slightly higher settings!