How to Overclock Your Graphics Card

How to Overclock Your Graphics Card

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Overclocking your graphics card can improve its performance by 5% to as much as 15% (or more), depending on the particular card model. Of course, as with any overclocking, care should be taken to avoid running your GPU at unsafe settings. But if you have one of the best graphics cards and you’re looking to eke out a bit more performance, we’ll discuss how we go about overclocking and determining “safe” settings.

Before overclocking, it’s important to get a baseline measurement of how your graphics card performs. You want to be able to see how much faster your PC runs after tuning, after all — if performance doesn’t improve, you’ll want to know. Check our guide on how to test graphics card performance, and you’ll also want to check your graphics card temperatures and clock speeds.

Once you have your baseline stock performance data, it’s time to start overclocking. There are a variety of utilities, but we’re going to focus on MSI Afterburner, which is one of the most popular and commonly used GPU overclocking tools. The same basic process can be used with other utilities, including EVGA Precision X1, Asus GPU Tweak (opens in new tab), and other graphics card vendor utilities. It’s also possible to overclock AMD and Nvidia GPUs using the built-in utility in AMD’s drivers or Nvidia’s GeForce Experience, which we’ll cover below, but we’ll start with the universal approach to overclocking your GPU. 

Overclocking With MSI Afterburner

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Here’s the main interface for MSI Afterburner, using the v3 skin. It shows sliders for core voltage, power limit, core clock, memory clock, and fan speed. By default, Afterburner locks out voltage adjustments. If you want to play with that, go into the settings and check the box for “Unlock voltage control.” You can try setting it to reference design, standard MSI, extended MSI, or third party — some cards will only allow voltage adjustments with the correct mode, and some might not allow it at all.

One option for overclocking is to use the automatic OC scanner tool. Press Ctrl+F, then click the OC Scanner button in the top-right corner and let it do its thing. This is supposed to make overclocking easier, but as with most auto-tuning utilities, your mileage may vary. We’ve had it crash, and we’ve had it generate unstable overclocks as well. It doesn’t do anything for memory clocks either, so you’ll likely end up going the manual route. The OC scanner can take 20 minutes to run, and most of the time, you can get a quick and easy overclock much faster on your own.

My approach is to fire up a graphically intense game or benchmark that will run in a window, then I run the game at 1920×1080 or 2560×1440 (depending on the GPU I’m using) and get to a spot where nothing is going to kill me. From there, I switch over to Afterburner and start trying some adjustments. Note that you’ll want a game or test that doesn’t stop rendering when you leave focus (so if it shows the menu when you Alt+Tab, that’s not going to work).

There are four primary points of interest when overclocking a graphics card: GPU core clock, memory clock, GPU voltage, and fan speed. (In some cases, you can also adjust memory voltage.) I start by finding the maximum “stable” core clock, then I find the maximum “stable” memory clock, and then I try to find a blend of the two that results in optimal performance.

Note that “stable” is in quotation marks because even if the initial testing seems to work fine, there will often be exceptions where some games or applications crash while others work. When that happens, you’ll have to go back to tune the settings and see if you can find some that allow the game to run properly. As you can probably guess, the more demanding the game (i.e., if it uses ray tracing and DLSS on an Nvidia GPU), the more likely it is to require additional fine tuning and lower clocks.

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

For this tutorial, we’ll use Cyberpunk 2077, running in a window at 2560×1440 with Ray Tracing-Ultra settings and DLSS Quality mode, to find a reasonable overclock for a GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition card. That ticks all the boxes for a demanding game that will likely push the GPU to its limits, and it also has a built-in benchmark that will let us see what happens to performance after tuning.

We started with a GPU core overclock. After loading the game and applying the appropriate settings, we maxed out the power limit and set the fan speed to 80% to ensure the GPU and memory stayed cool. Everything was fine so far, and we applied a 100 MHz offset to the GPU core. That worked okay, which is almost always the case — if you can’t get at least a 100 MHz core overclock, we probably wouldn’t worry about going any further with your particular graphics card.

With that initial performance boost in play, we then tried a 150 MHz core overclock… and Cyberpunk 2077 almost immediately crashed. We tried maxing out the core voltage after restarting the game, and it still crashed, which means a 150 MHz offset won’t work. We split the difference and dropped to 125 MHz, which also crashed. It appeared reasonably stable after maxing out the core voltage at +100, but that also crashed after several minutes.

Ultimately, +100 MHz on the GPU cores appears to be as far as we’re likely to get with this card, though do note that the increased power limit means we’re running quite a bit faster than at stock — GPU clocks hovered around 1755 MHz at stock, compared to 1905 MHz with our overclock. A big chunk of that comes thanks to the increased power limit, as even with a 0 MHz GPU overclock, we saw average clocks of 1875 MHz in our testing.

Next, we worked on a memory overclock. We dropped the GPU core clock back to +0 MHz but left the power limit at the maximum (114% on this card). There’s usually a fair amount of headroom, so we started with a +750 MHz offset on the GDDR6X memory. That gives an effective memory clock of 21Gbps, and after several minutes of running around in the game, we figured it was working fine. +1000 MHz (21.5Gbps) also appeared stable, as did +1250 MHz (22Gbps), but +1500MHz immediately crashed our system and forced a system restart. Did we mention overclocking can be a trial and error process?

After additional tinkering and testing, we combined the GPU and VRAM overclocks to end up with +100 MHz on the GPU core and +1000 MHz on the GDDR6X memory. Note that Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs have “error detect and retry” on the memory, which can sometimes obscure borderline unstable overclocks, and we figured 21.5Gbps was sufficiently fast.

GPU Overclocking Performance

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