How To Overclock GPU and What Will You Need? [Step-by-Step]

Keelan Balderson
Keelan Balderson

Updated · Sep 14, 2022

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Want to know how to overclock GPU cards? You’ve come to the right place! 

This guide explores the basics of overclocking, how to do it correctly, and the potential risks. Fortunately, today, it’s safe and easy for anyone to give it a try.

What Is GPU Overclocking?

Overclocking GPU cards is a simple process that increases the core clock speed and memory clock speed of your graphics processing unit (GPU). This is the hardware responsible for rendering graphics on your computer. 

By default, GPUs run below their maximum potential. Therefore, overclocking can be viewed as unlocking its full potential to improve graphical performance. This technique is mostly used by gamers to ensure the best frame rates at the highest possible graphics settings for their hardware. However, GPU tuning also benefits graphics-intensive design tasks like video and image editing

Obviously, the main benefit is increased performance. However, it’s also cost-effective because you can get more out of a lower-priced GPU

Overclocking is often a trial-and-error process that involves minor increases and testing the results with a benchmarking tool. Go too far and the GPU will stop working — too little, and the results won’t be noticeable. 

Sometimes cards of the same brand and specs see better results than others due to minor manufacturing differences. Since the advance in GPU overclocking software, almost everyone will see results.

You can overclock the GPU on virtually any device, including smartphones and tablets. But let’s focus on desktop computers and laptops with gaming in mind.

What You Need

Tuning your GPU is easy with overclocking software and a bit of know-how. There are tools that do the physical tuning and tools that test GPU stress limits and measure its performance response.

Here’s everything you need to get started: 

Overclocking Tools

The software you choose needs to work with your device’s GPU, while some can tune all common GPUs. You can overclock a laptop GPU just the same way as a desktop one.

MSI Afterburner

This free tool works with both AMD and Nvidia cards. It is quite an extensive suite that gives you a complete hardware overview and lets you modify fan speed for optimal cooling. Not to mention benchmark results. Its simple sliders let you incrementally increase memory and clock cores to reach your GPU’s full potential.

Overclocking with MSI Afterburner allows you to save 5 custom profiles.

EVGA Precision X

This is another free option that is a favorite among gamers. It monitors all your fans and gives you full control over their speed using sliders. Clock speed and memory sliders also give you precise control over the overclocking process. Moreover, you can set a target for temperature, so the GPU never exceeds dangerous levels

10 custom profile slots let you switch between different settings for different tasks. Note that this is Nvidia overclocking software and it does not support AMD cards.

Asus GPU Tweak

GPU Tweak II supports Nvidia and AMD GPUs. It’s one of the best choices for beginners. Though it doesn’t give the precision some other tools offer, it has a one-click auto-tuner and different preset modes. These include:

  • OC — for maximum potential
  • Gaming — for the best gaming performance
  • Silent — for running your system in a quiet mode

The latter is an underclocking option if you want your fans to run silently while you aren’t doing any intensive GPU-related tasks. 

Others

Honorable mentions include:

  • SAPPHIRE TriXX – Excellent for SAPPHIRE branded AMD Radeon cards.
  • ATI Tray Tools – Includes a good auto-tuner for ATI Radeon cards.

GPU Benchmark and Stress Tools

Your overclocked GPU settings will not always produce better performance. That’s why it’s important to do a benchmark and compare the results of tweaking different settings. You can even test yours against other overclockers with similar rigs. Likewise, a stress test can determine just how hard your GPU can work and whether there are any weaknesses. 

AIDA64 Extreme

This premium software is great at performing stress tests on modern GPUs, which makes it an excellent choice for gamers and designers. It gathers hardware information in real-time for voltage, temperature, and fan speeds. Moreover, its diagnostic capabilities detect and prevent hardware errors. 

It monitors your entire system, so you can discover any bottlenecks and interrelated issues between your GPU and other hardware.

A lifetime license is $49.95 with a one-year support period.

FurMark

In conjunction with an overclocking utility, FurMark is great for testing your card AMD and other GPUs’ absolute limits. If you are a gamer with a top-end GPU, this is the best tool on the market. 

One drawback is that mid-range and lower-end cards might not be able to complete their flagship stress test. Nvidia even prevents you from carrying it out due to concerns that it could damage your GPU. Fortunately, it now has a standard stress test for mid-range GPUs. What’s more, both are free.

Heaven UNIGINE

Heaven aims its free benchmarking tool primarily at GPUs. It performs lengthy stress tests, so you can get the most accurate stability results. It monitors cooling at the same time, so you know exactly how much your system can handle temperature-wise. 

Others

Honorable mentions include:

  • Superposition – Also based on the UNIGINE framework.
  • UserBenchmark GPU benchmark online tool.
  • 3DMark – Supports mobile devices.
  • Paessler – Good for discovering related bottleneck issues like unnecessary background processes.
  • MSI Kombustor – Works well in conjunction with MSI Afterburner.
  • GFXBench – Tests your GPU’s performance against almost any other card.

How To Overclock GPU

Now you have everything you need, let’s go step by step through the process of overclocking your GPU settings.

Benchmark Your Stock Settings

Prior to overclocking, it is a good idea to understand your current system performance. What is your GPU’s current speed? Is it stable out of the box? How hot does it run, and are your fans doing a good job?

Above all, benchmarking at the beginning means you can effectively measure performance improvements later. 

Close any background programs and launch your chosen benchmarking tool. Then select a reasonable test for your card. It should be at or just higher than what you would use in a game. 

For example, you should see options for things like screen resolution and anti-aliasing. If detailed settings like these aren’t available, go with one of the preset tests that meet your general setup. 

Note, if you happen to be using a very intensive test from the likes of FurMark, find the setting for maximum GPU temperature and don’t let it run higher than 90 degrees. Overclocking GPU speeds to the point of running temperatures that high can cause crashing or even damage. 

Next, run the test, and the tool will begin putting the card through its paces. You’ll likely see graphical scenes play out on screen, with fluctuating performance information overlaid.

Tests can take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. Results will then be shown, including: 

  • the minimum, maximum, and average frame rates
  • clock speeds
  • temperature

Don’t forget to note these down or make screenshots.

Increase the GPU Speed

Now it’s time to overclock. Fire up a tool like MSI Afterburner and increase the power limit to the maximum. This indicates how much power is being fed to the card by your system. The process will do nothing more than increase power consumption, so it’s fine to max out.

The most important setting is the core clock speed. Increase this by 10 above default, as it’s safer to work in increments. 

You can leave fan speeds at auto. Most systems do a good job of increasing speeds as temperatures increase naturally. You might, however, want to limit the temperature to 90 degrees as we did during benchmarking. 

Increase the GPU Memory

MSI Afterburner overclocking also lets you increase GPU memory. A GPU memory overclock boosts the amount of memory used by the card’s own RAM before tapping into the rest of your system’s memory. This improves performance, but overclocking has its limits. Overdoing it can cause decreased performance, error corrections, and even crashes.

Start by trying an increase of 100

Adjust the GPU Voltage

Increasing voltage can help boost card stability at higher clock speeds, though it also runs the risk of overheating. In Afterburner, you must check ‘unlock voltage control’ and ‘unlock voltage monitoring’ to change this setting.

For cards that display an mV slider (not common for Nvidia), first, move this up by 10mV.

Re-Run the Benchmark 

Before unleashing your overclocked graphics card, re-run your benchmark test. You should look out for strange artifacts and glitches in the imagery. If this starts to occur, you’ve gone too far.

Once again, keep an eye on the temperatures and note down the results. If your frame rates remain high, you can go back to your overclocking software and increase the core speed by another 10mV

It’s now a case of rinsing and repeating. Eventually, the card will fail, which means you have reached its limit. Failing is not inherently dangerous and will not cause damage. In fact, a test crashing actually prevents damage.

At this point, pull the slider back down to the last smooth performance setting and consider this your maximum overclocked setting.

Auto-Overclocking

Sometimes you may not trust your own ability or not have the time to learn how to overclock GPU performance manually. Many utilities have an auto-tuning feature that can moderately improve your card. For example, to overclock Nvidia GPU cards automatically, you can use its accompanying GeForce Experience app. 

Should You Overclock Your GPU?

Now you know how, the question is should you overclock your GPU? If you are a casual computer user and don’t play graphically intense games, it might not be worth the effort. Likewise, if you have a top-end GPU that can handle the latest game releases with ease already, there might not be any need to force the card to work harder or consume more power.

It’s those that fall somewhere in the middle that benefits the most from overclocking. So, gamers who have a mid-range or older top-end card should certainly try overclocking.

On the other hand, if you have a really old graphics card and system, no amount of overclocking will allow you to play new releases. Furthermore, it’s more difficult to overclock an old system as crashes and damage are more likely to occur. 

Risks of Overclocking Your GPU

There are some risks and things to consider when video card overclocking. That said, the pros outweigh the cons if you do things correctly. Nonetheless, here’s what you should know:

Power Consumption

While overclocking can save you money by reducing the need to upgrade to a higher-spec model, it could increase costs too. This is because overclocking increases power consumption, using up more electricity

In short, overclocking graphics card speed and playing games a lot will increase your electricity bill compared to using factory settings. 

Crashing

The main risk to the GPU itself is crashing from having the settings adjusted too high. It’s not a risk during the overclocking process if it happens once or twice. However, if you force the card to go beyond its limits and use it in this state for a prolonged period of time, then the damage could theoretically occur.

Overheating is also a risk, but all modern GPUs and overclocking tools can limit or at least monitor the temperature

Instability

Generally, when you increase the clock speed GPU setting, performance is improved. If you benchmark properly, you can discover when performance starts to diminish. 

Yet, if you get too close to this line, this can cause instability in games with inconsistent FPS and performance. The knack is to find your card's limit and dial it back

Wrap Up

Are you ready to overclock your GPU? Now you know the principles behind overclocking, the software to use, and how to do it safely. While GPU tuning isn’t for everyone, it’s a great thing to try if you are a gamer and want those extra FPS.

FAQ.


Is it OK to overclock GPU?

Yes, overclocking graphics cards is entirely safe with modern setups. This process increases the running temperature and makes the GPU work harder. But the stress should not be beyond its capabilities and there are fail-safes in place that will shut things down before any damage is caused.

What software can I use to overclock my GPU?

To overclock your GPU, you will need a proper overclocking program like MSI Afterburner. There are also specific tools that overclock AMD GPU setups or Nvidia cards only. Do not confuse an overlocking utility with a benchmarking or stress test tool.

Does Nvidia have an overclocking tool?

Yes, the Nvidia overclocking tool is found within its GeForce Experience app. You will be prompted to download it when installing any Nvidia GPU. There is even a single-click auto tuner for a quick performance boost for gamers. 

Can overclocking damage GPU?

No, GPU overclocking does not damage the card. If it is forcibly set to a speed it cannot handle or it gets too hot, it will simply reset. 

However, damage can occur if you constantly force the GPU to push its limits. Other risk factors are overheating and overvolting. This is why benchmarking and modern overclocking tools are necessary, as they can spot these problems and prevent them from happening.

Does overclocking reduce GPU lifespan?

No, in modern computing it is generally accepted that graphics card overclocking does not meaningfully reduce a card’s lifespan. If you follow best practices, including benchmarking and cooling, the GPU should run well for years.

A GPU is more likely to become completely obsolete before overclocking can have a big enough impact on its longevity.

How do I automatically overclock my GPU?

Today’s GPU manufacturers include automated overclocking features with their accompanying software. For example, you can access Nvidia auto tuning by turning on ‘Experimental Features’ in the GeForce Experience program. 

Radeon AMD GPU overclocking software is also available. The latest Adrenaline app has a ‘Performance’ tab and a ‘Tuning’ sub-tab, where you can choose the ‘Auto Overclock’ option.

How much should I overclock my GPU?

It is considered safe and effective to overclock your GPU by increments of up to 15% and a maximum of 100 MHz. It is best to perform increases incrementally and test performance with a benchmarking tool, which will guide you in how to overclock GPU memory and speed. You should see an immediate increase in performance. Note, however, that taking things too far will result in a decrease in performance and eventual crashes.

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Keelan Balderson

Keelan Balderson

A qualified journalist and longtime web content writer, Keelan has a passion for exploring information and learning new things. If he's not writing or pushing his own brands, you'll find him watching pro wrestling or trying not to rant about politics online.

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