Overclocking is something that I always do to a new card. You paid good money for it, so why not use it to its full potential? This guide is all about overclocking graphics cards for both NVIDIA and AMD.
Before we begin, as mentioned before, this guide is for both NVIDIA and AMD cards, with some very small differences which we will go over later. For overclocking, you generally want a card without a reference cooler. A reference card is a card that uses the design supplied by the manufacturer. You’ll notice them easily, as both NVIDIA and AMD usually use a reference design with one fan and a single vent on the IO panel, stopping any hot air from getting into the actual case. It’s one benefit to having a reference card, as most non reference cards use a “open” design that allows hot air to circulate the case. An aftermarket card is one that does not use the reference design supplied by the manufacturer. The brand of the card is generally personal preference, with some preferring the cooling solutions of specific manufacturers.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
MSI Afterburner: The program we’ll be using to do the overclocking. There are many other programs you can use, such as EVGA PrecisionX, but I prefer MSI’s program as I’m used to it. However, both programs generally have the same options, so the procedure explained in this guide should be usable on both. Keep in mind that PrecisionX is for NVIDIA cards only.
Heaven 4.0 Benchmark: You need a benchmark that stresses the graphics card when overclocking. There are many options, just like overclocking software, but I like to use Heaven 4.0. It’s simple and straightforward.
OVERCLOCKING THE CORE
So, you’ll notice two sliders in MSI Afterburner that relate to memory and CPU clock. First, we’re going to overclock the core. Keep in mind that the core clock settings between AMD and NVIDIA are slightly different. The core clock slider for NVIDIA cards is the clock offset, which means it adds the value to your current card. -40 Mhz would make your card run 40 Mhz slower, for example. For AMD cards, the clock that is listed in the program would be your actual clock, for instance 1000 Mhz. Boost up MSI Afterburner and Heaven 4.0. When you see the splash screen for Heaven 4.0, set the graphical settings to max. Put everything as far as it’ll let you. Then, run it and press the benchmark tool. It’s good to have the min and max FPS values it gives at the end so you can check on them later and see how big of a performance gain your overclock has given you. Now, switch out of Heaven and go to MSI Afterburner. Increase the core clock in increments of 10. Keep doing the benchmark every time. It is very time consuming, but this method allows you to get the exact best overclock for your card. If you want to speed up the process, I sometimes go up by about 40 or 50 MHz from the get go as most cards can overclock to at least that much.
Now, when you increase the core clock you have to be observing the benchmark. When you see any sort of graphical artifacts, which is any sort of graphical irregularities such as blotches of color, strange pixels, or texture flickering, it’s time to stop moving up the core clock. A crash can also happen. After any sort of instability in the benchmark, you should move the core clock down by 10 or 20 Mhz. Test it again and see if the problems go away. If everything runs fine, you have hit your maximum core clock. Write down this number and return it back to the stock value.
OVERCLOCKING THE MEMORY
Overclocking the memory follows the same procedure as the core clock. Go up in 10 Mhz increments. If you notice any artifacts such as blotches of color or strange pixels, go down 10 or 20 Mhz and check if the artifacts are there. If everything is stable, you’ve hit your maximum memory clock. Keep in mind that memory overclocking should take a bit more than core overclocking, as memory can generally be overclocked much more. I managed to get about 500 Mhz extra out of my Gigabyte GTX 670 compared to my 60 Mhz extra on the core.
You’ll want to keep an eye out for your card’s temperatures every now and then. While you should be fine for anything up to about 85 ºC to 90 ºC, you should be in the 70 ºC – 80 ºC range. A great tool in MSI Afterburner to get some extra cooling on your card or lower fan speed is the custom fan profile option. Go to settings on the bottom, then the “fan” tab on top. Set “enable user defined software automatic fan control” to on, and then set the “predefined fan speed curve” to custom. From there, you can set how much you want the fan to work at certain temperatures. Fan speed is the y axis, while temperature is the x axis. I’ve noticed that most default fan profiles are fairly conservative when it comes to fan speeds, so you may be able to lower them a little bit to make them quieter. However, temperature is more important, so prioritize that and monitor it whenever you change your fan settings. There are many fan profiles that people share online for specific cards and manufacturers, so take a look on Google.
Overclocking is pretty safe without touching the core voltage. Once you increase that, you could potentially lower the lifespan of your card. Some would argue that the lifespan difference is negligible, as it should be obsolete and unable to play the latest games until it actually has a technical malfunction. I generally do not touch the core voltage, as I get a decent overclock on cards without touching it. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can change the voltage by going to settings in MSI Afterburner and selecting “unlock voltage control” under the general tab. Now, go back to a core clock that was unstable and increase your voltage by 10 mV. If the benchmark makes it through without any artifacts, you can try raising it even further. Eventually, you will be unable to raise it further, whether it be through instability on a core clock regardless of what you do, or the voltage cannot be increased further. Write this number down, go back to the default clock, and repeat the process for memory. During all of this, make sure your temperatures stay within the range mentioned earlier. Now, put the clocks for the core and memory on MSI Afterburner, launch the benchmark, and let it stay on the main screen without pressing the benchmark button. Leave it for a few hours to make sure it is completely stable for long periods of time. If you want to see your FPS to compare it to your score before overclocking, go right ahead and perform the benchmark. If Heaven 4.0 does not crash, has no artifacts, and is completely stable after leaving it on for a few hours, your overclock is good!
Try to play your games to test out your overclock. It’s the last test to make sure the card runs stable. If you have any graphically intensive games, they are great for this. Usually if the benchmark runs perfectly, you’re not going to run into any issues. However, you can never be too sure. Besides, this is the fun part!
I hope this guide helps out anyone that wants to overclock their cards. Once again, I highly recommend overclocking to anyone that plays games on their computer. The entire process is fairly simple and foolproof, with changing the voltage being the most difficult part. Give it a shot!