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There’s nothing more depressing than starting a brand new game on launch day, only to suffer through constant stuttering or poor quality. If your games run at lower FPS or your multimedia apps run slow, don’t fiddle with lower settings and make sacrifices just yet. Instead, try pushing it to its absolute limit. Enter GPU overclocking.
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In other cases, an overclock could give you an edge when cranking up the visual details. For example, only an overclock allows me to play Nier: Automata at 4K resolution, with maximum details at a rock solid 60 FPS. Without that overclock, I’d have to dial back some visual settings and make sacrifices. Note that other GPU-dependent tasks might also benefit from an overclock, including multimedia rendering which is done mostly by the GPU.
Overclocking is relatively safe these days. If anything goes wrong, the laptop or PC will crash or produce visual artifacts (which is a good warning that your game is about to crash, too), but chances are slim you’ll actually damage your hardware. Damaging the GPU will occur, however, if you decide to become a professional GPU overclocker, using LN2 or “shunt mods” to remove voltage limitations so you can feed more power to the GPU… but I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole! It’s not sustainable and gives you marginal benefits at high risk. It’s up to you, but you can obviously kiss that guarantee goodbye!
Overclocking is a hardware-based approach to optimizing your PC. It’s only worth doing if your PC is already optimized on a software level, otherwise you’d be negating the improvements you’ve made by overclocking. To create a solid basis for overclocking, you should first optimize your PC software for gaming and consider using Avast Cleanup to reduce the impact of 3rd-party processes on your computer. The combination of optimized hardware and software will give you the best possible performance.
Overclocking is a straightforward way to improve your PC’s or laptop’s gaming or multimedia performance. A few things you’ll need:
An overclocking tool — my personal preference and possibly the leader of them all is MSI Afterburner which works for most AMD and NVIDIA GeForce chips. Note that newer versions of MSI Afterburner also feature an “OC Scan”, initially developed for NVIDIA's latest GeForce RTX series (2070, 2080, 2080 Ti) that automatically overclocks your GPU — a nice feature to have. More on that later. You can download MSI Afterburner and its latest beta versions (which I’d actually recommend, especially for newer generation GPUs) from this page.
MSI Afterburning overclocking utility
If MSI doesn’t work for you, EVGAs Precision XOC is a good alternative that works perfectly fine on non-EVGA cards. However, EVGA requires you to sign up for an account before you can download the (otherwise) free and great tool.
EVGA Precision X overclocking utility
AMD users might want to look at AMD Overdrive, specifically aimed at AMD GPUs. If either of the above tools don’t work, this will help you push your hardware to its limits — and beyond.
A GPU stress test — Overclocking a GPU works fine at first glance, or even for a few minutes or hours when you’re gaming. However, in my experience, an overclock shows its true effects after a few hours of real gaming. Just a while ago, I thought I’d found the perfect overclock settings for my Titan Xp GPU(s), only to realize that those settings would cause a crash 1-2 hours into gameplay. That’s why you need a good GPU stress testing utility — run it for a few hours to find your personal settings. I personally use two tools for that: 3DMark and Unigine Valley.
Run this test and get a baseline of the framerate, stability, clock speeds and temperatures of your GPU. Repeat it multiple times to get a sense of your GPU’s capability.
DMarks Stress Test provide a lot of detailed analysis and is easy to automate, but it requires you to have the “Professional” (paid) version.
Unigine Valley renders a highly complex forest, pushing your CPU/GPU combo to its limits.
Overclocking sounds dangerous, but it’s really not if you follow the steps below to the detail.
Before you start with step 1, make sure that you benchmark your default performance (see section above) to determine the baseline performance. That way, you’ll get an idea of how much you’ll achieve!
I’m going to show you how to overclock using the MSI Afterburner tool, as that’s my preferred way of OC-ing my graphics card, but the method is very similar for other tools. Ready? Cool. First, let’s launch MSI Afterburner.
MSI Afterburner overclocking settings
Let me explain what you’re looking at:
Your current GPU and memory clock — The number goes up and down based on the current GPU needs, so if there’s no GPU load running, you shouldn’t see too many fluctuations here.
The current voltage — Note that most modern GPUs prevent you from changing the voltage, as it could harm the hardware. There are workarounds (such as flashing the BIOS and other ways), but we don’t recommend this as it gives you only negligible benefits.
GPU temperature — Usually anything around 80-85° is a good maximum. Beyond that, things might get too hot and the graphics card could throttle itself.
Power Limit — Here’s where you can usually increase the draw by up to 20%, giving you extra headroom for overclocking. If your card has a limit of 250 watts, you can increase it to 300 watts by moving the slider to the right. Watch the temperatures and noise level, though. The higher the limit, the hotter things get.
Temp Limit — This increases the temperature limit before the GPU starts to throttle things down too much.
Core Clock — Magic button number 1! This increases your GPU clock and is one of the key measures to improve performance.
Memory clock — Magic button number 2! This one increases the frequency of its memory, which increases bandwidth — another key factor to get more FPS.
Startup — This button enables you to launch Afterburner every time your PC boots.
OK — The “Let’s fire this up” button, which applies the overclocking button.
Now let’s get working. First, increase the temperature limit to its maximum and increase the Power Limit by 10%. This will give you some headroom for the first big step of overclocking. Now, move the GPU slider to the right by +50 MHz. Hit the OK button (9). Usually, any overclock between 5-50 Mhz shouldn’t cause any issues, so this is more or less to see whether the overclock works at all. If it doesn’t… well, time for a new graphics card, as your current GPU can’t handle any OC.
MSI Afterburner step by step overclocking
Is everything running ok? Then let’s stress test the GPU at this point. Run 3DMark and Unigine Valley. Seeing no artifacts or crashes? Fantastic. Then let’s up the clock speed in steps of 10 MHz. Hit OK. Test again. If it works, repeat it again and again and again until you hit the limit where the game crashes or the PC/laptop reboots. Then, reduce that by 10 MHz to give you some headroom. In my case, I was able to get my Titan Xp up to 170 MHz (stable).
Usually you can overclock memory (Video RAM/VRAM) between 10-15% to get a drastic performance boost in games that rely heavily on it, especially ones with lots of textures to load. In the case of our Titan Xp, its memory runs at 5,505 MHz, so I was easily able to push it by 400-500 MHz. My advice is to start lower, go with increments of 50 MHz, and work your way up until you hit a limit. Note that games react very differently to a high memory clock. Some will run significantly faster with no problem, others might shows artifacts. I initially had a memory overclock of +700 MHz in place, which worked fine for all games except my two favorites, The Witcher 3 and Nier: Automata. Had to dial back. (Sad trombone.)
If you hit a limit and you haven’t done so already, set the temp and power limit to the max. Then try again! You will likely be able to push the clocks of both the GPU and the memory a bit further, but it won’t be much, and it will likely be too noisy. I personally settled at +114% for the power limit.
Now, one final word of advice: You have to figure out the maximum overclock yourself. There’s no guide that says “Got a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti? Then your maximum setting is +200 MHz GPU and 800 MHz VRAM!” I wish. The thing is, every chip is manufactured differently on a chemical level. Every silicone composition is a bit different, and there are variations, so one chip might not sustain heat and stress as much as another.
Most GPUs should be overclockable, though you might see some incompatibility issues — especially with laptop GPUs and Intel’s HD graphics processor — but overall it should work flawlessly. Regarding laptops specifically, most of their GPUs can be overclocked, but you will hit thermal limits.
Overclocking laptops, such as this GeForce 965M GTX on a Surface Book: Possible, but please be cautious!
You see, most laptops feature high-power components squeezed inside a tiny chassis with limited amounts of airflow. Overclocking the GPU would lead to an increase in heat (more operations = higher temperature) so you would hit thermal limits. During gameplay sessions, your laptop might turn off and reboot. However, even with limited overclocking ability, you can achieve some boost on laptops. Take the Surface Book, for example: Before the overclock, the framerate in Far Cry Primal dropped to 44 FPS...
...while an overclock raised the minimum FPS to 52! That’s a noticeable improvement for a laptop. Note, though, that some laptops aren’t built for overclocking and might crash at even the slightest OC setting. That’s when you should use alternative methods for optimizing performance, either manually or via PC optimization software that helps reduce background activity. Plus, you might need to look at updating GPU drivers and CPU overclocking for additional boosts in performance.
To avoid some of this experimentation above, you could always buy a factory-overclocked card — such as the EVGA FTW3 or the MSI Lightning Z models — which go beyond the factory clock of the original NVIDIA reference models.To put things into perspective: While the default 2080 TI boosts up to 1635 MHz, the Lightning Z goes up to 1770 by default, and you can boost this even higher thanks to beefier power supplies and PCBs.
So what did we get out of all this overclocking? Well, we performed benchmarks with some of the latest games and 3DMark. The results are quite nice.
On the left, we have last years Assassins Creed Odysseys, which struggles to reach a solid 60 FPS on even high-end hardware at 4K resolution. Overclocking took it a bit closer to that magic number. On the right, Shadow of the Tomb Raider benefitted quite noticeably from overclocking, managing to boost the FPS from 91 to 110 in SLI mode.
In all cases, we were able to get a noticeable increase in performance that sometimes made the difference between stuttering and butter-smooth 60 FPS (or more). Now stop fiddling with clocks and just enjoy your games — that’s what it’s about! Don’t be me, wasting hours and hours finding the PERFECT clock down to the last MHz. (You won’t feel the difference between 175 and 170 MHz of frequency.)
Once you’re done optimizing the hardware, take care of your software by going through steps to reduce background activity that could slow down gaming PCs. Avast Cleanup can help you by putting performance draining apps to sleep, cleaning your disk for more space and uninstalling resource hogs.