Sometimes, your GPU is almost—but not quite—powerful enough to keep your favorite games running consistently at 60+ frames. Or maybe you already have the latest and greatest graphics card for gaming and you just want to make it as beastly as humanly possible. Both are valid reasons to overclock it.
For most of PC gaming’s history, overclocking a GPU was a moderately dangerous procedure that was easy to mess up. Nowadays, GPU manufacturers know that a lot of gamers want to do it, so they’ve made the process as safe and user-friendly as possible so you can run the latest titles even if you own a midrange graphics card for gaming under $300.
What Does Overclocking Your GPU Mean?
In a nutshell, to overclock a GPU is to increase its maximum performance by raising the factory default limit on how fast it can run. Pushing that limit too far is a bad idea for a number of reasons: you can experience graphical glitches in-game, crash your PC, overheat your GPU, or even break something permanently.
Don’t worry too much, though—most of the overclocking software out there nowadays has built-in safety features to prevent users from causing any real harm. If you own a great budget CPU for gaming, overclocking might also be useful so read carefully.
To overclock your GPU, you’ll need three pieces of software: a benchmarking program, the overclocking software itself, and a temperature monitoring program. There are a number of options out there for all of them, so we’ll make this guide as general as possible, but we do have a few recommendations.
- For benchmarking, we recommend 3DMark 11
- The most popular and user-friendly overclocking program is MSI Afterburner
- We like GPU Temp and Speedfan for keeping an eye on your temps
That’s all you need, really. Let’s get on with it.
Step by Step Guide to GPU Overclocking
Step 1: Run a benchmark
A benchmark is a test to determine how well your PC can handle heavy demands on its various components. Before you start making your GPU work overtime, you need to figure out how much horsepower it already has and how much more you can safely squeeze out of it. Open 3DMark 11 (or whichever benchmarking program you went with) and look for a button labeled “Run Benchmark,” “Stress Test,” or something similar. Let the test run.
Depending on the program, it could take anywhere from one to ten minutes. Make a note of the average and maximum GPU temps displayed on-screen while the test is running because that information may or may not be displayed at the end.
Step 2: Record your results
When the benchmark test is done, screenshot or write down your average GPU temp, min/max/average frames per second, and your “system score” if you’re given one. (Refer to the particular program’s documentation for the scale.)
Step 3: Start tweaking (conservatively)
Open up MSI Afterburner and go into the settings. On the “General” tab, uncheck the following options: “Unlock voltage control,” “Unlock voltage monitoring,” and “Force constant voltage.” If you’re using a different program, look for similar options or refer to its help file. Click OK, and then restart your PC when prompted.
Once that’s done, reopen Afterburner. On the main control panel, set the temperature limit to 85° Celsius. This will impose a hard cap and force your GPU to slow down if it gets hotter than that.
Next, set core voltage to maximum by moving the slider all the way to the right. Click the checkmark to save these settings.
Finally, increase the core clock (MHz) value by 20. You’ll be repeating this process several times, and you don’t want to make big adjustments all at once.
Step 4: Run a benchmark (again)
Run another benchmark test just like before. If any of the following things happen, you have a problem:
- Graphical glitches
- PC crashes
- Maximum GPU temp rises to 84° or higher
If you experience any of these problems after one round of tweaks, you probably have an older or lower-end GPU that simply can’t be pushed very hard. If you’re pretty sure that’s not the case and that it should be able to handle some degree of overclocking, there may be some other problem, and you may want to contact the manufacturer.
In all likelihood, you’ll see some minor improvement in the second benchmark test. Screenshot or write down the new numbers.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4
Increase your core clock (MHz) by 20 once more and run another benchmark. You may have to do this several times. At the first sign of any of the “hold on there, cowboy” criteria from step 4, decrease the core clock speed by 20, back to the previous value at which you had a successful test. If two consecutive tests show no noticeable improvement in performance, that’s also a good place to stop.
Step 6: Save your settings
Afterburner has a profile system that can quickly save and load various overclock settings. Make sure to save yours. Afterburner needs to be running in order to work during gameplay, so pin it to your quick taskbar or start menu for easy access.
Step 7: Game on
That’s it, you’re done. That wasn’t so bad, right? Overclocking a GPU is a lot easier and safer than it used to be, believe me. Boot up Apex Legends or Devil May Cry 5 and enjoy your extra hard-won frames.
Step 8: Monitor those temps
We almost forgot—keep GPU Temp or Speedfan open while games are running with overclocked GPU settings, at least for a while. Periodically check if you’re within safe GPU temperature limits and make sure the temperature limit setting in Afterburner is working.
After a few days with no problems, you probably don’t need to watch it as closely.
Learning to overclock GPU is not simple yet it can be extremely beneficial. Getting increased GPU performance and no real-money cost is something every gamer on a budget would want.
Finally, if you are suffering from performance issues when browsing multiple tabs or performing work tasks, I can also recommend learning how to overclock RAM.