Overclocking is the hallmark of the desktop enthusiast scene and has broad appeal from budget gamers to extreme overclockers working with liquid nitrogen. It’s been a great way to get the most out of the best GPUs you can buy today. While the practice of overclocking in general has been going out of fashion for a variety of reasons, it’s still a viable way to get more performance out of your graphics card without necessarily getting a new one, and it can also be a fun activity in its own right. Here’s how you overclock your GPU.
What you need to overclock
Before you try and supercharge your graphics card, you’re going to want to make sure you have everything you need, and it’s really all about your hardware. Not only is overclocking not supported on all GPUs, but not all graphics cards are even suitable for overclocking. Here’s everything you’ll need to make sure you have before you start.
- A graphics card that supports overclocking, as not all cards do
- A computer that supports overclocking, particularly the motherboard
- Good cooling, on both the GPU and in the case as a whole
- Plenty of power, with more power plugs on the GPU being better
- A tolerance for risk, since overclocking can damage your GPU
If you meet all these requirements, you’re good to go for overclocking. Cooling and power may be optional, but you’ll be far more limited without those.
Preparing for overclocking
Before starting to overclock, you need to establish how well your GPU performs. To do this, you’re going to want to run a benchmark like 3DMark Time Spy and see what score you get, how hot the GPU is, and what kind of power draw you’re looking at. If your GPU is hitting above 85°C during a benchmark, you’ll want to increase the fan speed before you start overclocking, since you’re only going to see higher temperatures from here on out.
Next, you’re going to want to research your GPU and see what kind of overclocks people have been getting on it. It’s the general model (like RTX 4080) that matters here the most rather than what brand you bought it from. You’re especially going to want to find out what the safest maximum voltage is for your GPU. If you can’t find any good data on this, then you should limit yourself to no more than 100 extra millivolts (or mV).
GPU overclocking is exclusively done through software, and there are a handful of programs that support GPU overclocking, such as MSI Afterburner (the most popular solution) and both AMD’s Radeon Software and Nvidia’s GeForce Experience app offer official overclocking tools, though I’ll touch on how good those are in a moment (before you start however, Nvidia’s official tool won’t work for real overclocking). I personally recommend MSI Afterburner if it supports your GPU.
Overclocking your GPU, step by step
Now, with all that out of the way, we can finally start overclocking. It’s actually pretty simple at this point, though often time-consuming. You can follow this for both your graphics chip and memory, though I recommend overclocking the graphics chip first instead of trying to do both at the same time.
- First, increase the power limit on your GPU as far as you can. Don’t worry, this is 100% safe.
- Increase the clock speed by a small amount, by no more than 5% at a time. Usually, you can increment by as little as 1MHz so you can choose a pretty specific clock speed if you want.
- Save your new frequency.
- Run a stress test like 3DMark Time Spy to test stability. Longer test runs will expose problems with an overclock, so testing for at least half an hour is recommended.
- If your PC doesn’t crash, then your overclock is stable, and you may repeat steps 1 to 3. If your PC crashes, or you see visual glitches (called artifacts), then you will need to increase stability.
Whether your GPU supports adding more voltage will determine your options here. If your GPU doesn’t support modifying the voltage, then you’ll have to decrease the frequency to a level you know is stable, which is your maximum achievable overclock. If you can add more voltage to your GPU, you can proceed to step 5.
- Increase the voltage, preferably using an offset option. I recommend adding voltage in increments of 25mV or .025V. Please note that increasing voltage will moderately increase power consumption and heat.
- Save your new voltage and run your stress test yet again.
- If your PC doesn’t crash, your overclock is now stable and you can go back to steps 1 to 3 to increase the clock speed further. If your PC still crashed, then you need to increase the voltage, so repeat steps 5 and 6. Eventually, though, your GPU will run into a limit, and you’ll have to stop trying to bump the frequency and voltage, and settle for a combination that’s stable and safe.
Even after you’re happy with your overclocking settings and you don’t see any crashes in benchmarks, it’s a good idea to validate your settings by running an actual game to make sure everything is working well.
While maximum performance and stability are the goals of this guide, you might also aim for more optimal thermals and noise and settle for a lower frequency and voltage combination. That’s a perfectly valid use case, and one that many users settle on if the heat and noise just aren’t worth it.
Both Nvidia and AMD offer their own tools for overclocking as opposed to MSI Afterburner. Nvidia’s tool however is very limited and is essentially just a way to make your GPU boost a little more aggressively, and it doesn’t allow you to set a clock speed or voltage. AMD’s tool on the other hand is much, much more useful, and not only does it offer basically everything MSI Afterburner does in a more modern UI, but even has a few different automatic overclocking options:
- Undervolt GPU reduces the voltage and tries to maintain normal clock speed so the GPU runs more efficiently and cooler
- Overclock GPU is basically an automatic overclock, or rather a more aggressive version of the frequency boost AMD GPUs already come with
- Overclock VRAM overclocks the memory rather than the graphics chip
If you own an AMD GPU, the built-in overclocking tool is a very viable alternative to MSI Afterburner, and you might even like it more since it offers a few more options, looks better, and doesn’t require an additional download. You can even set up different overclocking profiles for individual games rather than setting up a global profile for all games like MSI Afterburner and other tools do.
Overclocking can get you more performance, but it’s not as effective as it used to be
Back in the days of Nvidia’s 9 and 10 series GPUs, you could expect some crazy overclocks without much problem, but these days it’s not so easy. Part of the problem with overclocking is that Nvidia, AMD, and Intel are much better at getting high frequencies on their GPUs right out of the box, which means the performance you can get from overclocking is relatively less now. Also, lots of higher-end GPUs consume more power these days, which is another obstacle to deal with.
Despite that, overclocking can still net you extra performance by a notable degree, and on some models, it’s more significant than others. Plus, overclocking can be a fun thing to do if you’re bored, whether you’re doing it casually or as a challenge. GPU overclocking is also arguably more useful than CPU overclocking if you’re mostly gaming since increasing GPU frequency almost always improves gaming performance while being less tedious and annoying.