From video games to professional 3D work, a graphics card is an essential piece of kit for those who want to push their computers to the next level of graphics rendering. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with adding extra hardware to a computer, graphics cards come with their own sets of problems and issues. This makes it frustrating for users who aren’t very experienced with graphics cards and how to diagnose errors.
What kinds of problems can a graphics card create, and how can you fix them?
Graphics cards that have gone rogue can cause a PC to crash. These crashes can be varied, from a simple bluescreen, to a “lockup” (where the PC freezes up but doesn’t show a bluescreen), to random restarts and powering off. Not every crash will be caused by the graphics card, but if you have memory dumps enabled and they blame the graphics card driver, you can safely say it’s the culprit.
When something is going wrong with the graphics card, you may notice this via bizarre visuals onscreen. This is because the graphics card is how the PC “draws” onto the monitor. Colours will look strange, 3D models will stretch for no reason, “digital snow” will appear, or the entire screen will be covered in visual garbage.
Loud Fan Sounds
When you boot up software that uses 3D graphics (or even when you boot up the computer!), you might hear what sounds like a small jet aircraft taking off within the PC. This is the telltale sound of one of your system fans going into overtime. If this fan is the one on your graphics card, it might be a sign that something’s not quite well with it.
Sometimes you’ll be using your PC normally when the screen goes black for a few seconds. When it returns, you’ll be informed that the video drivers have crashed and had to be restarted. This won’t crash your whole PC but can be very annoying if it happens frequently.
Sometimes you won’t see any visual clues at all! A graphics card gone bad can simply decide to stop working and not display anything. You’ll have to resort to integrated graphics or a cheap “throwaway” graphics card to see if it’s your card or your monitor acting up. If it works with either of those, it’s most likely your graphics card at fault.
While a lot of the above are symptoms of a dying graphics card, it doesn’t always mean it’s on its way out. There are a few things you can try to fix the graphics card before you cast a final judgement on it and buy a new one.
Change the Drivers
Graphics card drivers can be fickle. If they’re outdated, they can cause issues when playing more modern games. If the graphics card is old, newer drivers can do more harm than good for system stability. Sometimes you’ll have a very recent graphics card and up-to-date drivers, and your computer will still crash regardless!
If you haven’t updated your graphics card drivers in a while, update them via NVidia, AMD, or Intel, depending on what make your card is. Alternatively, if you have recently updated the drivers, try rolling back the driver to an earlier date or installing older drivers via your vendor’s driver archive.
Cool It Down
There’s a chance the graphics card is experiencing issues due to overheating. This will be especially relevant if the errors only happen after rendering 3D graphics for a while, or if you notice your graphics card’s fan getting extremely loud during rendering. If this is the case, try checking the temperature of your graphics card and see how hot it gets.
You can combat overheating by removing the graphics card and cleaning any dust using compressed air. You can even open the card itself up and refresh the thermal paste within, although this shouldn’t be attempted by beginners. There are also tools to regulate the graphics card’s fan and graphical output, such as MSI Afterburner.
Make Sure It’s Properly Seated
Graphics cards need to be properly seated in their PCi slots in order to work efficiently. If they require additional power plugs to operate, these need to be firmly plugged in without wiggle room. Failure to do either (or both!) may cause errors related to the graphics card. Ensure the card is properly slotted into the PCi and screwed in tight. Ensure any power connectors that are needed for operation are properly clipped into the unit.
Check the Video Cable
If the cable from your PC to your graphics card goes awry, it can create weird visual effects. If something visually strange happens, ensure the video cable is properly plugged in on both sides or replace the cable.
Check The Monitor
Visual glitches may not even be the graphics card at all but instead a sign that the monitor is on its way out. If none of the above works, try replacing either the monitor or graphics card. If the problem goes away, whatever you replaced was the culprit.
Replace the Card
Sometimes, however, the symptoms are simply a sign of a card past its prime. If you truly suspect that nothing can bring the card back from its current state, you can try purchasing a very cheap graphics card to see it if works on your PC. If the issues stop, consider buying a better new card!
While excellent for rendering 3D space, graphics cards can come with their own woes and problems. Now you know the main symptoms a faulty card can cause and also know what to do before declaring a graphic card as faulty.