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. If your graphics card is not working, it can be frustrating, especially for those who aren’t experienced with graphics cards and don’t know how to diagnose errors.
Here are the symptoms of a faulty graphics card and how you can fix it when a graphics card is not working.
It’s a tale as old as time. You buy a new gaming laptop or GPU having heard that it will run at searingly fast framerates, but when it comes to actually running the games, it’s performing 30% or worse below expectations.
It’s one thing for the framerate in a game to be a little bit below (or above) what you expect – there are many variables to consider. But if your GPU is running way below expectations, then you should start looking into solutions.
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 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. Colors 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 software that uses 3D graphics (or even when you boot up the computer!), you may 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 may be a sign that something’s not quite well with it.
Sometimes you’ll be using your PC normally when the screen will go 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 many 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.
Make Sure Your GPU Is Enabled
This one particularly applies to laptops, but may also apply to desktops if your CPU has an integrated GPU on it.
Many laptops have a built-in feature that when you unplug them from the power, they automatically disable the dedicated GPU to preserve battery life. Sometimes this feature can remain enabled even if you’re plugged into the power, or you may have set it to “always on” at some point.
There are a few ways to ensure your GPU is enabled:
If you have an Nvidia GPU, go to Nvidia Control Panel, then under “Manage 3D Settings,” click the Program Settings tab, navigate to the game you’re having trouble with, then in the “Select the preferred graphics processor” drop-down, select “High-performance NVIDIA processor.”
Some laptops offer their own software that lets you switch the GPU on and off with one click. On my laptop, for instance, ASUS Armory Crate does that job. Under “System Configuration,” I can switch off “iGPU mode” to enable my Nvidia GPU or just turn it to “Off” so my Nvidia GPU is on permanently.
If neither of those work, go into your laptop BIOS (press the designated key – usually F2 or F8 – when booting your PC) and see if you can enable your dedicated graphics from there. Alternatively, try disabling your iGPU, which may trigger your dedicated GPU to start working.
Change In-Game Settings
If the problems only appear in specific games, they may not actually be problems.
The modern GPUs produce 3D graphics through three different APIs: DirectX, OpenGL, and Vulkan. Most games allow you to choose the rendering API with a visit to their advanced graphical settings. To complicate things, there are different versions of those APIs, with varying levels of support depending on the driver, GPU, and operating system combination.
Certain GPUs don’t play nice with certain settings. Both AMD and Nvidia GPUs quite often have certain graphical features that are specifically designed for one card or the other (such as DLSS and ray-tracing for Nvidia, and FidelityFX for AMD).
Enabling features not made for your brand of GPU can result in problems. An infamous example is Nvidia HairWorks for The Witcher 3, which worked fine on Nvidia cards but absolutely ruined the framerate on AMD.
Update 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 the manufacturer. 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.
Full Driver Removal
You might have recently upgraded your GPU but also jumped ship between brands – for example, moving from an AMD GPU to one made by Nvidia. In this case, it’s best to fully uninstall the previous GPU drivers. Unfortunately, their official uninstallers tend to leave traces behind. Thankfully, there is a third-party solution for that problem: Display Driver Uninstaller.
Download Display Driver Uninstaller (DDU for short) from its official page at Guru 3D and run it before swapping your GPU or installing your desired driver. Use it to eliminate any traces of existing display drivers, and then either shut down your computer and replace your GPU with the new one or restart and install different display drivers. This is also useful while troubleshooting display problems since it allows you to ensure that their source isn’t a driver conflict.
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, check the temperature of your graphics card to 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 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 that you know the main symptoms of a faulty card and how to fix it when a graphics card is not working, you can learn more about what v-sync is and whether to turn it on or off and see our guides on how to use AMD Radeon Settings and the Nvidia Control Panel.