How to (Safely) Overclock Your PC Graphics Card

Most gamers will be familiar with the idea of overclocking, even if they haven’t necessarily tried it themselves. Put simply, overclocking raises the clock frequency (MHz) of your graphics card, which can improve game performance by increasing frame rates.

It’s a daunting prospect, however, so here we are providing a basic guide on how you can safely overclock your graphics card.

Warning: results will vary depending on how overclockable and powerful your GPU is, so do the necessary research on whether you can overclock your particular graphics card before going ahead and doing it.

Warning: overclocking can damage your GPU if done too aggressively and can also void your card’s warranty if the manufacturer discovers it was overclocked.

The following guide is for Windows. If you are running Linux and using an AMD GPU, you can follow this guide to overclock your graphic card.

So you’ve checked to see if your GPU can be overclocked safely, and now you want to do it. The first thing you’ll need is an excellent all-around gaming tool called MSI Afterburner. This lets you track your GPU and CPU temperatures, frame rates, fan speeds, and indeed overclock your graphics card.

First, download MSI Afterburner (and also RivaTuner Statistics Server, which is included in the Afterburner installer).

With Afterburner installed, open it, then on the main menu you’ll see a bunch of panels that are probably about as familiar to you as a jet cockpit.

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For our purposes today, all you need to focus on are the “Core Clock” and “Memory Clock” sliders in the middle (and the GPU temperature over on the right side). You’re free to tweak both, but for the sake of explanation, here’s the difference between them.

  • Core (GPU) clock: Overall increase in graphics processing speed i.e. performance. High-impact.
  • Memory (VRAM) clock: More effective on GPUs with low memory bandwidth and less impactful than overclocking the core clock.

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The bulk of your performance gain will come through increasing the core clock frequency. First, install Heaven Benchmark so you can track the performance and temperature impact as you increase the clock speed.

Get Heaven running in a window (untick the “Full Screen” box when you start it), then start increasing the core clock in 10-20MHz increments.

Each time you do this, do the following checks:

  • How much is the FPS improving?
  • Is the temperature staying reasonable? (This varies between GPUs, but you don’t really want it going much higher than 80C.)
  • Are there graphical artefacts on the screen (glitching, flickering, strange colors)?

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If your GPU isn’t showing signs of strain, then you can increase the core clock by another 10-20MHz and do the checks again. Keep repeating this until you do start getting issues (high GPU temperature, artifacting), then decrease the clock speed in tiny (1-2MHz) increments until you reach a stable balance between temperature and increased performance.

Ideally, you should leave the benchmark running for another half hour or more to see how your GPU copes over the long haul. On a similar note, you should closely monitor your GPU temperature when you play games for longer periods of time. If it starts overheating, turn down that clock speed.

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This one is optional because (again, depending on GPU here) a lot of people don’t report major performance gains by increasing the memory clock. However, once you’ve hit the sweet spot overclocking your GPU clock, you can carry out the same process for your Memory Clock, increasing it in increments until you start seeing adverse performance effects.

If you increase the Memory Clock but don’t see performance gains, then chances are your GPU memory bandwidth wasn’t particularly limited in the first place, so there’s really no need to increase the memory clock speed.

Once everything is in place, and you’re happy with your overclocking settings, it’s time to save them as a profile, so you can quickly load them up when you start gaming.

To do this, just click the floppy disk icon in the lower part of the Afterburner home screen, then select one of the five slots next to it to save it as that profile.The next time you boot up Afterburner, just click the corresponding profile number for your overclock settings.

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And there you have it. Not all that scary now that you know how to do it, is it? With that said, don’t get complacent, and always keep a close eye on those temperatures while watching for any artifacting during gaming.

If you overclock a lot, your GPU might start feeling the strain in the long haul, at which point you should probably turn down the clock until it’s stable again, or just burn it out and hope for the best with the warranty (definitely not our official advice).

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