Not every graphics card performs to its full potential out of the box. Depending on how the silicon lottery plays out, you might get a card that can get a significant performance boost with overclocking.
Be warned: it’s still a delicate process even with software like MSI Afterburner that makes it easier to overclock and manage your GPU. Pushing your GPU too hard could lead to unstable performance or even damage the card.
What Is MSI Afterburner?
MSI Afterburner is a program designed to help you manage your GPU and change it once it’s installed in your computer. With it, you can create fan curves, change the fan speed, adjust the voltage, and increase or decrease the card’s clock speed. Each of these makes a difference when you’re ready to overclock.
MSI Afterburner is a free program that works with cards from many manufacturers – not just MSI-branded cards. It can both overclock and underclock your GPU.
What Is Overclocking?
Overclocking a GPU increases the clock speed, which usually requires a bump in the voltage. There are a few things it may be helpful to know before you start trying to overclock your GPU.
- The temperature of your card can go pretty high, but there’s a limit to how much it can handle. When a GPU gets too hot, you might notice instabilities in the program you’re using. It can also make the card, computer, or program shut down. Maintaining a too-high temperature for too long can damage the card.
Overclocking heats up the card, so you have to consider ways to lower the temperature as you work on it. You don’t want to push the temperature beyond 80 to 90 degrees for many graphics cards. Try to keep it on the lower side to prolong its life.
- When you overclock your card, you have to increase the voltage. Increasing the voltage will also raise your electric bill and heat up the card. Pushing the voltage too high can severely damage or completely ruin your card. Take it very slowly.
- Changing the clock speed of your card is what changes the performance. Pushing it up will let the card deliver more performance. Lowering it will decrease the performance but keep the card cooler overall.
- Sometimes changing something in your setup might have unexpected consequences. For example, you would think undervolting would lower your performance. But in some cases, it will actually raise your boost clock and increase performance.
Overclocking is not as simple as launching MSI Afterburner, inputting new values, and closing it. You need to test your overclock to see whether it’s stable. Even if a new setup appears to be working, you don’t know how it will react when the graphics card is put under stress.
How to Overclock Your GPU
If you’re using MSI Afterburner to overclock your graphics card, ensure that you have the software installed and your graphics card active before working on your changes.
- Launch MSI Afterburner.
- Click the Settings option in the sidebar.
- Uncheck Unlock Voltage Control.
- Uncheck Unlock Voltage Monitoring.
- Uncheck Force Constant Voltage.
- Click Yes when prompted to restart MSI Afterburner. This is necessary for the changes you’ve selected to work.
- Return to the Settings area and select the Fan tab.
- Select Enable User Defined Software Automatic Fan Control.
- Click the graph areas that correspond with the temperature at which you want the fan speed to increase. It should be a line going up to increase the fan speed as temperatures rise.
- Save your settings.
- Click the gear icon and the Auto option on the lower right side of the screen. You want to use the top of the two similar options.
- Click the chain icon between the Power Limit and Temperature limit options. Both of these should be linked.
- Drag your Core Voltage and Power Limit sliders up. You should move them to their max values.
- Save your settings.
- Click the OC Scanner button.
- Click Scan.
- Write down the core clock and memory overclock values when the scan finishes.
- Click the check button.
- Click the disk icon.
- Choose a number to save these results as a profile.
At this point, you’ve applied an overclock to your GPU with MSI Afterburner. However, you aren’t done yet. Overclocking is all about testing and adjustments. You need to test your overclock and then decide how to adjust the settings based on those results.
The scan can take quite a while, so don’t plan to do anything else with your computer for up to an hour. You want all the resources of your GPU focused on the stress test.
Testing and Adjusting Your Overclock
You can’t test your overclock with MSI Afterburner. However, MSI offers another program for GPU stress testing called MSI Combuster. If you want to refine your overclock and keep your graphics card operating safely, use this or another stress tester to see whether it’s a good overclock.
- Open MSI Afterburner.
- Input the numbers for the core and memory clock values into the slider.
- Launch MSI Kombuster.
- Select Display OSI.
- Select Artifact Scanner.
- Click RUN Stress Test.
- Read the results to see whether artifacts were found. If they weren’t, you could try increasing your overclock. If they were, you should decrease it. You make these changes on MSI Afterburner.
- Click the check icon on MSI Afterburner to set the new numbers.
- Rerun MSI Kombuster to check for artifacts. You can keep increasing your numbers until it sees artifacts or your card and computer start to run poorly – which they shouldn’t if there aren’t artifacts and your temperatures are reasonable.
- Adjust the numbers again, save them, and run MSI Kombuster again until you find the right balance between quality and performance.
You can move the numbers up 15 Hz at a time on the core clock and 35 at a time on the memory clock. Don’t try to do more significant leaps because it might be harder to find the sweet spot for your overclock.
It can also be helpful to adjust the core clock and memory clock separately, running MSI Kombuster repeatedly until you find the correct core clock and setting that before testing the memory clock. It takes longer, perhaps, but helps remove some sources of uncertainty.
Once you’ve got the correct numbers, save your overclock as a profile on MSI Afterburner.
Do I Have to Use MSI OC Scanner?
You can absolutely manually overclock your GPU without going through the MSI OC Scanner utility. If you’d rather do that, perform the following steps.
- Launch MSI Afterburner.
- Drag the Power Limit slider to increase the voltage the GPU can draw. You don’t want to set your voltage too high at the beginning. A 10 or 15 percent increase should do.
- Increase the Core Clock slider by 15 MHz. Increase the Memory Clock by 25 MHz.
- Save your settings.
- Stress test your GPU or play a game that will push its limits to see whether your overclock is stable.
One of the most important things you can do with a manual overclock is watch your temperatures while you’re testing. Temperatures that are too high are signs that your overclock isn’t stable. Turn it down as soon as you notice this. You do not want to damage your card.
Testing Your Overclock
It isn’t enough to stress test your GPU. Once you’ve found a stable overclock, you need to put it to the test in various programs.
Games and stress tests operate differently. There are more variables involved in many games that perform very different functions. Settings that work with MSI Kombuster might still create problems in games. You cannot skip video games or heavy-duty program testing when trying to make a stable overclock.
Here are some things to look out for when testing an overclock in a video game.
- Watch the temperature of your graphics card while you’re playing. If it gets too hot, you can try to lower the graphics quality. However, this kind of removes the benefits of overclocking the GPU. A graphics card that’s heating up too much in a standard program is probably overclocked too high unless something else is wrong with it.
- You might notice problems with the graphics in the game. Look for strange images, screen tearing, ghosting, and other issues that make it difficult to see things.
- Sometimes your computer or a game will shut down when the GPU is experiencing issues. It isn’t something you might find in the first 15 minutes, so testing can take a few hours to see what happens. It’s best to choose a game you’ve played many times and know is stable on your original settings. That way, you know it’s a GPU issue and not a problem with the game.
Over time, you may need to adjust your overclock. Games get more demanding, parts because warped or unclean, and other factors can prevent your overclock from working correctly. Keep an eye on your temperatures and the performance of your programs. If you notice any significant issues, try to adjust your overclock to see if the problems diminish.