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Need more FPS? Try overclocking!

WRITTEN BY Shrek

Posted on January 07 2015


So you fancy yourself a bit of gaming in your spare time. Spent a good amount of your hard-earned cash on your rig to make sure your FPS stays up while enjoying the latest eye candy. There’s a good chance that you find yourself playing any of the recently released game titles and noticing your graphics card struggling to keep up. After all, recent game titles are jam-packed with all kinds of new visual effects and hi-definition textures, ready to be played at up to 4k resolutions or on multiple monitors. So how can you squeeze those extra frames out of your MSI graphics card for the smoothest possible experience?

The most easy, quick and safe way of overclocking MSI GAMING graphics cards is by simply downloading the MSI GAMING App, which features a predefined OC Mode that will give your card a boost. By using this method, you will gain performance in a single click without the risk of damaging your hardware. If you don’t own one of our GAMING cards or want to find the absolute sweet spot of performance for your graphics card however, you’re going to have to get into overclocking and spend some more time.

Overclocking your graphics card – before you begin

You may have heard about overclocking or even marveled at the incredible world records set by professional overclockers using liquid nitrogen for cooling. While it’s true that overclocking performance gains can be substantial, it’s important to note that overclocking is always done at your own risk. By increasing clock speeds and/or voltages, a graphics card heats up as a result. In order for your card to stay cool and provide you with a smooth gaming experience, this heat needs to be dissipated by the graphics card cooler. Note that not all graphics cards have sufficient cooling for overclocking, so be careful and make sure you know what you’re doing before you begin.

msi-moa-overclockers

Overclocking 101

Before we jump into the deep end, here are some very basic things you can do to improve your chances. As you’ve just read, it’s important to keep temperatures low while aiming for higher performance. This might seem obvious, but make sure your PC is not near a heat source like a central heating radiator. Good ventilation and airflow of your case also helps to reduce temperatures as your PC needs to get rid of all that heat produced by the components.

Is your graphics card suitable for overclocking?

Basically, this comes down to how efficient your graphics card cooling system is, whether it’s air cooled with multiple fans or hooked up to a water cooling system can make a huge difference in how much heat can be managed. To determine if your graphics card can be safely overclocked, you will need benchmarking software to test your graphics card and MSI Afterburner to keep a close eye on detailed system information.
A great benchmarking tool available for free is Unigine Valley

[caption id="attachment_1352" align="aligncenter" width="375"]MSI Afterburner, the most recognized and widely used Overclocking  Software in the world MSI Afterburner, overclocking software[/caption][caption id="attachment_1353" align="aligncenter" width="475"]Unigine Valley, very popular and free benchmarking software. Unigine Valley, free benchmarking software[/caption]

 

Before running the test, make sure you set your fan speed to 100% in Afterburner for maximum cooling capacity. This will increase the noise from your fans, but it’s a price you will have to pay if you want to squeeze extra performance out of your card. The Unigine Valley test will put your graphics card through its paces, showing you how high the temperatures rise and how loud the fans get. Let the benchmarking software run for about 15 minutes for your GPU temperature to settle at its top value.

[caption id="attachment_1354" align="aligncenter" width="900"]Set your fan speed to 100%  while benchmarking Set your fan speed to 100% while benchmarking and watch the GPU temperature closely[/caption]

 

The maximum temperature at which graphics cards can safely operate varies per card and brand, but many experienced overclockers agree that 90 degrees Celsius is the maximum temperature which can be considered safe for most. The gap between your graphics card’s maximum temperature and 90 degrees Celsius is the margin you have for overclocking. Simply put, this tells you how much headroom you have for overclocking. If you are the proud owner of one or more MSI graphics cards with a Twin Frozr cooler, your card should be suitable for overclocking.

Let’s get clockin’!

If you are confident that your temperature margin is big enough, you can start the process of overclocking. First things first, start by running MSI Afterburner and getting familiar with the interface and options. On the left side there are a number of slides, this is where you can change several values for clock speeds, voltages and fan speeds. On the right side you can see the Hardware Monitor where real time information is shown about things like temperatures, usage, fan speeds and voltages. You can easily scroll through the values or detach them for a better overview. MSI Afterburner allows you to customize which values are shown and in what order you want them.

[caption id="attachment_1355" align="aligncenter" width="900"]Here's where you can find some of the key features of MSI Afterburner Here's where you can find some of the key features of MSI Afterburner[/caption]

 

Overclocking is very much a trial and error process where you are trying to find the sweet spot of maximum performance while keeping the temperatures within safe values. To discover the maximum performance of your graphics card, first you will have to push it beyond that point.
Don’t let this get you down. The road to success in overclocking is paved with black screens, crashes and errors.

Start by going into Settings and checking the boxes that say “Unlock voltage control” and “Unlock voltage monitoring”, this will allow you to increase the Core voltage of your graphics card.Next, increase the Core Clock value by 10 and click the Apply button on the bottom right. Your GPU will now adopt your newly selected clock speed as its default, which should be visible on the Hardware Monitor.

[caption id="attachment_1356" align="aligncenter" width="437"]Unlocking voltage control Unlocking voltage control[/caption][caption id="attachment_1357" align="aligncenter" width="437"]Slightly increasing Core Clockspeed Slightly increasing Core Clockspeed[/caption]

 

Now it’s time to see if your graphics card will keep cool or not, running the Unigine Valley test will tell you. Do not panic if your screen suddenly turns black and displays an error after that, this is what happens when the graphics card becomes unstable and crashes or overheats under stress. Relax, thanks to built-in protection your graphics card most likely hasn’t taken any damage, but has simply reverted back to its default values. If this happens, we advise you to reboot your PC in order for the display drivers to run properly before you continue.

Crashes can happen for different reasons, the most common being either the selected clock speed cannot be maintained within the current voltage or the GPU becoming unstable from the overclock. The first cause for crashing can be solved by slightly increasing your Core Voltage. This will increase heat output of your GPU, so only do this if you still have enough margin before reaching your maximum safe temperature. The second cause for crashing can be due to overheating or simply because your graphics card cannot accommodate higher speeds. Remember that each and every card is different in that respect, so luck is also a factor.

[caption id="attachment_1358" align="aligncenter" width="446"]Increasing Core Voltage and Power Limit Increasing Core Voltage and Power Limit[/caption]

 

Once you’ve started the overclocking process as described above, it’s a matter of trial and error until you find the sweet spot for your card. Afterburner allows you to save your settings into a profile at any point, which allows you to switch between stock settings and your new high-performance setup for gaming whenever you need it.

There is plenty of content available online that can help you to get the most out of your graphics card using MSI Afterburner. Here are some videos showing you the basics to get started:

Happy performance hunting!

Disclaimer: Please note that MSI cannot in any way be held accountable for direct or indirect damages resulting from the use of MSI Afterburner, MSI Kombustor or any third party software.

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