Overclocking an nvidia graphics card

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Every year there are newer, more powerful video adapters.

Video cards (graphics cards) are used to display graphical information on the monitor screen, and in addition, they are entrusted to another function 2D, 3D-acceleration, for the action which is responsible graphics processor (Graphics Processor Unit).

Overclocking an nvidia graphics card

A bit of theory

In addition, graphics cards are equipped with graphics memory, which is designed to store the image displayed on the monitor and the data used by the graphics processor. The speed of the graphics card is determined by the type of graphics processor and graphics memory installed on it. Each of these devices runs at a specific frequency. If you change these frequencies you can increase the speed of the video card (overclocking). As a rule, such a change in graphics card frequencies is performed in a software way. Therefore, you do not need to buy a new video card every year if you have not yet used the full potential of the old one.  You can overclock it. First of all, make sure that you have a power supply unit with extra power. If this is not the case, increasing the computer’s frequencies will cause a reboot and crash, and you will not be able to overclock your graphics card. It is very easy to calculate the power needed for your computer, knowing that the main power is consumed by the processor and the graphics card.

Add up the power consumed by the video card and the processor (you can find them in tests or on the manufacturer’s website) and add 100-200W to the sum. With these simple calculations you will find the ideal power supply with the necessary power reserve. Power supplies for powerful gaming computers are sold separately without cases and their power starts from 550W and more.

Overclocking a video card is justified if your video card is a junior or middle model in the line of manufactured video cards. In this case you can get a performance gain of between 10 and 50 percent. Ideal for overclocking are various overclocking samples, which are produced by leading manufacturers. But the too high price limits the use of such video cards.

In addition, you should not overclock your graphics card if your system is not balanced (insufficient RAM or a weak processor) or not optimized (outdated drivers).

Since the performance of the video card depends largely on the optimized driver, it is better to overclock it programmatically rather than through BIOS settings.

Three types of programs are used to overclock your graphics card:

  •             Using the video card driver. (AMD, Nvidia);
  •             Using a special utility from the manufacturer (ZOTAC, ASUS, MSI);
  •             Separate programs (Riva Tuner, Power Strip, etc.).

All listed methods do not particularly differ from each other, so in this article we will consider overclocking via Riva Tuner program.

These programs allow you to configure not only the video card itself, but also its drivers. These programs duplicate the capabilities of the built-in NVIDIA applet nvqtwk.dll, and provide access to undocumented or hidden registry keys, allow you to change the horizontal scan frequency for different video modes, switch between AGP-controller modes, overclock the chip and memory, etc.

Overclocking a nvidia graphics card is about increasing core and memory frequencies, and adjusting the cooler. In the process of overclocking there is a possibility that the video card may fail. If you overclock incorrectly, this probability will increase. So be careful.

Among the most popular programs for overclocking graphics cards are the following:

Power Strip is a program designed to configure the settings of video cards from a wide range of manufacturers.  It can be opened from the Windows taskbar, which means that it is faster to configure the necessary parameters than through drivers.  PowerStrip has the ability to adjust the display parameters (refresh rate and output resolution).

Owners of graphics cards based on NVIDIA GPUs will benefit from the following program features:

  • fine-tuning for the video screen mode, synchronization with the monitor, the ability to create a Windows driver for the monitor;
  • overclocking is carried out both through the driver and using direct access to the hardware;
  • advanced tools for color correction;
  • Setting up profiles for games and applications with the ability to automatically detect when an application is running;
  • Support for outdated Windows operating systems (9x, NT4) and newer versions;
  • The AGP bus operation modes can be controlled directly;
  • support for the Russian language in the interface and contextual help is available.

Nvidia video card overclocking program

RivaTuner is the most famous overclocking program for nvidia graphics cards.

Overclocking an nvidia graphics card

RivaTuner

Overclocking in RivaTuner is performed by hardware, with some preliminary testing. Such testing can check only immediate hang, and for real overclocking testing you need testing in games.

There are reasons for choosing RivaTuner. Firstly, there are no unnecessary options in this program. Many similar programs have a hundred or two keys and it’s difficult to understand which of them are important and which are not. In RivaTuner there are few such keys and they are all strictly grouped.  All the keys have tips and recommendations. There is an opportunity to download the whole database of hidden keys for a certain driver version. Secondly, this program accurately determines memory size, clock frequencies and memory bus bit rate.  You can easily tune and overclock your video card, acting only on a low level. Thirdly, we can note the user-friendly and clear interface of this program.

EVGA Precision X is a program for fine-tuning and overclocking NVIDIA graphics cards with a user-friendly interface. It was created on the basis of RivaTuner with the support of EVGA. In this program you can control frequencies and voltages, and manually select the appropriate fan rotation scheme depending on the temperature.

Supports up to 10 profiles with hotkeys switching. It is possible to save screenshots from games (PNG, JPG, BMP with the set quality). The program monitors the main video card operation indicators (fan speed, GPU and video memory utilization, temperature and frequency). These indicators can be displayed in their window or in the tray, on the screen in games (including FPS), and on the LCD screen of the Logitech keyboard.  There is a Russian variant of the program, skins are supported.

EVGA Properties

MSI AfterBurner is a program for tuning and overclocking video cards both from MSI and other manufacturers. This program supports GeForce 6/7/8/9/200/400/500/600 series based on nVIDIA. The functionality of the program is similar to similar programs. It is fully compatible with Windows XP/Vista/7 x86 and x64. In the basis of this program the latest versions of RivaTuner components are used. Program has got RTCore.cfg, RTCore32.sys, RTUI.dll, RTCore.dll and RTCore64.sys files in its catalog, through which they interact with the driver components of the installed video card. The program monitors temperature and frequencies, and screen indication is performed by RivaTunerStatisticsServer.

MSI

NVIDIA Inspector 1.92 is a program used to identify and configure your graphics card.  In general, this program displays detailed information about the parameters of nVidia video cards. The program extracts all data directly from the NVIDIA driver. This program does not use features that are beyond the capabilities of the nvidia driver. However, an interesting addition is an additional menu that allows you to overclock your graphics card “on the fly”. It is possible for new NVIDIA graphics cards (Fermi) to change the voltage of the GPU.

Practical overclocking of an nvidia graphics card

It is convenient to view all video card characteristics in the TechPowerUp GPU-Z utility. It is a kind of analog of CPU-Z . The utility is designed to display information only about video cards and most extensively characterizes the graphics adapter used by the system.  It allows overclockers to confirm their achievements, for which they need to go through the procedure of online validation of the frequencies they achieved.

Detailed description of the settings

This article uses the overclocking program nvidia Riva Tuner , and to test the stability of the video card using the program ATITool or 3DMark06.

It is necessary to install and run RivaTuner.

Riva Tuner

At the top you need to specify the video card model.  In our case it is 8600M GT on G84 chip with 512Mb of video memory.

To quickly track the temperature and frequencies of your graphics card, start the monitoring window. Click on the triangle (below the graphics card model selection) and select Monitoring from the menu that appears.

Riva Tuner property

After these steps the following window will open, where the graph shows the frequency and temperature of the video chip.

Monitor nvidia

After that you can go directly to the overclocking.  To do this, click on the triangle you see in the main window of the program, and in the menu select => System settings

A window will open like this:

To be able to change something, you need to put a tick mark near the inscription – Enable overclocking at driver level, and in the window that appears, click on the button – Definition.

Select the box to the right of “Enable overclocking at driver level” to select a customizable mode. Put 3D there.

We first need to determine the frequencies to which we can overclock the video core, and then determine the frequencies to which we can overclock the memory.

Increase the core frequency by 50-100 MHz and click – Apply.

After that, it is necessary to check the operation of the core at this frequency, and to determine whether it is necessary to further increase the frequency, or to reduce it.

To do this, run the 3DMark06 test a couple of times.

3DMark06 test

If you can’t download and use 3DMark06 (takes 580MB), use ATITool, it weighs less. For testing – download and run ATITool. You will see a window like this:

ATITool

There is no need to change anything here. Just click the Scan for Artifacts button.

This will open a window with such a cube:

Scan for Artifacts

If after running 3DMark06 or ATITool you do not notice any glitches with the image, you can go back to the window with the frequency setting and increase the frequency of the core a little. To do this, move the slider, which is responsible for the frequency of the core. Increase the frequency in steps of 5-10%.

3DMark06 or ATITool

After that run ATITool or 3DMark06 again. If image artifacts or program crashes appear on the screen while testing, you need to decrease the frequency by 5-10MHz, and if there are no artifacts and everything is stable then increase the frequency. Be sure to monitor the video card temperature (it is recommended not to exceed 90 C), and for artifacts during testing.

Artifacts – all sorts of defects and distortions in the image, such as different colored dots, polygons flying out, stripes and other unnatural phenomena.

If at the next test everything is fine, you can continue to increase the frequency in 5-10% increments until you see the first artifacts.

This way you can determne the maximum core frequency for which there are still no image defects in ATITool or 3DMark06. When you have determined the maximum core frequency, remember it and reset it to the nominal frequency. Now you can move on to overclocking the memory.  The video memory is overclocked in the same way. You need to move the memory frequency slider.

ATITool

Increase the frequency in 5-10% increments and test until the first artifacts appear. Overclocking memory usually manifests itself in banding or other defects.

When the maximum memory operating frequency has been determined, then set the core frequency to the previously determined value and run the test.

When the maximum frequencies have been determined, enable the option – Load settings from Windows, so that the found frequencies will be saved.

nvidia system settings

One characteristic of nVidia graphics cards is that the core and the stream processors run at different frequencies. By default, the thread processors are set to run at twice the frequency. Streaming processors are highly amenable to overclocking. To get an additional performance boost, you can overclock them a bit more. To do this, uncheck the option – Link Frequencies.

If you want to increase frequency a little more, and RivaTuner doesn’t allow it, you can remove this limitation. Go to the Registry tab, find there the MaxClockLimit parameter and set it to 115. This will increase the upper frequency threshold.

To reduce the power consumption of your notebook when the graphics card is under low load, select 2D mode in the box at the top right and reduce the frequencies. Excessive frequency reduction in this case may lead to slowness in HD video playback due to the video chip processing videos in 2D mode.

When you find the memory frequency and the chip frequency at which everything runs smoothly, lower it a bit (by 5-10 MHz) and run some 3D game that heavily loads the graphics card (Unreal or a similar game released not more than a year ago). Run it for a few hours without interruption. If the overclocking is too much your game will freeze for half an hour or an hour. Then you will need to lower the frequencies by a few megahertz and continue testing. If your case is properly cooled, there is very little chance that anything will burn out.

Some problems are possible when overclocking a video card

If after clicking the – Apply button the frequencies are reset and they are not saved, you can try to install OS updates, install another version of the video driver or reinstall the OS.

If when testing with ATITool or 3DMark06 the computer hangs, this is the first sign that the video card can not work properly at the set frequencies and they need to be lowered.

As a consequence of video card overclocking is exceeding its nameplate values, then, purely theoretically, a certain probability of video card failure is possible. Here everything depends on the skill level of the overclocker, with well thought-out actions this risk is extremely small, and with ill-conceived actions it is almost guaranteed. The highest probability of video card failure is possible due to poor cooling of GPU and video memory which can burn out if overheated for a long period of time. Another problem is some reduction of service life for an overclocked graphics card. This is because the lifetime of any chip directly depends on its operating temperature.

Exceeding the normal operating temperature of the chip by every ten degrees will cut the life of the chip in half. If you think about it, it is not that bad. The lifespan of chips is decades, so a video card, even if it is overclocked strongly enough, will become obsolete (and require replacement) much faster than it will fail from overclocking.

When increasing the performance of your PC for real gaming applications, you need to consider the real capabilities of your graphics card, rather than hoping for a miracle. For example, it is impossible to overclock a GeForce 6600 class graphics card to the performance level of the GeForce 8600 GTS.  If your game showed only 10 frames per second at high quality settings, the maximum you can expect, with normal overclocking, will be in the range of 13 to 15 frames.  In such conditions it is possible to get one hundred percent performance gain only after extreme overclocking (and not always), and exceeding this boundary at least twice is possible only by increasing the frequencies for initially slowed down video adapters.

In real conditions, the benefit of overclocking the graphics subsystem will be noticeable if your game, for example, slightly slows down.  But if you compare constantly working in slideshow mode on the installed video adapter, it is almost impossible to get a smooth and stable picture with the same settings. It should be remembered that the real increase in performance from conventional overclocking, mainly, will be at the level of 20-50%. The maximum effect will be noticeable only in the case of top-end gas pedals.  And if your PC is running on a weak processor, the benefit of overclocking, such as GeForce 8800 Ultra, will be noticeable only in heavy graphics modes, and even then not in all cases. So, it follows that the main wish for overclockers is to keep an optimal balance when overclocking the graphics subsystem.