Graphics Card Overclocking: The myth put to the test

By on January 26, 2012, 2:14 AM

Overclocking plays a vastly different role in the computer industry today than it did 10 years ago, a time when overclockers were considered outlaws by manufacturers. Back then even mentioning overclocking could void your warranty and industry leaders like Intel were working to eliminate it all together.

In contrast, nowadays processor and graphics cards manufacturers have embraced the practice, touting high 'overclockability' as a feature and in the process using it to sell enthusiast oriented products at a premium.

Take the popular mid-range GeForce GTX 560 Ti as an example. Base model non-overclocked cards start at ~$229, but finding them isn’t so plain and easy as most manufacturers prefer to push their overclocked counterparts. While the Nvidia specification calls for a 822MHz core clock speed, you shouldn't be surprised to see outgoing models running at 900MHz or more for this particular GPU series.

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User Comments: 65

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Guest said:

Overclocking is overrated; lame.

Leeky Leeky said:

I've not overclocked my GPU's since my ill-fated GTX280 let go with the rest of my system last year.

Prior to that I overclocked my CPU and GPU regularly. These days I just leave it all stock speeds. I will likely overclock my next processor to get a small boost, but my current Q6600 is getting on now, and just doesn't like it when its overclocked at all. Its flawless at its factory set clock speed though.

As for GPU's, I'm really not sure its worth it, given that you never see much of an increase in performance for the extra heat it creates. So I'll likely just leave my current and future GPU's alone.

I run my recently purchased interim HD6870 at stock speeds and its fine at full HD/high detail for pretty much every game I play.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Thanks Guest, I guess we can turn out the lights and go home now.

I've overclocked pretty much every piece of componentry that I've ever owned. Not necessarily for the gains (if any), but definitely for the enjoyment of doing so as well as satisfying the curiosity bug. Whether the components run overclocked (and by what margin) after the initial benchmarking largely depends on the sliding scale of gain versus heat/noise output.

The GTX 560Ti- like most Fermi based cards- is effectively underclocked in stock form to obey the laws of physics/marketing (TDP and power consumption figures) so tend to exaggerate the "overclocking" performance aspect. The HD 7970/7950 likely follow the same trend:

Ramping up clocks would likely result in a net loss due to the effect of noise and wattage trumping performance gains....so leaving some performance on the table for the user fulfils both the TDP/heat/power issue while giving the consumer the option to crank the card to eleven and enhance the value for money aspect.

NeoFlux said:

Just had my new 6950 installed and unlocked "6970 mode". Overclocking? Nah...... maybe just before an upgrade to a newer generation card...

Emexrulsier said:

Guest said:

Overclocking is overrated; lame.

True you comment is lame ...

Tell me how can something for nothing be lame and overated. I have over clocked my processors ever since my SlotA Athlon 700Mhz back then every little Mhz really did matter. I used to take the chip to 1Ghz almost a 50% increase and it really did show. More recently I took a QX9650 to around 5.2Ghz (stock 3) and for video encoding this really did help and show vast improvmenets. At the end of the day it all depends what applications etc you plan on using as to whether overlocking is needed. If you spend all day long staring at 3DMark benchmarks then yes overclocking is a way forward. If you have a high end pc maybe multiple 580GTX you will notice only a performance increase in the displayed FPS other then that you probs will notice nothing you can just blag to your m8s mines better than yours!

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Well I used to overclock and unlock my old Phenom II X2 (I paid £60 for and ended up with a 3.8Ghz Quad Core!) but on my newest rig I haven't bothered, the Core i7 2600K eats everything I throw at it as quickly as I can with my Vertex III SSD, I do have a Corsair H60 attached to it so maybe in the future when I actually find something that stretches it I'll over clock it.

In the Graphics front i used to overclock my old GTX 260 quite a bit but then something blew while playing the orginal Crysis and it wouldn't overclock since but now I have a GTX560 Ti Asus's TOP Edition which is pre-overclocked to 900Mhz (got it on deal for £175 which is only £10 more than stock) and it eats everything I throw at it, I have overclocked it a few times to see how it handles it on BF3 and to be honest I haven't really noticed any difference other than more noise coming from the computer. Although I am planning on replacing it with a 680 (or 780 which ever is highest) at the end of this year so i probably won't need to overclock it.

slh28 slh28, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I overclock my GTX 570 to get around stock 580 performance for a much lower price, those extra few frames definitely help in online BF3. As for the heat and noise, I just turn up the fan to maximum and put my headset on

fimbles fimbles said:

Always overclock my cpu, much better performance with similar temps.

Gpu not so much, mostly at stock unless im trying to get a better benchmark score. performance/heat ratio is usually not worth it.

Guest said:

But how much did volume levels increase as fans most likely spin a bit faster? Would be nice to see that added as well since the stock cooling in most graphics cards these days is pretty close to a hoover when it comes to sound.

Guest said:

So its an Xbox you've got then i guess

marinkvasina marinkvasina said:

again walls of text these people are...

anyways to keep it simple

once overclocked an AMD HD Radeon 6770 over the limits and my pc was on fire, it died sadly,

amstech amstech, TechSpot Enthusiast, said:

Anyone stupid enough to buy a factory overclocked GPU deserves what they get.

A ripoff.

Guest said:

well well we OC two GTS450 from palit Sonic edition and guess what its knocks the 570 and 580 out the park but we running them in slix2 GTS450 oc 3d bench 26058 mahahahaha why waste on 5 series if 6 series coming in a few months.

regards

Tekkaraiden Tekkaraiden said:

Overlocked my 4850 for a bit, the increased performance wasn't worth having the fan sounding like a jet engine.

Guest said:

MSI Afterburner utility makes it effortless to overclock my GTX480 to 825mhz.

Performance in Crysis then matches a GTX580 running at default speeds, or about 50 frames/sec at 1920x1200.

Yes, memories of overclocking two 8800GTs to crazy speeds, trying to keep Crysis playing near 30 frames/sec, continue to overrule logic. I "know" the GTX480 is faster than three 8800GTs, but even with 50 f/sec in Crysis, I can't shake the nervous feeling that the game will soon stutter, slow down or freeze... LOL.

mopar man mopar man, TechSpot Ambassador, said:

Wow... I'm surprised by the results!

My EVGA 460 GTX 1GB rated at a stock speed of 726mhz on it's core. Once I OC it to 860mhz (which was surprisingly stable) it actually made a maxed Skyrim playable. I then tested it on multiple games and saw an increase of 10+ fps STABLE in almost every one.

I guess one's mileage may vary, though!

BTW, My x6 did not do well overclocking. At 4.0 it only gave me a 3fps increase from 3.3 ghz! That is in almost every game. And the Overclocking caused CS:S (previous to patching) to lag unless I assigned it to the right cores.

LinkedKube LinkedKube, TechSpot Project Baby, said:

My 580's are overclocked, along with everything else plugged into my motherboard, well the things that I can oc anyway.

customcarvin customcarvin said:

Guest said:

Overclocking is overrated; lame.

Ya, it's lame to save $100 bones.... My XFX 6950 has unlocked shaders and overclocked to stock 6970 speeds (core & mem). I replaced the stock thermal compound paste with AC MX-4, and have yet to see the temps go above 85c with 99% GPU load and all post fx on highest, using MSI Kombuster. I only paid $225 for it after instant discount, and mail in rebate (free shipping too). Yup like you said, overrated.

Modena said:

Got my GTX460 @850core combined with the MSI cyclone cooler and it runs nice. Why not get an extra 10-15% performance increase for free? IMO mid-range cards is where it's at, OC them a bit and you're good. Looking forward to the GTX660!

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

Stability, warranty, performance. In that order.

Chazz said:

I always overclock my cpu, as for the gpu it really depends on the results I get. If I can push it quite a bit and have it stable I'll keep it. Sometimes it's just not worth it though.

TitoBXNY TitoBXNY said:

Overclocking GPU is a waste of time and very risky. Overclocking a CPU is a different story though as you see real differences. I took my old Q6600 from 2.4 to 3.8ghz on air without issue. A 3 frame increase on GPU overclock is not worth the risk.

Opolis said:

Overclocking is a good way to give your GPU a boost. A properly tested OC is not dangerous, some companies such as EVGA even support it with software to OC with and warranties that are not voided by OC'ing. If the time is taken to do it correctly, it can really help out if, say, your GPU is right on the edge of play-ability at the current settings. As the article states, don't expect to OC your card to performance levels above the next model in the product line though.

Cota Cota said:

I remember watching a similar test like this, but they did small OC steps and graphic the "Clock Speed"/"Performance Gain", since there you can watch the speeds at wich any OC more is kind of worthless.

Also it would had been nice if you guys measure the power consumption increase.

Eddo22 said:

I'm all for overclocking CPU's and GPU's themselves, but when it comes to the memory I shy away from oc'ing that. Maybe it's just me but it seems like Memory doesn't last extremely well at stock speeds let alone oc'ed...especially on gfx cards.

lipe123 said:

GPU overclocking is a total bust imo, if your gfx card can deliver 60fps you really are not going to see the diff between 60 and 65 at all.

Not to mention that these things run way to hot already and you are shortening the life of the gpu by a bunch with the extra heat.

The only good OC's to be had is radeons that was exactly the same gpu as a higher model that got locked by bios settings. Nvidia cards however does not give you that.

Sarcasm Sarcasm said:

lipe123 said:

GPU overclocking is a total bust imo, if your gfx card can deliver 60fps you really are not going to see the diff between 60 and 65 at all.

Not to mention that these things run way to hot already and you are shortening the life of the gpu by a bunch with the extra heat.

The only good OC's to be had is radeons that was exactly the same gpu as a higher model that got locked by bios settings. Nvidia cards however does not give you that.

I agree and disagree. Yes if something is over 60fps on a 60hz monitor, it's probably not worth it to OC to try and get anything beyond that. However, I tend use my Overclock profile when trying to attain better MINIMUM frame rates. For example, in BF3 on my GTX 580 on Ultra with 4XMSAA, My FPS is usually around 50-55 depending if its a wide open area. But using my 875mhz OC, it gives me about a 5FPS boost which definitely smoothens out the framerate dips to the point where I don't notice them anymore, and in turn the gameplay experience is improved (for me.)

So don't discount Overclocking which is going to be worth it for others. Everybody has a different standard of whats playable and whats optimal.

I would even mention those people with 120hz monitors who swears they see a difference with Quad SLI setups that want to push no less than 120fps in ALL their games.

Sarcasm Sarcasm said:

opolis said:

Overclocking is a good way to give your GPU a boost. A properly tested OC is not dangerous, some companies such as EVGA even support it with software to OC with and warranties that are not voided by OC'ing. If the time is taken to do it correctly, it can really help out if, say, your GPU is right on the edge of play-ability at the current settings. As the article states, don't expect to OC your card to performance levels above the next model in the product line though.

Overclocking is actually very safe from my experience with both CPU and GPU. After scouring the internet, I notice those with short lived components tend to be the FEW that OVERVOLT their CPU's or GPU's. This is usually because of misinformation or improper overclock settings. An example of this is some folks trying to overclock an i7 2600k who are pushing 1.5v. OF COURSE something like that will shorten the life of the CPU. But those who stay well within range have their components last for years and years.

Guest said:

I would overclock even my mouse but it crash to the desktop :-S

ghasmanjr ghasmanjr said:

I'm extremely surprised that the GTX 460 1gb was not included in this study. For such a cheap card, the overclocks were phenomenal. I achieved 950mhz on air before I switched to stock/sli and finally a trade to an unlocked 6950.

hahahanoobs hahahanoobs said:

I overclock everything because it's fun. And converting avi movies to dvd in ~6mins never gets old.

3DCGMODELER 3DCGMODELER said:

so how do u overclock your video card ????

I have a GTX 560 Ti....

Guest said:

Got to say OCing is worth it.

CPU... yes. With today's CPU's if the board supports it, you can get a 10-20% out of it just hitting preset values. More yes as well with tweaking can even use less voltage than the presets and get great boosts 30-40% isn't uncommon.

Now with GPU. Yes most OCing is limited 10-15% tops. If your able to tweak the voltage you might get up to 20-25% if lucky. The big key is getting a card like the AMD 6950 that can be unlocked to a higher end card and function. I got a 6950 that went unlocked, uses less voltage than a 6970 and still can hit higher speeds that a 6970 stock. Not bad for $100 less.

Each to there own but OCing is a way to get more bang for your buck.

---agissi--- ---agissi---, TechSpot Paladin, said:

To me its just really fun, its like a prize and a mystery all in one. Call it a lottery if you will. It feels like winning lol

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

so how do u overclock your video card ????

I have a GTX 560 Ti....

There are plenty of utilities around for overclocking. MSI's Afterburner and EVGA's Precision come to mind. Depending on what brand of card you are using then it may come bundled with OC'ing/tuning software (Gigabyte's OC Guru, Asus's GPU Tweak, Palit's vTune etc.)

For the purposes of simplicity I suggest you look at MSI's Afterburner. Check this post: [link]

Two things to note:

If your card isn't an MSI, you may have to enable unofficial overclocking. So once downloaded and installed, go to:

C:\Program Files (x86)\MSI Afterburner and edit the MSIAfterburner.cfg file with notepad or notepad++

Find "Find UnofficialOverclockingEULA" and add

I confirm that I am aware of unofficial overclocking limitations and fully understand that MSI will not provide me any support on it

And immediately below it, Set "Set UnofficialOverclockingMode" to 1 (usually is set to 0)

Use the included MSI Kombuster ( a FurMark derivative) for stress testing, or a selection of GPU+VRAM intensive games. Overclocking is an exercise in patience as much as anything else, so small 10MHz (initially) and 5MHz (once the overclock starts building) is definitely the way to go....and of course, when trying to find a stable overclock you should be only increasing core or memory until you've reached a satisfactory OC. I would recommend going with overclocking the core (shaders are bound to the core speed at a ratio of 2:1) for most noticeable results, then look at memory overclocking- although this is likely to being minimal gains in comparison.

Keep a very close eye on temperatures .Afterburner, Precision etc offer real time GPU temps and the ability for you to choose a custom fan speed profile- I would also strongly recommend having GPU-Z running (click the "sensors" tab)

Guest said:

Most overclocking today is pseudo-overclocking in that manufacturers build cpus/gpus with ample headroom in them,and then provide "O.C." bios options and Windows apps to make it easy to dial a chip up to what it should/could be running at anyway.So it's not true overclocking-it's just Intel,Nvidia,AMD shipping us underclocked parts and charging us more for the "overclockability" of them.

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

I have always over-clocked everything for the fun and challenge of how far it can be pushed. I found a way to OC my HP pocket PC around 2002. I have used copper wires and silver pens to get the job done in the old days. Anyone remember reading this way back when? it's a very interesting article and kind of a time capsule.

[link]

Guest said:

Overclocking is a common used practice to gain more performance from a piece of hardware. The graphics cards however, generally overclock 100-200Mhz over the base speed, and the increase in many cases is generally like 15-20%. Think about that: because you cannnot gain more than 15-20% performance from overclocking your GPU, that means that if you had 20FPS in a game, you will never go beyond 25FPS, so not a huge increase. Yeah, if you already have 100FPS, 20% means 20FPS which would be a lot if you could see them.

The change will come with gpus like the one in the new HD7970, which can overclock like no other before, and you can even gain 30-40% more performance from an overclocking session. Now 40% for a baseline of 20FPS means 8 to 10FPS, and that starts to be a noticeable increase.

Guest said:

The best program to use is MSI afterburner,it allows voltage tweaks,and a user defined fan profile system.Plus a great monitoring tool for temps usage etc.

My evga 560tis in sli will run at 1015mhz at 1.075 volts for benching, I score about 2100 unique heaven benchmark 2.5 at 1920/1080 4xaa normal tess everything else high........at 950mhz 1.050volts i score 2018,Thats where i run my card gaming as for anything else i run at stock speeds.

It is well worth it with the right video card,Nvidia 460,470,560ti and 570s seem to get the most,AMD cards as you can see dont get much at all they are close to there limits,except for the 7970 but i think that was planned by amd so they can increase the clocks a lot to battle kelper once they are released.

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

I have found a distinct pattern in OC ability and brand. Asus,MSI, and Sapphire giving better OC's in general.

Guest said:

Overclocking is about the experience.

True, performance gains is not much (3FPS in nothing), except you get this performance at FPS level where it matters (i.e. have 21FPS than 18 - the game can somehow be playable or at least not nerve-breaking)

PC nerd PC nerd said:

I love over clocking. Even if the performance jump isn't stunning, it's fun.

I have my Phenom 955 at 3.8GHz @ 1.375V totally stable and idling at 23 degrees with an NH-D14 on it.

My Sapphire 6850 is at 910MHz core and 4600MHz memory, which takes it close to the 6870.

9Nails, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Would I really appreciate overclocking for 15% more performance if my game is running under 60 FPS? Probably not) I get more performance gained by turning down game settings in such a case.

If a card needs to be overclocked for better game performance, I just buy a newer faster card.

PC nerd PC nerd said:

I've also learned a huge amount about computers through overclocking and getting every bit of performance out of my computer. It has taught me more than any book could have.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

I have found a distinct pattern in OC ability and brand. Asus,MSI, and Sapphire giving better OC's in general.

True dat.

However, as a user of both AMD and Nvidia I'd add EVGA and Palit (along with PowerColor in non-reference SKU's) to those brands. The other end of the spectrum seems to include Diamond, VisionTek, Club 3D, PNY and Leadtek...luckily the slap-a-high-clock-BIOS-onto-the-damn-thing-and-cross-your-fi
gers approach pioneered by BFG seems to have died out with the brand.

Guest said:

oveclocking means more refresh...

and that give more noise...

i like silence !

and who care about 4fps more when you eyes just can see 25 in a minute !!!

overcloking was fun 10 years ago... when it was illegal ^^

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

True dat.

However, as a user of both AMD and Nvidia I'd add EVGA and Palit (along with PowerColor in non-reference SKU's) to those brands. The other end of the spectrum seems to include Diamond, VisionTek, Club 3D, PNY and Leadtek...luckily the slap-a-high-clock-BIOS-onto-the-damn-thing-and-cross-your-fi
gers approach pioneered by BFG seems to have died out with the brand.

yup, You forgot POV...LOL

I think its a comBINation of pick of the bins, and then they by default put beefed up VRM's (sub Volterra for CHL and so forth)

I remember when Vision Tek was the #1, how times have changed.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

The binning is likely a by-product of the allotment of GPU's each company get sent. Asus, Gigabyte and MSI (AMD+Nvidia),Sapphire, EVGA and Palit (vendor specific) hold the largest marketshares*, thus have a larger pool to bin from. This probably shows up best when you look at the OC percentages of their top bins (DCII, TFIII, SOC, Toxic, Classified, Sonic Platinum).

Theoretically, the first launch reference cards should follow the standard distribution curve of overclockability, since they are all the same card, off the same production line (PC Partner or Foxconn), but I wouldn't be overly surprised if the stronger AIB's warrant some pre-distribution binning.

*Galaxy being the odd one out. They don't seem overly interested in binning for high clocks, and even when they do, have a habit of pricing their top bins (KFA2 Anarchy for example) the same as reference cards. OK cards, but the short warranty is a killer in the resell market.

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I enjoy overclocking for either the fun of it or to just squeeze out some more performance in demanding games. I really haven't pushed my current Radeon 6850 that much as I've been satisfied with its performance, and my small bumps outside benchmarks isn't really noticeable. However my previous card a Radeon 4770 I pushed quite a lot, and in return saw around a 20% boost which made quite the difference in some games like Bad Company 2.

Guest said:

S!

I keep my stuff stock. At the moment Intel i5 2500K bundled with AMD 7970HD are more than enough for any games I play at 1920x1080 resolution. Years back did overclock some CPU's but stability issues vs actual gains were again not worth it.

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