How to underclock a GPU – a step-by-step guide

Everything you need to know about why and how to underclock you GPU

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Underclocking a graphics card is a seemingly undervalued tool that many GPU owners appear to overlook. While it may appear counterintuitive to lower the clock speed of your graphics card, resulting in a reduced performance level, this simple task could potentially make all the difference regarding the lifespan of the card, energy efficiency, and thermal management. Unlike CPUs, people rarely alter their graphics cards; which is why in this article we’ll tell you how to underclock a GPU as well as focus on the benefits of doing so.

Graphics card manufacturers set a default clock speed, known as the factory clock speed, which users often stick with for the entirety of the card’s use. By underclocking your GPU (the opposite of overclocking a GPU) you’re altering the factory clock speed, subsequently editing the speed at which the GPU cores run and lowering the performance of the card – which may sound slightly illogical but does have its benefits.

For example, if you have a strong GPU in your rig and you find the tasks your PC is performing are not using its full potential, you could be thinking about underclocking; that way, you ensure the GPU doesn’t do more than needed, therefore saving energy and making its lifespan longer. This is just one instance demonstrating why underclocking can be useful, lets explore the other benefits of lowering your clock speed.

What are the benefits of underclocking a GPU?

Underclocking your GPU can be beneficial for several reasons, arguably the most important being the reduced power usage of your PC. You may notice overheating at an increased frequency. By underclocking your GPU its cores run slower, consequently decreasing the power consumption and lowering your energy usage – this is a simple way of potentially impacting your electricity bill. In addition to this, underclocking can extend the lifespan of your GPU; by reducing the amount of work it has to do each day and creating a lasting effect on its durability.

A lower clock speed can also affect heat dissipation and improve thermal management; when a GPU is performing at a slower rate less heat is produced, therefore lowering the risk of damaging your computer. Also, underclocking can be used to reduce fan noise, by lowering the clock speed the fan runs slower meaning there’s less noise and disruption whilst you’re using your PC.

So, we’ve understood why underclocking your GPU is beneficial. Now, let’s focus on how to do it – follow the guide below to get started.

How to underclock a GPU – step-by-step guide

Step

1

Benchmark and stress test

Use benchmarking tools like Unigine Heaven, 3DMark, or FurMark to assess your GPU’s current performance, particularly its clock speed, and temperature. This will provide a reference that will help you understand the potential outcome of the underclock.

Step

2

Download and install MSI afterburner

MSI Afterburner is a versatile tool used for both overclocking and underclocking GPUs. It’s user-friendly and supports a wide range of GPU models. Download it from the official MSI website and follow the installation instructions. Once installed, open the software to access the GPU tuning controls.

Step

3

Understand baseline settings

Familiarize yourself with your GPU’s current settings.

In MSI Afterburner, observe the current core and memory clock speeds, as well as voltage settings. These values are your baseline for underclocking. Understanding these helps you gauge how much you can safely reduce the clock speeds.

Step

4

Reduce clock speeds

Begin to decrease core and memory clock speeds.

Start by slightly lowering the core clock speed, followed by the memory clock. Adjust them incrementally, for example, by 50 MHz at a time. Avoid large decreases initially, as gradual changes help identify the optimal balance between lower speeds and stable performance.

Step

5

Apply and test changes

Test the GPU at the new clock speeds.

After each adjustment, click ‘Apply’ in MSI Afterburner. Then, run a stress test using the same benchmarking tool you used initially. Monitor for stability and performance during the test. If there are no crashes, artifacts, or significant performance drops, the new setting is likely stable. If you encounter any issues, revert to the last stable setting and try a smaller decrement.

Step

6

Monitor temperatures and performance

Keep a close eye on GPU temperatures.

As you adjust the clock speeds, continuously monitor the temperatures using MSI Afterburner’s real-time monitoring tools. The primary goal of underclocking is to reduce temperatures without significantly compromising performance. If temperatures are noticeably lower and stable, the underclock is successful. However, if performance drops too much, it may be necessary to slightly increase the clock speeds.

Step

7

Find the optimal underclock

Determine the best underclock setting for your GPU.

Through the iterative process of adjusting clock speeds and testing, identify the sweet spot where your GPU runs cooler but still delivers the performance you need. This optimal underclock setting will vary depending on your GPU model and the specific tasks you use your computer for.

Step

8

Final testing

Conduct thorough testing to confirm long-term stability.

After finding a stable underclock setting, run extended stress tests or use your computer as you normally would for a prolonged period. This helps ensure that the new settings are stable in various scenarios, from everyday tasks to more intensive applications.

Step

9

Regular monitoring

Continuously monitor your GPU’s performance post-underclock.

Even after successful underclocking, it’s important to regularly check your GPU’s performance and temperatures. Over time, you may need to adjust the settings again, especially if you update your GPU drivers or change other hardware components.

What is the best software to underclock GPU?

The best software to underclock a GPU depends on your specific graphics card. For Nvidia GPUs, MSI Afterburner is widely recommended due to its user-friendly interface and extensive feature set – it’s compatible with most GPUs, regardless of the brand. For AMD GPUs, AMD Radeon Software offers built-in tools for underclocking and is tailored to work seamlessly with AMD cards. Ultimately, it comes down to which GPU you purchase.

What happens if I underclock my GPU too much?

If you underclock your GPU too much, it may lead to suboptimal performance, especially in tasks that are graphics-intensive like gaming or video rendering. The GPU may not be able to process graphical data as quickly as required, resulting in lower frame rates, longer rendering times, and potentially a less responsive overall system. In extreme cases, it can cause graphical glitches or crashes if the GPU cannot keep up with the demands of the software.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it! Following the nine simple steps outlined in this article you’ll be optimizing your GPU usage in no time. Underclocking your GPU can be a simple beneficial tool, that not only helps you to reduce power consumption (making your PC use more energy efficient) but also increases your GPU’s lifespan, and can aid the thermal management of your PC. We hope after reading this guide, you’ll feel qualified enough to choose the right clock speed for your PC and do the alterations yourself. Good luck!

Eve is a writer and copy editor at PC Guide, who focuses on a broad range of topics but main interest lies in the development of AI technology.