Who would’ve thought there are gamers in the world who want to underclock their GPUs? It might seem counterintuitive for a gamer to buy the most expensive and powerful GPU on the market and then underclock it.
Well, the reality is, there are more people interested in underclocking their GPUs than you might have thought—and the result of that is this how to underclock your GPU guide. Interestingly, underclocking your GPU can offer you an array of benefits.
Let’s not forget that you being here means you are also looking for a way to bring the power of your graphics card down for all the good reasons. So, read on to find out how you can underclock your GPU, why it needs to be done, and what benefits you will gain from this exercise.
- The process of underclocking, aka downclocking your GPU, requires you to set a limit on the core speed of your GPU lower than the stock speed.
- Underclocking means reducing the core speed of the GPU, whereas undervolting means limiting the voltage used by the GPU.
- While programs like NVIDIA Inspector and RivaTuner exist for underclocking, MSI Afterburner remains the most trusted and easiest to use. It’s also free of cost and works with any GPU.
- The overheating of your GPU is sometimes associated with a subpar cooling system, a faulty GPU, or malware.
What Is GPU Underclocking?
Your GPU has cores that it uses to give you those fantastic life-like graphics in your favorite games. Each core is taking in information and outputting information at a particular speed. When you underclock your GPU, you kind of make it perform at a lower speed. Or you could say that you reduce the speed at which its cores are working.So, when you purchased your latest graphics card, you probably saw its clock speed or GPU speed in GHz. Let’s say the speed of the GPU was 2.23 GHz, which is actually the base clock speed of an NVIDIA RTX 4090. If you reduced its clock speed to 2.1 GHz, it would be referred to as underclocking. Contrary to that, if you boost its clock speed to 2.52 GHz, it would be considered overclocking.
You probably have a good idea of what underclocking is all about. Now, let’s get to the main crux of the matter i.e. why would you even think about reducing the core speed of your GPU?
Why Do You Need to Underclock Your GPU?
There could be many reasons for you to consider reducing the core speed of your GPU. At this point, let’s only talk briefly about the reasons you would consider underclocking your GPU. As you continue reading, you will know in detail what benefits people seek from downclocking their GPUs.
To keep it short for now, it has to do with bringing the GPU temperatures down while gaming. Sometimes, you just want to be more power-efficient. In other words, there is need associated with this activity. It isn’t as though people are doing it out of sheer fun or curiosity.
How To Underclock GPU
Getting back to the most important point, “How to underclock your GPU”, you should be happy to know that you can use a variety of utility tools to perform this GPU tweaking activity. Which tool you pick can be a very subjective choice.
Some people have a preference for a particular brand. However, most would go with a tool that looks simple, is easy to understand, and is user-friendly. For this reason, you are going to see this underclocking being performed using MSI Afterburner. Here are some reasons we picked this software.
- It is probably one of the easiest to use for anyone who wants to underclock their GPU. You’ll know what to do as soon as you see its user interface.
- You can download this software from the official MSI website, which is not the case with most other software utilities. For example, you have NVIDIA inspector as another utility tool for underclocking your GPU. However, you will not find it on the official website, and downloading it from third-party websites could mean potential virus threats.
- MSI Afterburner offers you some really amazing skins, so you can always make it look the way you prefer. As a gamer, you’d definitely appreciate this small incentive from MSI.
- It remains the most trusted tool in the overclocking community for its ease of use and the fact that it just works. Also, you never have to pay for it and use it for just about any graphics card from any manufacturer. Just so you know, these statements come from MSI’s own website.
Having said that, let’s see how to underclock your GPU using this tool.
Downloading And Installing The Software
You can download this tool from the official website of MSI. That’s when you know you are working with a legit tool that is definitely going to work. You can also rest assured that your computer will not be infected with malware. So, you can visit the official MSI page to download Afterburner and install it like you install any other software tool. The size of the file you download should be only a little over 50MB. Don’t be scared when you see a ZIP file downloading. That’s how it downloads, and there is only a setup file inside the ZIP.
When you begin the installation, it will ask you for your language preferences and then the regular agreement to its terms and conditions. During the installation, it will show you the option for RivaTuner Statistics Server that you can check mark to install or skip. It will take up 65MB of space on your storage.
Familiarizing With The Interface
At this point, you should familiarize yourself with the interface of the tool. This step is important because if you are underclocking your GPU for the first time, a few things can be a bit confusing. Not to mention, some terms might sound confusing, causing you to choose the wrong settings and mess things up.
So, as soon as you land on the software’s main screen, you will see GPU and memory usage along with your GPU’s temperature. In addition to that, you will see voltage, clock, and fan speed. The clock is the tab where you want to focus.
Under the “Clock” tab, you will see the “core clock” option. You will notice there is a slider underneath this option. Moving the slider left and right will decrease and increase the clock speed of your GPU, respectively.
In addition to this tab, you can see that there are other aspects of your GPU that you can control from here. You can increase or decrease the fan speeds and control the temperature by setting a limit. You have multiple settings under the “fan speed” tab allowing you to sync, automate, or manually control your fan speed.
And yes, you will see the core voltage slider here too. That’s where you can set the voltage that your GPU uses at any given moment. Of course, we can discuss that in a different article. For now, you don’t’ want to touch any settings that are not relevant to what you are trying to do.
Underclocking The GPU
Now that you know what different sliders do, you can get to the underclocking part. You can move the slider to the left to reduce your maximum core speed limit. Once you have done that, you can click on the “floppy disk” icon to save the settings.
Don’t just start playing games on your computer at this point. It’s best that you go for stress test and continue it for 15 minutes to see how well your new settings are working for you. You can always use a tool like Furmark for stress-testing your GPU.
During the test, you want to keep your eyes on the maximum core speed of your GPU as well as the temperature. If they are within your desired range, you can keep these settings. The best part is that MSI provides you with the profile option.
Saving The Profile
As mentioned earlier in the reasons for picking MSI Afterburner, the interface of this tool is quite user-friendly. As a result, you can clearly see the word “profile” on the MSI Afterburner window and the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5—this is how many profiles you can save on the software.
The profile option is great if you want to underclock your GPU when playing a certain game. Other than that, you can keep the normal settings of the GPU. You can save up to 5 profiles, so that’s a lot of luxury from MSI without charging you anything for its GPU underclocking software.
Changing The Skin
This step is really not a part of the underclocking process, so we have put it at the end. Yes, you can make the software look the way you want. It has many skin options to choose from. On the MSI Afterburner window, you will see the “gear” icon.This gear icon will take you to additional settings of the software. Here, you can set and configure a lot of different things on the software, such as setting up hotkeys for your profiles, controlling which aspects to monitor, changing temperature format, and many other general settings.
You will find the available skins in the “User Interface” tab. There are at least 20 amazing skins to choose from the drop-down menu. As soon as you click on one of the skin options, it gives you a preview before you decide to apply it.
Why Does GPU Start Overheating?
So, most people are trying to solve the GPU’s overheating issue through underclocking. But what is it exactly that is causing it to be this hot? There could be many reasons, and it is true that you won’t be able to solve all problems through downclocking.
There could be many reasons behind the overheating of your GPU. Of course, you can use the GPU temperature monitoring tool to know how hot it is during different operations. The most important part is to know when it’s too hot. For as long as it is below 80-degrees Celsius, you don’t have to stress over it.
However, when you see it above 85-degrees Celsius most of the time, you have to pay attention to it. This is also the point where you might consider underclocking it. The duration of time when your GPU goes above normal temperatures is also important.
For example, a temperature of over 80-degrees Celsius while playing a graphics-heavy game is nothing to worry about. However, if you are just doing office work or regular work on your computer and the GPU is still above 80-degrees Celsius when there is no need to be, you should be concerned. You can also check out our guide on how to watercool GPU, which can help with keeping the temperatures low. We also have a detailed guide on how to lower GPU temperature.
Now, let’s take a look at some things that can cause your GPU’s temperature to go over the borderline.
Playing Graphics-Heavy Game
You should be able to identify this one pretty quickly because the temperature will go up only when you are playing a particular game. However, the temperatures should still not go beyond a certain point. If your GPU is constantly above 95-degrees Celsius while playing this game, you need to try a few fixes.
Perhaps, bring the graphics settings of the game down. It is also possible that your graphics card isn’t the best for this game. If your game shuts down while playing, it is a clear sign that your GPU is going above its temperature tolerance limits.
Problem With The Card
Unfortunately, you might have a faulty card if it is running hot despite not being used. If our card is idle and still running hot, you might want to consider changing it. You’ll usually face this problem when you buy pre-owned graphics cards online.As sad as it may sound, there is no other fix than to get a new card. You could try cleaning your case with a blower and making the spot where you have your computer airier, but an idle graphics card running hot is surely a concern.
Cooling Isn’t Effective
This problem usually occurs with people who have recently developed an interest in gaming and never paid attention to computer temperatures before. They install the new card without realizing that the fan settings of their PC might not be good enough to accommodate a heavy graphics card.
You might have to go into BIOS or use a third-party software tool to increase your fan speeds. Yes, you will hear more fan noise when you increase the fan spinning speed, but that should not be a problem. It shouldn’t be a surprise if you have to go for a better and bigger cooling system when you install a new, better, and bigger GPU on your computer.
You Have Malware on Your System
You just can’t put your finger on what’s causing your CPU and GPU to run at their maximum speeds and overheating, you are probably a victim of some malware that you may have installed while downloading something off the internet.
Sometimes, you need to do something as simple as converting a video file to mp3. You quickly download and install a software tool, convert your file, and delete it. However, if you don’t pay attention to the websites you are downloading such software from, you will end up with viruses and malware on your system.
Malware can do all sorts of things to your computer and causing your GPU and CPU to use their maximum resources at all times is one of them. Installing a fresh copy of the operating system and anti-malware software first thing after installing the operating system can fix the issue for you.
GPU Is Overclocked
You could swear on your life you never messed with the GPU settings and have no clue why it’s overclocked. Well, how about that visit from that fidgety friend who can’t keep himself from messing around with other friends’ computer settings?
While you were heating a slice of pizza for him, he probably changed things around to show you his computer skills. Of course, if your GPU is overclocked, it’s a quick fix that requires no more than a couple of minutes.
Underclocking Vs. Undervolting
One of the concepts that you will come across when you are underclocking your GPU is undervolting. In fact, some online articles are actually about underclocking, but they like to use the two words interchangeably.
In a way, you could say that those reviews and guides can be a bit misguiding for you because you will end up doing something that you shouldn’t do. So, first things first, GPU underclocking is not the same as GPU undervolting. These are two completely different concepts and have two different effects.
More importantly, one is more difficult than the other. Also, undervolting usually has more precautions to take care of, which also means that it is the riskier one out of the two.
To make it easy to understand, when you undervolt, you put a limit on the voltage that your graphics card can draw. On the other hand, when you underclock, you limit the core speed of your graphics card. They might not look too different, but they are.Take the example of a car here. You want your car to be fuel efficient, and let’s say you have two ways of doing that. You can either limit the supply of fuel to the engine, or you could put a limit on the speed at which your car can move.
Limiting the speed of the car would be synonymous with underclocking whereas limiting the fuel supply would be like undervolting. If you take a closer look at things, you will realize that one is quite different from the other, and underclocking is the better option to go with.
If you have set a speed limit, you could still go higher than that limit when the need arises, and you will have the resources available to use for those times. However, if you limit the fuel supply (electric volt in the case of your GPU), you won’t be able to get that extra performance even when you need to because you aren’t getting enough fuel to support that.
Here are a few things that make undervolting different from underclocking. Knowing these things should help you make a better decision to pick one for your needs.
You Never Know The Base Voltage
When you are reducing the core speed of your GPU, you know for a fact that it will be limited to deliver a certain performance level because the cores won’t go above your set limit. If you underclock too much, your games will stop working.
However, when you go with AMD GPUs, you will notice the company gives you 3 different core speeds. It calls one the base clock, the second one the game clock, and the last one the boost clock. In other words, if you are using your GPU at its recommended gaming clock, you can downclock it to the base clock.
On the other hand, you don’t have a base voltage set for your graphics card. The only way you will know is when your card starts to act up. It might shut down or you will start noticing instability in the performance of your computer.
Undervolting May Improve Performance
When you underclock, you are setting a speed limit for the cores of your GPU. In a way, you are telling your GPU not to perform beyond a certain point. When undervolting, you are technically trying to tell your GPU to keep performing as is while using less power.
In a way, you could say that undervolting really does improve the performance of your GPU. It won’t be wrong to say that some manufacturers design their GPUs in such a way that they are using more power than they require on arrival.
To be precise, you could get the same performance from those GPUs by limiting the amount of electricity they consume. In a way, underclocking is only solving the problem of overheating of your GPU whereas undervolting is directly improving its efficiency.
Underclocking May Improve Hardware Life
It’s quite nuanced, but things do become clearer when you look closely. If you compare the two, you will realize that underclocking has a better impact on the life of your hardware than undervolting. It is very much possible for your GPU to continue to use its maximum resources even when it’s drawing fewer volts.
Yes, it uses less electricity, but it could still get hot trying to give you the best performance in a game within the resources it has available. Using the example of a car again, your car could be so efficient that even when you reduce its fuel usage, it might still give you the same top speed it did before you set the fuel limit.
Underclocking, on the other hand, puts an explicit limit on your GPU to not go above a certain speed. Since it never uses all of its resources, it never heats up too much. As a result, your GPU can enjoy a longer life.
3 Ways Underclocking Your GPU Benefits You
Of course, there is no reason to do this exercise if you don’t get any benefits, but there are many benefits to underclocking your GPU. Let’s take a look at some.
Saving on Energy Costs
It might come to you as a surprise but your graphics card can take a heavy toll on your energy bills. For example, the average power consumption of an iron or toaster is quite similar at 1200 watts. On the other hand, the latest GPU from NVIDIA i.e. RTX 4090, uses 450 watts.
That difference might not sound like a lot but now factor in the amount of time each item is used on a daily basis. You don’t use the iron for more than 30 minutes in a day. The same goes for a toaster. However, when you fall in love with that new game from your favorite developers, you’d find yourself playing it for 6 or even 8 hours straight.
Underclocking your GPU can benefit you in this area by reducing the amount of energy that your card is using. Don’t look at the savings on a daily basis. Calculate them on a monthly or yearly basis considering the number of hours you use your card every day.
Increasing the Lifespan of Your GPU
As mentioned earlier, the life of your GPU or just about any component inside your computer reduces when it continues to run at maximum speeds. Maximum speed means high power usage and high usage of power means higher temperatures.
The longer your GPU continues to be used at high temperatures, the more it takes a hit in terms of its life. Underclocking it will instantly bring the temperatures down and allow you to play your favorite games on your new graphics card for many years to come or at least until you have saved enough to buy another graphics beast.
Reducing Your Hardware Costs
It’s interesting how most of the gamers with their neon setups are actually just trying to overcome that one monster i.e. overheating. From improving their cooling system to getting a bigger case and even setting up their computer in an air-conditioned room, they do it all to prevent the issue of overheating.
You can end up spending a lot of money in making all of these upgrades, changes, and improvements. Underclock your GPU, get rid of the overheating problem, and you will never have to spend money on any of that.
Risks of GPU Underclocking
There are not many risks associated with underclocking, unlike overclocking, where you can damage the GPU. Instead, it’s undervolting that could land you in more unfavorable situations. With underclocking, you are only setting limits on how fast your GPU’s cores can run.
The only drawback that you ‘might’ experience is a slight drop in the performance of your GPU. Again, even that’s not always going to be the case, depending on the game you are playing and the graphics settings you opt for.
Now you know what underclocking means and how to do it. Make sure you use only the recommended software for the task. Don’t download tools from third-parties because you could end up installing malware. Don’t meddle with other settings on your CPU and GPU unless you are sure what you are doing or have an experienced person with you for damage control. Last but not least, it makes sense that you choose to underclock your GPU only when you need it for the reasons stated in this guide. Don’t do it only for the sake of doing it or out of FOMO because a slight oversight could be costly.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, they are not the same. Undervolting means setting a limit on the voltage that your graphics card can use, whereas underclocking simply means to set a limit on the core speed of the GPU.
There are many signs of overheating, but to be sure about it, use a GPU monitoring tool. If your GPU temperature is above 90-degrees Celsius most of the time, you might want to consider underclocking or trying other methods to fix the problem.
The MSI Afterburner is a free utility tool that you can use for underclocking, overclocking, undervolting, and changing the fan speeds of any graphics card from any brand. The software is also completely free of charge.
Yes, that’s very much possible. It can refresh your overclocking or underclocking settings and bring them to default settings. It can also decrease or increase your overclocking limits in some cases.
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Haddi has been in the Gaming and tech Space for over 10 Years Now; he has worked on notable websites like eXputer, Gamepur, Gear Siege, Gearnuke, and plenty more. He is an expert at Games & PC Hardware; you can expect him to solve any problem. People often joke, that if there is any problem anyone can solve, Haddi can solve it faster. Currently, Haddi writes and manages a Team of Experts at Tech4Gamers.