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Overclock Your Graphics Card

PC World - Many PC gamers eagerly await the release of next-generation graphics cards, hoping that the new hardware will boost frame rates and enhance eye candy in the latest games. However, while a graphics card upgrade is almost always a good way to increase game performance or improve image quality, new cards tend to be expensive–and they aren’t always necessary.

Today, even midrange graphics cards are generally fast enough to pump out buttery-smooth frame rates in cutting-edge games at all but the highest resolutions. If your current graphics card is serving you well, and you’re just looking for a little something extra to increase performance, overclocking may be the better way to go. And it will certainly be more affordable.

Why Overclock?

In its early days, overclocking may have been a black art reserved for the most hard-core computer geeks, but nowadays it’s about as easy as can be, and it’s usually safe too. Yes, overclocking a component can shorten its life span. But if you don’t push things too far, and if you keep temperatures under control, you have little reason to worry.

You’ll want to make sure that your system has adequate cooling and a power supply that’s sufficient for handling an overclocked card. Modern graphics cards typically have thermally controlled fans that will spin faster to better dissipate heat from the overclocked board. The card may become somewhat noisy as a result, but if the overclock remains stable and the graphics card’s cooler can keep up, you should be good to go.

Both AMD and Nvidia (the big two graphics-card makers) have built overclocking tools into their drivers. AMD’s are readily available (on supported cards) in the AMD Overdrive tab, listed in the Performance section of the company’s Catalyst Control Center software suite. Nvidia’s overclocking tools aren’t exposed by default in its GeForce drivers, but installing its System Tools utility will make them available. You’ll need to grab the Systems Tools utility from the Nvidia website; once you’ve installed the utility, frequency controls will be visible in the performance and tuning section of the GeForce driver.

Disregarding software/driver optimizations, game engine tweaks, and system interface speeds, the performance of a graphics card is typically determined by the compute speed and fillrate of its graphics processing unit, as well as by the amount of memory bandwidth its frame buffer memory affords. (The amount of frame buffer memory on the card can also come into play as resolutions and texture sizes increase, but that’s a discussion for a different article.) By increasing the frequencies of the GPU and the frame buffer memory on your graphics card, you can make them process and move more data, more quickly, increasing overall performance.

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