Underclocking is a process that can come in very handy if we want to reduce the power consumption of our graphics card. This article will cover underclocking and show you how to do it on your graphics card.
Surely you know what overclocking is, a technique in which the clock frequency of the motherboard or the processor is increased above its factory limits to obtain better performance. The frequency defines how many duty cycles occur every second, so increasing it will mean higher performance and more FPS in games in the case of a graphics card.
Oppositely, the underclock reduces the frequencies below the factory values. In this article, we will focus on the underclocking of a graphics card or GPU since it is a very interesting technique and makes a lot of sense.
What is the reason why we would underclock? Well, wanting a reduction in the energy consumption of the graphics card. There are several reasons why lowering the power of the GPU can be a good thing:
- First, save money on the electric bill.
- Get the graphics card to be at lower temperatures or make less noise.
- Avoid consumption peaks, as these can damage your source if it is of low quality. If it is of quality but insufficient power, it could turn off while you play. Underclocking might fix it.
- Extend the life of the GPU.
- Avoid thermal throttling.
In general, there is no reason to underclock because graphics cards are designed to work well for years, right out of the box. However, the above reasons are valid, and we will deal with the subject in this article.
If you have heard of underclocking, you may have heard of undervolting. With this technique, what is reduced is not the clock frequency but the voltage that reaches the graphics card.
The big difference here is that if we underclock, the GPU will still decide what voltage to apply to the core in the same way as before. Surely it works at a lower voltage because the frequency is lower, but it shouldn’t.
On the other hand, with an undervolting, we would be setting limits to the voltage at which the GPU works, and from there, the graphics card would have to decide what frequency it can reach. The good thing about undervolting is that it’s usually more effective at improving graphics efficiency. The bad thing is that it’s a lot harder to get right and more likely to cause GPU instability and reboots.
So, as we can see, underclocking is the perfect alternative to undervolting if you want to reduce consumption but without too many risks. Two types of GPU underclock must be differentiated (the same goes for undervolt):
- Core underclock – We are reducing the frequency at which the graphics card core operates. That is the easiest and safest to do.
- Memory underclock – The VRAM memory of the graphics card works at a specific frequency, different from that of the kernel. Therefore, memories are very peculiar, and underclocking and undervolting can cause stability problems very easily.
It doesn’t seem like it makes much sense to underclock memories if we’re looking for a guide to something easier to do. Therefore, we will focus on the underclock of the graphics card core.
How to underclock your GPU: step by step
We can do the underclocking process on practically any graphics card, especially if it is a dedicated graphics card from AMD or NVIDIA. Also, the process is the same: it just comes to us using MSI Afterburner.
Graphics card overclockers (and underclockers, of course) have relied on this universal program from MSI for years, and it works well. The key is that it allows us to monitor and modify many parameters of the graphics card to see if what we do is working or not.
Therefore, we must first download Afterburner from the official MSI website and install it. MSI is one of the most popular graphics card assemblers, so the program is reliable.
Once installed, we will find a control panel with all the information on the graphics card sensors and a series of controls, the underclock. We will not select a specific clock frequency since this will depend on each moment. Still, we are going to establish an offset.
The graphics card sets the maximum possible frequency, and we will tell it to reduce it by a specific amount. So, for example, if the GPU decides to run at 1000MHz, and we set -100MHz underclock in Afterburner, it will run at 900MHz.
Well, it’s time to set the underclock we want. You must reduce the core clock for this. The memory clock is the memory clock, and as we explained before, we do not recommend it, at least a priori.
And how much do we lower it? We can start from something very small (for example -10MHz) or enter larger numbers (-100MHz, -200MHz…). It is a matter of trying. As a reference, we could talk about a 20% reduction in frequency in a GPU that reaches 1000MHz would be 200MHz. Once you finish, click on the button to set the changes.
Underclocking can significantly negatively impact performance since we are limiting the graphics card’s capabilities to reach a specific clock frequency. Therefore, it is advisable to find a way to analyze the results of the process. We are going to teach you three ways:
- Through a synthetic benchmark such as the User benchmark.
- Stressing the GPU with a harsh benchmark like FurMark.
- Analyzing performance in real games.
All three options are very interesting. The first one helps us to analyze the impact on performance in an easy way. For example, suppose we use a severe benchmark like FurMark. Then, we would rather see the impact on temperatures and power consumption to see if we have improved it. And in the third case, we will see how it impacts us in a real situation, from day to day.
To do this, you should take advantage of Afterburner’s monitoring possibilities, make measurements with these three methods before underclocking, and then do it afterward.
If the performance has dropped too much, moderate the underclock. And if it’s fine but you haven’t reduced the temperature/consumption as you wanted, make the underclock more severe.
Underclocking is a technique that can help us if we seek to reduce the power consumption of our graphics card without the difficulty and risk of instability of undervolting.
This reduction in consumption usually implies a drop in performance. However, it can avoid harmful effects such as thermal throttling, so it can sometimes help us play with more FPS.
The key to underclocking is using good software like MSI Afterburner and trying different GPU core clock reduction combinations. Thanks to the monitoring capabilities of this software, we can check if the underclock has been effective.