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How to undervolt a GPU: The ultimate guide to undervolting

Whether you’ve got one of the best graphics cards currently available or an older model in need of a refresh, you may want to learn how to undervolt a GPU. It can lower power demands, reduce temperature and noise levels, and in some cases, even improve performance.

Undervolting requires some basic knowledge, but once you know what to do, it can be done in a few easy steps. Keep reading to learn all about undervolting your graphics card.

Before you begin

Before you jump right in, be mindful that not all GPU models can (or should) be undervolted. Dated models below Nvidia’s 10 series may not allow this. The reason is that voltages are locked on all Nvidia cards previous to the Pascal series (GTX 10xx). This means that most popular undervolting tools don’t support these cards. There are workarounds, but they are often much more complex than what you get on newer cards.

AMD cards can generally be undervolted, even on older models. Indeed, some models, like AMD’s Vega series, could actually see their clock speeds improve when undervolted due to having additional power and temperature headroom when running at lower voltages.

How to undervolt an Nvidia graphics card

Undervolting Nvidia GPUs requires a few extra steps compared to AMD. We will go through all of them below.

Step 1: Download MSI Afterburner

MSI Afterburner interface.

MSI Afterburner is the most popular undervolting tool for Nvidia graphics cards. To begin the process, download the free program here.

Install it on your computer and then launch it.

Step 2: Access the Curve Editor

On the lower left part of the MSI Afterburner interface, you will find information about the voltage of your GPU. Below that, you can find the Curve Editor. You can access it by simply double-clicking or pressing CTRL + F.

Once the Curve Editor is open, you will see a (somewhat intimidating) graph.

MSI Afterburner Curve Editor.

This graph holds two important pieces of information. The X-axis is the voltage of your graphics card, and the Y-axis is the frequency (clock speed).

Step 3: Test your graphics card

Before you take any further steps, you will need to figure out what frequency your GPU runs at under stress. There are two ways to do this: Launching a GPU-intensive program or running a stress test, such as FurMark.

The easiest way is to launch your most resource-heavy game and let it run for at least 15 minutes. Some games are more based on the processor than the graphics card, but most newer titles put enough pressure on the GPU to show you the correct frequency — especially at higher resolutions. For the purpose of this guide, we’ve used Amazon Games New World.

MSI Afterburner GPU Frequency tool.

Once the program has launched, make sure you’re using windowed mode, allowing you to look back at MSI Afterburner. Check the section labeled “MHz” and remember the number — in this example, it was 1873MHz.

Step 4: Find the correct axis in Curve Editor

Go back to the Curve Editor tool in Afterburner and find the right frequency on the Y-axis. Simply click along the dotted curve line until you are able to see the correct frequency on the left-hand side, aligned with the curve. Look down and check the corresponding voltage. In our example, 1873MHz requires a core voltage of 1000.

GPU frequency and voltage in MSI Afterburner.

Step 5: Pick your new voltage

Undervolting, like overclocking, is not an exact science. Instead, it’s all about trial and error. If you are starting with 1000mV and a frequency of 1873MHz, you might want to take it step by step and lower the voltage to 950mV. Your numbers will vary depending on your graphics card. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to undervolt little by little instead of doing too much at once.

Click on the voltage that you would like to achieve. As you can see, that number will be tied to a lower frequency than what you want to maintain. There are ways to fix that.

Step 6: Adjust the core clock

Go back into the main window of MSI Afterburner and look at the Core Clock (MHz) section. You want to adjust the core clock so that your card’s frequency matches the voltage you want to maintain.

To do this, increase the core clock until the curve in the Curve Editor changes. Track your chosen voltage at the bottom (in this example, 950mV) and the frequency on the left. Keep increasing the clock until your frequency is the same as it was during your stress test while running on the new, lowered voltage.

MSI Afterburner interface.

The end result should be that your card will run at the same frequency as before while maintaining the maximum voltage of your choice. Remember that these numbers will vary based on the values you started with.

Step 7: Maintain core speed and voltage

You’ve successfully changed the clock speed and voltage of your graphics card, but now it’s time to make sure that these values don’t go above what you intended. Open up Curve Editor once again to make the adjustment.

Once again, click on the voltage of your choice. From your chosen voltage point, start dragging down all the small squares in the area you’ve highlighted. Try to form a straight line aligned with the frequency your graphics card was previously hitting. If you can’t, just make sure the remainder of the curve is below your highest frequency point.

MSI Afterburner curve editor.

This should ensure stable performance at that clock speed.

Step 8: Save and adjust

In order to preserve these changes, go back to the MSI Afterburner window and press the floppy disk Save icon in the middle at the very bottom of the screen.

Put your new frequency/voltage combo to the test by booting the same game (or another resource-heavy program) you ran before. Track the values in MSI Afterburner to make sure that you’re hitting the same frequency as you did prior to undervolting your card. If you’re not, increase the core clock a little more and try again.

Let the game run for at least 30 to 60 minutes. If everything works well, you’re not experiencing any issues with your graphics card, and nothing crashes, you’re in the clear. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try to go back and re-do the steps in order to lower the voltage a little further.

However, if you’re experiencing any sort of graphical issues or crashes, it means you’ve undervolted the card too much. In this scenario, re-do the steps with a higher voltage while maintaining the same clock speed. Eventually, you will find the spot that works best for your graphics card.

Step 9: Stress-test the card

This can be treated as an extra step, but it’s definitely recommended. To make sure your new settings work well and that the card will perform as it should under any circumstances, it’s a good idea to put it through a proper stress test. Playing a game is one thing, but there are programs that can help you stress the card in other ways.

Download FurMark or 3DMark Time Spy and run the stress test/benchmark up to three times. If everything is stable, congratulations — you have successfully learned how to undervolt your Nvidia GPU.

How to undervolt an AMD graphics card

Undervolting an Nvidia graphics card is a real chore compared to AMD. AMD has included all the tools you need right in the drivers for your Radeon GPU, so no extra programs will be necessary to perform this process.

Step 1: Enter the Radeon control panel

All owners of an AMD Radeon graphics card should have access to Radeon Wattman, located within the Radeon Control Panel.

In order to access the control panel, simply right-click anywhere on your Desktop. From the Dropdown Menu pick the Radeon Control Panel.

Step 2: Open Radeon Wattman

Although the Radeon control panel may look different depending on your GPU and your drivers, it should be easy to navigate. It will likely resemble the interface on the screenshot below.

Radeon graphics control panel.
Image credit: AMD

Somewhere on the top part of the screen, find the Gaming section and click it. From there, head towards Global Settings, and lastly, Global Wattman.

You may be prompted to accept a warning from AMD before you proceed. Read it in its entirety — it’s a warning from AMD about potential damages to the card and what happens to the warranty should any damage occur during overclocking.

Once you review the warning, click Accept to launch Radeon Wattman.

Step 3: Test the optimal frequency of your GPU

Much like with Nvidia, we are going to use Radeon Wattman to first map the optimal clock speed/voltage of your Radeon card. Within the Wattman interface, navigate to Tuning Control.

Radeon graphics control panel.
Image credit: AMD

Launch a resource-heavy program, such as a fairly new game or GPU stress test program such as FurMark. Allow the program to run for at least 15 minutes while Radeon Wattman remains open in the background. Take note of the numbers next to GPU on the left-hand side of the screen. Note both the peak core speed (in the above example, 2196MHz) and the average core speed.

The Tuning Control interface also allows you to auto undervolt GPU. You can give it a shot, but doing it by yourself is a safer bet.

Step 4: Adjust the voltage and frequency

Navigate towards the Frequency/Voltage section of Global Wattman. Switch the control from Auto to Manual.

On this screen, you will see a curved line that shows the mV and the MHz values of your graphics card. In order to undervolt your GPU, you will need to lower the voltage while maintaining the frequency.

Radeon graphics interface.
Image credit: AMD

Every dot within the vertical line represents voltage, while the two white bars on the sides of the curve represent the clock speed.

Undervolt your card by dragging the value of Voltage lower than the maximum your card hits at your desired frequency. In the above example, a frequency of 1825MHz was combined with a voltage of 808mV.

Start by lowering the voltage a little. If you don’t want to use the curved and dotted lines, simply input the new values in the boxes at the bottom of the screen. You may have to play around with these until you have the same frequency as before, but with a lower voltage.

When you are happy with the result, click Apply.

Step 5: Test your graphics card

Although the undervolting process is over, it’s important to test longer-term stability. The only way to know what to do is to put the card through another stress test.

This can be done in a few ways, and it’s recommended that you use more than one way to do it. Launch your favorite game and play for an hour. In addition, run a GPU stress test or benchmark through FurMark or 3DMark Time Spy. Let these programs run for an extended period of time.

Once you have successfully completed the stress tests without any crashes, you’re done — the GPU has been undervolted.

At this point, you can go back and re-do the steps to undervolt it further, if you wish. If you experience GPU issues or crashes, it means you need to increase the voltage or lower clock speeds until these problems subside.

Extra suggestion: Monitor your graphics card with HWiNFO

While both MSI Afterburner and AMD Radeon Wattman provide general information about your GPU, a good way to monitor the card in real-time is HWiNFO.

Once you install and run the program, you will be greeted by a lot of information about your system. The top-right corner contains information about the graphics card, including real-time GPU clock speed.

HWiNFO monitoring interface.

In order to get accurate numbers needed for undervolting, run a game and take notes on the frequencies your card hits. Go with the highest number that it reaches. This program will also be useful for testing whether your undervolting was successful — simply run it alongside the benchmark or game and check whether the frequencies match.

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Monica J. White
Monica is a UK-based freelance writer and self-proclaimed geek. A firm believer in the "PC building is just like expensive…
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