by December 5, 2002 0 comments

With the way processor technology has taken off, overclocking seems to be a lost cause. Gone are the days when tweaking CPU clock multipliers and FSB settings made the computer run a little faster. Both Intel and AMD lock their clock multipliers on commercially sold CPUs. But decline of overclocking to a great extent is perhaps the fact that there’s simply no need to do it! CPUs easily outperform most other components in a computer. But is overclocking itself dead? Let’s find out. Here we’ll see how to overclock a video card to its limit.

First of all, overclocking a video card is of use only if you use 3D applications. It will have no effect on how well Windows responds to your commands, or how soon new windows pop up. It is only in 3D apps like games that the performance benefit of overclocking video cards is seen. Most people prefer overclocking their video cards when frame rate drop below comfortable levels in games like Unreal Tournament or QuakeIII Arena. The human eye perceives motion at a frame rate greater than 30, and if it drops below that the experience can become unpleasant. 

Use the slider bar to overclock your display card

Unlike CPUs that are overclocked either through the BIOS or through jumpers on a motherboard, a video card is overclocked through the OS and helper applications. For example, some high-end card manufacturers like Asus include small utilities with their driver packages that can be used for the purpose. However, since most companies do not do this, it becomes necessary to use third-party software. One of the most best software for configuring video cards is PowerStrip. It is a small application (628 kB) with the installer and can be downloaded A copy can also be found in this month’s CD at system/cdrom/devlabs/ source/pstrip. exe location. It supports almost all graphics. We had no problems using it with our GeForce2

Overclocking basics
There are two clock settings that can be set to different frequencies relative to the default clock speeds. There’s the core clock speed that is the clock speed of the graphics chip on the video card, and the memory clock speed. These two affect the fill rate and the memory bandwidth of the card respectively. Fill rate is basically the pixel/texel rendering power. A higher fill rate equates to better performance at high resolution where there are more pixels to render and display. Memory clock speed, on the other hand, coupled with the data bus size determines how much data can be fed to the card. So which one is more important? The answer is largely dependent on your video card and the kind of games you like to play. But lately the situation has become such that a video card runs out of memory bandwidth much before the graphics core can be maxed out. Our suggestion would be to try several combinations and see which one works the best for you.

The obvious benefit of overclocking video cards is the increased performance in games. However, there is a downside to it too. While overclocking is a safe activity if done within limits, pushing a card too much can possibly damage its hardware and lead to system instability. Thus, if you ever notice such behavior, remember to reduce the clock speeds till it becomes stable again.

Using PowerStrip 
Install PowerStrip on any location of your choice. It will automatically detect all settings of your video card and save them. PowerStrip is a very powerful application and can be used to alter many settings like gamma correction, brightness, contrast etc, but we will stick to what it is used to do most often–overclock. Right-click on its icon in the system tray and select ‘performance profiles’, and then ‘configure’. It will show the current memory and chip frequency and will display vertical sliders that can be used to increase/decrease them. Move these sliders up or down to the desired frequency, and select ‘apply’. That is all there is to it. Your video card is now running at an out-of-spec frequency. 

Clock  250/400  250/450   250/475  250/500  265/475
Quake 3 
Arena (fps) 
62.3   65.4  68.5  66.1
How gaming performance improves with overclocking

A great benefit of using PowerStrip is that in case you run into problems, it is easy to restore the card to its original configuration. With older applications, what used to happen was that the computer would refuse to boot into the OS with the overclocked card. One had to switch to safe mode operation in Windows and then uninstall it. However, if you encounter system instability, just press ‘ctrl’ or ‘alt’ while the computer is booting up. The former will remove all PowerStrip customizations, while the latter will simply bypass them. You can also configure hotkeys to adjust the clock speeds, brightness etc. while playing a game. 

Below we’ve given the results that we could achieve with our GeForce2 GTS on QuakeIII Arena. As you can see, running at 1600*1200*32 resolution can be quite stressful for a video card. At the original configuration (250 MHz core, 400 MHz memory), our frame rate is 55.5. But by pushing the card little by little, we were able to achieve almost 25% greater performance. At 500 MHz memory clock, visible square artifacts start appearing in the initial QuakeIII screen. Also, as you can see, increasing the core clock didn’t really help us in this particular game. 

Overall, your experience with overclocking will largely be dependent on which card you have, and how good the cooling is on it. You can also use PowerStrip to underclock your video card is case your fan goes bad, or it starts showing signs of aging. Just remember to be careful with whatever you do, and make sure you at least remember the ‘ctrl’ and ‘alt’ hotkeys.

Anuj Jain

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