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How to speed up your graphics card

When gaming, the GPU (graphics processing unit) is your best friend. It renders everything you see on-screen, from the user interface to the mountains rising in the distance. It works in tandem with the CPU, but really, it does the bulk of the heavy lifting, so we need to treat it right to keep it happy and running optimally.

Unfortunately, there are many factors taking place within your PC that create a virtual rain cloud hovering over your GPU’s performance. But don’t fret: Here’s how to speed up your graphics card to achieve the best gaming experience possible.

Note: This guide applies to Windows 10 PCs, though some suggestions do apply to MacOS as well.

Update or refresh your drivers

This should be your first step in speeding up GPU performance, whether your PC has integrated graphics or a discrete GPU. Since this chip handles most of the visual load, installing the latest drivers needs to be a priority.

If you’re unsure about what’s installed in your PC, perform the following in Windows 10:

Step 1: Right-click on the Start button and select the Device Manager option on the pop-up menu.

Step 2: With Device Manager open, click Display Adapters to expand and reveal your GPU(s).

You should see at least one GPU on the expanded list. If your PC has an Intel CPU or an AMD GPU, then you’ll see one listing for Intel or AMD Radeon. If you also have a stand-alone GPU, you’ll see an additional listing for a Nvidia GeForce or AMD Radeon chip.

For this example, our Alienware laptop lists Intel HD Graphics 530 (integrated) and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 (discrete). Due to this setup, games default to the more powerful GeForce chip. This is the driver we want to update.

To get new drivers, follow these links:

  • AMD
  • Intel
  • Nvidia

When installing the driver, use AMD’s “custom install” option that uninstalls the current software suite and installs the current version, or Nvidia’s “clean install” option. You may also want to consider using Display Driver Uninstaller first, as it does a great job of clearing out any old drivers, but it’s not strictly necessary.

If you have Nvidia’s GeForce Experience desktop client installed, it typically sends a notification when a new driver is available. If it’s not installed, click the link provided above to manually download and update.

Update Windows 10 and DirectX

You probably already have the latest DirectX release, but you should verify nonetheless just in case.

Step 1: Type dxdiag in the search box on the taskbar and press Enter.

Step 2: The DirectX Diagnostic Tool appears on your screen with the System tab loaded by default. Locate the version number listed under System Information, as shown above.

Microsoft updates DirectX through the Windows Update feature. If you’re currently not running DirectX 12, you’ll need to manually update your PC.

Step 1: Click the Start button followed by the gear icon located on the Start Menu’s left edge.

Step 2: Select Update & Security within the Settings app.

Step 3: Click the Check for Updates button.

Note: Older graphics cards may not support DirectX12, so if this update doesn’t change your DX version, that may be the cause.

Clean your PC

If your graphics card gets too hot, it will throttle, or slow itself down, in order to avoid damaging its delicate components. If the intake fans and filters are covered with dust, sufficient airflow isn’t carrying heat away from the components, including the GPU, which can lead to that excessive heat buildup.

Your first line of defense is to clean all intake fans using a can of compressed air. Next, turn your PC off, unplug the power cord, ground yourself, and remove your PC’s side panel. Use compressed air to blow out any dust collecting on the components.

Note: Resist the urge to use a vacuum cleaner. The static buildup can damage your PC’s components.

For laptops, your only option is to blow dust out of the intake fans. If you’re lucky, there’s a vent lid covering these fans you can easily remove and blow dust directly off the fans.

Keeping your PC clean is vital to its overall health and performance, whether you’re gaming or just browsing the web.

Improve the airflow

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

While cleaning your desktop or laptop helps improve the airflow, you may simply need more. For desktops, you may have spaces in the chassis for additional fans on the front, top, and bottom. Additional fans increase your PC’s noise level; however, but they will keep the overall heat level down.

For laptops, you can’t install fans. What you can do, however, is purchase a cooling pad that sits under your laptop. It typically includes two huge 140mm fans that blow cool air up against the laptop’s bottom. The drawback is dust collection, meaning you have one more device to keep clean.

Overclocking

One way to improve GPU performance is to overclock the chip. This is done by tweaking the frequency and voltage to squeeze out additional speed. However, if you’re not accustomed to overclocking components, proceed with caution and read widely and deeply before you begin. The wrong settings could damage the chip. Even more, an inadequate cooler will cause the overclocked GPU to overheat and crash.

Like CPUs, you can overclock a GPU using desktop software. One solution is MSI’s Afterburner that scans your GPU and finds the highest, most stable overclock settings. Another is EVGA’s Precision X1, though it only supports GTX 10, GTX 16, and RTX 20 Series GPUs.

For more help on overclocking your graphics card, check out our dedicated guide.

Upgrade the cooling (desktop only)

A good way to boost GPU performance is to install an aftermarket cooler. This can be a heftier air cooler, or a more advanced liquid cooling solution, but it very much dependent on your graphics card, as some are compatible with aftermarket coolers and others aren’t. That is especially true of liquid cooling, where custom loops require bespoke waterblocks, which can be costly. Alternatively, you could attach an all-in-one cooler designed for a CPU using something like NZXT’s Kraken G12, but it’s quite an advanced process that should not be approached lightly.

Again, do your research before you begin, and note that you will likely void your GPU’s warranty if you remove the stock cooler.

Note: Some GPUs can have their cooling improved dramatically by tightening screws, adding washers, or replacing the stock thermal paste. This is very dependent on your GPU, right down to the specific version. So be very wary of making any changes you aren’t certain are safe and warranted.

Tweak in-game settings

Although it doesn’t affect the speed of your graphics card, you can improve performance by adjusting graphics settings within specific games. Reducing the resolution, reducing the texture quality, lowering the environment detail distance, lowering the shadow quality, and so on can make quite a difference on improving your frame rates. It will make the game look worse, but it will run faster and more smoothly, potentially lowering input lag in the process.

Like tweaking the driver settings, you’ll need to make in-game adjustments that strike the perfect balance between fidelity and performance.

Disable unnecessary services

Programs and apps are notorious for cluttering your startup list. Having them load when the operating system immediately starts translates to fewer system resources available to the CPU and GPU, which can in turn impact performance. You can disable these by performing the following:

Step 1: Type task in the taskbar’s search field and select Task Manager in the results.

Step 2: The Processes tab opens by default. Click the Startup tab.

Step 3: Go through the list and change Enabled to Disabled for every service you don’t want loading at startup.

Step 4: Reboot your PC.

Be sure to open the System Tray and turn off anything that may reduce your system’s performance. Likewise, close other apps and programs that may run in the background. Close your browsers too, as they can use excessive amounts of memory your game needs.

Defrag your drive

The idea here is to improve game performance by reorganizing hard drive files. If the operating system, the CPU, and the GPU continuously access fragmented locations spread across the entire drive, that seek time reduces overall performance. Typically, Windows 10 defrags your drive(s) automatically, but you can perform a manual defrag for peace of mind.

Step 1: Type Defrag in the taskbar’s search field and select Defragment and Optimize Drives in the search result.

Step 2: In the Optimize Drives window, select the drive you want to defrag.

Step 3: Click the Optimize button to begin.

Enable Game Mode (Windows 10)

Microsoft introduced a “game mode” in Windows 10 that is designed to optimize system performance for gaming. It temporarily disables updates and restart notifications. It also re-allocates system resources to games that support this feature. It won’t speed up your graphics card, but it may help free it up so it can do its job properly.

Step 1: Click the Start button followed by the gear icon located on the Start Menu’s left edge.

Step 2: Select Gaming within the Settings app.

Step 3: Select the Game Mode option listed on the left.

Step 4: Click the toggle displayed under Game Mode to activate this feature.

Adjust power settings

If you’re gaming on a laptop, connect it to a power outlet. The GPU (and CPU) typically throttle down when the laptop is unplugged because lithium-ion batteries can’t supply enough power output for maximum performance without ruining battery life. There may be a setting in the BIOS to turn off CPU throttling, but GPUs have hard-coded instructions to throttle down on battery power that you can’t change.

Adjusting the power settings on desktops and laptops plugged into a wall outlet might boost GPU performance, however.

Step 1: Click the Start button followed by the gear icon located on the Start Menu’s left edge.

Step 2: Select System within the Settings app.

Step 3: The Display panel appears by default. Select Power & Sleep located on the left.

Step 4: Scroll down and select the Additional Power Settings link.

On laptops, you can reach the same panel by right-clicking on the battery icon located next to the system clock. Select Power Options on the pop-up menu.

Step 5: Select the High Performance option.

If you click the Change Plan Settings link, Windows 10 presents a Change Advanced Power Settings link. Click that and a pop-up appears listing all settings that fall under High Performance. Don’t tweak these settings unless you’re extremely familiar with Windows 10.

Update other PC components

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

While you may have an awesome GPU installed in your system, it’s only one of many components that comprise a single PC. Your CPU, memory, and storage all contribute to how fast and snappy your PC feels, and a good processor can help raise frame rates by a noticeable margin, especially at lower resolutions.

Remember that while the GPU does most of the heavy visual listing, the CPU handles the math, physics, artificial intelligence, input processing, code execution, and more. On top of that, it must handle everything else running outside your game, like all the Windows 10 services. You still need a decent CPU so your awesome GPU can really shine.

System memory is another factor — 8GB is the new minimum, while 16GB is the optimal amount. But if you purchase slow, cheap modules, you’ll feel the side effects. We’re not suggesting you buy the fastest memory modules on the planet, but you may want to consider an upgrade if the system feels sluggish, especially when gaming.

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