How to use MSI Afterburner

MSI Afterburner is the most popular graphics card overclocking tool for a good reason. It’s reliable, works on any card, including non-MSI products, gives you complete control, lets you monitor your hardware in real-time, and best of all, it’s completely free!

Overclocking is the process of boosting the clock frequency of PC components to make them run at higher speeds than what the manufacturer set as the default clock speed. Many PC users, especially gamers with self-built PCs, do this to enhance performance and take full advantage of their hardware without spending more money.

In this guide, I’m going to give you a walkthrough of how to overclock your PC’s GPU by using the MSI Afterburner application, and, going step by step, I’ll show you how to download, install, and set up MSI Afterburner so you can start monitoring your system’s performance in all of your PC racing simulations.

Before we jump into the ‘how to’ segment, I’d like to discuss some reasons why you might want to overclock your GPU and some reasons you might not want to, and then if you decide that overclocking is the route for you, I’m going to show you how to do it.

Is overclocking safe?

First, I want to go over why you might or might not want to overclock your GPU. When overclocking any component of your PC, such as the CPU, GPU, or RAM, there is a risk factor if you don’t know what you’re doing or you get too aggressive with your overclock, i.e., you’re not doing a conservative or moderate overclock. It’s always best practice to do your research and find out from the community that owns your CPU, RAM, or GPU what is an overclock that’s going to give you consistently better performance.

The goal is to squeeze a little additional performance out of your components without risking extra heat that your case and fans cannot handle or causing electricity problems with your power supply.

Having said that, if you’re doing a moderate or conservative overclock on any component, the risks are extremely minimal. In fact, when these components come out of the manufacturing plant, they’re basically rated for slightly higher performance, and then the manufacturer clocked them down ever so slightly to give them a longer life. But, do you really plan on having the same CPU for 10-15 years? Probably not. You’re probably going to build another PC within that time frame or at least upgrade that one component. Rather than achieving the manufacturer’s quoted lifespan, such as 15 years, you may instead get 12 years of higher performance out of an overclocked component.

This is where you need to decide if it is worth it to overclock a component or not. Personally, I would rather have better performance for the time that I actually use a component, rather than getting a couple of years of use on the back end of its lifespan that I’m probably not even going to use, as by then, I will have most likely replaced or upgraded it.

Second is the misconception that overclocking voids your warranty. With the majority of these components, there is no way for the manufacturer to tell if you overclocked it unless it is completely fried out to where you can’t return it to the stock clock speed.

So, is overclocking safe? My final word here is that as long as you’re careful with your overclocking, it’s not going to cause any damage, additional heat, or electrical failures to your components, and it allows you to tune your gaming rig and wring out that extra bit of performance, so I say go for it!

Downloading and installing MSI Afterburner

If you’re still reading, I’ll assume you have taken my disclaimer on board and are willing to proceed. First, let me explain the MSI Afterburner program in a bit more detail, and then we can move onto downloading and installing it.

You can download the program by heading over to the MSI Afterburner website and clicking DOWNLOAD AFTERBURNER

Click the huge download button

Alternatively, you can download by navigating to the Guru3D site and scrolling to the bottom of the page, where you have the choice between the 4.6.3 Stable version or the 4.6.4 Beta 2 version. I’d recommend going with the stable final version.

Once you’ve clicked on one of these links, the program will start downloading automatically, and after it’s downloaded, you can go ahead and go to your downloads folder to extract the file. Once that’s done, you can go ahead and double click on the MSI Afterburner setup

Select your native language and hit Next, then Accept the License Agreement. Then, here’s something very important. You need to make sure that you also install RivaTuner Statistics Server.


As you can see down by the Description, it says that this provides frame rate monitoring, on-screen display, and video capture services to MSI Afterburner. Once you’ve made sure to check the box, click Next, and save it in the default location, and then hit Install.

You’re then going to go through RivaTuner Statistics Server Setup Wizard, go ahead and click Next, and basically do the same thing you just did with the MSI Afterburner setup.

Once all the installations are complete, select Run MSI Afterburner and click Finish. The program will then launch, and you should see this as the default interface.

Afterburner installed (after scan: on startup yours will be blank)
Afterburner installed (after scan: on startup yours will be blank)

Afterburner offers a variety of stylish skins and interfaces for you to choose from, and some of them change the location of certain controls. So, while it is tempting to play around with the different themes, I would recommend sticking with the default appearance for the purpose of following along with this tutorial.

Using Afterburner for the first time

The first thing you’ll want to do, the first time you launch this application, is to click on the magnifying glass in the left hand navigational tabs. It’ll open a new window, and then you want to go ahead and click Scan.

Scanning
Scanning

This will scan your PCI slot for the GPU(s) that you have selected so you can target which one you’d like to overclock (in most cases, there may be more than one GPU – Afterburner’s sync mode makes sure that all overclock settings are applied to each GPU, fan etc unless otherwise requested). The scan should take approximately 10 minutes to complete, and once complete it’ll export your overclock curve (explainer here) to MSI Afterburner.

Afterburner should now display your graphics card (highlighted with red arrow) with the current driver version
Afterburner should now display your graphics card (highlighted with red arrow) with the current driver version

Afterburner should now display your graphics card (highlighted with red arrow) with the current driver version. You want to make sure to be on the most up-to-date driver version because once you install a new driver, you’ll need to do all these overclock settings again to make sure that it’s compatible with your new driver.

Notice the gauges in the centre/top of the window. Readings include GPU temperature, voltage monitoring (because when you’re overclocking, you’re increasing the voltage on your GPU, which will, in turn, increase the temperature). You want to make sure that your PC case has good cooling, and also your GPU itself has adequate cooling with fans, etc.

In the gauge below, you have your base and boost clock. The base clock represents when you’re your PC is idling and isn’t under heavy loads. This would be when you’re not gaming, video editing, or anything intensive like that; you’re just chilling and maybe navigating through windows. On the other hand, the boost clock is for when you get into some highly intensive gaming when your graphics card boosts up its speed.

Overclocking with MSI Afterburner

The two features we will start with to try out some overclocking are the Core Clock and Memory Clock.

I’m not going to go into detail here with the Power Limit or the Temperature Limit other than mentioning that you can sync them or move them individually. Some sources may tell you that it’s OK just to crank both of these up to maximum, and everything will be fine, but my advice is to err on the side of caution and leave these alone until you become more proficient at overclocking.

Safe overclocking

The aim of overclocking with Afterburner is to moderately move the Core and Memory sliders up a small amount at a time. This way, you’ll make sure your components remain safe and that you don’t cause any long-term damage. You only want to squeeze out just enough extra performance without putting too much stress on the GPU.

Move the core clock slider up in small increments
Move the core clock slider up in small increments (See description in image above)

With your very first attempt, I recommend sliding the Core Clock up to +20MHz, and your Memory Clock to +100MHz. These are very conservative increases, so you can be sure that you won’t run into any issues with these overclock settings.

Move the memory clock slider up in small increments (See description in image above)
Move the memory clock slider up in small increments (See description in image above)

If you find it difficult to use your mouse to achieve the correct settings with the slider, you can also use the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard to get the exact number you want.

Apply your changes
Apply your changes

Once you’ve set the correct values, go ahead and hit the Tick button to apply those settings (see above).

The next step is to check and see how your system performs (with these newly applied overclock settings) by benchmarking the system. If you’re happy with the changes: click save (highlighted below).

Benchmarking

I’ll be writing up another article very soon, entirely focused on benchmarking your GPU, so this will just be a summary, but what you need to know for now is that Afterburner comes with an in-built benchmarking tool called Kombuster. It is a decent burn-in benchmarking utility that gauges thermal performance and stability.

Kombuster running Tessellation / DoF / PBR stress test
Kombuster running Tessellation / DoF / PBR stress test

With benchmarking, you’re essentially performing a test of your systems capabilities with your applied overclock settings. Benchmarks are usually very graphically intensive (on purpose) to push the limits of your components. Simultaneously, as the benchmark is running, you want to keep an eye on MSI Afterburner and look at the gauges to see if your components are overheating or running into any other difficulties. This can also be done using the RivaTuner on-screen readings.

If everything seems fine, move the Core and Memory Clock sliders up a bit more, and gradually keep doing this until you start to see some issues with the benchmark. Usually, once you’ve gone too high, you’ll begin to see glitches in the video, screen tearing, or your system may freeze.

If any of this happens, you know you have now hit the limit of your component’s abilities, and you can start to dial it back by approximately 15%.

Time Spy 3D mark report after upgrading PSU

You don’t need to use Kombuster as your benchmark; there are many other excellent free benchmark tools that you can download to test your overclock settings. Feel free to have a search around and find one that suits your needs, but always make sure you’re downloading from a reputable source.

MSI Afterburner Features

Now, if you ever get into any serious trouble while overclocking where it’s causing any stutters, judders, or your OS freezes up, inside the MSI Afterburner application, you can just press the reset button, and this will reset everything back to your stock clock and all your stock defaults.

Reset all settings to defaul
Reset all settings to default

Another nifty feature is the Windows button under the word Startup. You should only click this button after some benchmarking and find the stable overclock settings for your PC. Once it’s turned on, this feature will apply those overclock settings every time you turn on your PC.

Apply at Windows startup
Apply at Windows startup

If you ever run into issues, just unclick the Windows button and use the reset button to return to your default settings, and start to gradually and progressively overclock again until you reach that threshold where you’re starting to run into some performance issues, and then dial it back about 15% as I mentioned above to ensure you’re in a nice safe zone.

Additional tools

At first glance, MSI Afterburner may seem like it’s only used for overclocking, but actually, it packs plenty of other valuable features. Here are a couple of other functions you can use to get the maximum boost out of your hardware.

Custom Fan Profiles

As heat is the biggest performance killer when it comes to GPU performance, Afterburner has the ability for you to set the fan speed as a custom profile, so that the fan can run faster at certain temperature thresholds.

Adjust master GPU fan speed if your card runs too hot
Adjust master GPU fan speed if your card runs too hot

As the temperature increases, your fan speed can be set to run at a predetermined percentage of maximum:

Custom fan speed profiles
Custom fan speed profiles

In-Game FPS Counter

The feature lets you monitor the GPU performance in real time allowing you to track how your overclock attempts improve the system’s performance.

That about wraps things up for this introduction to the MSI Afterburner program and how to start overclocking your GPU. I’d like to reiterate that overclocking is safe so long as you follow the instructions and increase your clock speeds progressively. Overclocking with Afterburner is undoubtedly quite easy once you become familiar with the program, but it is always best to be cautious, and when in any doubt, consult a professional before you end up frying your hardware.


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How to use MSI Afterburner