Pros & Cons for Undervolting Graphics Cards

Hoping that everyone is enjoying the holidays, had a good Christmas, and has an enjoyable NYE 2022 on deck. During the Xmas holidays a lot of people find time for entertaining themselves that’s not as easily found during the rest of the year. For some people that entertaining is best done via their computer, and for many there’s nothing better than enjoying games. They’ve come a long way over the last decade +, and usually in order to get all the visual pop and immersive experience the game developers want you to have you need a good GPU.

Lots of people are perfectly fine with the one that came in their desktop, and not many of them will be the type inclined to perform invasive surgery on computing devices in the first place. For others with the know how and no hesitation to perform ‘tweaks’ it is possible to make small changes to computer components that will alter how they function. One of these procedures that gamers will probably at least have heard of is undervolting the GPU. To describe in plainly, it means to restrict the power that the card has access too and gain specific performance benefits because of it.

This is not something that would generally be among the familiarities for a Canadian web hosting provider, but here at 4GoodHosting we are good at identifying what might be of interest for people who are tech-savvy in this way, and it turns out that undervolting isn’t especially difficult to do. So it’s something that might be possible for you if you’re an avid gamer, and what we’ll do here with the last entry for 2021 is talk about advantages and disadvantages to undervolting graphics cards.

Efficiency Boost

Your GPU is going to have a few important calibrations that are open to manual adjustment with software like MSI Afterburner. These include power limit, core and memory clocks, plus the voltage. The entirety work in unison to provide the performance and power needed for what’s expected in regard to out-of-box operation.

So what exactly is undervolting? Simply, it is a reduction of the voltage your GPU has access to and the primary aim is to maintain the performance associated with stock settings while at the same time boosting efficiency. Undervolting takes specific aim at power draw and heat as areas where improvements can be made.

The first question is this then; if a GPU is able to run better at a lower voltage, why wouldn’t the manufacturer build them with this in mind? The answer is that silicon can vary with each individual GPU and some will tolerate different voltages and clocks better than others. Standard settings will be aligned with whatever is known to be the average tolerance.

The most noticeable differences will be with a GPU that’s built to be power hungry, and the Nvidia RTX 30-series Founders Edition is one of them. Undervolting this card may offer many improvements, especially in challenging applications. A lower-power GPU will put out less heat so you’ll have less to gain undervolting a GPU card like this.

Pros / Cons for Undervolting

We should start by saying that most of the time it will actually be best to leave your GPU at stock settings. Some users will also choose to use an automatic overclocking tool as a cost-effective and simply implemented tool for regulating graphics card performance.

Pro 1: Lower power consumption will promote lower heat. This means a reduced power bill, even if it’s not much lower. Less heat can also equate to better thermal performance for your other surrounding components like the CPU. Modern GPUs tend to come with plenty of power, so undervolting can be very beneficial for mitigating the effects on your PC ecosystem. Plus your power supply will be less stressed.

Con 1: You’ll need to spend time familiarizing yourself with settings on the GPU. While undervolting is not especially difficult, it does require some knowledge and ability to tinker around effectively and neglecting that may mean you do permanent damage to the GPU.

Pro 2: Familiar software like MSI Afterburner makes it free to do, and generally it’s not too risky. Keep in mind as well that undervolting may also help prolong the life of your GPU because it will be under less thermal stress over time.

Con 2: Further tinkering may be required in the future. New driver updates or changing ambient temperatures are two of the reasons you may sometimes have to go in and adjust your settings for optimal performance.

Pro 3: Undervolting is ideal when you’re fitting a powerful GPU into a small form factor enclosure, because it makes it a much better experience. Small cases are usually more restrictive for heat dissipation, so you’ll enjoy better thermals in these smaller spaces while performance isn’t compromised like it might be with a CPU that hasn’t been undervolted.

Con 3: You may end up applying incorrect settings without being aware of it, and poor performance results. If insufficient voltage to the GPU occurs or it isn’t properly applied there may be overall instability and reduced frame rates. Double checking and testing your GPU performance to insure it’s improving with voltage changes is always a good idea.

Pro 4: Less noise. The lower voltage will make it so that the GPU fans can spin at lower RPMs with the accompanying reduced heat. This also means less power is needed for the fans, and that keeps the entire system performing at a lower noise level.

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