Overclocking graphics cards is a “sport” we’re all more or less familiar with, and depending on our ambitions, the limit we’re striving for differs. Whether it’s the world record or just the desired framerate in a particular game that we’re after, we just have to reach for the increased frequencies and voltages on various graphics card elements. Depending on the model you have, its price range and intended usage scenario, but also external conditions, the success you can achieve will be more or less limited. Still, before setting off into the adventure of overclocking, the appropriate software tool needs to be chosen. Somewhere along the line, as this activity advanced and increased in popularity, certain manufacturers understood that the enthusiasm often expressed by users is easily hampered by badly assembled tools within the drivers themselves, so they turned to creating their own solutions, enabling an enthusiast to achieve high results without having to battle with bugs and ill-optimised software; this also promotes the company that created the solution in the first place and shows that they have interest in the overclocking community (although they won’t fail to mention that overclocking your card instantly voids warranty). Whatever the case, certain companies have done their best to create entirely new solutions from scratch, while others decided that modifying and improving existing solutions shortens the development cycle, while still providing a very good OC tool. If you belong to the old school, familiar with RivaTuner, you already know what we’re talking about, but for those who don’t, this tool was one of the best, if not the best piece of overclocking software, up to 2009 when its development was halted. Why? Well, its creator simply decided to offer his solution to other graphics card manufacturers, thereby losing interest in continuing the development himself, as clones of his program still exist, only in company colours such as ASUS, MSI and EVGA, while the functionality has essentially remained the same, only adjusted for modern graphics cards. Enough with the reminiscing, let’s have a look at the greatest and latest this segment has to offer these days. We’ve chosen four of the most interesting tools to present.
ASUS GPU Tweak
ASUS took a long time to forfeit their extremely ugly and largely dysfunctional SmartDoctor software, while competitors were churning out programs light years ahead of it. With the presentation of ASUS GTX 580 Matrix, GPU Tweak saw the light of day. This program is a huge improvement over SmartDoctor, which becomes clear the first time you start it. It’s based on RivaTuner and shares its capabilities, while adding a few of its own. It has profiling, voltage control, as well as the ability to turn the 2D mode off, which can be extremely useful for those who aim high, as the chance of the system freezing is lower when there’s no “clock hopping”. The automatic update is also there, as well as the automatic mode, which increases voltage together with the clock, which isn’t really all that useful to anyone barely familiar with the matter. Furthermore, ASUS has integrated the skinned GPU-Z, a quintessential piece of software that provides all relevant data about the graphics card. There are drawbacks, though, and mostly concerning design, as functionality was sacrificed for visual appeal to a certain extent, so users will probably be confused by what’s going on the screen at first. It also lacks a stability test, which is a shame. We’re aware of the fact that this is a fresh piece of software, but this doesn’t really justify the occasional misread of the graphics card model or even a complete refusal to work with a certain product, despite being signed by ASUS.
EVGA’s software is also based on RivaTuner, and is actually one of the first to have become so. Still, it’s been left at a much more basic level compared to what ASUS and MSI have done in the meantime, which is a shame, as it looks simple and practical, but with certain features missing.
Users with an EVGA card will have access to all features, while the usability percentage for owners of other companies’ models depends on each particular case. Furthermore, there’s zero support for graphics cards based on AMD’s chips, which is another severely limiting factor. Truth be told, it’s quite a bit “lighter” than GPU Tweak or Afterburner, so if you have a GeForce card and installation size is a factor, EVGA Precision might just be the right solution for you.
Just like the previous two programs, MSI’s Afterburner comes from the RivaTuner gene pool. It started off as a mere skinned MSI version of the above, but has evolved into a much more serious overclock tool in the meantime. Firstly, it’s quite big, but its size is entirely justified by its list of features. Pay attention to the fact that the latest beta versions (v2.2.0) will enable support for all modern graphics cards regardless of the manufacturer. Although its design isn’t as attractive as GPU Tweak’s, it has more functions and a far more intuitive interface. It comes equipped with a branded version of FurMark, which you can, but don’t have to install together with Afterburner itself. This stability test carries the name “Kombustor” and is basically identical to FurMark except that the “hairy doughnut” has now become an MSI logo.
Various extra features are present, such as graphical stats monitoring, voltage regulation for memory, GPU and even the power unit (AUX), all of which have to be supported by the graphics card too, of course. Video recording hasn’t been left out either, in several grades of quality, as the same goes for clock profiling and fan settings, which go beyond simple tweaks. This version of MSI Afterburner works with all models, independently of the manufacturer of the card or chip (both Nvidia and AMD GPUs are fully supported), so it’s excellent news for anyone, in short.
The last piece of software may very well be the simplest one, signed by Sapphire. This is a proprietary solution built from scratch, as can be seen from the relatively short list of features. Furthermore, this software is limited to Radeon models only, so it’s not even partially compatible with NVIDIA products. The number of options barely surpasses what you can find in the Catalyst Control Centre, but those with lower appetites won’t really mind. The interesting thing is that this program worked in full on various Radeon-based notebooks we’ve installed it on, although all other programs encountered issues on them, so bear this in mind if you’re a user on the go.
|ASUS GPU Tweak||EVGA Precision Tool||MSI Afterburner||Sapphire TriXX|
|Version||v18.104.22.168||v2.1.2||v2.1.0 [ v.2.2.0 beta 12]||v.4.1.0|
|Work with other brands||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Support GeForce / Radeon||Yes / Yes||No / Yes||Yes / Yes||No / Yes|
We strongly suggest that you have a first-hand experience with at least a couple of these programs before opting for one, as that’s the only way to ascertain your opinion. In general, EVGA and Sapphire solutions are simple and rather limited, but also neat and tiny programs. On the other hand, Afterburner and GPU Tweak are tangibly more serious overclock programs which offer a load of options and don’t tend to get in your way if it isn’t their particular graphics card you’re using. Finally, MSI Afterburner is pretty much as good as it’ll get and receives updates frequently, while GPU Tweak offers similar functionality, but still has some length to go in order to iron out all the tiny issues that currently hamper it.