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Can Overclocking a Video Card Damage Your Motherboard?

written by: •edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 10/31/2009

Overclocking is commonplace now. But what dangers does it pose to the hardware? Will overclocking a graphics card have a knock-on effect to the rest of the system? Find out here.

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    Overclocking used to be a pastime for geeks or extreme gamers. Now it is much more mainstream thanks to manufacturers relaxing a bit and allowing a bit more freedom with their hardware. It used to take some creative tweaking to get a CPU or GPU to overclock, now many manufacturers will supply them open to overclocking, or even already overclocked!

    Overclocking is much safer now too, which also adds to its allure. The advent of thermal throttling for CPU and GPU architectures means that the components will usually shut themselves down before allowing themselves to overheat too much.

    So, Can Overclocking a Video Card Damage the Motherboard? The short answer is no. Read on to find out why.

    The speed of a GPU is limited by three things. The GPU core speed, the graphics memory speed and the type of connection it has with the motherboard. Overclocking a PCI-E bus carries higher risk for less reward than other overclocking options, so it generally isn't done. The GPU core speed, or clock, and the graphics memory speed are the elements that can be increased to overclock the card.

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    ATI Radeon HD 4870 Graphics card 

    To run faster, the card will need more power. To get more power, it will have to draw more from the motherboard, which in turn draws more from the power supply. The motherboard and power supply must have the capability of supplying the increased power for the overclock to work.

    The by-product of computer processing is heat. The faster something works, moves or calculates, the more heat is produced. This is the main consideration with overclocking. There must be sufficient cooling available to allow the extra heat to be dispersed, otherwise the system will shut down to protect itself. That would be the thermal throttles at work.

    When overclocking, it is generally wise to increase the clock speeds in small increments. The extra power drawn will be minute, often as little as .1V, and the heat increase gradual. This allows you to find a happy medium between speed, temperature and reliability. Once this balance has been reached, it is a good idea to just leave things alone and enjoy the new faster machine.

    To protect itself from damage, the motherboard has voltage regulators built onto it to ensure that the power supplied to the video card is supplied at a steady rate. It ensures that the voltage that is sent from the PSU is delivered at exactly the voltage the components need. If a GPU core needs 5.71V, the regulators need to ensure that the voltage supplied is 5.71V. If a component or peripheral draws more power than the threshold allows, the motherboard will cut it off.

    It is also a guard against users trying to force too much voltage to a particular component, in this case, through the PCI-E port to the card. The problem is that is can only really guard against it once it detects too much voltage going through it, so it is still possible to overload a card, albeit only for a second or two. Unfortunately that second or two is enough to fry a card if you're not careful.

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    voltage regulator burned 

    These safeguards, thermal throttling and voltage regulation protect the GPU and the motherboard from damage when overclocking. In fact it is actually quite difficult to damage any of your hardware if you overclock sensibly, and in increments.

    The only time you would damage a card overclocking would be if you ramped up all the settings to maximum before testing it first. There would be a good chance you could fry the GPU before the thermal throttling or voltage regulator could kick in.

    As long as you overclock sensibly, you won’t damage anything, least of all your motherboard.