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More For Less
When new games are released, many gamers tend to find that their current system just doesn't seem to be performing as it was, and it's true; video cards have a tendency to become obsolete faster than other computer components. Fortunately for them, there are ways to increase your computer's graphical performance without the need to buy and expensive new video card. You might have heard of overclocking in reference to CPUs, but video cards can also benefit from running at higher-than-stock speeds. The great thing about overclocking is that it doesn't cost anything: you may need to download some extra software, but that's free as well.
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The Benefits of Overclocking
Overclocking is the act of forcing your video card to run faster than the standard. By forcing the card to run faster, it can do its work faster, which increases the card's graphical performance. Many card vendors such as eVGA, XFX, an BFG Tech sell cards that come pre-overclocked, but these are more expensive than stock cards. One advantage to having a factory overclocked card however, is that these cards tend to have higher quality components (they "cherry pick" the better parts for the better cards), and it may be possible to overclock them even more than they already are.
Overclocking does have it's downsides however. First of all, not all cards can be overclocked that far. Some will not run at speeds much higher than stock, and it's possible to damage your card if you try to push it too hard. Some card vendors don't allow overclocking on their cards; if you try to overclock cards from them, it will void your warranty. A few of the well known vendors do allow for overclocking, which is a benefit to having a card from a brand such as eVGA or XFX.
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Types of Overclocking
The simplest overclock can usually be done in software. AMD even has an overclocking utility built in with their Catalyst driver software suite. In this type, all you have to do is raise a bar or enter the desired clock frequency, and the software will force the card to run at that speed. Here is a more comprehensive guide to software overclocking.
The other type of overclocking is more complicated, and requires tampering with the physical card itself. This type is called volt-modding, and it raises the voltage supplied to the card in order to allow higher clockspeeds.Voltmodding can achieve higher speeds than normal overclocking, but it also puts more stress on the card, and might require a better fan and heatsink than those that come with most cards.
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Overclocking provides a convenient way to get more from your video card without having to resort to buying a new GPU. A typical overclock can increase a video card's performance by 10-20%, which for many cards, brings it to an entirely new performance tier. If your strapped for cash, or just don't want to buy a new video card, but would still like to see a performance bump, overclocking is often the solution.