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Can Overclocking Hurt Performance At 40 dB(A)?

The Myths Of Graphics Card Performance: Debunked, Part 1
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Myth: Overclocking always yields performance benefits

Setting a specific fan profile, and letting cards throttle until they reach stability, yields an interesting and repeatable test.

Card
Ambient (°C)
Fan Setting
Fan RPM
dB(A) ±0.5GPU1 Clock
GPU2 Clock
Memory Clock
FPS
Radeon R9 290X
30
41%
2160
40.0870-890
n/a
1250
55.5
Radeon R9 290X
Overclocked
28
41%216040.0831-895
n/a1375
55.5
GeForce GTX 690
42
61%
216040.0967-1006
1032
1503
73.1
GeForce GTX 690
Overclocked
43
61%216040.0575-1150
1124
1801
71.6
GeForce GTX Titan
30
65%
2780
40.0915-941
n/a1503
62
GeForce GTX Titan
Overclocked
29
65%2780
40.0980-1019
n/a1801
68.3

Only the GeForce GTX Titan performs better when it's overclocked. The Radeon R9 290X gets absolutely no benefit, while the GeForce GTX 690 actually loses performance at our 40 dB(A) test point, cutting clock rate as low as 575 MHz when we overclock.

This test shows how much more performance headroom the Titan has compared to the other cards. Although it doesn't match the GeForce GTX 690, the overclocked Titan gets close, leaving the Radeon R9 290X further behind than more typical benchmarks might suggest.

Another interesting point is how much higher the ambient temperature gets with a GeForce GTX 690 in my case (12-14 °C). That's the effect of its center-mounted axial fan, which blows hot air back into the chassis, limiting thermal headroom. In most real-world cases, we'd expect a similar scenario. So, the trade-offs between more noise for more performance (or the other way around) need to be considered based on your own tastes.

Now, with V-sync, input lag, graphics memory, and benchmarking at a specific acoustic footprint explored in-depth, we'll get back to work on part two, which already includes exploring PCIe transfer rates, display sizes, deep-dives on proprietary vendor technologies, and value for your dollar. Of course, if there are other topics you'd like to see us broach, please let us know in the comments section!

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