Skip to main content

The Myths Of Graphics Card Performance: Debunked, Part 1

Can Overclocking Hurt Performance At 40 dB(A)?

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.

CardAmbient (°C)Fan SettingFan RPMdB(A) ±0.5GPU1 ClockGPU2 ClockMemory ClockFPS
Radeon R9 290X3041%216040.0870-890n/a125055.5
Radeon R9 290XOverclocked2841%216040.0831-895n/a137555.5
GeForce GTX 6904261%216040.0967-10061032150373.1
GeForce GTX 690Overclocked4361%216040.0575-11501124180171.6
GeForce GTX Titan3065%278040.0915-941n/a150362
GeForce GTX TitanOverclocked2965%278040.0980-1019n/a180168.3

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!

  • manwell999
    The info on V-Sync causing frame rate halving is out of date by about a decade. With multithreading the game can work on the next frame while the previous frame is waiting for V-Sync. Just look at BF3 with V-Sync on you get a continous range of FPS under 60 not just integer multiples. DirectX doesn't support triple buffering.
    Reply
  • ingtar33
    awesome article, looking forward to the next half.
    Reply
  • blackmagnum
    Myth #123: Gamers are lonely boys in Mother's dark basement or attic...
    Reply
  • AlexSmith96
    Great Article! I love you guys for coming up with such a nice idea.
    Reply
  • hansrotec
    with over clocking are you going to cover water cooling? it would seem disingenuous to dismiss overclocking based on a generating of cards designed to run up to maybe a speed if there is headroom and not include watercooling which reduces noise and temperature . my 7970 (pre ghz editon) is a whole different card water cooled vs air cooled. 1150 mhz without having to mess with the voltage on water with temps in 50c without the fans or pumps ever kicking up, where as on air that would be in the upper 70s lower 80s and really loud. on top of that tweeking memory incorrectly can lower frame rate
    Reply
  • hansrotec
    I thought my last comment might have seemed to negative, and i did not mean it in that light. I did enjoy the read, and look forward to more!
    Reply
  • hansrotec
    I thought my last comment might have seemed to negative, and i did not mean it in that light. I did enjoy the read, and look forward to more!
    Reply
  • noobzilla771
    Nice article! I would like to know more about overclocking, specifically core clock and memory clock ratio. Does it matter to keep a certain ratio between the two or can I overclock either as much as I want? Thanks!
    Reply
  • chimera201
    I can never win over input latency no matter what hardware i buy because of my shitty ISP
    Reply
  • immanuel_aj
    I'd just like to mention that the dB(A) scale is attempting to correct for perceived human hearing. While it is true that 20 dB is 10 times louder than 10 dB, but because of the way our ears work, it would seem that it is only twice as loud. At least, that's the way the A-weighting is supposed to work. Apparently there are a few kinks...
    Reply