VIDEO CARD OVERHEATING

Playing games puts a tremendous amount of stress on the display adapter and the PSU in a PC. Overheating is an all too common problem. Extreme gaming cards are even more prone to have problems.

We cannot overstress the value of regular cleaning of computer components. Modern parts run hot and blocked fans will fail. If your GPU is over 85°C read this page carefully. Frequently we see forum posts with users reporting their card is 94°C or worse. Such cards will not last long at those temperatures.

We have several disparate video cards. We are accumulating them

GPU COOLERS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL

Our 8600 GT is a single slot cooler. Our GTX 260s have blower type single fan coolers and when they run hot the fan is rather noisy. Our EVGA GTX 660 Ti has a dual fan cooler that is much quieter. The EVGA GTX 260 could reach 90°C with Furmark while the EVGA GTX 660 Ti was much cooler. Our EVGA  GTX 260 suffered a thermal interface material failure, likely due to the higher operating temperatures. Given the empirical observation about the different coolers, we believe the dual fan solution will be the option looking forward.

Zotac 8600 GT with popped Teapo capacitors
Zotac 8600 GT with blown Teapo capacitors

HEAT

The GPU itself can run up as warm as 75-80°C when loaded. When idle the GPU can fall to the mid 40°C range. Low-end cards like our HD 5450 only need about 25W of power to operate while gaming cards like our GTX 260s need over 200W each. Extreme cards like out HD 6970 can use 267W.

Cards like out old 8600 GT had a single sensor under the GPU. By comparison our BFG GTX 260 has thermal sensors for the GPU, the VRAM and two on the mainboard.

Thermal interface material is usually designed to tolerate temperatures < 100°C. Our GTX 260s thermal throttle is 105°C at which point the card will throttle back to reduce the heat output. Thermal throttling is handled in the VBIOS making it operating system independent.

R9 270X with VRAM FAILURE
R9 270X with VRAM FAILURE

Playing games can load a GPU heavily. The amount of heat generated has to be managed. Modern gaming chassis are equipped with several fans to create a strong flow of air.

After disassembling our defunct 8600 GT we realized that excess heat degraded the thermal interface material. The large number of blown capacitors meant the actual temperature probably exceeded 100°C for a significant period of time. The VBIOS also lacked a thermal throttle to protect the card from thermal runaway. The image shows effects of VRAM failure. Such damage is usually unrepairable.

MSI AFTERBURNER

We use the popular MSI Afterburner and we created a custom fan profile to be sure that our GPU fan was running at 100% at 75C or higher to be sure a defective driver never destroys our video card again. We set the fan to 30% below 50C and its a straight line to 100% at 75C. This keeps the noise down when we are not playing games and maxes it when the game is demanding.

FAINT HOPE

Sometimes it is possible to fix the problem, other times its not. The first step is to try adjusting the clocks of the GPU and VRAM down somewhat to see if that helps. Other times the thermal grease has failed and then the chances are the card is finished. The NVIDIA driver version 190.45 had a defective fan profile that quickly led to large numbers of dead video cards.

SOFTWARE TOOLS

These programs allow a user to adjust GPU and VRAM clock speeds and they are popular with the overclocking crowd. These program also allow users to increase the fan speed or to create a custom fan profile. We use a custom fan profile that is much more aggressive than the factory configuration.

HELL’S KITCHEN – THE OVEN

We have seen rare reports of success with baking the video card in an oven for several minutes. Given the card is already on its way to the trash, what can it hurt? The idea is to reflow solder that has become damaged from oxidation or stresses.

Set the over to 375F. Make sure all the plastic parts are removed. Place the card on some aluminum foil and then bake it for about 7-8 minutes. The idea is to get the solder to reflow. Some solder evidently seem to be problematic and this approach seems to be able to recover some dead cards. The problem is with the RoHS which banned lead in solder. New solders have experienced tin fingers and other problems.

After the card cools down use some thermal grease on the GPU and RAM chips and reassemble the fan assembly. Then try it out, if it works, congratulations, otherwise its back to the trash can with it.

OUR VIDEO CARDS

We generally use NVIDIA cards however we also use Radeon cards. Both have their respective enthusiasts. We have had to repair several cards and so far only one was unrepairable.

GTX 980 Ti

Epoxy thermal interface materials are used with motherboard mounted heatsinks. The better performance is an added feature. Generally there are 8 screws that secure the heatsink and fan assembly as can be seen in the image of the NVIDIA GTX 980 Ti solder side..

The better performing MX-4 reduced the temperatures enough that throttling is no longer a problem. Obviously the GPU needs high-end thermal grease to be able to operate efficiently. Furmark no longer causes the card to overheat.

PREVENTION

Using a custom fan profile with higher fan speeds is one way to keep the video card cool. The other is regular cleaning. Canned air can blow air into the video card fan assembly to remove dust that can block fans. Using an air purifier will reduce dust in the gaming room and extend the life of your valuable hardware.

We use the MSI Afterburner tool for a custom fan profile. This is then loaded with Windows. This strategy is defensive against possible driver problems.

More and more video cards are now being designed with dual fan coolers which reduce the operating temperatures considerably. The EVGA GTX 660 Ti Signature 2 has a dual fan cooler and materially improves the thermal performance. Even loaded with a demanding game this card hardly gets above 70°C.

Rather than overclock a video card, its better to simply get a better card that meets the needs. Once the VRAM is damaged its game over,. Installing more chassis fans can provide lower temperatures which is a low cost way to improve video card survival with gaming.