Graphics cards contribute a great deal when it comes to gaming. Knowing how to check if your GPU works properly makes your system more stable, especially when gaming.
Important: I highly recommend disabling any overclocking that you may be running before proceeding.
I’m also assuming that you have the correct GPU drivers installed and are up to date. If not, download and install the latest drivers or update the existing ones before continuing unless you are using a previous version for specific reasons.
Check the card’s hardware
I prefer to look at the hardware first. Look out for anything that can potentially damage it further. Cooling is paramount, so we must ensure the GPU cooler components work efficiently.
To do this, we need to inspect a few things.
Important: Make sure your PC is turned off and no power is connected to it before proceeding.
Make sure the cooling fans are working properly
If the fan isn’t in good working order, your GPU won’t be reliable or be able to work at its best. This rings true for all GPUs.
Remove the graphics card for inspection. Ensure the cooler assembly is clean. This means the whole heatsink and fan area is dust-free, so air can easily flow where intended.
Look to see that the fan(s) spin easily and freely. If it stops soon after giving a light flick with your finger, it’s a bad sign.
You also don’t want the fan to have any rocking in it when applying a small amount of pressure on the end of the blades. It means that the fan bearings are worn out if it does.
Ensure the thermal paste is fresh
If the card is more than a year old, or you have no idea about the card’s history, replacing the thermal paste on the GPU ensures that you are doing what you can to give the card a chance to perform at its best to see whether it’s in good order or not in all tests.
You can read our article here on how to replace your GPU’s thermal paste if you need a step-by-step guide to help you do it.
Now that the hardware inspection is complete and the graphics card is working, you can continue to test while the GPU is operational.
Once you have everything reassembled and the machine powered back up, listen out for the fans that they are quiet and spinning adequately enough to cool the heatsink surface.
How insufficient cooling can affect performance
Overheating can also be mild, whereby the outcome isn’t as obvious. The frame rate or frames per second (FPS) can be affected, which may not be consistently observable.
As greater demands arise in a particular circumstance, like more detail that must be rendered in a specific scene in a game, a lag or choppiness in the drawing of the frames may become apparent.
It can also happen when the GPU cannot keep up with the demands of the display resolution or detail settings within a game. So, be cautious and somewhat lenient when configuring settings or matching up a gaming title for testing.
Once you have inspected and corrected any cooling issues, depending on the severity, you will notice an overall improvement in frames per second.
Things to keep in mind when testing your GPU
When testing your GPU, there are a few things to remember. Look over these points to make sure everything is good to go.
- Securely seated in expansion slot: Ensure the card is securely seated in the PCI-E expansion slot.
- Using the correct expansion slot: Check that your graphics card has been plugged into the correct PCI-E slot. Some expansion slots on your motherboard might look the same but have fewer bi-directional lanes, meaning less performance. Your motherboard’s manual will have clear documentation on this.
- Using the correct card: Look to see if your monitor’s display cable is plugged into the correct port associated with the card you want to test.
- Disable overclocking: Make sure that all overclocking has been disabled. This is true not only for overclocking software but also in your BIOS, which may affect the stability of the test run for the card.
- Driver updates: Look to see that your GPU drivers are up to date and the 3D management settings are set to default to promote optimal performance. You can update the drivers under the Display Adapters section in the Device Manager or download the manufacturer’s driver from their website. Ensure that no warnings or error codes are visible under the Device status in the General tab of its properties in the Device Manager afterward.
- Power plugs are secured: Check that all the extra power supply cables are plugged into your card securely. Give them a firm press to make sure they are seated correctly.
- Check the heatsink: Look over it to ensure that your graphics card’s heatsink is seated securely to avoid overheating catastrophes.
- Check that the fans are operational: Look again to see that all your graphics card’s fans are spinning and aren’t obstructed before you run any tests.
You can proceed to the tests once these preliminary checks have been completed.
Remember that resolution settings affect the performance of tests, and the same is true when changing resolution settings for any game you want to play.
How to test GPU
Doing some load tests will put the GPU under stress while you check that the graphical output to your monitor is stable and without any artifacts.
Next, download MSI Afterburner and set it up with a fan curve using our article on speeding up your graphics card fans. This step is very important, as there are times when your GPU fan(s) won’t spin up as it should if you run a stress test with everything set up out of the box.
To conduct a stress test with Furmark, click the ‘GPU Stress Test’ button, then press the ‘Go’ button in the second window.
You should hear your fan(s) on your GPU cooler increase speed while the load test enters its first few seconds of the test. This means that its cooling fan responds to the increase in temperature from your GPU itself because of the heavy workload.
If your test is successful, we can move on to checking the temperature of the GPU when it’s working hard. This will quickly tell you if your cooling is sufficient or not.
Running stress tests while you monitor the temperature
Ensuring the GPU runs at the desired temperature range is paramount.
Some extra panels will open alongside Furmark with more information if you press the GPU-Z and GPU Shark buttons. For example, you will see the temperature, among other information.
Suppose your overall GPU temperature exceeds the recommended maximum at any time. In that case, you will need to either replace the GPU cooler or find out what is wrong with the existing cooler and if it can keep it cool after you have done everything you can.
If you are forced to replace the cooler, avoid running the card heavily until it’s replaced. This will help avoid any further damage to it.
Once you have an artifact-free load test, combined with a healthy temperature range, you can test the GPU for a more extended period.
How to test using built-in tools on Windows
Windows 10 includes a few built-in tools to help you test your GPU and ensure it’s functioning.
To start, open the DirectX Diagnostic Tool by pressing the Windows key + R, then typing dxdiag and Enter.
This will open a window with information about your card, including the name and model number.
Under the Display tab, you’ll see a list of all the graphics features your card supports. If any of these are listed as Not Available, then there’s a problem with it.
You can also use the Windows Display Settings to test it.
- First, open the Settings app by pressing the Windows key + I, then click on System.
- Next, select Display, then scroll down to the Advanced display settings section.
- You should see information about your GPU, including the name and model number. If you don’t see this information, or if the graphics settings are set to Low, there may be a problem. In that case, start by ensuring you have the correct drivers installed.
If you open the Task Manager, select the performance tab to choose the GPU option in the hardware list.
This will let you view the load on the GPU, how much dedicated or shared memory is being used, and the operating temperature.
This is a quick and convenient tool to monitor the GPU without installing extra software.
Run some GPU performance tests or do some gaming for a few hours
If you have made it this far, things are looking promising. All that needs to be done now are more extended tests to ensure that the GPU’s stability can be sustained after being used for a few hours.
If you don’t have a favorite game you love playing on hand, get the free version of Benchmark Heaven.
Keep running it for a minimum of about 2 hours. After that, watch for anomalies, artifacts, or crashes indicating a faulty GPU.
Examples of artifacts would be weird colors breaking up in some frames while the testing is being carried out. Also, look for massive frame drops, which could indicate a cooling problem.
If you encounter strange images within the test, it might mean something defective with the video card.
Another possibility is a faulty or old power supply. Because the card uses more power when it’s under load, the extra power consumption from the power supply puts extra load on the power supply, thus resulting in a possible fault.
If you have another graphics card or power supply, you could swap either out and rerun some tests to see if the fault clears.
You can watch the video summary of this article on YouTube if you prefer.