Graphics cards are what contribute greatly when it comes to gaming. Knowing how to check if your GPU is working properly, goes a long way to make your system more stable, especially when gaming.
We can conduct a few different tests in order to establish whether or not your GPU is up to the task. Additionally, there are some basic hardware inspections and maintenance procedures that you can do to contribute to your graphics card running with improved stability.
Important: I highly recommend disabling any overclocking in your system’s BIOS or overclocking software that you may be running before proceeding.
I’m assuming that you have the correct graphics card drivers installed on the system that you are using the check the GPU with. If not, download and install the latest drivers or update the existing ones before continuing.
Firstly, inspect the hardware
I prefer to have a look at the hardware first so that anything potentially damaging cannot harm the GPU any further. Cooling is paramount, so we need to make sure that the GPU cooler is in proper working order.
To do this, we need to inspect a few things on the graphics card.
Important: Make sure your computer is turned off and no power is connected to it before proceeding.
Make sure the cooling fan(s) is in good condition
If the fan isn’t in good working order, your GPU won’t be reliable or be able to work at its best.
Remove the graphics card for inspection. Check 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 bearings of the fan is worn out if it does.
If in doubt, replace the thermal paste
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 find out 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, you are able to move on to tests while the GPU is in an operational state.
Once you have everything reassembled, and the machine powered back up, listen out for the graphics card fan(s) that they are quiet and spinning adequately enough to be able to cool the heatsink surface.
If you are looking for a good aftermarket GPU cooler, I recommend the Arctic Accelero Xtreme IV. It’s a high-end cooler, well priced, and compatible with a wide range of GPU models.
Now it’s time to perform a few load tests
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, proceed to download MSI Afterburner and set it up with a fan curve using our article on speeding up your graphics card fans. This step is extremely important, as there are times where 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 on the ‘GPU Stress Test’ button, then press the ‘Go’ button in the second window that pops up.
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 your GPU cooling fan is responding 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 GPU cooling is sufficient or not.
Combine the stress test with a temperature test
Making sure that the GPU is running at the desired temperature range is of utmost importance when it comes to a GPU being able to work properly.
If you press the GPU-Z and GPU Shark buttons, some extra panels will open alongside Furmark with more information about your GPU. You will see the temperature of your GPU amongst the information.
If your overall GPU temperature exceeds the recommended maximum at any time, you will need to either replace the GPU cooler or find out what is wrong with the existing cooler and if it’s capable enough to keep your GPU cool after you have done everything you can.
If you are replacing your GPU cooler, don’t run the graphics card until it’s replaced. This will help avoid any further damage to the GPU.
Once you have an artifact free load test, combined with a healthy temperature range, you are then able to test the GPU for a longer period.
Run some GPU performance tests or play some games for a few hours
If you have made it this far, things are looking promising. All that needs to be done now, are some longer tests to make sure 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, download the free version of Benchmark Heaven.
Keep running it for a minimum of about 2 hours. Keep an eye out for any anomalies or artifacts that could indicate a faulty GPU.
Examples of artifacts would be weird colors breaking up in some frames while the testing is being carried out. Also, look out for massive frame drops which could indicate a cooling problem.
If you encounter any strange images within the test, it might mean that there is something defective with the video card.
Another possibility is a faulty or old power supply. Because the graphics card uses more power when it’s under load, the extra consumption of power from the power supply puts extra load on the power supply, thus resulting in a possible fault.
If you have another graphics card or another power supply, you could swap either one of them out and rerun some tests to see if the fault clears.
While a stress test with a temperature test can give you an indication about whether or not a GPU is working properly, it is only a surface level test.
Performing longer tests is of equal importance. If you don’t know the history of the graphics card, absolutely anything could have been inflicted that it had to endure to damage it in a way that cannot be obvious at first glance.
Adding an aftermarket cooler to an older card is not a bad idea at all. It will not only improve the cooling of the GPU, but it will also ensure that it won’t overheat and cause damage.
Testing is your friend and always take your time when trying to establish the condition of a GPU.
If you are in the market for buying a graphics card, I talk about whether or not you should buy a graphics card from eBay, in case you are interested.