Why Is My Graphics Card Underperforming?

Graphics cards are designed to handle various tasks and maintain a smooth, stable framerate for your computer. However, the demands of modern gaming make a computer’s graphics processing unit (GPU) increasingly bottlenecked, putting additional strain on this precious component.

1. Your graphics card is overheated 

As you know, excess heat and computers don’t mix. Unfortunately, overheating is a common problem with electronic devices, and manufacturers have yet to figure out a solution to this problem.

In the meantime, all you can do is try to keep your electronic equipment cool.

Overheating can occur when the computer’s GPU works too hard on repetitive tasks. You’ll easily notice this if you run a program that takes up much of your PC’s memory.

The fans will rotate faster and make noise whether you use an internal or external graphics card. If this happens, your game might stutter, and your PC freezes or crashes from the overload. 

Apart from large programs, here are a few other reasons your graphics card overheats:

  • Poor ventilation: Every computer has vents and spinning fans for ventilation. The airflow between the GPU and the external environment is essential for heat management. If you have any objects blocking the vents, remove them. Keep your computer in an open space where other obstructions won’t tamper with the airflow.
  • Hot and humid environment: If you’re in a hot and humid climate, your PC and graphics card will take the brunt of the heat. An increase in ambient temperature leads to a rise in PC temperature. You can solve this by turning on the AC or moving to a cooler environment.
  • Dust build-up: Dust builds up and blocks the cooling vents in your PC or external graphics card over time. It also reduces the fan’s efficiency, which leads to potentially dangerous overheating and lower performance.
  • Old thermal paste: When the thermal paste becomes hard and crusty instead of a moist paste, it cannot transfer heat as effectively.

The good news is you have a couple of options to prevent your graphics card from overheating.

For starters, you can adjust your graphics card performance settings from high to low or medium performance. 

Refer to my other article explaining how to replace the thermal paste on your GPU to know more.

2. Memory speeds are a problem 

Close up on graphics card memory or VRAM.

If your graphics card is struggling so badly when it shouldn’t, the memory speed may be to blame.

Memory speed is measured in MHz, and the higher the speed, the better. If a graphics card is running slower than it should, this will cause a performance hit.

In that case, you can change the RAM speed to match that of your GPU.

If you don’t want to overclock your GPU, try increasing the frequency in 50MHz increments until you find an acceptable level of performance.

Some graphics cards will handle different speeds better than others, so it’s essential to test each setting before applying it permanently to your system.

Remember, PC games, especially those that require high-resolution textures and images, can cause a graphics card to bottleneck. 

That’s why many cards have been designed with memory speeds that are significantly lower than they need to be to maintain a stable framerate to keep up with the demands of games.

However, this often results in degraded visuals. Decide whether you’re willing to sacrifice visuals for a better GPU performance or vice versa. 

3. GPU is overclocked 

Gamers will often overclock their cards, hoping for the best performance. However, overclocking introduces new problems to the system. 

An excessively overclocked GPU is forced to run at an increased speed that isn’t compatible with the hardware. 

With all the new processing expectations, there’s a high chance your GPU will get damaged soon. In addition, you might also experience instability in your game or screen. 

4. Insufficient power

A standard desktop computer power supply.

An underpowered graphics card can force the computer system to slow down the graphics card performance.

Graphics cards have several components subject to power restrictions. The power supply is one of the most obvious.

Even if your graphics card is powerful enough for the best games on the market, it can still be limited by the power supply or the configuration used to produce that power. 

If your computer’s power supply can’t deliver enough power for the graphics card, it will underperform.

The most common cause of this is if you have an old computer that doesn’t have a powerful enough PSU (Power Supply Unit). 

To fix this problem, all you need to do is replace your current power supply with a higher-wattage one.

The wattage of a PSU can be found on its label. Most of them are of sufficient quality to run mid-range or high-end GPUs without any problems at all.

Refer to my other article, how to know if you need a new power supply, to know more.

5. Insufficient VRAM

VRAM is illustrated on a graphics card.

One of the first things you’ll want to do if your graphics card is struggling is to check its VRAM spending.

This parameter measures how much memory your graphics card uses to store virtual reality game data.

The amount of graphics memory available to your GPU is directly related to how much of a load it can handle. 

The more VRAM your graphics card has, the better it should perform. If you want to improve your gaming experience, you can always increase the amount of VRAM on your card.

Additionally, you’ll want to ensure your graphics card has enough VRAM to fix the issue. You’ll want to reduce or stop using virtual reality game data altogether if it doesn’t.

One more thing: The video memory detects the textures and number of assets on the screen.

However, a lower video memory results in choppy gameplay and very low frame rates, resulting in an underperforming graphics card. 

6. Viruses and malware

Viruses and malware are some of the most destructive threats to computers in general.

They can be introduced to your PC through emails or links from shady websites, apps, and infected external drives.

They affect the graphics card performance by frequently displaying pop-up messages on your computer’s screen. Some even ask you to pay to get your problem fixed.

If your computer is infected, it can slow down your computer, which will, in turn, affect the performance of your graphics card. 

If you’re having problems with graphics performance while gaming, try updating Windows through Windows Update first.

This is important because Microsoft regularly releases patches and updates for their operating systems that can fix bugs related to poor gaming performance.

Also, install the most updated antivirus software on your computer.

This should go without saying, but it cannot be overemphasized if you want to use your PC for a relatively long time.

7. Hardware and software problems

A graphical concept design of hardware and software.

Graphic card underperformance can be caused by software problems resulting from driver crashes, viruses, or malware attacks.

It may also be an incompatibility problem where an essential program is not compatible with the card.

Failure to update drivers keeps your computer reliant on old (and often buggy) programs.

In the meantime, more and more video games and software upgrades are introduced into the market with new features.

If you launch these games using an outdated graphic card and old drivers, there’s a high possibility of underperformance.

If you’re still using a computer with an operating system that’s no longer being supported (e.g., Windows 7), it may also be the reason your graphics card is failing.

Granted, it’s expensive to have to buy a new desktop just to boost your gaming performance, but that’s how it is.

Last but not least, many errors come up when setting up your computer and graphics card. For instance, an inappropriate graphics card setting can cause its underperformance.

If you use low-speed and low-capacity RAM, don’t expect your graphics card to work faster.

What is the problem with your graphics card? 

With so many video games being produced each day, some developers are creating high-quality gaming content that occupies so much space on your computer.

These games also consume most of the computer’s RAM and the processor’s core. 

When a computer’s RAM is largely occupied, it tends to have slow performance.

This also applies to the graphics card when subjected to a very high graphic quality game it can’t handle. 

The problem with your graphics card is it is probably bottlenecked. This means that it can’t keep up with the demands of modern gaming and can even cause performance issues down the line. 

If your card is using an outdated processor, it can cause the graphics card to struggle. Some processors are too demanding for GPUs.

This means if your graphics card can’t handle the new task at hand, it might not be able to keep up with older tasks.

Boosting your graphics card’s performance

A robot is running with graphics indicating a boost in performance.

To boost your graphics card’s performance, one of the first things you should do is check if your graphics card is struggling to maintain a stable frame rate.

If it isn’t, it might be because you have an outdated one. Check to see if your PC has a new or better graphics card, and if not, update it as soon as possible. 

Additionally, if you can find a way to increase the frame rate on your graphics card, it will help boost its performance. Here are a few other things you can try:

Install recent driver updates

To understand why your graphics card is falling short, it’s essential to understand how your GPU communicates with the computer’s operating system.

This communication comprises two main parts: the driver and the application. The driver communicates with the operating system, while the application communicates with the graphics card.

The driver is a complex program that handles various tasks related to running games. It also instructs other hardware on how to communicate with the game software.

When you play a game, you want to have the latest updates from the manufacturer installed on your computer.

An updated driver keeps the system and other hardware compatible with new video games with more recent and advanced features.

Clean your computer

Cleaning computer parts.

One of the first things you can do to improve your graphics card’s performance is to clean the air that your computer is “breathing.”

Dust can cause many problems for your computer, including overheating and poor performance.

Here’s how to clean your computer.

  • Turn off your computer. Before doing anything else, make sure no programs are running on your PC.
  • Remove any unnecessary cables. This will include things like USB and audio cables.
  • Be sure to remove your power supply from the case and put it away somewhere safe (preferably on a high shelf where it won’t get knocked over).
  • If you don’t want to take the time to remove it, you can always unplug it from its outlet instead.
  • Use compressed air to blow out any dust accumulated inside your system.

You can also get rid of dust by using an old, relatively cheap vacuum cleaner.

This solution provides great airflow at a low cost and provides enough power to make a difference in how fast your graphics card executes instructions.

Upgrade the cooling system

A good cooling system works faster and more efficiently. You might have to swap your old one for optimal performance to get rid of excess heat.

This can be done by installing a more advanced liquid solution or adding more fans. You can read about PC airflow optimization to help you sort out any cooling configuration issues in another one of my articles.

But before you do that, remember to check your graphics card design to see if it’s compatible with the cooling system you want to install. 

Additionally, ensure that your graphics card fans speed up as it gets hotter. If not, you might want to install something like MSI Afterburner and tweak the fan speed profile.

Read our article on how to speed up graphics card fans for a walkthrough.

Only run less demanding programs

Let’s face it: Mediocre graphics cards will never be enough to play the best games. If it’s not strong enough to handle the information, you might want to swap your old card for a new one.

However, graphics cards don’t come cheap. A simple solution would be to run less demanding games that won’t strain on it too much.

After all, a decent gaming experience with a budget graphics card is better than none.