What Is Undervolting? Everything You Need to Know

Giving important PC components like your CPU and GPU less power than their default settings seems like asking for trouble, right? It might seem that way — but it turns out that undervolting, as it’s called, is actually a common practice among experienced PC tuners. What’s more, when done correctly, undervolting can actually reduce heat, improve performance, and lengthen the lifespan of your PC components.

Maybe we’ve got your curiosity going now — so, how does undervolting work? What are the risks and rewards? Is it a good choice for improving performance on your PC? These are the basics you need to know about undervolting your CPU and/or GPU.

What Is Undervolting?

Undervolting is the practice of lowering the core voltage that your CPU and/or GPU draws from your power supply. Why would you want to do that? Well, it turns out that many CPUs and GPUs are configured out of the box to use a higher core voltage than they actually need. The default core voltage is a compromise that provides stability on the widest variety of systems and settings — but not always the best efficiency or performance.

We’ll talk about the benefits in more detail in a second, but basically, undervolting is a way to make your CPU and/or GPU run more efficiently. You can get the same level of performance you’re used to with lower power consumption — and if you’re experimenting with overclocking, you can reap some performance benefits that are potentially even more important.

Why Undervolt Your CPU?

Some of the major reasons PC users undervolt their CPU or GPU include:

  • Cooler Temperatures: The less voltage your processor draws, the less it generally heats up, which means lower PC temperatures and more thermal headroom for overclocking.
  • Reduced Noise: Undervolting can also help reduce fan noise, since lower heat levels allow your PC’s fans to run more slowly and quietly.
  • Improved Battery Life: Some users have found that undervolting their laptop CPU or GPU improves battery life
  • Longer Lifespan: Reducing heat and power consumption also helps maintain the condition of your PC components. 
  • Low Risk: As long as your data is sufficiently backed up, it’s almost impossible to damage your PC with undervolting, even if your system crashes.

Those all sound pretty good — so why doesn’t everyone undervolt their PC? Simply put, many people just don’t have any reason to. While it’s very safe and not all that difficult, undervolting still might require more time and effort than it’s worth if you’re already happy with your PC’s performance. However, if you’re interested in making your PC run a little leaner and meaner, we’re going to tell you how to do it!

How to Undervolt Your CPU or GPU

Undervolting isn’t hard, and (as we’ll discuss later) there’s little risk of damaging your system. While the practical ins and outs of undervolting deserve their own full-length guides, the basic process works like this: 

  • You’ll need two types of software tools on your PC: a PC tuning utility like Throttlestop or MSI Afterburner, and a benchmarking utility like CPU-Z or GPU-Z. Which ones you use will depend on whether you’re undervolting your CPU or GPU. (You can also change voltage settings in your BIOS, but it’s a more complex and labor-intensive process.)
  • Before you make any changes, run your benchmarking utility and take note of factors like your system’s baseline temperature and its temperature under load (such as while you’re playing a game). If you’re overclocking, write down your overclock settings, too.
  • Open your tuning utility and find the settings to adjust the core voltage. (This will look different depending on which utility you’re using, so don’t assume that you know which setting does what!) The recommended increments for adjustment vary, but many PC enthusiasts start with an initial adjustment of -50 mV, then fine-tune it with adjustments of -5 or -10 mV. 
  • Test the system’s stability under load. Use your favorite benchmarking tool, or run some demanding games if you’re a gamer. If you experience crashes or instability, that’s nothing to worry about. Just adjust your undervolt back toward the baseline setting. Rinse and repeat until you’ve found a stable voltage offset. 
  • (Optional) If you’re using undervolting to make overclocking more efficient, start experimenting with your clock speeds. Test your previous overclock setting and see if your temps have improved, or try increasing the clock speed more to squeeze out even more performance.

Again, this is a simplified version, and there are substantial differences between doing it for your CPU and GPU, so grabbing a full guide is highly recommended! Fortunately, as long as you don’t overvolt your CPU by accident, the dangers of undervolting aren’t actually too scary.

What Are the Risks of Undervolting?

One cool thing about undervolting is that the risk to your PC’s hardware is minimal. Undervolting won’t cause extreme temperatures or other dangerous conditions. If the CPU or GPU isn’t drawing enough voltage, it will simply shut down. Obviously, that’s not something you want, but it won’t damage your hardware. 

The only real precaution you need to take before undervolting is to make sure everything important on your hard drive is backed up. That’s because if you’re gaming or working on a project while experimenting with new undervolting settings, you might lose your progress if your system shuts down. There’s also the slim chance that you could experience data corruption in your SSD — so again, a backup is crucial.

One final caution: You do need to be careful when changing voltage settings. If you change the wrong setting and end up overvolting your rig, you could do serious damage, especially if you don’t notice it and let it run. Just double-check what you’re changing and which way you’re adjusting it!

It’s always been cool to do more with less, and ultimately, that’s what undervolting is all about. By making your PC more resource-efficient, you’re opening the gateway to a whole new level of potential performance — truly a win-win proposition.

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