Your GPU Has a Fan Curve: What Is It and Should You Adjust It?

Strike a balance between noise and cooling performance.

Your GPU Has a Fan Curve: What Is It and Should You Adjust It?

Key Takeaways

  • Manufacturers typically set fan curves that favor quiet operation over performance out of the box.
  • Utilizing a custom GPU fan curve can improve cooling efficiency.
  • You can create a custom fan curve in a few clicks by using software like Afterburner.

If you experience random performance dips on your PC, it could be an overheating issue. We like to blame our CPUs when that happens, but did you know that your GPU can also slow down because it's getting too hot?

What Is a Fan Curve?

Put simply, a fan curve is a graphic representation of how a computer fan operates. It's shown as a graph where the horizontal X axis indicates GPU temperature and the vertical Y axis shows fan speed. The fan speed increases as the GPU gets hotter and vice versa. Here's an example of what a GPU fan curve looks like:

Your GPU Has a Fan Curve: What Is It and Should You Adjust It?

On the left, you have the fan speed shown as a percentage, and on the bottom is the temperature in Celsius. The curvy line is what we refer to as the fan curve, and it dictates the behavior of the fan. In this particular example, the fan speed reaches 30% when the GPU is at 20°C, 40% at 45°C, 48% at 57°C, and so on. Fans get progressively faster as the GPU gets hotter, so that they can keep it sufficiently cooled.

Your Stock GPU Fan Curve Probably Sucks

You're now probably wondering why you'd want to change your GPU fan curve. The issue is that GPU manufacturers create fan curves that favor quieter operations at all times, even when your GPU is hitting its maximum temperature. Your GPU might reach and sustain relatively high temperatures (80°C and above), and the fans still won't kick into overdrive.

That's because graphics card fans can get noticeably loud at 100% fan speed, and those small fans can get a lot of work done even when they run at 20–30%. Plus, your graphics card has another trick up its sleeve that can protect it from overheating—it can slow down its clock speed, and if the load is still too high, it can thermal throttle to get the temperature down even further.

While you could stick with the stock fan curve that the manufacturer intended without any issues, you can still benefit from a more aggressive fan curve. A custom fan curve increases the wear on your GPU fans, but it also allows your GPU to run cooler, which is still better for overall longevity. A set of GPU fans only costs around $15–$40 to replace, whereas a whole new GPU can set you back hundreds of dollars.

You probably won't kill your GPU fan with a custom fan curve anyway. In two decades of computer use, I've only had one GPU fan die on me, and it was an ancient ATI Radeon card that was long overdue for an upgrade. Dust and debris that get stuck inside your fans will kill it sooner than blasting the fans at maximum speed.

Still, the real reason why you want to "upgrade" from your stock GPU fan curve is performance. A well-cooled graphics card can sustain its maximum boost clock indefinitely, which directly translates into more FPS in your games and faster rendering times.

How to Adjust Your GPU Fan Curve for Better Performance

There are many programs that let you create a custom GPU fan curve. AMD has decent fan tuning in AMD Adrenalin, which I use personally, but you can also use MSI Afterburner on any GPU brand and model.

After downloading and installing Afterburner, open the program and click the gear icon to open settings. Go to the "Fan" tab and select "Enable user defined software automatic fan control." A fan speed curve will show up; you can select the default Afterburner fan curve—which is different from your stock GPU fan curve—by selecting "Default" under "Predefined fan speed curve."

Your GPU Has a Fan Curve: What Is It and Should You Adjust It?

This is already a relatively good fan curve that'll likely provide a slight cooling and performance uplift over the stock one. If you want to optimize your GPU fan to get more out of it, switch to "Custom" under "Predefined fan speed curve."

This allows you to manipulate the fan curve by dragging the boxes (nodes) along the curve up, down, left, and right. You can add nodes by clicking anywhere on the curve and delete them by hitting "Del" (Delete) on your keyboard.

The exact fan curve you use depends on your personal preference. Personally, I go for 0% speed at temperatures below 40°C, 100% speed at 85°C, and then adjust the rest of the fan curve in accordance with that. This allows me to keep my GPU dead quiet when I work while also keeping it very cool in games. However, my GPU is a mid-range RX 6600 XT with an overkill cooler, so it never goes above 65°C, no matter how hard I push it. Your mileage may vary.

Your GPU Has a Fan Curve: What Is It and Should You Adjust It?

Test and Tweak

The best way to find a balance between fan noise and cooling performance for your GPU is to test it. There's no one-size-fits-all solution here, as GPUs can have vastly different temperature ranges and cooling solutions.

You can start with a fan curve similar to the default one in MSI Afterburner. Next, launch a game or GPU benchmark tool like 3DMark, and monitor your GPU temperature using your GPU overlay menu of choice or Windows Task Manager.

If your GPU isn't going over ~80°C with close to 100% utilization, you're off to a great start, but your goal is to keep fans spinning as slowly as possible while also keeping the GPU cool. For starters, cross-check your maximum GPU temperature at full load with the fan speed percentage on your fan curve.

For instance, if your GPU isn't going above 70°C while the fan is running at 50% speed, treat that as your effective fan curve peak. You should slow down the fan speed before the effective peak to preserve your fan bearings, and you can also keep the higher fan speeds at temperatures above the peak as a precaution. Here's a visual representation of my example here:

Your GPU Has a Fan Curve: What Is It and Should You Adjust It?

While making your awesome new GPU fan curve, don't forget that you'll notice changes in fan speed more than you'll notice a straight-up loud fan. If your annoying fan keeps ramping up and down, play around with the fan speed and temperature where it occurs.

The temperatures I've mentioned here are rules of thumb that should apply to a broad range of cards, but you should look up the maximum safe temperatures for your own GPU to really optimize things. Different GPUs have different temperature thresholds, and future GPUs will also differ over time as technology advances.

A custom GPU fan curve is an excellent way of boosting the cooling efficiency of not just your GPU but your entire system, as you'll create slightly more negative air pressure in your PC case. Although some graphics cards won't see much benefit from a custom fan curve, models that tend to run hot can see a healthy improvement. Better cooling indirectly allows for better performance by allowing your GPU to sustain its maximum boost clock, so it's definitely worth a shot.

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