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5 Signs Your Graphics Card Has Problems and May Be Dying

Graphics cards are a critical component of any personal computer, and a graphics card failure can make a PC unusable.

Fortunately, the graphics card is also a component that it is fairly easy to diagnose with problems. Graphics cards can fail in a number of different ways, but there are usually warning signs that give you plenty of time to line up a replacement.

In this article, I’ll show you how to spot the signs of an impending problem, how to troubleshoot existing problems, and how to figure out what’s going wrong with your card.

How Do You Know If Your Graphics Card is Dying?

If you’re starting to notice problems with your PC, it’s important to figure out which component is causing these issues.

If you’re wondering whether or not your graphics card is the source of the issue, there are five warning signs you can look at to determine if this is the case.

Warning Signs

Here are some early warning signs of video card failure.

  1. Stuttering: When a graphics card [1] starts going bad, you might see visual stuttering/freezing on the screen. However, malware, a dying hard drive [2], and even RAM problems [3] can all cause the same kind of behavior, so don’t jump to conclusions. If you get stuttering along with other warning signs, there’s a good chance it’s your graphics card.
  2. Screen glitches: If you’re playing a game or watching a movie and suddenly start seeing tearing or weird colors appearing all over the screen, your graphics card might be dying.
  3. Strange artifacts: Similar to screen glitches, a bad graphics card can result in strange artifacts all over your screen. Artifacts can be caused by excessive overclocking, heat, and even dust buildup. This can sometimes be fixed by a restart, but once again, if you have a faulty graphics card, expect the problem to come back.
  4. Blue screens: A computer can blue screen for any number of reasons, whether that be problems with RAM, hard drives, graphics cards, or other components. But, if the system crashes and/or blue screens when you start doing some graphic intensive tasks (e.g. playing video games, watching movies, etc), this could be an indication that your graphics card is on its way out.
  5. Fan noise: This does not necessarily correlate to needing to replace your graphics card, but keep an ear out for a louder-than-normal fan noise. If the fan on the card malfunctions, it could indicate that the card is getting too hot. If it’s getting too hot, you’ll want to stop what you’re doing and try and clean it out as best as possible. If you can’t get the fan to quiet down, it’s possible that something is internally wrong.

Troubleshooting

sapphite-ati-radeon [4]As we always mention in our troubleshooting guides, finding out what’s wrong and diagnosing a problem is usually a process of elimination. Start with checking your connections. Loose connections can cause a lot of problems, especially with a graphics card. Make sure it’s solidly seated in the motherboard and that any secondary connections are also secure.

In some cases, you won’t be able to check connections. Generally speaking, you won’t have an issue with loose connections in a laptop. With laptops, more often than not, the problem is dust due to it being in such an enclosed space. If you can open it up and clean out as much dust as possible, that would be the first place to start.

The next thing you can do is run some software tests. Run GPU-Z [5] and watch the real-time temperature for any oddities. For actually testing the card, there’s nothing like putting it through some real-world use.

Use the Heaven Benchmark tool [6] to test your card. Run it for a couple of hours — it should be able to handle it without crashing or causing any graphical errors like strange artifacts and stuttering.

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It’s also worth noting that if you don’t have a graphics card and are using a motherboard’s integrated graphics, then problems could be a sign of motherboard failure rather than a graphics issue. Be sure to check out our troubleshooting guide for motherboard failure [8].

Next, make sure the drivers on your graphics card (and monitor) are all up to date. You can also try uninstalling the ones you already have and then re-install them to ensure there aren’t any problems there.

Once uninstalled, Windows will use some very basic drivers to display video to your monitor so you won’t actually lose video functionality or cause any harm to the card.

As always, be sure to consult your video card’s manufacturer for specific uninstall/reinstall instructions. You can find some specific instructions from NVIDIA and AMD here [9] and here [10], respectively. AMD actually has a free cleaning tool [11] to automatically do this for you. Before you make any changes to your driver software, you should save your system state to a restore point. We have a how-to article on how to roll back a driver update [12] if this makes things worse and you need a reset.

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One of the easiest ways to see if your graphics card is the issue is to simply swap out the graphics card for another one and see if the problems go away. If the new graphics card works without an issue, it’s obvious the old graphics card needed to be replaced.

While you have your machine open, it’s worth checking for any physical problems. If the fan has stopped working on the video card or you see any leaking or bulging capacitors, it’s time for a replacement. In cases like this, the video card will usually stop working almost immediately.

Another thing to test: disable your sound card. This sounds counter-intuitive (what does the sound system have to do with the video card?) but sometimes interactions between these two systems can make the whole computer unstable. If turning off the sound resolves the problem with your graphics, then the problem may actually be in your sound system and not on the graphics card itself.

If your computer has an AGP graphics card, then you might try slowing down the AGP ports to see if that resolves the issue. For an NVIDIA AGP graphics card, you can use RivaTuner [14] to slow down your card; non-NVIDIA owners can use PowerStrip [15]. Either way, try turning down the speed multiplier on the card from 8x to 4x or even 2x and see if that helps with the problem.

It’s also possible that your video card might be running too fast. Some cards may be rated for a particular GPU speed, but in reality, they can’t consistently run at that speed. You can try underclocking your GPU, which puts less stress on the video card as a whole and may solve the problem.

If you are using an ATI video card, try the ATITool [16] program to slow down your video card. NVIDIA cards can use RivaTuner, and other card owners can use PowerStrip.

What causes video card failure?

dusty-gpu-fan [17]Video cards can fail for so many different reasons. Not properly installing the component in the computer can lead to video card failure, but more commonly, dust and lint are the culprits.

Another thing that can cause video card failure is too much overclocking. Overclocking at the stock voltage is safe, but if you push the card to its limits with high voltage, that will kill a card sooner than normal.

Aside from that, the last thing that can kill your video card is the standard electrical outage. Blackouts and power surges can fry all of the components in your computer — even the graphics card.

In most cases, if you have some extra cash to spare, you can prevent this situation. All you’ll need to do is invest in a quality surge protector as well as am Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). As you probably know, the primary role of a UPS is to provide temporary power in case the source is cut off so that you can properly shut down your machine; however, it’s also able to help prevent damage from things like power surges. You can read more about what a UPS and surge protector does here [18].

Ultimately, the video card is subject to as much wear and tear as anything else. If your card fails, it may have just been time for the card to fail. In that case, a replacement is your only choice.

Replacing your video card

If you’ve identified that your graphics card is the issue and you aren’t able to fix it, then it might be time for a replacement. Fortunately, you have plenty of options.

Depending on the type of work you’re doing, you don’t necessarily need a super expensive video card [19]. If you’re on a budget, we’ve got a great guide on buying a graphics card for almost any price range [20]. However, before going out and buying a new card, there are a few things to look at and find out what you need, such as clock speed and memory size – check out this article on the things you should be thinking about for your own build [21].