Experiencing GPU artifacting and wondering what the problem is? We can help!
Almost all of us have been there before- we fire up a game and see great quality graphics, but all of a sudden, weird shapes and colors are forming at parts of the screen and your reaction is naturally “What gives?”.
You, my friend, are suffering big time from artifacts.
As your GPU ages, you may start to see bizarre visual glitches and these are classified as artifacts. It’s definitely not reserved solely for older cards though, as it’s not that uncommong for GPUs to experience artifacting as well.
Let’s find out just what artifacts are, what causes them, and how we can put an end to them.
What is a GPU Artifact?
GPU artifacting can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from weird lines in the distance, strange and out of place looking textures, screen flashes, etc. Sometimes, artifacts are barely noticeable while playing and they rarely will fully impact the way a game is playing, but they can also be a nuisance that renders gameplay nearly impossible.
One of the most common ones you’ll see is the appearance of huge triangles in the scenery of your game. You might mistake them as trees to start, but quickly you’ll start to see them multiply and appear in scenes they simply don’t belong.
This short clip shows some various examples of GPU artifacting happening in a video game in real time:
Most times, you are the cause of the artifacts, rather than a fatal flaw in your hardware. Even though your first inclination may be to panic when you see this issue, there are actually plenty of ways to try and fix these pesky beings before you have to go sending in your computer for repair.
Causes of GPU Artifacting
Often, GPU artifacts are mostly harmless and actually caused by user settings that are pushing a GPU too far and/or causing it to run too hot. That said, damage and VRAM issues are additional potential culprits and may signal a dying GPU.
Cause #1: Overclocking (Or way-too-high graphics settings)
In this case, the reason for artifacting is that your GPU is likely running too hot. Your Overclocking is causing the GPU to work a bit above its paygrade and the only way it can handle the graphics settings your putting on it is by compromising parts of the screen to try and keep your pristine image stable.
The majority of gamers attempt to overclock their GPU at some point in their gaming career. You just have to avoid over-overclocking and getting a too greedy, thinking maybe your GPU could handle that slider going up a few more spots than those online guides advised you to.
You fire up your favorite game and amp those settings up to ultra and sit back as the hum of your PC starts becoming a roar and all of a sudden, you start to feel heat coming from your desktop tower. You think nothing of it, but all of a sudden, that gorgeous game you were looking at starts to get pretty weird looking.
Overclocking is not the only potential cause though.
Cause #2: GPU Damage
Actual damage to a graphics card can absolutely be the root cause of artifacting. Whether it’s physical damage or wear and tear after years of playing games on their max settings, the slightest problem with the GPU can cause these issues as well.
Most graphics cards come with a cooling system these days, but for the ones that don’t, you might see the overheating issue start to become a big problem, so it’s worth checking on it from time to time.
For tips on how to check your GPU’s health, check out our Guide to GPU Lifespan. It also covers how to identify a dying GPU and some additional helpful info for keeping your GPU healthy for longer.
Cause #3: VRAM Issues
There is one more potential cause of artifacts and it happens to be the most complex of them all. You have probably seen the term “VRAM” before, even if you weren’t completely sure what it meant.
In simple terms, VRAM is what your card uses to track all different kinds of data. If this segment of the card is damaged, it can cause these somewhat distorted images to appear.
The most common manifestation of VRAM-caused artifacts are slight color shifts on your screen. For example, if you’re looking at a sky in game, you might see thick lines appear in gray or other colors that distort it. If you see this, you VRAM is likely to blame.
When VRAM is identified to be the root of artifacting, you can lower the load on your GPU by simply deleting some of that data that VRAM uses. This could mean saved games, unneeded games and things of that nature. If you don’t do this, you can permanently damage your VRAM by overheating it and Overclocking is the quickest way to do this damage.
If you suspect VRAM is an issue, we recommend glancing at our guide to VRAM. It has more detailed info on what VRAM is, how it works, and why it matters.
If the VRAM is the issue, things are not looking good for your GPU, so we’re going to have to find a way to fix it and fix it fast.
How to Fix GPU Artifacting
First of all, before you get out there and start buying GPU fixing equipment and watching all the videos on how to go in there and physically fix the GPU yourself, let’s do some basics.
Update Your Drivers
The most basic of fix is to simply update your drivers. You can do this manually through your settings, but the easiest way is to download GeForce Experience and use that to update your system each time you throw a new game in. By updating your drivers, you keep your system prepared to handle whatever load you’re about to haul onto it via the new, graphics heavy game you’re going to play.
The easiest way to remind yourself to do this is to just go into the GeForce Experience program and check to see if there are new drivers available every time you download a new game. This goes for VR games as well.
You will not always see the most updated drivers here as sometimes they’re only available on the NVIDIA site, but 99% of the time, the driver available there will be perfectly fine for keeping your system ready to handle whatever game you throw at it.
If you’ve got your drivers up to snuff and artifacts still abound, it’s time to do some more in-depth housekeeping.
Check Your GPU’s Temperature
Open up your desktop tower and first make sure that all the fans are working on the GPU. If even one fan isn’t moving as it should, this can cause plenty of issues with overheating. As scary as it sounds, you can run a game while your PC is open to identify if the fans not moving correctly is the problem you’re running into.
While doing this, you should run a fan directly at the GPU and see if the artifacts on screen start to disappear. If they go away after using this method, then you know the issue is from overheating your GPU.
Try Underclocking Your GPU
We know about Overclocking, but what about Underclocking? We know- this sounds ridiculous. Why would you want to Underclock your system and have it run slower than its capable of? Well, if you’ve Overclocked too much, the opposite direction is often the solution as running your clock too fast will cause too much heat, so the solution then becomes to make it cooler by running it slower.
Determine Your VRAM Situation
If your problem is the VRAM (aside from lessening the data used on it) you’re pretty much out of luck. You can’t take your GPU into a computer tech store and ask them to fix the VRAM. They don’t fix individual chips within the cards and will usually recommend replacing the card completely instead.
Underclocking is one way to lessen the load, but if you find that the VRAM is the issue you’re having the most trouble with, sometimes it’s just time to replace that card.
It can always be scary to see your expensive computer start to have visual issues, especially if you haven’t had it for all too long. Luckily, most of the time these are simple graphical glitches that are caused by you overworking your system and the best way you can do this is by just giving your GPU a rest.
Lay off the heavy graphics settings for a while and tone down from ultra to high or medium and see if you see the same issues. Your GPU has a limited lifespan, but by treating it poorly and overheating it you will start to see more and more of these artifacts until you eventually will have a very ugly screen that’s basically unplayable.