Undervolting Your PC: What It Is and Why You Should Try It

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Jeni_Odley
edited June 12 in PC Tech

Like any electronic component, a computer’s Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) require a power voltage to function. However, power creates heat, which can impact the performance of computer systems. One way to reduce the burden on laptops is by undervolting, which includes reducing the voltage supplied to a computer’s CPU or GPU to decrease power consumption and heat generation. When undervolting a computer, users seek the minimum voltage possible without sacrificing performance. While the main reason for undervolting is to reduce power consumption without overwhelming the computer’s processors, there are other added benefits to undervolting.  

Benefits of undervolting 

Lowering the amount of power a CPU or GPU receives may sound counterintuitive, but it can enhance a computer’s overall performance. Here are some more benefits of undervolting. 

1. Improved thermal performance 

High voltages lead to increased power consumption and heat generation. As such, users must manage heat production to prevent overheating and reduced performance. Users should ensure their device’s cooling solution can still handle the remaining thermal output after reducing heat production. Moreover, enhanced cooling efficiency may generate less noise and lead to quieter operation.  

2. Increased battery life 

High power consumption is tough on laptops and can decrease battery life over time. Reducing power consumption through undervolting can extend a device’s battery life, helping it last longer between charges. This is ideal for users who use their laptops on-the-go and require longer usage time between charges. 

3. Enhanced stability and longevity 

Laptops can be a large financial investment, and users should try to get maximum bang for their buck. Undervolting can help enhance the stability and longevity of a laptop’s hardware by creating less thermal stress on components. Moreover, undervolting can also ensure more stable performance under heavy workloads, reducing the need for sudden bursts of power. 

4. Improved performance potential 

Boost clocks are the short bursts of speed processors can reach when they require enhanced processing power. Reducing temperatures can help the CPU and GPU maintain higher boost clocks for longer, thus improving performance. Enhanced thermal headroom can also prevent thermal throttling, which can occur when a device’s CPU hits critical temperatures. This enhances the overall performance of a device, letting users enjoy enhanced performance for longer.  

Potential risks and considerations of undervolting

Although there are worthwhile benefits of undervolting, there are some potential risks and considerations, too. Users should practice caution when making adjustments to laptop devices and electronic components, and seek professional assistance if necessary. Here are some other aspects to keep in mind when considering undervolting a laptop.  

1. System instability 

Although undervolting is a relatively safe technique, undervolting too much can lead to system instability, crashes, or unexpected behavior, which can do more harm than good. The positive news is that undervolting can be performed gradually, allowing users to test their machine’s performance in stages.  

2. Manufacturer warranty 

Users should be careful when attempting to undervolt a laptop, as it can cause long-term harm to components. Undervolting is unlikely to impact the device's warranty per se, but any damage caused by undervolting too much may not be covered. It is better to check the contents of the manufacturer's warranty before implementing any changes to the original system settings.  

3. Compatibility 

It is important to remember that not all device CPUs, GPUs, or motherboards support undervolting. Users considering undervolting their device should check for hardware compatibility before purchase. For example, computer models below Nvidia’s 10 series may not be suitable for undervolting. A Basic Input Output System (BIOS) is an operating system that allows a laptop’s motherboard to connect to its hardware. The BIOS also includes system settings and CPU voltage settings. Users can check these settings, including the CPU temperature, through the BIOS, while some motherboards have built-in BIOS options for voltage control. 

Popular tools for undervolting 

Laptop users can undervolt their devices with the help of specific software tools. MSI Afterburner is a popular undervolting tool for Nvidia graphics cards, whereas AMD Radeon may be suitable for AMD graphics cards. Some other popular tools include ​ThrottleStop​ and ​Intel XTU​. These handy tools can help tweak laptops to ensure they work at their full potential without becoming overheated.  

Conclusion

Undervolting is a popular method for improving a laptop’s operating temperatures and ensuring it does not become overheated or overburdened during use. This is achieved by manipulating how much voltage is fed to the device and lowering the amount of heat it can generate. Undervolting can enhance performance as processors automatically increase their clock speed when kept cool. Another added benefit of undervolting is a longer battery life, as overheating can negatively impact the battery capacity. Users should practice caution when modifying laptops or any other electrical devices, as it may impact the manufacturer’s warranty or cause long-term damage to components. It may be helpful to seek professional assistance for undervolting, or practicing on an old device first.

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Jeni is a translator and writer based in Taiwan. She is passionate about business development and loves helping companies enter international markets. She is fluent in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, and combines these with her industry experience to provide practical market entry solutions.

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