How to stress-test your GPU? feat. MSI Kombustor

Whether you want to achieve a stable GPU overclock or figure out your rig’s graphics rendering capability and performance on heavy load, stress testing the GPU would certainly help you do that.

If you are entirely new to this and haven’t stress tested a GPU before, you might need some help with the process and tools. Of course, you don’t want to risk hardware damage. But fret not, we have got you covered.

To reduce the likelihood of you hitting a snag, we have curated this detailed guide that will walk you through a complete process alongside guiding you to all the things you need to be wary about when stress testing a GPU. Here in this article, we have also introduced some popular and reliable stress-test and benchmarking applications to help you get the job done. So without further ado, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.

What is the GPU Stress Test?

Feel free to skip this section if you already know what stress testing a GPU means and the intention behind carrying out these tests.

GPU stress test is all about pushing your GPU to its absolute limits to get the best possible frame rate. The programs used for stress testing make the GPU run at maximum capacity by fully utilizing its processing and electrical power available to the card and simultaneously pushing the overall cooling and temperature to its limits. 

The main idea behind putting a GPU through the paces is to determine its performance during heavy load periods. With normal usage or even with high-end gaming, it’s impossible to get the benchmarks for the machine’s full potential. It can only be produced by putting the GPU under stress for a certain period of time or to a point where it indicates a worst-case scenario. This is done to find the upper limit to your GPU’s capabilities.

It helps you find a stable overclock for your GPU so you can get the best possible performance delivered by your card. Always make sure to validate the stability of the clocks you have set and keep the cooling and temperature of the GPU in check. 

How to Monitor a System While Stress Testing?

On a stress test, a GPU will be exposed to a tremendous amount of load, so it’s important to keep an eye on your graphic card’s statistics. If your main purpose for the stress test is to overclock the card, then the parameters you need to monitor are temperatures and clock speeds. Your aim should be to find a stable overclock that is efficient for using the applications you wish to run while ensuring the card isn’t getting overheated. 

You can use utilities like MSI Afterburner or HWInfo64 for monitoring purposes. Typically, GPU Temperature and GPU usage are the two useful readings when stress testing a graphic card. Keep in mind that the numbers (readings) may spike beyond your expectations, so don’t lose your calm. You don’t have to worry about it because this is what it’s supposed to be. If you see the GPU temperature exceeding up to 90 degrees Celsius, this is a clear sign that your GPU is overheating. For that, you may require to either boost fan speed or underclock your GPU to efficiently lower the temperature. Always aim towards finding a sweet spot between temperature and high clock speeds. 

Now, it’s time to uncover some of the best software available for stress testing GPU. 

5 Best Tools to Stress Test your GPU

Below we have briefly reviewed (in no particular order) some of the top utilities used for Stress Testing GPU. 

When it comes to the types of GPU stress tests, there are quite a few. Synthetic benchmarks are the popular ones out there. They produce results by targeting all aspects of a graphic card instead of stressing any particular. And apart from synthetic benchmarks, there are stress tests available that focus on specific aspects such as temperatures or memory overclocking, or power draw.

Depending on your requirement, you may need to go for one or multiple stress tests. And to make it easy for our readers, the following list of the applications contain a “best for” tag where we have mentioned what they are majorly known for or what you can expect.

Unigine Heaven

Best for: Testing real-world stability and performance

Unigine Engine’s based Heaven benchmark is probably the best utility you can use for testing stability, and it’s free. If you want to stress-test your GPU for real-world scenarios, you can go for Unigine Heaven without a second thought. It has been here for a long time now and is arguably one of the favorite benchmarking software for hardware enthusiasts and gamers. We recommend Heaven primarily for core clock stability. It provides you the option to pause high load scenes that essentially give you an upper hand over monitoring frame-rate. You can use Heaven for heat testing as well. Additionally, it offers many previous results, so if you are someone who makes a lot of comparisons, you may like Unigine Heaven. Most of the features a gamer may require for stress testing is available for free. However, if you want to make use of advanced features like benchmark looping or command line automation, you will have to spend a little on that. For knowing more about Unigine Heaven’s paid plans, system requirements, and detailed features, check out its official page. 

Unigine Superposition 

Best for: Modern GPUs, testing extreme scenarios and VR performances

In one word, Unigine Superposition can be defined as a beast. It may not be as popular as the Heaven benchmark, but it’s one of the most technically demanding benchmarks available. 

It’s free to use benchmark, which has a lot to offer to the gamers out there. From partial VR support to important features for stress testing GPU, it has it all. However, you will find certain features locked out for the basic edition. You can go for the advanced variant if you want to use more sophisticated features like automated stress test looping or VR testing. Unigine Superposition can be used for testing all kinds of advanced lighting and shading features as well. Since it’s a ridiculously demanded benchmark that is primarily designed for modern GPUs in mind, if you are someone who happens to be stress testing an older or mid-range GPU, we would recommend you to go with heaven benchmark in that case. It doesn’t matter whether you are running a GTX 1080 or have 4 Titan Xp graphics cards, Superposition test would bring the card to its knees. From this, you should get the idea, how insanely demanded this benchmark is. 


Best for: Real-world stability testing and performance in DX12

3DMark is not only a popular benchmarking tool but also a widely used stress test for GPUs. It’s arguably a great application for overclockers and stability testers. Also, 3DMark is by far the best for score comparison with results from other systems. Some of the popular benchmark tests it offers for testing GPU capabilities are Time Spy, Night Raid, Fire Strike, and Sky Diver. If you are skeptical about which test to take, 3DMark will help you find your system’s best benchmark by scanning your hardware. It’s a powerful stress testing software that puts an intensive workload on the components to stress them so you can assess the machine’s capability with the most accurate readings available. 3DMark comes with high-end graphic visuals with lighting and shadow effects, which tends to utilize the GPU usage up to 100% by squeezing every bit of rendering and processing power available to the card. Additionally, it offers specialized tests for specific features such as API overhead test, PCI express, and VRS feature test, and more. 


Best for: Testing overclock, peak temperature, and stability

FurMark is undoubtedly a top 5 best performing software for benchmarking and stress testing GPUs. It’s famously known for carrying out temperature and general stability stress tests. For the enthusiasts looking for system extensive performance testing, FurMark could not be the right choice. It’s primarily designed for pushing peak temperatures to help gamers figure out the level of temperature headroom their card has to offer. FurMark is a completely free-to-use tool with a user-friendly interface packed with an uncanny ability to push GPU to its limits. If you are going to take basic stress tests, which is a standard OpenGL test, FurMark is a recommended one. It also allows you to provide a custom preset for the settings such as resolution, screen mode, dynamic background, etc. Overall, FurMark is a useful tool for stress testing GPUs, but it lacks the availability for some essential metrics; therefore, it’s suggested to use any overclocking utility alongside monitoring purposes. 

MSI Kombustor 

Best for: Stress testing and thermal performance

It’s MSI’s exclusive benchmarking and stress testing tool based on FurMark. Kombustor pushes the GPU to its limit by putting the system through several intensive simulations and paces that greatly helps in testing stability. Since it also supports monitoring of thermal performance, you will not require any additional tool to install for getting metrics like cooling capacity. The results produce by MSI Kombustor, however, aren’t as detail-oriented as larger suites like Unigine’s Heaven or Superposition, but they are reliable and, of course, significant for anyone stress testing their cards. Having cutting edge support for all major graphics API (DirectX, OpenGL, and Vulkan), Kombustor gets the unparalleled ability to stress test a GPU in all environments. If you wish to run specific GPU tests on extreme levels, you can do that too with the longer Kombustor tests such as depth-of-focus, artifact scanning, physically based rendering, advanced hardware tricks, and more. It’s highly suggested to use another MSI utility, Afterburner with Kombustor, to increase the tool’s performance and have more control over the GPU’s working. 

How to Stress Test your Card?

Once you have established the fundamental understanding of GPU stress testing and the tools used in the process, it’s time to unveil the step by step tutorial on how to get a graphic card tested. 

Step 1: Configuring Overclock

Set an overclock if you haven’t yet. Or, if you are stress testing just to have a check on your GPU’s performance or stability or maybe for fun, feel free to skip this step and head over to the next.  

Step 2: Close Non-essential Applications

You must close all non-essential applications running on your system. Tasks like watching videos on YouTube or, in short, any kind of visual media consumption will unnecessarily increase the load on the GPU usage. And that may mess with the testing, resultantly leaving you with inaccurate metrics. So make sure to avoid doing such heavy tasks on your system while you stress test your GPU.  

Step 3: Run Stress Test 

Open the stress test application you have installed and hit the Run icon. You can either test your card on the default setting or tweak it according to your preferences. For example, if you want to test at the highest resolution, select the maximum or 1920×1080 from the drop-down menu. 

Make sure to switch to “Fullscreen Mode” if you don’t want to make changes to your configured overclock settings while you are testing. On the other hand, if you have plans to make changes simultaneously, use “Windowed Mode” for that. 

Now let it run and keep a constant eye on the highest core clocks, memory clocks, voltage, power draw, and most importantly, temperatures. 

Step 4: Test Timings

Do you know how long you should let the stress test run ideally? Here we will be using a three-tiered approach to decide on that. Let’s find out. 

  • Basic Stability (30 Minutes)

This is the most basic test. Heaven, Superposition, 3DMark, FurMark, and Kombustor should all crash within the span of 30 minutes if you have an unstable overclock or basic cooling issues with your GPU. 

And if your card is stable in the range, means if you make it past this basic stability test, your system should be stable for normal usage and throughout average-sized gaming sessions for 1-2 hours or less. 

On the other hand, if it crash, you may require to dial back your overclocks, turn up your fans and give it another shot. 

NOTE: If you are running a stress test using FurMark, don’t run it for more than 30 minutes. Since it’s a torture test and letting it run for an extended period of time may cause issues.  

  • Great Stability (1 Hour)

If your stress test exceeded almost an hour without crashing, it is a sure shot assurance that your card has the capability of handling gaming sessions up to 3-5 hours long. You will not encounter any problems throughout most gaming sessions if your system has passed this level without getting crashed or indicating any sign of overheating. 

  • Confirmed Stability (6 Hours)

This is the safest bet for hardcore gamers or streaming enthusiasts putting overload and have their GPU running for an extended period. It’s a mandatory stability benchmark to pass, especially if you are into rendering, mining, etc. To stress-test your GPU at this level, you will be required to opt for paid versions of these testing applications. 

Unigine tests are recommended. Features like auto-looping are going to help you here while you can sleep at night knowing that you don’t have to worry about it. If your system manages to pass this test, that means your GPU has what it takes to remain rock-stable throughout an extremely long period; it could mean overnight gaming. It’s a fact that regular gaming will not push your card to these extreme levels that too for this extended duration of more than 6 hours, so by now, you should be pretty sure that your overclock achieved the guaranteed stability. 

Are Stress Tests Safe to Perform?

Stress tests indeed put graphics cards under harsh conditions in order to push a worst-case scenario. In the process, the GPU goes through many cycles of peak temperatures and frequent crashes but guess what? Technically, it has no negative impact on the card’s health. All modern GPUs come with certain limitations built into the card’s VBIOS by manufacturers, which helps prevent dangerous voltage or high power draw from wreaking havoc in the system. 

And when it comes to temperature going beyond normal measures, it gets taken care by the built-in throttling mechanisms present in the card. When the temperature rises up, your graphics card would automatically slow down its clock speed, which means less voltage will drawn into the system, thus lowering the temperature to ideal condition. 

The bottom line is: 

There is no hardware-level damage involved in stress testing and standard overclocking. Appropriate to say that it is a risk-free process. 

Wrapping Up

Stress testing GPUs can be a complicated thing for many of us. But it is mandatory to do if you have ever tried overclocking your GPU. You cannot let your card run unstable, and without stress testing, it’s almost impossible that you will hit the sweet spot and find a consistent and stable overclock out of the blue. In most cases, you may require to run multiple tests to achieve the best benchmarks for different aspects. It helps you enhance your performance for free and increase your knowledge of the hardware. In short, stress testing worth the efforts it takes upfront to get the process right.  

Leave a Comment