Got graphics card problems? Here are 6+ signs it might be dying

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Not sure how to tell if your graphics card is on the verge of death or not? Thankfully, it’s one of the easier components to diagnose for any errors. There are plenty of warnings signs, too! In this article, we’re going to show you how to look out for those warning signs, troubleshoot problems and hopefully get to the bottom of what’s happening.

Be sure to follow along below.

Editor’s note: This guide was originally posted in September of 2014, but we have brought it up to date as of November 2016, including a whole lot more ways to troubleshoot video card problems.

Warnings

Since the graphics card has to deal with almost everything “visual” you see on on your computer, warnings that the card is on its way out the door can be really obvious. Below are some early warning signs of video card failure.

  1. Stuttering: When a graphics card is going bad, you can see quite a bit of stuttering beforehand. You shouldn’t use this to determine whether your graphics card is bad or not, though. Malware, a dying hard drive and even RAM problems can all cause this same issue; however, if you start seeing other warning signs to go with this one, there’s a good chance it’s your graphics card.
  2. Screen glitches: Other times, you’ll see the screen glitch out. If you’re playing a game or watching and movie and suddenly start seeing tearing or weird colors appearing all over the screen, your graphics card might be dying. Sometimes if you restart your computer, the screen will go back to normal, but expect the same problem to come back if you have a faulty graphics card.
  3. Strange artifacts: Similar to screen glitches, a bad graphics card can usually result in strange artifacts all over your screen (example here). This can sometimes be fixed by a restart, but once again, if you have a faulty graphics card, expect the problem to come back. It’s worth noting that the cause of this usually comes from excessive overclocking (learn about proper overclocking here), heat problems and even too much exposure to dust.
  4. Blue screens: Blue screens is something we’re all familiar with. A computer can blue screen for a 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. video games, watching movies, etc), this could be an indication your graphics card is on its way out.
  5. Fan noise: This does not necessarily correlate to needing to replace your graphics card, but keeping an eye out for a louder-than-normal fan noise on your graphics card can indicate 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 the fan isn’t able to quiet down, it’s possible that something is internally wrong.

Troubleshooting

sapphite-ati-radeonAs we always mention in our troubleshooting guides, finding out what’s wrong and diagnosing a problem is always a process of elimination. That said, starting with checking your connections is the best place to start. Loose connections can cause a lot of problems, especially with a graphics card.

In some cases, you won’t be able to check connections, particularly if you have a laptop, especially from specific manufacturers like Alienware who make it a bit more difficult to access components.. That’s, of course, not a problem, as — generally speaking — you won’t have an issue with loose connections in a laptop. With laptops, more often than not, the problem is dust because of being in such an enclosed space. If you can open it up and clean out any dust you can, that would be the first place to start. If dust or lint has been in there for an extended period of time, it can easily fry a component or cause it to overheat by not giving it enough air or letting the fan run properly.

heaven-benchmark-pageThe next thing you can do is run some software tests. As far as diagnostic tools go, there’s not a whole out there that’s reputable or even reliable. Your best bet is to run something like GPU-Z 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. You can run a video game or a really visually intense movie. Alternatively, you can use the Heaven Benchmark tool to test your card. Run it for a couple hours — it should be able to handle it without crashing or causing any graphical errors like strange artifacts and stuttering.

It’s also worth noting that if you don’t have a graphics card and are using a motherboard’s integrated graphics, this could be a sign of motherboard failure on the way instead. Be sure to check out our troubleshooting guide for motherboard failure.

Next, make sure your 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. It’s worth noting that you can uninstall your drivers without losing video. 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. But, 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 and here, respectively. AMD actually has a free cleaning tool to do this for you automatically.

If you were to take your computer to a repair shop, they would simply swap out the graphics card for another graphics card to see if that’s where the problem lies. If the test graphics card they put in allows the computer to operate without an issue, it’s obvious the old graphics card needs to be replaced. If you don’t mind fiddling with components at home and have an extra or cheap graphics card lying around that will fit your computer, you can do the same test process yourself. You’ll simply need to swap out the graphics card and see if the problem persists with the new one you just put in. If so, it’s time for a replacement card.

It’s also 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 of this happening, usually the video card will stop working almost immediately.

In some cases, the problem could lie with a virus or piece of malware on your computer. That’s likely not what’s causing strange artifacts or screen glitches, but if you’re getting some stuttering or experiencing frequent crashes, there’s a good chance malware is the culprit. Be sure to run your anti-virus software, and to be extra sure it’s not something in the system files, you should run some bootable anti-virus software (Bitdefender has an excellent tool for just that).

What causes video card failure?

dusty-gpu-fanVideo 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 culprit. Dust itself generally isn’t the problem, it’s more that they block fan vents and prevent proper cooling. In some cases, if bad enough, dust can actually insulate a component and cause overheating that way.

Some other things that can cause video card failure is too much overclocking, as mentioned above. Overclocking at the stock voltage is more than safe. If you push the card to its limits with high voltage, that will kill a card sooner than normal. But, even that will take months or years to kill a card. It’s also worth noting that many modern cards a pretty resilient to excessive heat, but do keep in mind that this can put extra wear and tear on the card, and even eventually fry it if the heat output is greater than what your heat sink can handle.

Aside from that, the last thing that can kill your video card is the standard electrical outage. Blackouts, brown outs 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 a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). As you 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.

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

Now, if you’re finding yourself needing a replacement, we have quite a few options. Depending on the type of work you’re doing, you don’t necessarily need a super expensive video card. If you’re on a budget, we’ve got a great guide on buying a graphics card for almost any price range. But, 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. PCMech’s very own Christian de Looper put together a great guide on what types of things you should look out for for your own build.

Closing

Video cards are generally pretty easy components to diagnose. If you can, it’s as simple as swapping out the graphics card for another and seeing if the problems remain. But, there are a few extra steps you can take to fully check things out, as we covered above. If a video card completely fails, you’ll notice immediately, as you just won’t have any video. That said, if you do experience video card failure, hopefully you have your motherboard’s onboard graphics to rely on until you can pick up a replacement component.

We hope this guide helped you get to the bottom of your problem. But if you’re still stuck, be sure to head on over to the PCMech forum and post your problem to get some additional help from the PCMech community!

Comments

  1. thanks for the detailed info on Graphics Card. After searching in google for really long time I have got your page. Would try these steps right away.

  2. Does this step also work for the playstation 3’s GPU?

  3. Yes my PC fires up and on my monitor the test symbol is up but when I go to connect my monitor cord to the computer my monitor goes to sleep and won’t wake up any suggestions???

    • Hi Tony – Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear things aren’t working correctly. To get help more quickly, please post your question in our community forum.

    • If you monitor has issues waking up from sleep, I know some Samsung monitors had faulty capacitors that start dying and cause this issue. I was able to fix my Samsung monitor, but wasn’t able to fix my dad’s (after changed the capacitors still had issues waking up from sleep).

  4. XP512600 says:

    I have a Dell Dimension 8100 i boots up but nothing is on the display. I have tried reseating the graphics card, different monitors, cables, outlets etc. Could by graphics card be bad? The computer seems normal otherwise, the diagnostic lights are all green as they should be, you can even hear the Windows startup sound.

  5. BrokenBonesBrokenHomes says:

    People are getting ripped of at Best Buy for this.. My neighbor brought their laptop to Best Buy they told them they needed to buy a new laptop (the laptop was only 16 months old) The laptop screen would be red, They could still see the screen but it would be red… PEOPLE THIS IS JUST A LOOSE CONNECTOR FROM MONITOR..It happens when you open and close the laptop a lot eventually it will get lose or if you pulled i back to far once on accident.. These people have a really nice Toshiba which they paid 900$ for. I fixed it for them in 5 minutes! All you need is a screwdriver (get one that has magnet tip, they sell them at walmart for 89 cents) undo the screws under laptop, you will need to dis connect your hard drive (It’s just slides it and out EASY) and take out the battery. Most Toshibas have about 5 little screws under the top of keyboard. The plastic comes right off and click back in.. People I’m telling you ANYONE can fix ANY WINDOWS LAPTOP. It’s so easy. I have no “degree” and I guarantee I can fix a laptop better than any “geek squad” or computer shop around

    Also it’s a good idea to invest in a USB storage stick. Keep it in your laptop if you want. If you have pictures or documents just save them in that as well as your laptop because chances are you are going to have to reinstall windows eventually. I reinstall windows Once a year and you will be amazed how your laptop runs brand new again.. I erase everything, clear it all out and start fresh! It’s like getting a new laptop all over again! I think it’s fun to go download all the software and things like that. I try a new Virus program every year to see which is the best (so far AVAST is best FREE) norton is terrible and so is webroot!!!

  6. BrokenBonesBrokenHomes says:

    Roll back driver.. problem solved

  7. Shem Derick says:

    hello i need help! of late my laptop shows a black screen when turned on yet fun and hard disk are running. then sometimes it turns on but later some how it brings a full screen of colors i red,green,purple but in small tinny segments. i need help on this. could it be my display card dying?

    • It could be that your chipset may be damaged. Your motherboard is heating up to much and the connections between the motherboard and GPU is damaged. I had similar crashes on my laptop and fixed it with reballing.

  8. when I play minecraft or world of warcraft my laptop screen (or external monitor) will suddenly go bright yellow or pink, or teal or even red. I have to hard boot to get it to turn back on. I can’t play these games anymore but I can do every other function on my laptop (Alienware m18x 3 years old and out of warranty). Is this my graphics card?

  9. IronMetal says:

    Furmark? Never, thanks

  10. Marius Pricopie says:

    Hi guys . Really odd thing is happening to my pc . It worked flawless untill yeaterday . I was playing Tom Clancy The Division and I got a black screen and I couldn’t alt+ctrl+del . It was stuck . Then I restarted it from the button . After that …. well my pc powers up , and after 2 minutes , sometimes 5 minutes it just goes black again . Monitor is on 100% pc still running …. everyting looks normal . The lights on my keyboard shut down aswell , but the lights on the mouse stays on . I have a gygabyte r9 290 video card 3gb , 8 gb ram … what is going on ? Please help . Thank you

    • wakeupkent says:

      I’m having a similar issue with my 8GB R9 390, but it happens when I’m watching videos on VLC. Everything will be fine for a while, but At some point, the screen will go black and my wireless keyboard and mouse will stop functioning. The PC will still be on, and I’ll even still be able to hear the audio coming from my TV. I’ve reinstalled VLC and updated the drivers, but to no avail. I’ve only had it happen while VLC is on so far, not necessarily playing–it’s happened while I had a show paused in the background a couple of times. Then today I noticed that some YouTube videos were stuttering while I had XCOM2 on its main menu in the background. Audio was fine, but the video was glitchy. Once I shut down XCOM2, the videos played fine again.

      Next, I’ll try a different media player just to rule out VLC, but I’m nearing the 30 day mark on the card, so I may just try to get it swapped out.

    • SRsage107 says:

      I had this issue. I run a Logitech G510 keyboard and The Division (as well as the keyboarD) both have options that allow the game to control the lighting/LCD screen of your keyboard. DISABLE THEM both. Second, your black screen problem inside The Division is due to UPLAY not synching with your game (most likely STEAM). You have to re-download the latest version of UPLAY and make sure that UPLAY and STEAM are running at the same time before starting the game. Last but not least, The Division is super intensive on older graphics cards. I’d try running on Optimal graphics settings if you have a Nvidia card and GeForce Experience instead of setting your own graphics. You may also want to go into Nvidia Control Panel and set the card to run on performance or high performance instead of quality.

    • Hi I’ve got the same problem did you find out what was wrong with it

  11. Origin_AmNesia says:

    Hey, I have 2 screens, one is hooked up to my graphics card and the other plugged into my motherboard. About 3-4 moths ago is when this problem started to occur. Once I unplug my monitor that is hooked up to the graphic card, 30 min or so later I get a blue screen with the error, “THREAD_STUCK_IN_DEVICE_DRIVER” I am starting to think that my motherboard is failing, but I am not completely sure. I need some help desperately, Thank You!

  12. Jordan Fulton says:

    So, I was at a LAN party, I log onto my computer, everything is fine and I’m playing a game. Normally my fan is decently loud and my friend commented and said he could clean it, he cleaned it with rubbing alcohol, and my mother board, as well as my gfx card. He then puts my gfx card back into my computer and it randomly stopped working. He said that it “died” do you believe that it is dead, or are their more possibilities? We narrowed the problem down to it definitely being my gfx card apparently.. When it was just working 20 mins before the cleaning began. The monitor simply wouldn’t even receive signal, thanks. AMD Radeon 6750 I think, HP Pavilion pc

    • If your friend didnt’ wear anti static gloves while handling your components like the graphics card…. he probably fried them with built up static electricity in his body. Most the time you can’t even feel any excess build up in your body. I’ve had muffin or chip bags float around staying stuck to my hand while trying to lay it on my desk…. but I fried the motherboard in my desktop the first time I tried cleaning dust out of it. Ever since, never go poking around w/o anti-static gloves on.

      Sounds like what happened, if your card died so soon after he “cleaned it”. Also, I hope he only blew dust off the card and the only place he was using rubbing alcohol was wiping dust off the fan blades….

  13. Thorrezz says:

    Ok for some reason i’ve been getting alot of frame rate drops on every game that i have. Like on on my league of legends i always get 120+ Fps until 2 days ago it gone down to 20 fps even up to 12 so i didn’t play that day. The next day i came back it was all fine then a few games later it happened again. What does this mean? also while im here If i open my task manager My system and compressed file have been using alot of my memory and this has not happen to me every since i go this computer and im scared.

  14. After finish my work I had turned of my lenova laptop g 56o,properly. But next day it’s didn’t on,i thought first it’s startup problem but technician telling graphics card is die how is it posible,please helpme

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