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MSI Afterburner is one of the most popular ways to see in-game PC performance statistics. And yes, it works on all systems, whether you have an MSI graphics card or not. Here’s how to set it up!

What You’ll Need

MSI Afterburner is primarily an overclocking tool for squeezing more performance out of your graphics card. But it also works with the RivaTuner Statistics Server from Guru3D.com to display real-time performance while gaming.

To get started, you’ll need to download and install both applications on your Windows PC.

Getting Started With Afterburner

The MSI Afterburner interface.

After you download and install MSI Afterburner, you’ll see the interface above. You can change this look, but we won’t be covering that here. In the default interface, there are two dials that show the current status of your graphics cards, including the frequencies of the GPU and memory clocks, the voltage, and current temperature.

Between the two dials, there are sliders that allow you to tweak all this data (here’s how to overclock your graphics card, if you’re interested).

Before we get all those delicious stats up on your screen, just one caveat: don’t close the windows of either Afterburner or RTSS, as that also closes the programs. Instead, minimize them and they’ll disappear from the taskbar. In the system tray, you’ll then see two icons: a jet (Afterburner) and a computer monitor with a “60” on it (RivaTuner Statistics Server).

Now, let’s get ready for the big show. Open Afterburner, and then click the Settings cog. In the window that appears, click “On-Screen Display.” In the “Global On-Screen Display Hotkeys” section, you can set these to whatever you want or leave the defaults.

Next, click the “Monitoring” tab; this is where you decide which stats you want to see in-game. First, let’s take a look at the massive list under “Active Hardware Monitoring Graphs.” Including all this info on-screen is unrealistic if you actually want to see your game. Luckily, none of these options appear on-screen by default.

To enable any of these, simply highlight those you want. Under “GPU Usage Graph Properties” select the “Show In On-Screen Display” checkbox. We recommend you use the default for each, which displays it as text, rather than a graph, but play around with it.

After you choose a property to show up in the on-screen display (OSD), you’ll see “In OSD” under the “Properties” tab to the right of each name.

One of the most common properties people want to display is the frame rate to make sure their machine is hitting that all-important golden zone of 60 frames per second. To enable this, select the checkbox next to “Framerate,” and then select the checkbox next to “Show in On-Screen Display.”

Gamers often talk about how many games aren’t optimized for processors over four cores. If you have a six- or eight-core processor, you might want to keep an eye on the CPU performance and how work is distributed.

Afterburner automatically detects how many threads your CPU has and offers options accordingly. If you have a four-core Intel processor with Hyper-Threading, for example, you’ll see: “CPU Usage,” “CPU1 Usage,” “CPU2 Usage,” “CPU3 Usage,” and so on, all the way up to “CPU8 Usage.” CPU clocks, temperature, RAM usage, and power are also popular choices.

Of course, everyone also likes to see how the GPU is performing. The main stat here is “GPU Usage,” shown as a percentage. “GPU Temperature” is also a good one to monitor if you want to see how well those fans are working to keep the GPU cool.

Real-time stats in a game thanks to MSI Afterburner.

The list can get quite long if you’re not careful, though. Still, it’s nice to have all this information handy while you’re playing. Our list includes GPU temperature and usage, memory usage, core clock, CPU temperature and usage for all threads, CPU clock, RAM usage, and the frame rate.

This isn’t a feature you want to run all the time. However, it can be particularly useful when you’re playing a new game so you can see how your system handles it. It’s also handy to see how a recent driver or game update has improved performance.

While we’ve done the bulk of the work to get Afterburner running, we’re not quite done. In the system tray, right-click the RivaTuner Statistics Server icon, and then click “Show.” Again, make sure the “Show On-Screen Display” option is enabled.

We also suggest changing the “Application Detection Level” option to “High,” so most games will be automatically detected, and the in-game display will show up. You might get a few false positives occasionally, but it’s usually pretty good about only appearing when you’re playing a game.

By default, Afterburner shows all the stats in the upper-left corner. To change this, just click the corners. You can also adjust the coordinates below for more precise movement. There’s no required location for this data. In some games, though, you might need to move it around, depending on what’s on-screen.

You can also adjust the colors and text size in the on-screen display. Above the area where you adjust the location of the stats, just click “On-Screen Display Palette” and/or “On-Screen Display Zoom.”

MSI Afterburner and RivaTuner Statistics Server make an excellent team if you want keep tabs on your system’s performance.

Windows 10 has some built-in system performance panels you can enable, as well. They’re less powerful and show less info, but they’re easy to quickly turn on and off.

RELATED: How to Show Windows 10's Hidden Floating Performance Panels

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Ian Paul is a freelance writer with over a decade of experiencing writing about tech. In addition to writing for How-To Geek, he regularly contributes to PCWorld as a critic, feature writer, reporter, deal hunter, and columnist. His work has also appeared online at The Washington Post, ABC News, MSNBC, Reuters, Macworld, Yahoo Tech, Tech.co, TechHive, The Huffington Post, and Lifewire. His articles are regularly syndicated across numerous IDG sites including CIO, Computerworld, GameStar, Macworld UK, Tech Advisor, and TechConnect.
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