So what is it about dirt and dust that seems to cause so many issues in a graphics card? Well, to understand that, you first have to understand that GPUs take up an awful lot of power. Different models have different power consumption requirements, but high-end gaming GPUs from major brands can take up more than half of a PC’s power allotment on their own. Nvidia’s 4090, for instance, requires a whopping 450W of electricity to operate.
The next thing you need to understand is that nearly all of that energy gets converted into heat. Ever put your hand on the back of your computer and feel how much hot air is being pushed out? Well, about half of that is being generated by your graphics card. GPU manufacturers have gotten very good at finding methods for channeling this heat away from your graphics card so that it can dissipate into the air. Still, dust and debris can actually insulate the card, keeping the heat trapped inside. Even the finstacks that are designed to help dissipate this heat don’t work as well when they are coated in dust.
Most modern graphics cards have a safety feature built in so that they can throttle their own energy intake before they get hot enough to be damaged. An unfortunate side effect of this feature is that they no longer work as well as they did when they were running at full power. Cleaning out your GPU can allow it to go back to working like normal.