15 Ways How to make PC games run faster and smoother
How to make PC games run faster and smoother
This topic explains all those technical graphics terms that games use on their config screens and how to set them to get the fastest framerate with the best quality picture.
13D PC games look better when they're smooth and beautiful looking instead of choppy and unrealistic. Unfortunately, settings that make them look good tend to slow them down. With modern games like Oblivion and Call of Duty 4, only the absolute best graphics cards can run them at full quality. So often times you have to compromise and turn down certain graphics features for it to still run smoothly. On the other side of things, your game may be running at the maximum framerate possible effortlessly and you can turn up the quality of the game's graphics. This guide will go through how to figure out the best trade off between quality and speed through changing a game's graphic settings.
2The target speed for any game should be for the game to render one entire frame every time the monitor refreshes. A frame is just an entire screen full of whatever needs to be shown at that time. Almost all LCD monitors run at 60 Hz or 60 frames every second. If you have a CRT, it may be different. To check in Windows XP, right click on the desktop and click properties. Then go to the settings tab and click advanced. Then click on the monitor tab and it will tell you what frequency it's running at. Every game is different but they all share a video configuration or options menu. Open the game and find where this menu is. If it asks you what the frequency is, set it to whatever your monitor is running at. Most modern games will ask if you want to enable VSYNC. VSYNC synchronizes the game's frames with the monitor's refresh times. That will result in the best motion quality while in game and keep your graphics card from overworking itself when it doesn't have to because it won't draw more frames than the monitor can display or send them at the wrong time. Enabling VYSNC should have absolutely no negative effect on performance either so everyone should have it enabled if the option is available. Samsung 17 Inch SyncMaster TFT
3Now that you know your target rate and the game is hopefully set up to be synchronized to it, you need to make sure that your graphics card can draw the frames fast enough to keep up. It all has to do with the amount of pixels it has to show and calculations it has to perform before showing them. The higher quality settings you set, the harder of a time it will have keeping up. But first and foremost, since it's impossible to tell what the framerate is just by looking at it, you'll need a program to display it. Go to fraps.com and download their program called Fraps. All you need to do is have the program running then open your 3D game and it will automatically overlay the current frame rate that the game is running at in the corner of the screen.
4Now that you have a way to see how any tweaks you make to the configuration affect framerate, it's time to start reconfiguring the game's options. First, run the game with whatever settings you currently have and see what the framerate is. If it's a constant 60 and that's your monitor's refresh rate, then you're going to be turning some quality options up. Every single graphics option affects performance by changing the amount of pixels to show or the amount of calculations the graphics card has to make to draw those pixels.
5Simple games and older games like Crazy Taxi or a deer hunting game for instance don't have much for graphics options while first person shooters or really advanced games like Unreal Tournament and Oblivion have a lot of settings. I'll mention every setting I know of in the following steps and if your game doesn't allow you to set that feature or doesn't support it, just go on to the next one. Every time you alter a setting, you should play the game using the new setting and see how it affected the framerate then go back and adjust it accordingly so that it maintains a high framerate. 1999
6Luckily, some graphics options are way more significant to performance than others. After reading these next steps, you shouldn't have to just set the game on all minimum settings and leave it looking horrible just to get 60+ frames per second. The number one largest performance difference comes from the screen resolution. That is basically the number of pixels in each frame. Less pixels means the graphics card can build frames faster. A good starting point would be setting it to the same resolution as Windows is running in. Typically this is 1024x768. Modern 17 inch LCD monitors typically run at 1280x1024 and widescreen ones can run at 1280x960 or higher. Most games are too intense and complicated to run at a resolution higher than 1024x768 though unless you have a seriously awesome graphics card. If you know your graphics card is old, or worse, if you don't have a card and just use the onboard graphics adapter on your motherboard, you'll probably want to start at 800x600 instead. 640x480 is pushing it though and won't look good no matter what. Modern games rarely will let you go lower than 800x600 anyway.
7Now that you have the resolution set, the biggest performance killer that is completely unnecessary is shadows. You don't actually need shadows to play any game really. They just make it look more realistic. If a bunch of objects like buildings, people, vehicles, and trees are casting shadows on other objects, your graphics card will have to calculate what's under the shadow first then recalculate all the affected pixels again to be darker if it determines they're under the shadow. It can easily cut your framerate in half or worse so that should be the first thing you disable. Similarly, if you're already at a maximum framerate, shadows are the last option you should consider turning on. Disable all forms of shadows that you find because sometimes a game splits them up into "self shadows" and "tree shadows" for instance.Now that you have the resolution set, the biggest performance killer that is completely unnecessary is shadows. You don't actually need shadows to play any game really. They just make it look more realistic. If a bunch of objects like buildings, people, vehicles, and trees are casting shadows on other objects, your graphics card will have to calculate what's under the shadow first then recalculate all the affected pixels again to be darker if it determines they're under the shadow. It can easily cut your framerate in half or worse so that should be the first thing you disable. Similarly, if you're already at a maximum framerate, shadows are the last option you should consider turning on. Disable all forms of shadows that you find because sometimes a game splits them up into "self shadows" and "tree shadows" for instance.
8Another huge performance killer is anisotropic filtering. Because of this, it's usually disabled by default in most games but if it's on, you should probably turn it off. It sounds fancy but basically it just calculates pixels around edges of objects to be slightly blurred so it's harder to see individual pixels. Without this option disabled, all edges in the game look jagged. Most modern games let you pick a level of anisotropic filter too, usually between 2x and 16x. See the attached picture for a side by side comparison of an amber bow string from the game Oblivion with anisotropic filtering disabled and at 8x. This is only the 2nd most important feature when it comes to an overall realistic look in a game so if you're a big fan of that and your graphics card can handle it, turn it to at least 4x. Otherwise, it has to go because it's such a massive drain on performance.
A bowstring with and without anisotropic filtering
9The third big performance killer is texture quality/size. This option determines the realistic "skin" of all the 3D objects in the game. If it's set to minimum, a slice of bread for example would look like a two color object and that's it. With texture set to maximum, it will load the higher resolution skins for every object and you could see all the little cracks and holes in the bread. It's the number one biggest feature for realism in any game. You should set it as high as you possible can without slowing down the framerate too much. The main limitation for this is how much memory your graphics card has because it has to load all the textures into memory. So if you find yourself running at a high framerate until you turn this option up, you have no choice but to turn it back down and leave it that way. As long as all the necessary textures fit in memory, it doesn't take a whole lot of extra processing to draw them. But if you notice that the framerate is great while you're sitting still, then cuts to a horrible framerate as soon as something moves or you move, you're going to want to turn the texture quality down a bit. Most games will have 2-3 texture settings.The third big performance killer is texture quality/size. This option determines the realistic "skin" of all the 3D objects in the game. If it's set to minimum, a slice of bread for example would look like a two color object and that's it. With texture set to maximum, it will load the higher resolution skins for every object and you could see all the little cracks and holes in the bread. It's the number one biggest feature for realism in any game. You should set it as high as you possible can without slowing down the framerate too much. The main limitation for this is how much memory your graphics card has because it has to load all the textures into memory. So if you find yourself running at a high framerate until you turn this option up, you have no choice but to turn it back down and leave it that way. As long as all the necessary textures fit in memory, it doesn't take a whole lot of extra processing to draw them. But if you notice that the framerate is great while you're sitting still, then cuts to a horrible framerate as soon as something moves or you move, you're going to want to turn the texture quality down a bit. Most games will have 2-3 texture settings.
10Just as shadows can affect performance significantly, lighting can too. And most games have light settings. The main four ways that it can draw dynamic lighting is off, normal, bloom, and HDR. Turning dynamic lighting off will make it look so horrible, it's just not worth it. If it still can't handle running the game with normal dynamic lighting turned on, turn the texture quality from the previous step down. The less complicated a texture that the light has to bounce off of, the less calculating it has to do. Bloom makes light bounce off objects much more realistically and HDR is even more intensive and realistic. Both are barely noticeable ingame and cause A LOT of extra processing so they should only be enabled if other, more important options are already maxed out and it's at the maximum framerate.
11Two other important and popular settings are draw distance and specular distance. Draw distance, also called view distance or sight distance, determines how far out you'll see objects. If a tree is a hundred feet away in the game, it will only show up on the screen if you chose to draw objects out that far. Until you get close enough, most games will replace it with a horrible looking single color fog. This really cuts down on realism but putting the distance further out creates exponentially more calculations so the game can get really slow, really quickly if you turn it all the way up to the maximum. Typically sight/draw distance is the last option you'll alter because it affects the framerate so heavily and can usually be adjusted very specifically with a slider. So it's usually easy to keep turning it up or down just a little bit until the game just barely runs at the maximum framerate to perfect your configuration. Specular distance is very similar in that it determines the distance out to which the specular effect is drawn. Specular just makes objects that are supposed to be shiny or wet look shiny or wet by displaying extra light on them. It's mostly for show so if you're having trouble getting the framerate up higher, disable it completely. The effect it will have on performance relies on how many objects in the game are supposed to have specular effects and if it's a lot, you may want to turn it way down or disable it completely.
12Another really easy to adjust set of features that can potentially cause a major slowdown are particle count, decals, and sprites. Particle count is exactly what it sounds like. It determines how many smoke particles, flames, sparks, dust, etc can be shown at once. If you see a massive slowdown every time a wizard casts a spell, a tank explodes, or you walk past a campfire or torch, turn the particle limit down. Decals are much less intensive and even at maximum, they rarely have a large effect on performance. It just determined how many "causable" textures can be displayed at once like bullet holes as you fire into something or char marks from explosions on walls or blood spots on the wall from fighting a monster. These are usually incredibly small texture files so you might as well turn them up to the maximum. Sprites are an older form of graphics processing that are actually a combinations of decals, particles, and even whole objects. The same adjustment rules apply to sprites as the more modern features. If the game slows down when a lot of them are on the screen, turn the limit down
13Now that you have the base settings configured to give you a consistently high framerate, you can tweak the smaller ones that have a much smaller effect on performance. Most games have a huge list of conditional options like glass reflection, water reflection, water ripples, etc. These only affect performance when you come across that type of object in the game. It's simple to tell if you should disable or enable any of them. If you're walking along in a game and everything's running smoothly at 60 frames per second then you come across a lake and suddenly it slows down to 30 FPS, you should start disabling options related to water like reflections, waves, ripples, etc. The same goes for any reflecting surface like windows or metal. Also some games may have grass or plant wind motion options that cause those objects to move with the wind. That takes a lot of extra processing if there's nothing but plants and grass on the screen so turn that off if you're having trouble under just those circumstances. As a general rule though, all these minor features should be enabled unless you start to have problems under only certain circumstances related to that type of effect.
14If you went through this whole process and had to set pretty much everything to a minimal setting or disable it completely and it finally runs at the maximum framerate most of the time, it probably looks like crap. What you should probably do is drop the resolution down one setting and start over. That way you'll likely be able to turn everything else to at least medium settings and maintain a better framerate. Everything will look a bit more jagged but with the other effects on, it will look more realistic and pretty overall. For instance, higher quality textures at 800x600 will dynamic lighting will always look far better than low quality textures at 1024x800 with no lighting.
15If you're still not happy with the settings you have to use in order to maintain at least 60 FPS, you might want to consider upgrading your graphics card. Usually whatever graphics card costs about $100-150 at any given time can run the newest of the new games at medium to high settings and older games at completely max settings.
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