Playing first-person shooters is a favorite pastime of geeks from all walks of life. Winding down at the end of the day by taking part in a competitive game that takes all of your concentration to play is a great way to get your mind off the stresses of the world and into something that is genuinely fun to do. Whether your game of choice is from the Call of Duty series, Half Life, or something entirely different, the one thing they all have in common is a dependency on your system to keep up with real-time rendering during play.
Having a low frame rate during gameplay is akin to trying race a Ferrari with a Prius. Sure, the Prius might be able to complete the quarter-mile, but there is only so much skill alone can do for you when you’re at a technical disadvantage.
Unfortunately, upgrading your hardware to something more powerful isn’t always an option. High-end video cards are rarely a priority on someone’s living budget, and some older systems just don’t have what it takes to run the latest and greatest hardware, anyway.
So, what do you do? Do you let everyone on the public servers walk all over you, or do you take steps to make the most of what you’re working with? Here are some tips to help you get a little more bang for your hardware buck.
Configuring in-game objects is the easiest and most direct way to optimize settings for your particular system. By adjusting a few simple configuration options, you can dramatically reduce the processing overhead of your game and increase the frame rate without having to change a single piece of hardware. Here are some of the changes you can make to improve performance in-game.
Turn Shadows Off
Rendering shadows can seriously hog your GPU’s precious clock cycles. By turning them off, you’re cutting out a lot of the graphic overhead and freeing your system up to dedicate that processing time to increasing FPS rather than making each frame look good. Dynamic shadows may look great, but the game itself looks much better in 30+ FPS with none at all.
Knock Anisotropic Filtering Down a Notch
Anisotropic filtering may improve your long distance view when antialiasing is in play, though it can easily tie up your GPU RAM as well. One method I’ve used to boost FPS is by reducing antialiasing to 2x or 4x and knocking down anisotropic filtering. While this filter isn’t as computational as it is bandwidth and memory intensive, it does weigh heavily on your overall graphics performance.
By knocking this setting down, or turning it off altogether, you can greatly improve the performance of your game.
Lower the Texture Quality
Many games have several versions of textures used to paint the various shapes and objects in the gaming environment. The higher the texture quality, the larger the files associated with them. This can cause havoc not only with your graphics bandwidth but also with a variety of filters intended to make rendering better. Bilinear and trilinear filtering, anisotropic filters, and other processes work hard to make textures look better on the screen. If the source files are smaller, then that means less work on the part of these filters and increased frames per second.
Lisa Morrison, a member of the Gnomies community in addition to being a gamer suggests, “There seems to be a fascination with maximum resolution textures but what I’ve found from my experience is that often ‘Medium’ resolution textures look almost identical to the ‘High’ or ‘Ultra’ settings with a definite improvement in frame rate.”
Turn Down the Viewing Distance
Another suggestion Lisa echoed was that cranking down the viewing distance a bit can ease the burden on your video card and give you a noticeable frame rate boost in some circumstances. By doing this, you’re allowing your graphics card to concentrate on a smaller number of objects, giving your card the ability to put those extra clock cycles towards more important things, like increased frame rates or texture detail.
Think about your video card as a chef in a crowded restaurant. More seats means more customers and more meals to prepare at the same time. By limiting the amount of people that can order and/or eat at a given time, the chef is able to put more time and attention into each item while preventing an overload in the kitchen which results in long wait times and poor service.
Optimize Settings Through the Dedicated Graphics Control Panel
If you’re using a dedicated Nvidia or Radeon graphics card, there’s a good chance you have a graphics control panel available right on your desktop. This app gives you the ability to fine-tune your graphics settings across multiple programs rather than configuring them on a per-program basis. Keep in mind though that not every game plays by the same rules.
What this program can do for you is give you the power to turn off specific options that independent programs may have on by default. Trilinear filtering, anti-aliasing, etc. are all options that Nvidia and Radeon gives you the ability to turn on or off in order to enhance either quality or performance.
Kill Excessive Processes
Windows is known for having a lot of unnecessary processes running at any given time. By killing these extra processes, you can free up more system resources to give you a better overall gaming experience. Running an anti-virus scan during gaming is an obvious problem, but did you know that media players, email programs, browsers, and those non-helpful “helper” programs in your notifications area of the task bar can be eating away at your game performance too?
Microsoft has released a simple tool that allows you to manage what programs automatically run on your system after starting up. This gives you greater control over your clock cycles and your system’s performance.
Set the Game on Higher Priority
Perhaps another process is needed, but may be intruding on clock cycles better utilized for the game you’re playing? By setting a higher priority for your game, you can tell your system that you your CPU to work on its tasks ahead of anything else that may be clogging the tubes.
To do this, all you need to do is open the task manager by either right-clicking on the task bar and selecting Start Task Manager or hitting Ctr+Alt+Delete and selecting Start Task Manager. Once there, you can quickly locate the process by finding the application in the Applications tab, right-clicking the application, and selecting Go to Process. Right-click the highlighted process and go to Set Priority > High.
Bear in mind that doing this may cause issues with other programs, though it isn’t very likely. This shouldn’t be the first solution you try, as it has less of a chance of giving you the results you want than previous tips, but it just might be that magic bullet that makes the difference you need to enjoy the game.
Still Not Getting the Frame Rate You Need?
I realize that this isn’t a quick and easy solution to low frame rates, but it’s the most practical one if image quality is still important to you. I recently upgraded the graphics card in my primary Windows PC from a GeForce 520 GT to a GeForce GTX550 Ti with stunning results. Not only did my frame rate stick to 60 frames per second (vertical sync limit) but my kill ratio in Call of Duty: Black Ops increased from 1:2 to 2:1 almost instantly. All the little filters and graphics tweaks help make what you see on the screen even better, so having a piece of hardware capable of utilizing them can put you at a slight advantage over the competition.
There are three or four important factors to consider when choosing a graphics
card to upgrade to.
- Can your power supply handle the extra load the new card will demand?
- Do you have the right PCI slot for the card you want?
- Does the new card fit in your present system?
These questions can be very important to find the answers to before throwing down your cold hard cash for the upgrade. I, for example, made my upgrade without taking into account that my HP desktop PC only had a 300w power supply. I had to purchase a new power supply just to power the upgraded GeForce card.
Whether you’re playing casually after work or school, or taking a more competitive approach to your gaming, improving your system performance can be as simple as knowing where to start.
What about you? What are your tips for improving frame rates in first-person shooters?