There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to play a game that stutters, freezes, or crashes, especially if you can’t really upgrade your current hardware right now or aren’t sure what exactly the problem is.
We know that sometimes rooting out game performance issues can be like playing whack-a-mole with your settings, but there are effective methods that everyone should try for smoothing out performance for their favorite games. Let’s go through what works.
Note: If you don’t yet have any performance monitoring tools, we highly suggest you pick one for your PC so you can check performance as you play.
Update platforms and drivers
It’s amazing how many problems can be solved by making sure everything is updated! If you haven’t tried this in a while, check Windows 10 for any updates by typing “updates” in the search bar and selecting Check for Updates. Likewise, make sure your game is updated if necessary.
You’ll also want to check to see if your GPU needs an updated driver. GPUs receive regular updates to help improve how they use power, fix bugs, and optimize performance for a variety of gaming conditions. These updates can improve FPS problems and fix incompatibility issues between your game and graphics card.
However, GPU drivers don’t automatically update. To check for the latest version of your GPU’s driver, we suggest installing and enabling Nvidia Update or GeForce Experience for Nvidia’s GeForce GPUs. For AMD’s Radeon GPUs, use its Driver auto-detect tool.
There are occasions when updating a driver can cause problems rather than solve them. This may happen due to bugs or issues with new driver features being incompatible with how the game is designed. If this happens, either roll back the GPU driver to a previous version or download the original driver all over again — just don’t update, for now.
Enable Windows Game Mode
A few years ago, Microsoft updated Windows 10 with a Game Mode setting. Previously, you could tweak processor behavior, battery power allocation, and how the GPU is treated to see if any of these things helped your game.
Game Mode essentially “prioritizes processor and graphics card resources” to the game running in the foreground. In other words, it temporarily suspends background services that Windows 10 currently doesn’t need so your CPU (and GPU) has less non-gaming work in its queue. This system management aims to provide a stable average framerate, which is more beneficial on lower-end systems.
To enable Game Mode, type “gaming” in the Windows search bar and select Game Mode Settings listed under Best Match. Once the settings app opens, make sure Game Mode is toggled on. You’ll need to restart your computer if you’re just now enabling this feature.
Note that you may see an uptick in power usage running Game Mode on a laptop, so you should keep it plugged in. You should probably keep your laptop plugged in anyway while gaming, given power management will throttle performance to conserve battery life.
Optimize your game’s settings
This can be a complex step because games vary in their settings and in what they allow you to tweak. However, you should always pay a visit to the in-game settings menu and see what’s there, especially if the game struggles. Look for options that will do the following:
- Optimize performance.
- Switch to high-performance settings.
- Allow you to disable special effects and post-processing (or set them to low).
- Allow you to adjust render distance and texture quality.
- Turn off anti-aliasing.
Tweak your GPU settings
This is another step that takes some extra work, but you should really become familiar with the inner settings of your GPU and how changing them can affect your game performance.
One of the best examples is changing Nvidia’s settings to maximize performance. Try this by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Nvidia Control Panel from the pop-up menu. Once the application opens, select Manage 3D Settings listed on the left under 3D Settings, and then click the Global Settings tab shown on the right.
Next, scroll through the list until you find Power Management Mode. Make sure that this feature is switched from Adaptive to Prefer Maximum Performance, then click the Apply button. See if this fixes any slowdowns or FPS issues you may be having.
We’ll also call out AMD for a truly excellent guide on all the different graphics features you can tweak in their settings, what they do, and why you might want them turned on or off depending on your goals. Learn about tessellation, your shader cache, surface format optimization, and many more settings that may be just the fix you are looking for. Sure, this can involve some trial and error, but you’ll be a pro at performance by the end.
Choose a lower screen resolution
This is a blunt force fix, but if your game can barely run at all, you may want to try changing your Windows screen resolution settings.
Start by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Display Settings on the pop-up menu. With the settings window open, scroll down to Display Resolution and select a lower resolution than the recommended setting. For example, switching from UHD to Full HD might help your game run.
Likewise, you may want to lower the resolution within the game to increase your frame rate. You also may see improved performance if you play in full-screen or borderless modes and by turning off any secondary display connected to your PC.
Use the recommended game API
Current graphics APIs provide direct communication between the game engine and your GPU’s driver. These include OpenGL, DirectX, and Vulkan — each serving the same purpose but with different approaches and features. These APIs can be upgraded or switched.
Upgrading an API — moving from DirectX 11 to DirectX 12, for example — is often an excellent way to reduce power consumption while also improving performance.
Switching to another API is also a possibility. Some APIs seem to work better with different graphics cards. AMD, for example, tends to favor Vulkan for performance. Some game engines also favor particular APIs and will give much better performance using one over another. Game engines may also add support for APIs over time. In some cases, they may recommend a specific API change to help improve the game’s performance.
Get ready to put your research goggles on, however. Changing your API can also change how your GPU performs. It may create some additional issues that you will need to tackle over time. But if you are having major problems with performance right now, an API switch may be worth the effort. That said, we recommend that you see what your game community recommends for the best results.
Get a game booster
Don’t discount a good game booster app. Like Windows 10 Game Mode, these apps’ primary goal is to reduce background activity and improve game functions, so you don’t encounter FPS issues. If you’re interested in trying this out, we recommend Razer’s Cortex Game Booster software. The package works automatically to make minute improvements and also includes excellent FPS tracking.
These types of apps are pretty efficient at micro-managing your Windows OS. On the surface, they prioritize the game you are playing, killing all non-essential apps running in the background. You would be surprised to find what is actually taking up resources when your system is limited, and your game is intense on the available resources. Many of these apps also disable CPU sleep modes in an effort to boost resources for the game at hand.
Playing PC games at an agonizing freeze-frame speed might be less common these days. But most gamers haven’t figured out how to eliminate the issue completely. If a hardware upgrade isn’t in your budget, the good news is that these fixes might get your game running a bit smoother. And in most cases, the diagnostics involved won’t take up hours you could have otherwise spent on gameplay.
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- How to check your PC’s frame rate when playing video games