Picture the scene: your gaming on your super awesome, top of the line, LED lit desktop PC... from 2008. The once powerhouse of a computer, able to play any game in high definition at a smashing 120fps, now barely runs games such as CS:GO without falling to unplayable frame rates. However, all is not lost. Using several tricks and tips, this guide will help you reach that buttery smooth 60fps in games with older hardware.
I will split this guide up into 2 parts: hardware and software, just to make things a little bit easier. If you find that your hardware should be able to run a game, but you just are not getting what you expected, stay on the software section. If you have tried all you can to optimize the game to your PC's hardware, have a look at the hardware section. You may find that you will have to upgrade your current hardware if it is too outdated for the game or application you are trying to run.
Disclaimer (I know I know, the likely hood of any of this happening is slim, but it has to be done): I AM NOT responsible for ANY data loss, hardware failure or other such event from the use of my instructables tutorial. If you break your computer due to a wild overclock or misuse, or lose data due to not properly backing it up, I am not responsible. Sorry :)
This guide is mainly about Desktop PCs for the hardware section, Laptops may be added at a later date!
Source of images: www.freeimages.com , pixabay.com
Now, onto the reason you came to this instructables: FPS Boosting!
Step 1: Section One: Software
In this section I will cover the software aspect of your computer. This includes any setting for any piece of data that runs on your computer. Other things such as overclocking (which could also arguably be in software) and hardware upgrades will be covered in the Hardware Section.
Step 2: Reduce Texture and Game Quality
This is probably the most obvious option for boosting your FPS, but it is also very effective. It reduces the load on your hardware by lowering the quality of textures for objects such as character models or item models, increasing the frames per second of you computer. I would recommend putting the setting to the lowest possible, and if the performance is good enough for you, gradually increase each setting until you hit the sweet spot of good performance and good visuals.
Effects such as Shadows, shader detail and Anti-aliasing are used to make the game more aesthetically pleasing (the latter making jagged edges appear more curved), however these all tax your hardware more. I would recommend lowering shadows and anti-aliasing to see performance enhances. Again, gradually increase these settings from their lowest until you are happy that your performance and visuals are as good as they are going to get. Also try to turn down texture filtering, as it will too reduce your frame rate, but at the cost of image quality.
Motion blur is more of a personal preference to me. It helps smooth out jagged frame rates by blurring the background, at the cost of a few frames per second. I would recommend this if you don't mind motion blur, and you are getting around 30-40 fps. If your frames per second are too low, it won't have as great an affect, and would seem nearly as choppy compared to without. I personally cant stand motion blur, so I generally leave it off.
Make sure that V-Sync (or vertical sync) is disabled, because even though your monitor can display only a certain frames per second (measured in Hertz or Hz), the more you have will mean the smoother the game play is. It may put more load on your hardware, but it improves the overall smoothness of play. if your game has a variable frame limit, around 120 fps is more than perfect (144 fps if you have a fancy 144 hz display).
If you can, reduce any other video settings that are available, I would recommend that you do. Unwanted textures such as clouds or maximum pixels in games such as Minecaft, or shorter render distance in large open world games will help to improve performance. Alone the performance boost may not be so impressive, but together it does add up.
Also remember to turn off power saving mode in game, and turn on enhanced performance in windows power settings. Although it does mean that your computer will consume more power or have a shorter battery life, it can help improve performance and overclocking.
Step 3: Resolution and Drivers
By reducing the resolution that your game is running at, you reduce the raw pixel output of the hardware from your computer, reducing the overall load on the system. If you are using a 1920x1080 pixel display, try reducing it to 1280x720 display resolution, or even lower to see improvements. you may even find that changing screen ratio helps. The most common display ratios are 16:10 (E.G. 1680x1050), 16:9 (E.G. 1920x1080) and 4:3 (E.G. 1024x768). By reducing the display output, you do also reduce the quality of the image (sometimes significantly), so this is generally a "last resort" option.
Hardware and game drivers are also extremely important to game performance, and require regular updates to make sure you are making the most of your hardware. over the lifespan of a video cards drivers, it can have performance improvements of up to and around 25% for certain games, which is HUGE, if you think about it. You can usually find the latest drivers on your GPU manufacturer's website under the name of your video card, so it is relatively easy to update drivers for your GPU. This doesn't generally apply to CPUs, but make sure to check online for any news about your hardware. (You can see your hardware in My Computer under the control panel in windows)
Step 4: Background Programs
To improve your frame rate, make sure you turn off any unused or resource-hungry applications that may be running. Even applications such as Skype or a web browser can have an affect on the performance of your game, so close it down! This can help to improve the performance of your PC, and will help to make your gaming experience better.
Windows also has many background processes that can hog the processing power of your computer, so by using an application to close down these unnecessary background processes, you will find a slight increase in performance.
Step 5: Defragmenting Your Hard Drive and Virtual RAM
A fragmented hard drive will almost always affect performance, due to the longer read and write times of the mechanical hard drive (you do not need to defragment an SSD (Solid State Drive), because it has next to no effect). When you de-fragment a mechanical hard drive, the bits of data on the platter are moved closer together, and will reduce the time it takes to read and write information to the hard drive, which will help speed the game up. This is because the hard drive needle doesn't have to move as far to reach and read the data. It will also help speed up other processes on your computer, so it is a general win-win! A programme such as Windows Defragmenter should do the job.
If you are running out of ram in your system, and need a cheap solution, try to make a virtual RAM drive! it is MUCH MUCH slower than normal ram, and will defiantly impact performance compared to just upgrading your RAM sticks, however it is better than not having enough RAM. It does help having an SSD for virtual RAM, as the fast read and write speeds will help, but it is still no substitute.
Step 6: Hardware
If you are reading this section, then you are probably disappointed with the performance of your computer, and want to upgrade! If you haven't read about my software performance boosting tips, take a look! You might be surprised with what you find, and it might even mean you wont have to purchase some new hardware! However, if you have tried everything with your hardware from the earlier parts of the tutorial, and are at a dead end, read on...
Step 7: Hardware Overclock
Overclocking your hardware is an excellent way to boost your hardware's performance for free. Overclocking means that you increase the number of clock cycles your graphics card or processor's chip performs per second (measured in Hz or hertz, but generally Gigahertz or GHz). Using either Nvidia's, AMD's or other 3rd party overclocking tools, you can increase the clock speed of your hardware (I personally use Thunder Master for my Palit GTX 460 graphics card's overclocking, and it also allows me to adjust voltage and fan speed at certain temperatures, which is perfect for me). When overclocking, it is important to note that all chips are different, and microscopic differences between chips mean that an overclock one person can reach, is not possible for another. This is referred to as "The Silicon Lottery". Also note that overclocking a piece of hardware can sometimes void the warranty and reduce the lifespan to a certain degree, so be warned!
To achieve a successful overclock, I recommend that you measure the temperatures and performance of your graphics card as it is currently before you overclock by using a stability tester (which makes sure that your computer won't randomly crash / is unstable). This will help set a benchmark set of results. Once you have gathered your results, gradually increase the clock speed of your graphics card or process by small amounts each time (eg 10-25 mhz for graphics cards and ram, and slightly more for CPUs), until you reach an unstable clock speed, your temperatures become poor or you begin to see artifacts (which are generally caused by straining graphics RAM. if you see this, reduce the VRAM clock speed and keep it at that speed). Although graphics cards are designed to take very high temperatures, I personally don't like my GPU going above 80-85 decrees centigrade due to it being fairly old and me being fairly cautious. You can increase the core voltage, but i do not recommend this, as it can damage your chip if you are not careful. Please see another guide for more specific and detailed instructions on overclocking if you are unsure about overclocking your hardware.
You can also overclock modules such as RAM, however the effect is minimal so i would not recommend it.
Step 8: The CPU
The CPU is the brain of your computer, and is one of the main integral parts of your system. Once you have found that it is your CPU which is bottle necking your computer, even after an overclock, it is time for an upgrade! First, find your current processor in the "My Computer" tab in the control panel, and compare it to other available options. By using www.cpubenchmark.net, you can find the socket type, cycle speed and performance of your CPU, and you are able to compare your processor to others using the same socket type. If you can find a processor which is powerful enough for your likening, the next thing to do it purchase that processor, however if the options are not good enough / you have the best processor for your socket type, it is time to purchase a new motherboard. Look around for the different socket types available, as the website has many different processors and useful pieces of information to help you make a decision. Also make sure your power supply can supply enough power before you do!
Side Note: I use an LGA 775 motherboard, and i wanted a cheap upgrade to my old E5700 dual core CPU. after researching the alternative processors on eBay, I decided that it would be too expensive to upgrade (or so i thought). After a little more research, I discovered a modification to make a socket LAG 771 Xeon from servers and Macs to fit in my current motherboard. Because these server chips were MUCH cheaper than the consumer (LGA 775) equivalents, I decided to give it a shot, and it worked! I am now running a Xeon E5450 chip I purchased for £17 (including conversion sticker) on eBay, where as the consumer edition would have cost me much more. I highly recommend this hack, but please make sure before you purchase any Xeon chip for your LGA 775 motherboard that the hack is compatible, and follow a clear guide to help prevent breakages!
Step 9: The GPU
If you have discovered that your GPU is a bottleneck, even with the previous improvements, it is time for an upgrade! Use www.gpubenchmark.net to find out about your current graphics card, and it's features. If your graphics card is crossfire or SLI compatible, then look into purchasing another of your current graphics card to improve performance. If you decide that it would be better to have a total GPU upgrade, look into other options that are available.
If you go down the SLI or Crossfire route, you will not get 2X the performance, VRAM or speed, because it sadly doesn't work like that, however you will get 2x the power consumption! Make sure your power supply is able to supply enough watts to power both of the cards as well as the rest of the system, otherwise it probably wont boot up, or may crash at highly intense points. It is generally better to upgrade your graphics card than try to get another similar card, as it leaves room for future SLI or Crossfire.
If you choose to upgrade, make sure that you look around for the best performance per watt and pound (or whatever currency you use). if you cant power the card, you will need to upgrade the power supply, so take the cost of another PSU into consideration with the graphics card.
Step 10: The RAM
When your current RAM just isn't good enough, or when a virtual RAM drive isn't cutting your expectation, it is time to upgrade your RAM!
If you have a spare RAM slot(s) you can use them to upgrade the total ram in your system. Once you find your current ram makes, size, model code and frequency, you can start to search for extra RAM sticks. Although matching the manufacturers of the ram sticks is less important, you must almost always use the same capacity of ram, frequency and memory type for best compatibility (you cannot use DDR2 with DDR3 RAM, and vice versa. this applies to generally all different types). Make sure you check around before you purchase any RAM modules first!
If you have no extra RAM slots to spare, then you will have to completely upgrade your memory modules. I would recommend you aim for around 4 GB of ram to start with, but if you are more serious, aim for 6 to 8 GB of memory to help with more demanding games.
Step 11: The PSU
Sometimes, your power supply may not provide enough power to your system, which could cause crashes or complete shutdowns during strenuous use.
To upgrade your PSU, look up the model and wattage of your power supply online. Once you have the wattage and physical size of your PSU, look around for a PSU with a higher wattage than the previous one, and generally several more watts than are required for the system. make sure that the size of the new power supply is the same, and try to find a power supply with a gold 80% efficiency rating or more. It may cost more initially, but the total extra power consumption of your computer without it will add up, and make it a less worth while deal.
Step 12: Cooling
If you are having trouble with high temperatures on your system, there are several thing you can do to help lower the overall temperature of you computer parts.
By adding or changing the direction of fans on the case, you will be able to change the flow and direction of air in and out of your case, helping to cool down your system. Cable management may also help slightly with temperatures, so always try to keep your case neat and tidy!
if you need to add more fans, try to add the biggest and most efficient fans as possible, as efficient, bigger fans make less noise and push more air than smaller, faster spinning fans.
If you have a good amount of air flowing through your case, and your heat sink isn't cooling your processor well enough, try and purchase a bigger and better heat sink. try and look out for tower heat sinks made of copper or with copper pipes, as they generally cool better than Intel stock style coolers. Make sure that when you buy a cooler, it has a powerful fan, which will be able to cool down a powerful and hot processor better.
If you need to cool down your CPU or Graphics card more, and increasing the fan and heat sink size is not doing the job, it may be time to replace the thermal paste (be warned this may void the warranty of graphics cards). Remove the old heat sink, and clean both the processor and the metal heat sink with isoprophyl alcohol, making sure to remove any old thermal paste. When choosing a new thermal paste. Do some research into the different options available, and which one is right for you. After you have chosen your thermal paste, place a small pea sized amount on the processor chip, and carefully place the heat sink back on the board. Tighten up the heat sink with opposite corners at a time, as to not put uneven pressure on the processor chip. Once the heat sink has been secured on the processor, make sure it is tight and you are ready to go!
And finally, if you are thinking about water cooling, it does do a significantly better job at cooling compared to air cooling, however it is much more expensive, and if something goes wrong, water and electricity generally DON'T mix... so be very careful with water cooling.
Step 13: Storage
By using a faster method of storage, you can sometime completely revive an old and tired computer!
Old mechanical drives are very slow in both reads and writes when compared to SSDs, which causes games to be slowed as they request information stored on the hard drive. You can generally purchase 128GB SSDs for a reasonable price, so this is a cost efficient way to increase the speed of your PC.
I would recommend putting your OS and your most played games on the SSD, with the rest of your data on a mechanical hard drive.
You can also create a RAM drive, which uses your RAM as a storage device. This storage it VERY fast, however it is very expensive (£ per GB), uses up potential system memory, and if the power goes off without something like a battery for redundancy... whoosh! All of your data is gone!
Step 14: Conclusion
Hopefully, your once sub-prime gaming PC is now able to play any game you throw at it with decent performance! If you think I missed any part of this tutorial, or have any corrections / suggested programs for me to add, it would be greatly appreciated!
P.S. if you have made it all the way through the wall of text above, well done! If you like the tutorial, vote for the instructable in the contests I have entered!
Thanks for Reading!