Nvidia Control Panel Settings: What Do They All Mean?

Nvidia is looking like an unstoppable force in the Great Graphics Card War, and even though AMD is making a fine fight of it with some quality GPUs at both ends of the market, the smart money’s on Nvidia. So you may as well familiarize yourself with all those Nvidia Control Panel settings if you’re a gamer because there’s a good chance you’ll be using them sooner or later. Here’s our guide to help  you find your way around.

To open the Nvidia Control Panel you need to have installed Nvidia graphics card drivers for your Nvidia GPU. The Control Panel icon may then appear in your notification area (bottom-right corner of the Windows desktop), or you can access it by right-clicking the desktop, then clicking Nvidia Control Panel.

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This is where you can really tweak your GPU performance to get the most out of your gaming, Under “Adjust image settings with preview,” click “Use the advanced 3D image settings” then “Take me there” to start tweaking your GPU settings to your liking. (The same screen can be accessed by clicking “Manage 3D settings” in the pane on the left.)

You can then select either “Global Settings” to apply changes across all your games or “Program Settings” to apply on a game-by-game basis. The following are the graphics settings and their functions:

Ambient Occlusion (AO): Makes shadows in games deeper and more realistic.

Many games block Nvidia’s Ambient Occlusion because it can conflict with the AO settings already in the game (which are usually superior). If you do choose to use AO, make sure you’ve switched off the version in-game first.

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Anisotropic filtering: Makes textures at acute angles appear sharper.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the NVCP version of this is worth using over in-game versions. The performance impact is small, and the visual improvement can be big.

Anti-aliasing: Smooths out jagged lines around the edges of objects.

“FXAA” can be used instead of or in conjunction with in-game AA settings. However, it has a tendency to blur images, so is probably best left off. Likewise, “gamma correction” isn’t much use. The effects of AA “Transparency” are decent if small, smoothing out lines in transparent objects like grass, fences and so on. The performance impact is small, so it can be worth trying.

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CUDA – GPUs: Uses GPU power to improve software like PhysX and other graphics enhancements. Highly recommended.

DSR: Renders game at higher resolution then down-samples, giving a crisper image across the board.

If your PC can handle it, it’s worth a try. When you do this, you can also set “DSR Smoothness” to further improve image quality. The higher the smoothness, the higher the performance impact.

Maximum pre-rendered frames: Buffers frames, preloading frames on the CPU before they get to the GPU.

This can potentially smooth out stuttering and frame-skipping at the expense of latency (e.g. input lag). Stick with “3D Application Settings” but apply the different options (1-4) if you still have trouble.

Monitor Technology: Let’s you select G-SYNC if your monitor is capable of it.

Yes, always use G-Sync when you can. It lets your monitor run at higher refresh rates without screen tearing and other issues.

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Multi-Frame Sampled AA: Increases anti-aliasing without performance drops.

If the game is compatible with MFAA, you basically get a free anti-aliasing boost.

Power management mode: “Optimal Power” conserves frame rendering/GPU load when PC is idle. “Adaptive” lowers and raises GPU clocking depending on game. “Maximum performance” keeps GPU running at higher power – which is louder and more strenuous on the GPU. Optimal Power is recommended.

Shader Cache: Stores crucial shader files for games on your hard drive, potentially improving performance and reducing load times.

It doesn’t use a lot of hard drive space and can have a positive impact on your game.

Texture filtering: Related to anisotropic filtering, texture filtering broadly improves the appearance of flat textures during gaming.

If you’re suffering performance impact because of anisotropic filtering, then you could try turning on “Anisotropic sample optimisation.” “Negative LOD bias” is only really useful for OpenGL games and doesn’t offer anything that anisotropic filtering doesn’t do better. Instead of using “Trilinear optimisation,” just set “Texture filtering – Quality” to “High quality” or “High performance,” depending on how powerful your system is.

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Threaded optimisation: Allows multi-core CPU to handle some GPU tasks during gaming.

Stick to Auto, allowing the GPU to decide on a by-game basis on whether or not to use it

Triple buffering: Adds a third buffer frame to the GPU when playing OpenGL games, preventing occasional performance stammers during frame buffering.

If you have OpenGL games, then set it to ‘On’ alongside Vertical Sync.

Vertical Sync (Or VSync): adjusts in-game frame-rate (fps) to the monitor refresh rate (hz), preventing screen-tearing when hz is lower than fps.

Use in-game settings, though “Fast Sync” can be good in older games or other games with very high frame-rates.

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Virtual Reality pre-rendered frames: Like “Maximum pre-rendered frames,” stores some frames in the CPU before they hit the GPU, which can prevent frame skips in VR.

Only for VR users, at which point experiment with the settings to see which get the best performance.

Play around with these settings, have some fun, but monitor performance carefully and be prepared to do a whole load of optimizing to get things just right. It’s a fun process, but something to learn from this is that really there are only a few graphics tweaks that will meaningfully improve performance. Or maybe you’ve found a tweak that goes against the wisdom of this list to good effect? Let us know!

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