The greatest strength of computer gaming lies in how the platform gives near total control over the gaming experience. Whether you have a budget computer paired to a 720p display or a powerful gaming rig hooked up to a 4K 165Hz gaming monitor, PC games allow you to tune the graphics settings for a great experience on both these extremes.
The good news is that you don’t have to settle for a poor gaming experience even if you lack a cutting-edge graphics card or the most powerful processor, the only downside being that the depth and complexity of these customizable graphics settings can be daunting for all but the most hardcore geeks. On the flip side, you can also do more harm than good to your overall gaming experience by dialing in the wrong graphics settings – that, too, without much visual improvement.
This is just the guide for you if you find yourself concerned whether you have made the right changes to these settings or just wonder why the game chugs along at sub-30fps when you leave the game on the ultra preset.
Ultra Preset Is Only Good for Screenshots
It is tempting to use the ultra graphics preset, but doing so is not advisable unless you’re packing top-tier hardware. Even that doesn’t guarantee playable framerates in newer games if you own a 4K monitor. The good news is that there’s no practical reason to bump the graphics settings to ultra unless you are only interested in showing off in-game screenshots on forums.
Just take a gander at the side-by-side comparison of Resident Evil 2 Remake in the ultra and high settings. It’s hard to tell the difference even when comparing screenshots. And that certainly doesn’t warrant taking a colossal 33-percent hit in performance. Remember, the ultra preset is meant for screenshots and high is meant for gaming.
DX12 Isn’t Necessarily Better than DX11
DirectX allows game developers to program graphics and sound for Windows-based machines. It essentially allows the video game code to interface with the overwhelming variety of gaming hardware out there without a hitch. DX11 is a high-level API that makes the job of developers easy, but it doesn’t give them enough flexibility to optimise PC hardware to its fullest. DX12 does just that.
Most game developers, however, haven’t jumped onto that bandwagon because it is harder to implement. DirectX 12 implementation in almost all but a few games leads to a significant drop in performance. For example, even modern titles such as Resident Evil 2 Remake experience a significant six to eight percent drop in framerates just by the virtue of using DX12. The worst part is that using DX12 delivers no perceivable improvement in visual quality.
Use Resolution Scaling to Improve Performance
Nothing increases the processing overhead of a game more than the resolution at which it is rendered. That’s primarily because your hardware has to work towards rendering a frame on a per-pixel basis. The greater the number of pixels it has to render, the more processing muscle it requires. To put this into perspective, a standard Full HD (1920×1080) monitor will require your gaming PC to render a little more than 2 million pixels. A 4K monitor, on the other hand, increases the rendering load by a whopping 300 percent to 8.3 million pixels.
You can reduce the target resolution through the game’s settings menu; this leads to a terribly poor image quality because modern monitors don’t work well at a non-native resolution. The Resolution Scaling setting comes in handy here. It doesn’t mess with your monitor’s native resolution by maintaining the same target resolution, but it changes the internal rendering resolution of the game engine and then outputs it at the same native resolution of your monitor.
The only catch is that the visuals look a bit softer. You won’t notice this during normal gameplay as long as you don’t go below 70-percent resolution scaling. However, a performance improvement of 50 percent is no laughing matter.
Check Memory Utilization
Graphics settings dealing with shadows and screen space effects, such as reflections as well as ambient occlusion, are quite hard on your graphics memory. Even graphics cards with 8GB of VRAM run the risk of running out of memory, and this in turn affects framerates drastically. This is best avoided by installing MSI AfterBurner and Guru3D RTSS utilities. Fire up MSI AfterBurner, click on the Settings button, and follow steps 1, 2, and 3 to overlay real time memory usage data on top of your game.
RTSS or Rivatuner Statistics Server is a hardware-performance-monitoring utility that allows you to keep an eye on everything ranging from CPU/GPU clock speeds and temperature readings to framerates and performance bottlenecks. Use this utility to overlay graphics memory utilization values on top of your game. This way, you can easily tell if the game demands more VRAM than your GPU can provide.
If that happens, try lowering shadow complexity and resolution, followed by screen space effects such as reflections and ambient occlusion. Your last resort should be lowering textures, but that is generally as good a sign as any that you’re better off upgrading your GPU instead.
Draw Distance and Texture Streaming
Pay close attention to this one if you play a lot of open world games such as Grand Theft Auto or Far Cry series. These games feature wide-open worlds with complex geometry and varied textures. Performance can drop drastically if the draw distance (the distance up to which game objects are rendered) is set too high. That’s because increasing the draw distance setting puts tremendous computational stress on your GPU, while also potentially overloading the memory subsystem. Setting this one at a reasonable level will work wonders for performance in open world games.
The sheer complexity and size of the environments in open world games also makes it impossible to load all texture assets at once like regular games. These games therefore continuously stream textures from your hard drive as and when needed. This is fine if you’re using an SSD, but the terribly slow transfer speeds and random access times of mechanical hard drives can cause your game to suffer from micro-stutter to even huge dips in framerates. For this reason, make it a point to prioritize installing open world games on SSDs. If you don’t own an SSD, you’re better off lowering the draw distance settings and opting for lower quality textures.
Following these tips will allow you to squeeze the last bit of performance out of your gaming rig, and you’ll do that while maintaining a good balance between eye candy and performance. Good performance shouldn’t come at the cost of decent visual quality.