HOW TO: Improve laptop game performance

Don’t know about you, but when I get a new PC, I try to tweak settings to goose a little extra performance out of games. In another story, I gave some top-level advice for what kind of laptops are best for different kinds of games (you can find that story here).  If you’re anything like me, though, you want to go a little deeper and start tweaking things a little. Heck, if possible, you want to play stuff like Titanfall without cutting corners.  So I cobbled together a handy checklist of what I do right after unboxing. It goes without saying that some of these tips are about digging deeper into the guts of your laptop. If you’re not comfortable with changing settings or removing services and files, don’t try these tips. For everyone else: LET’S GET NERDY!


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1.       Setup your Startup: It’s easy to forget that as you keep installing apps, some insert themselves into the boot process. Two examples: Steam and iTunes. Go into the task manager and open the “Startup” tab. Now here’s something handy to note: You ever look through here and wonder what the heck some randomly named service or app is in your startup? Right-click and hit the “search online” option. Next, go into file explorer and in the address bar use this code: C:\Users\YOURUSERNAMEHERE\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup. Make sure that you’re set up to view hidden items and extension names. Then, delete any program shortcuts you don’t want running at startup. If you’re skittish about it, just cut-n-paste the shortcuts to a safe folder on your desktop so you can put them back if you really need to later.


2.       Dial in your disk drive: Make sure that you plan to keep your laptop plugged in if you’re using this tip! OK, in the device manager select “properties” for your disk drive. Then, under the Policies tab, have both options checked for Write-caching policy. Again, I want to underscore that you can lose data if you lose power so only touch this if you’re comfortable with it.


3.       Set your priorities: This is a tip that can boost performance on certain apps, but can also cause system instability if you’re not careful. So…here’s the short version. In the Task Manager, you have the option to set the priority level of apps and services. Downplay things you don’t need as often to low or throttle up your go-to apps. If anything you change starts slowing things down, just go back in and return it to “normal” mode….or just close it. Once closed or you restart a process, it returns to the default priority set in Windows. Also, I’d recommend staying away from assigning an app to the “Realtime” setting. It’s not worth the potential headaches it could cause your system.


4.       Reading the signs: You can always go to the Task Manager – I often do – but for those who haven’t, try typing in “resmon” in the start menu to open the resource monitor. This gives a really detailed background of what’s running on your system along with the details for each process. From here, it’s easy to locate apps and services pushing your CPU too hard. From there, right click and end the processes (providing that they aren’t vital to the system, of course).


5.       Keep stable: At the Start screen, type in “Reliability” to call up the “view reliability history” option. If you ever experience a system failure, failed driver installation or application crashes, it’s logged here. It breaks down events and it’s good for helping you backtrack to find where things could be going wrong. For a more detailed breakdown report of what’s on your system, type, “perfmon /report” from the Start screen.


6.       The App history channel: One of the many improvements to the Task Manager is the app history tab in Windows 8. This breaks down all your Windows 8 apps showing how much CPU time they demand from you…and how much bandwidth each app uses when it hits the Web. Right-Click to display more columns and you can get even more information like the amount of uploaded and downloaded data over the last month. If you see IE grabbing data from online, that’s obvious, but if you’re seeing other apps that you don’t usually go online with, then maybe you need to take a closer look at what’s going on or replace it with another app.


7.       Defrag it: This is one of the classics that never gets old. Type “defrag” from the Start screen and select, “Defragment and optimize your drives.” It really is a no-brainer way to tighten up your drive.


8.       Power mode: OK, this may sound silly, but it’s easy to forget if you ever dialed down your power mode to save battery life. SO, before you get into the game, go into “Power Options” and make sure the “High Performance” mode is selected.


9.       Driver check: You do have the latest drivers for your hardware, right?


10.   Dial it down: Go into a game’s settings and while lowering the resolution helps, turn down a lot of the superfluous bells and whistles. Anti-Aliasing, textures, lighting effects, shadows – the list goes on. What I highly recommend here is that you turn them all to the lowest point, then fiddle and tweak them up until you’re happy with the quality / performance balance on your notebook.


11.   Third party planning: I don’t usually recommend people going out and buying third-party game optimization software, but Razer’s Game Booster is worth a shot – if only because it is totally free. If you already have a finely tuned system, this might not give you a giant gain, so you could always try this first…and ditch if it isn’t for you. If you have AMD graphics, make sure that your Catalyst Software is up-to-date and use some of the utilities nestled inside that. They put them there to make your life easier. And if you have an Nvidia GPU on-board, you need to get in on the GeForce Experience. This utility not only optimizes your system, it optimizes your game settings – and has other nifty features. Check it out.


12.   *NOTE ON GRAPHICS* I’ve been intentionally avoiding this because depending on the type of graphics in your laptop, you’re going to want to fiddle with utilities specific to your GPU. Like the ones I just mentioned in Point 11. That, my friends, is a whole other story in its own right. So, I’m going to direct you to a story that Loyd Case wrote over at PC World.


*A WARNING ABOUT OVERCLOCKING* If you wanted to, you could overclock your laptop right now. In fact, Intel’s XTU tool gets into the guts and adjusting settings on an Intel CPU down to voltage control. Would I recommend doing that on your brand new laptop? NO. You see, when you overclock a machine, it overheats. Personally, I’m more comfortable overclocking a desktop because you can plug in new fans, adjust airflow…and generally correct for that temperature increase. In a laptop – notsomuch. It’s a sealed case that was carefully engineered to run within certain parameters. This is at your own risk. Seriously. Overclocking a laptop potentially breaks warranties, causes issues, destroys hardware and generally ruins that lovely laptop you dropped several hundred dollars to buy. Best advice I can give here: Overclocking is VERY risky. Unless you’ve got a disposable PC you’re playing with or you’re an expert, just work with the 12 tips listed above this…


Think you got all that? Some of these tips should help you get a little closer to gaming Nirvana. If you have some other tips to share, we’d love to hear what you do to your PC.

Labels: gaming| how-to
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