Gaming laptops have always been behind desktops when it comes to raw performance, but they remain popular because of their portability. Not everyone likes being tied down to a desk when they want to game, and if you like to take your computer over to play multiplayer with some friends, a gaming laptop is the way to go.
You can’t easily upgrade gaming laptops, however, so if you want to improve your laptop gaming performance you’ll usually have to rely on software enhancements. This limits what you can do, but there are some tools and some tips that can improve gaming performance on a laptop.
Install The Latest Drivers
The drivers that are shipped with most hardware are rather static. There may be some minor upgrades from time to time, but by and large installing a new driver for, say, your Ethernet controller isn’t going to drastically change laptop gaming performance.
Video card drivers, however, are an exception. Nvidia and ATI, the major video card manufacturers, are in a constant battle for performance dominance. This means not only releasing new cards, but also releasing driver updates that improve the performance of cards already on the market. If you pay close attention to video card reviews you’ll often see that identical video cards end up performing better over time. That’s the driver improvements at work.
If you’re on a laptop, ensuring that you have the latest drivers installed is the easiest way to obtain maximum performance. If you’ve never updated your drivers since the day you first bought your laptop, installing the newest version may increase your performance by as much as 20%.
Overclock The GPU
Laptops are more limited than desktops when it comes to overclocking. CPU overclocking is rarely possible, since it’s usually not enabled in the BIOS. However, some models of laptop do allow for GPU overclocking.
Both Nvidia and ATI now have utilities built into their software suites that allow for GPU overclocking. There are essentially just two settings that you need to worry about – core clock and memory clock. The core clock is the speed of the actual processing cores on the GPU, while the memory clock is the speed of the memory used to buffer video data. Each has its own individual tolerance for overclocking, so you’ll need to experiment to find the maximum stable setting. Remember to take baby steps – don’t jump in and try to overclock by 20% from the start. Instead, up the settings by no more than 5% at a time.
You might also be able to change the speed of the system fan, if one has been dedicated to the GPU. If you’re given control of this setting, feel free to up the fan speed. This will of course cause more noise, but the extra cooling can make a higher overclock possible.
Check Your Power Settings
Laptops, unlike desktops, are meant to be used away from a power source frequently. This means that management of power is a big deal. On a desktop, you can set Windows power management to high performance and call it a day, but laptops often switch back and forth between different power management presets.
Sometimes, a laptop will switch into a power management setting meant to conserve power and doesn’t switch back when it should have. Or you may simply have changed the power management settings yourself and then neglected to change them back later. In any case, it’s important to make sure that your laptop is using its high performance power profile when you are playing games.
In addition to this, some newer laptops have what is known as switchable graphics. This means the discrete laptop GPU is supposed to turn on automatically when needed and then turn off again when it’s not. If you’re experiencing unusually poor performance in a game, check your GPU settings and make sure the switchable graphics are turning on as they should.
Turn Down Texture & Shader Details
Gaming laptops are sometimes limited by the volume and quality of their video memory. The memory available to a video card is important because it acts as the highway between your GPU and your display. If it’s out of room, a traffic jam forms, and your frame-rates start to dip.
The easiest way to make a game run better is to simply turn down the resolution. But before you do that, I recommend checking the game’s texture and shader and/or shadow settings. High-resolution textures, if a game makes them available, often eat up video RAM. Complex shaders or shadows can also have the same result. While all of the graphical effects applied to a game have some impact on performance, these are the settings most likely to improve laptop gaming performance if video memory is your laptop’s bottleneck.
Shut Down Background Applications
As a last-ditch effort to improve your gaming performance you can try shutting down system tray applications. Ideally, you shouldn’t have too many such applications running in the first place. But as time goes on and various programs are installed, patched and un-installed, you may find yourself with a sizable collection of utilities in your system tray. Since laptops are less powerful than desktops, a laptop gaming PC is more likely to be impacted by these programs.
You can shut background programs down manually, or you can use a program like Game Booster 2, which offers a 1-click “gaming mode” button that turns off programs and services that could drag your frame-rates into the trenches.
Hopefully, these tips will provide you with some boost to gaming performance. As you’ve likely noticed, however, these tips mostly relate to system maintenance and software tweaks. Unfortunately, since replacing the CPU or GPU on a laptop is rarely an option, these are the tips you’ll have to rely on. If you still can’t play a new game after following the above recommendations it’s likely time to buy a new gaming laptop.