There were a number of years straight out of college all the way until we actually had our second child that I was an avid gamer. I had a dedicated PC that was carefully tuned so that the networked game sessions would run seamlessly. There was always some amount of lag in the game, especially when there were lots of players logged in, but most of the lag was on account of server limitations, not the limits of my own PC.
That meant that everyone was sharing that lag equally. I have to say that before I created that PC, there was nothing more annoying than playing a death-match session of Medal of Honor, creeping around a corner crouched over, hearing the enemy player approaching, and then right before I was about to pull the trigger and take them out as they round the corner – my computer froze for a couple of seconds. Those couple of seconds were enough for me to get filled with holes and out of the game.
That’s an experience you can have only so often before you realize that it’s either time to optimize your PC to reduce lag as much as possible, or don’t even bother playing at all.
The truth is that most computers out there that are capable of running as an effective gaming system are really so overburdened with extra garbage running, improperly configured network settings, and numerous other issues that make the network flow during a high-speed gaming session slower than molasses.
Now, this is MakeUseOf. We’re all about tweaks. One of the fastest ways to tweak everything about your PC is to use software like TweakNow, an app that I still use today even after reviewing it in 2011. Using an app like Tweaknow will help you with some of the tips in this article, but to really optimize for gaming, you’ll need to take a very focused approach to fine-tune the areas of performance that really matter. Simon shared a few useful tips a while back, but today I’d like to add a few more important tweaks to that list.
Tuning Your PC For Online Gaming
Yes, most of the gamers you ask about reducing lag will sneer at your PC and croak in reply, “Just get a PC that’s not a piece of crap.”
Well, that may be true, or it may not. Truth is, I’ve beaten down a fair number of those arrogant gamers that were running a quad core water-cooled gaming tower. Sure, performance matters, but given the fact that everyone faces the same bottleneck of the game server and the maximum limitations of Internet transmissions, what it really comes down to with online gaming is reducing your own computer’s lag to an insignificant level, and increasing your throughput to the maximum bandwidth possible on your Internet connection.
Lower Game Requirements
Yes, you could upgrade your system to the hilt, but if you aren’t exactly made of money, you can go from the other direction and just cut down the game requirements. Nearly every online game will have a menu screen where you can go into the Options or Settings. Experiment with different graphics options, reducing screen resolution, render quality, lower texture resolution, etc…
Yes, brilliant graphics make a game experience better, but if you don’t have a super-computer to process the graphics, then cut those down, reduce the workload for your PC and its graphics card, and you’ll see a huge performance increase. This is the single most important tip I offer to people when they complain about lag, and you’d be surprised how few of them even bothered considering changing the game graphics settings.
In addition to lowering the horsepower the game requires from your system, you can also tweak your own graphics card to reduce requirements for things like anti-alias and anisotropic filtering. These are two settings that gamers throughout the Internet suggest on game forums and blogs. Anti-aliasing is what reduces jagged edges of objects and makes them into smooth, high-quality graphics. Anisotropic filtering has to do with enhancing textures. You can usually find one or both of these settings by opening up your graphics card settings and going to the advanced or 3d settings.
Turn off those settings if you suspect your video card is not quite capable of holding up during the game. Again, your graphics quality may be reduced, but at the same time you’ll notice that lag time starts to disappear.
Also, make sure that you have the latest driver for your video card by right clicking on your My Computer icon, go to Properties, click on System, Device Manager, and click on Display Adapters. Check the make and model of your graphics card, and go to that manufacturer’s website to see if you have the most current driver for that graphics card.
Each of these things may only give you just a little bit less lag in the game, but in the end, when you’re going head to head with an expert marksman in an online shooting match, any reduction in lag will give you one more little advantage.
Reduce Your Processor Workload
In addition to reducing the workload on your graphics card, it’s also a good idea to reduce the load on your main processor, especially if you don’t have one of those impressive liquid cooled super-powered gaming systems.
Another useful tip to accomplish this is to shut down as many non-essential processes, services and applications that are running on your PC during the time that you’re playing online games.
There are lots of ways to do that. Some people like apps that take care of it for them like Soluto, but remember that’s another app install and a bit of bandwidth to give up. The fastest way is to scan through running processes and services and shut down all of the ones that are not critical to Windows operation. Do Cntrl-Alt-Delete, Task Manager, and then click on the Performance tab, and click the Resource Monitor button.
The resource monitor shows you the top culprits that are currently consuming your bandwidth or your network (or both).
I love the Resource Manager. Go through both lists, identify anything that isn’t a windows-centric app or to do with your antivirus software, right click and kill the process. If you can’t kill it here, go to the task manager and kill it there. But, since you’re dealing with important applications in here as well as the junk, always use caution. If in doubt, leave it alone.
Consider Your Network
Other things to shut down that will consume precious bandwidth and produce lag is any downloads you have going on (like the Torrent client you forgot you had running), or any peer-to-peer file sharing apps. Shut it all down, because you need all of that bandwidth devoted to your online game.
Don’t forget things like the Apple Store, and also double check the activity of other people in the house and make sure there’s no Netflix movie streaming or iTunes downloading going on, or you can forget about having a lag-free online game experience.
Best time to have a dedicated online gaming session? When the family is out of the house and you’ve got the place (and the network) to yourself!
Other things to consider – if you have the option to choose the type of Internet you have in your area, go with Cable over DSL. Cable is faster and more stable, it’s true. Cable is the medium for online gaming, and if you plan to do a lot of it, get cable internet if you can. Even better, opt for the highest bandwidth Internet package you can afford.
And please, don’t try to do online gaming with a Wi-Fi connection. Plug in a hard-wired Internet connection directly into your computer. With Wi-Fi, even with a good connection, you’ve got walls, obstructions and other household interference to consider. Run a wire from your router and plug it in, you’ll be glad you did.
Also, get a high-quality router. Most these days actually have gaming features that will optimize your network for gaming – if you haven’t upgraded your router in a while, do it now.
And finally, when you have a choice between online game servers, choose one that is nearest your geographic location. You may not think it matters because everything on the Internet is the speed of light, right? Wrong – you’ll see ping times change significantly for the servers in your back yard versus servers half-way across the world. It does matter, so choose the server you play on wisely.
Other Things to Consider
There is a whole long list of things you can do to optimize your gaming experience. The most important issues are mentioned above, but you might also consider a few of the following.
- If you can afford it, upgrade RAM (memory) and your graphics card. Those two upgrades can make a world of difference, and aren’t too expensive.
- Keep all drivers up to date, especially for your graphics card.
- Remember to defrag your hard drive. You may not think it matters much, but it can speed processing time slightly, and every little bit counts.
- Try playing without audio. If it’s not a game where you need to hear people creeping up behind you, consider turning off audio and saving bandwidth.
- If you want to get crazy, you can consider overclocking your system. This isn’t for the feint of heart (or for a weak system), but if you know what you’re doing it can give you a bit of a boost when playing games.
As you can see, all of these things individually may not make a huge difference (except for upgrading your graphics card), but added together they can make a huge impact on reducing or completely removing the lag you might experience in networked games. That means you run faster, race faster, shoot faster, and you can play better.
Do you use any of the techniques above to cut lag in online games? Do you know of any other tweaks or tricks? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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