Playing a game on the PC usually provides a better experience than the same game on a console, with a few exceptions (Diablo 3, I’m looking at you). Yet many people still enjoy consoles, and it’s easy to see why. PCs are more complex and lack standardized components, which means there’s no guarantee a game will run, or run well.
While random strangeness does at time occur, must of the problems encountered by PC gamers fall into some familiar categories. Issues can usually be resolved as long as the source isn’t a bug in the game’s code. Let’s have a look at the five most common problems.
Artifacts And Glitches
Artifacts, or glitches, are a species easily identified by a graphical weirdness. Game geometry may be missing, inflated, or mal-formed, textures might appear strangely pixellated or colored, and portions of the screen may flicker, suffer from banding, or otherwise just look odd.
Problems like this are usually the result of the video card fumbling the information sent to it by a game. Outdated drivers are sometimes the culprit, and if you often run beta drivers, that too may be the cause. A quick Google search regarding the game displaying such glitches may point you in the direction of others who can tell you what driver version works best.
The other major cause is a graphics card that’s overheating and/or failing. Check your graphics card’s temperature using a tool like TThrottle; if your card is exceeding 100 degrees Celsius, it’s likely too hot. Should temperatures look fine, try downloading Furmark and running a stress test. If artifacts appear, your video card probably has one foot in the grave.
Excessive Lag Online
You line up the shot. You squeeze the trigger…er, mouse button. For a second, nothing happens. Then your shot fires, hitting the wall your opponent was standing on just a moment before.
Online lag is a very frustrating problem that, at times, can seem difficult to deal with. The minimum amount of lag you can expect is dictated by the quality of your Internet connection, but most people on broadband receive 100-200ms to servers in the same region. More than that might indicate a problem.
First, see if there are any downloads active on your network, including video streams. This can cause lag if your router is not prioritizing your game (which most don’t). Turn whatever you find downloading off, and then try the game again.
Should that not work, and you’re on WiFi, check the quality of your connection. You can just glance at the Windows signal strength monitor for a basic indication, but if you want something more precise, try PassMark WirelessMon. It’s $24 for the standard edition, but comes with a 30-day trial. Should you find your signal strength to be low, you can try to move your PC, connecting via Ethernet, or boosting your router’s signal.
Temporary Freezing / Hanging
Games are supposed to run more smoothly on the PC than on any competing platform, but that doesn’t always happen. Occasionally gamers run into a problem where a title seems to frequently freeze or hang, sometimes for several seconds at a time, before resuming normal play.
This is usually the result of a bottleneck in your computer’s performance. The hangs are caused by a sudden lack of resources, which forces the game to freeze while it waits for your computer to catch up.
Check to make sure that your computer’s RAM, video RAM, processor and hard drive meet the developer’s recommended specifications. If they do not, you may need to upgrade. If they do, download the latest video card drivers, clear out any unneeded background processes, and free up space on your hard drive (if less than 10% remains).
Tearing is a specific visual artifact that appears when the frames shown in a game seem to split into a top and bottom half, which do not align. In very severe cases, the split may even occur three or four times.
Unlike many other issues, this one is caused by too much performance. Most monitors have a 60 Hz refresh rate, which means that they only refresh their image 60 times a second. But a fast gaming PC can play many titles at much higher speeds. When the frames start to come in more quickly than the monitor can refresh, a refresh may contain information from multiple frames. And thus the problem.
The most popular fix is an in-game setting called V-sync which locks the game’s output to a certain maximum (usually 60 frames per second). If you want to spend some dough, you can also fix the problem by purchasing a monitor with a 120Hz refresh rate.
This problem is different from freezing/hanging because it happens at a much higher frequency, and each individual “hang” lasts for a millisecond at most. The problem may not even be noticeable at first glance, but only apparent during fast movement.
Multi-GPU setups are the most common cause of stuttering. While they theoretically act as one, in practice they’re not always perfectly in sync. This may mean frames arrive in an uneven pattern, which leads to the stuttering effect.
The obvious way to fix this is to disable one of your video cards, but that’s not ideal. If you use Nvidia, try downloading the latest drivers, as the company has largely solved the stuttering. AMD has not had as much luck, so far, but you can try their beta drivers.
PC games are much more reliable than they used to be, and these issues (if they even occur) are nowhere near as severe as the crashes and driver conflicts that were common just a decade ago. And if you want to ensure the best possible gaming experience, you can also check out these tips and tweaks to optimize your Windows 10 for gaming.
Image Credit: Dark Legacy Comics, John Nigel