Feature Article

How to Optimize Your PC for Gaming

Energize!

Gaming PCs are complex beasts that occasionally need to be tamed into submission before they're capable of performing their greatest feats. With a few simple steps, you can get the most out of your hardware and see better in-game performance as a result, and you don't have to be a tech enthusiast to make it happen. The following are some simple but effective steps that will help you increase your PC's performance while gaming.

Update Your GPU Drivers

Gaming PCs ride and die by the strength of their components, but drivers, the software that allows your operating system to communicate with your computer's hardware, dictate how well the two play together. It's critical to install drivers anyway, but it's important to make sure they're up to date over time. Graphics card manufacturers like Nvidia and AMD regularly update their drivers to improve performance, but also to make sure new games play well with their products. Watch Dogs was a good example of a highly-anticipated game that failed to play nice with all hardware at launch, and it took driver updates from both AMD and Nvidia to smooth these issues out. This isn't the first case of this happening, and it probably won't be the last.

How to do it: Keep an eye on Nvidia's driver page and AMD's driver page.

Nvidia's GeForce Experience software makes upgrading your drivers and optimizing settings a simple affair.

Optimize Settings with GeForce Experience and AMD Gaming Evolved

Both Nvidia and AMD provide software suites that do a score of things for games, but it's the game optimization settings in each that might prove useful for players who need help determining the best in-game visual settings relative to their hardware. Nvidia and AMD have been seamlessly gathering information related to hardware, in-game settings, and frame rate data from their customers, which allows them to determine scalable presets for games and distinct hardware configurations. Using their respective suites, Nvidia GeForce Experience and AMD Gaming Evolved, you can easily tailor game settings using a convenient slider that targets performance or visual quality, based on your preference. If you aren't sure what settings to change in order to get better performance out of your hardware, and the game that you're trying to set up doesn't include presets of its own, Nvidias and AMDs tools are good places to start. And, if you want to know more about what graphics settings in games actually mean, we've got a handy guide with everything you need to know.

How to do it: Download GeForce Experience, or AMD Gaming Evolved.

Defragment Your Hard Drive to Increase its Speed and Lifespan

(Editors note: the following tip does not apply to computers with solid state drives as defragmenting them can decrease the longevity of the hardware.)

After years, and even months of use, hard drives tend to get a bit disorganized. You may have everything neatly stored within series of clearly labelled folders, but that doesn't mean your data is distributed sequentially across the discs inside your drive. Any time you delete something, your computer will then write to that unused space in the future, and things can get messy fast. To account for this, your computer keeps track of where data is stored across your drive, but you should still care if your hard drives are fragmented: it causes your hard drive to work harder, and can slow down its read rate.

For example: if an application needs to load a large, fragmented file that's scattered across the physical surface of the discs, it will take longer to load them than it would have if it was stored sequentially. Defragmenting your hard drive will improve its internal organization by properly sorting everything, and it can provide incremental, but noticeable, speed boosts.

How to do it: Type "defrag" into your windows search bar and open the Optimize Drives app. If you aren't sure whether or not you should defragment your drive, which can take anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour depending on the size of the drive and the extent of its fragmentation, choose the "analyze" option before proceeding to get an idea of what you're working with. You also have the option to schedule regular hard drive optimization, should you prefer a more hands-off approach.

Improve Game Settings with User Mods

It's a near universal truth that games which are developed for both PCs and consoles perform best on PC. But, in the case of a game that's initially developed as a console exclusive, a PC port after the fact doesn't always follow that rule. The PC community was noticeably underwhelmed by the PC ports of Grand Theft Auto IV and Dark Souls, for example, and it was up to modders to come up with technical fixes. In the case of Dark Souls, the PC port was originally limited to a resolution of 1280x720 and 30 frames per second. In comes DSFix from Durante, which unlocks Dark Souls' resolution and frame rate, in addition to remedying any accompanying bugs. While you can't always count on good samaritans to pick up the slack, there's always a chance that someone finds ways to boost in-game performance for your favorite titles.

How to do it: Keep an eye on the Steam forums for any game that's presenting unusual rendering issues.

Eliminate Unnecessary Applications Running in the Background

It would be nice if your computer was able to dedicate all of its resources to games while you're playing, but there's always an OS in the background, plus associated services, and if you're like most people, third party apps, taking up small but meaningful amounts of resources from your CPU, hard drive, and RAM. While you can't disable Windows altogether, with an app like Game Booster from Razer, you can eliminate many of the background processes that you don't need while gaming. Game Booster allows you to do this manually or automatically when you launch a game, and you can tell it to ignore certain apps and services if you need them to remain active at all times.

If you'd prefer to do things your own way, it's possible to reduce some of your system's overhead within Windows alone. If you're running Windows 7, search for "msconfig.exe" and look for any uncritical tasks under the "startup" tab. For Windows 8, or 8.1, enter the task manager by pressing the CTRL, ALT, and delete buttons simultaneously, and proceed to uncheck items under the startup tab within that window. When taking the manual route, beware: Razer's Game Booster knows to avoid disabling certain system-critical tasks, but you run the risk of temporarily hindering your OS and hardware when you take the manual approach. Be judicious and avoid disabling anything that looks like it's related to Windows itself, or your hardware, and you should be OK. Also, be sure to check your computer for spyware and adware on a regular basis with software such as Spybot - Search and Destroy, as it's unlikely that you'll be able to catch these resource hogs on your own.

How to do it: Equip yourself with Game Booster, Spybot, and CCleaner.

If All Else Fails, Upgrade Your Hardware

Every recommendation up until this point has been software related, but you're eventually going to have to bite the bullet and upgrade your hardware in order to keep up with the pace of PC gaming. Watch Dogs is the first example of a game that's tipped the hardware requirements scale by asking for a minimum of 6 GB of RAM, and it's surely not the last. RAM is the cheapest and easiest way to upgrade your machine, and it's quite possible to acquire 16 GB of RAM for less than $200. If, however, your GPU is more than a few years old, RAM will only get you so far. Upgrading your GPU will have a significant impact on your PC's in-game performance, but choosing one can be tricky given that there are dozens to choose from, at prices ranging from $150 to over $1,000. When choosing your GPU, there are a lot of factors to consider, so if you need some guidance, head on over to our freshly baked GPU guide: Everything You Need to Know to Build a PC: GPUs.

Upgrading your GPU without considering your CPU and power supply would be a misstep, because you may risk bottlenecking the performance of a high-end GPU, or worse, find yourself short on power for all of your shiny new hardware. In some cases, you can replace these parts along with your GPU, which can significantly increase the performance of your PC, but if you're working with an older motherboard as well, you may find that there aren't any new CPUs that fit the mold, and you should consider building, or purchasing, an entirely new gaming PC. It isn't cheap, but it's an inevitability if you want to be able to play PC games in the long run. On the other hand, as seen in the video below, you can still build a decent gaming PC if you're working with a modest budget.

If you want to avoid buying a new PC altogether, there are ways to tweak your computer a bit and extend the life of your hardware. Overclocking is an option that we didn't mention here, but it's something we'll address in a future article that will allow for the attention the topic deserves. Overclocking can be a great shot in the arm for a PC that needs a little extra kick, but it's not something we can summarize in a paragraph or two.

In the meantime, give the options here a try, and if you have any other ideas that may help your fellow PC gamers, let us know in the comments below.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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doc-brown

Peter Brown

Peter is an Editor at GameSpot who's passionate about gaming hardware and the preservation of classic video games.
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452 comments
zefur
zefur

Basically, this article is common sense typed out.

fanirama
fanirama

Upgrade HW? Or you just buy all good components once, lock it down as a reference one and create a .... console. 

Or just buy a console which is optimized for gaming and looks and plays quite well. 


I have a gaming PC and gaming laptop and consoles and I game on all of them. I prefer consoles at times due to the ease of gaming, consistency in experience across consoles. PCs can display higher resolutions (but 95% of the time it is not noticeable nor worth it). PC's best reasons for me are - 3D gaming with nvidia 3d vision, mods and cheap sales on Steam now and then. Some games also play better with keyboard and mouse but I prefer playing with a controller on a pc most times. Easy, fast, just as accurate for my liking. 


I cannot keep up with the expensive PC HW upgrades to eke out a few fps which are meaningless. Hell, visited 30vs60.com, showed them to many and most couldn't pick out which was better - 30 or 60 90% of the time. 

Unscientific test, sure, but they claimed to be hardcore gamers (play Dark Souls, sports games, Diablo etc.)

So it is a matter of opinion and perspective. 

Give me consistent great gaming experience and I am set

starjay009
starjay009

I really wished Gamespot took the time to also state how bug ridden PC gaming is. In that, it's actually not the PC owners' fault but the devs fault for producing crappy ports and poorly designed games for the platform. I have said this before and I will say it numerous times again; HALF LIFE 2 remains the BEST PC game ever. Half Life 2 was originally released back in 2004 as a PC ONLY title and then eventually released on the 360 and PS3. That game ran flawlessly on ANY and EVERY rig. Valve proved that PC games can be flawless if the devs take the time to test, optimize and debug their games. Sadly that doesn't happen nowadays. Hopefully, with the PS4 and Xbox 1 proving to be nothing but PCs in a way, the devs can now make games that are stable across platforms and give more power to consumers to choose their way of gaming. But to me, what stands out immensely when it comes to PC gaming is the fact you get to MOD your game IF that game supports those features. Skyrim on PC is a totally different beast than Skyrim on the 360 and PS3. That's just one example.  

solartiger
solartiger

Huh?!?...from classics to modern...PC's library is vast!

Enforcer246
Enforcer246

People seem to forget that the PC's library isn't all that great.

epic_sam
epic_sam

"If All Else Fails, Upgrade Your Hardware"

If that were possible with a laptop...

highpitcairn
highpitcairn

I Never play games on high since i care about Framerate>Graphics

tavo000
tavo000

Defragment Your Hard Drive to Increase its Speed and Lifespan     have to try

TonicBH
TonicBH

There's only one thing I will disagree with: Do *NOT* install Spybot S&D as an anti-spyware program. While it was useful many many years ago, it is absolutely abysmal for anti-spyware in 2014. Go look up a PC Magazine review about Spybot, it's considered one of the worst out there.


If you want a REALLY reliable anti-spyware, it's Malwarebytes, hands down. Pick up the free version, scan your PC once a month, and you're golden. Don't even need to pay for it. Other than that, the rest of the info here is pretty reliable.

g4mlok
g4mlok

Where's the cost of the Keyboard, mouse, controller, mouse pad, monitor ( if you don't have one), sound system? It's budget because you left half of it out. The sooner PC gamers stick to themselves and console gamers stick to themselves the better! This constant comparison between pc and consoles is so dumb - they're not even remotely the same. Consoles are consoles and pcs are pcs- they are not the same so stop comparing!

Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

"How to Optimize Your PC for Gaming"

...easy, get your money back and buy a console. No one likes a PC snob anyways. Problem solved.

taker254isback
taker254isback

an i5 or fx 6300 and above, 8gb of ram and above, 7200rpm HDD and above, r9 270x/gtx 660 and above, a good 80 plus PSU 550 watt and above, and a solid MOBO that's all u need basically to have a good rig

Vodoo
Vodoo

I have a nice Asus i7 laptop with both a 256GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD & 1TB HDD connected, along with 24GB's of RAM. I think it's a GTX 765M card in there. But I rarely use it for games. I'm having a hard time putting down the consoles and picking up the pc.

On a side note: My laptop originally came with the 1TB hdd occupying 1 of the 2 drive bays. When I installed the SSD I made it the OS drive, but instead of cloning the HDD to the SSD, I did a clean install. It took me about a week to get it working because most laptops don't come with backup discs anymore. Instead your backup is a separate partition on the original drive. It took me forever to find the proper ISO to use with my Windows key. I should've just cloned it lol.

donalbane
donalbane

As a longtime PC gamer, it's funny to see how much easier these optimization articles have become.  "Run GeForce Experience" is a far cry from the old guides that read like computer science textbooks.  I did appreciate learning about Game Booster.., that's helpful to know about, albeit similarly automated.

Rushaoz
Rushaoz

Bunch of console peasants in here still don't get it. It's going to take years of Gamespot PC articles to get the people to understand that a PC will always unleash a games true potential much better than a console can. Whether it be through higher resolution and more detailed visuals, mods, the amount of money Steam saves you or the freedom to play games for free online. 

lilflipp
lilflipp

One does not simply "optimize" his Ubisoft game.

lonesamurai1
lonesamurai1

To bad you cant' optimize the PS4 for playing games at a higher framerate than 30fps on everything, I mean it is supposed to be the chosen console, and the  "Supercharged PC" type.

Halloll
Halloll

how to optimize Xbox One? remove Kinect.

Halloll
Halloll

the only thing that makes a difference that you could do is upgrading your hardware. updates, drivers and patches are done by the developers if you're lucky.

zizo490
zizo490

it shouldn't be how to optimize but how to afford xD

dustdevil15
dustdevil15

@starjay009 It could be an unsuccessful attempt on behalf of game developers to try and shift gamers' attention to consoles. They're basically trying to say "Hey, consoles are more optimized for gaming!" When in reality, a PC with top notch specs beats a PS4 or Xbox One visually any day. I mean, PCs are the most popular gaming platform for a reason, it may be time for them to embrace that instead of launching massive ad campaigns for new consoles every decade.

dannydopamine8
dannydopamine8

@starjay009 Damn dude you are seriously mistaken if you think half life 2 is the only optimized pc game. You must live under a rock

And half life 2 best game ever? Last time i checked it's just a regular first person shooter. I couldn't even finish it because i just got bored of shooting those guys in white masks and head-chompers over and over.

But i do agree a lot of developers these days do a lousy job on PC version of their games, But they always remember to charge us the same exact price. Figures. I am surprised there is no sort of legal quality control standards to prevent this. I mean some games are so insultingly ported that it says "Press x to begin" right on the main menu. 

But more and more these days i have been hearing the same types of issues on consoles as well. Fps drops, even crashes/freezing. 

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@Enforcer246 Do you have to strain to say something this stupid?

Don't get me wrong, in that I am much more into consoles than PC gaming (Hardware upgrades piss me off) but if you are going to knock something, have it at least be true.

PC has the most varied, extensive, and impressive games ever to be released.

dustdevil15
dustdevil15

@epic_sam If you're going to purchase a gaming platform that you can't even upgrade, then I would honestly just buy a next-gen console as opposed to a laptop.

giedrius1001
giedrius1001

Whats the point to play shooters like crysis on 60 fps when graphics on low looks like half-life 1??? If Its any point to play all games on 60 fps if they look like crap??? Graphics is what pushing gaming technologies forward and of course all gaming industry, graphics is almost everything in video games, no graphics, no elder scrolls, no gta, no crysis, no nothing!

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@tavo000 Yeah you should be de-fragmenting your computer every 1-3 months.

Everyone should.

magicmase
magicmase

@TonicBH True, but you don't need either if you know how to tread online and have a reliable antivirus (to each his own but I use Norton 360). Btw it helps to always be wary of free software, read before you click install...or anything else for that matter and only download from official sites.

magicmase
magicmase


@Gravity_Slave If all you ever do is pop a disc in and out and hold a controller you are well on your way to the grave. Playing console games kills your brain cells...nuff said.
Now trash that retarded box, become a learned PC snob & live forever.

skopas
skopas

@Gravity_Slave ...lol  never. Havent bought a console never will.  Until xbox can run my 8 core, I'll rest my case.

Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

Lol @rushaoz

You are the poster boy for elitist PC Dbags every where. You think spending 3-4 times more on a gaming platform that lasts half as long makes you better.

My Xbox One and PS4 will last 10+ years....where will your expensive gaming rig be then?

My guess is in a land fill polluting the ground water....PC snob

magicmase
magicmase

@dannydopamine8 Only a noob would call Half-life 2 a regular FPS, not surprised you couldn't finish it due to your ineptness which you mask as boredom. Please stop whining and learn to use the gravity gun Mr. Trigger happy gamer. Its shameful.

mbloof
mbloof

@dustdevil15 @epic_sam Ahh but try to lug that console+TV+power source to the park!

Granted most "gaming laptops" are ether way underpowered or no-so-portable or both they are almost always way overpriced. There are but a few rare exceptions that a device is both portable and offers enough power to play games that are a few years old.

However, unless your able to satisfy your "gaming fix" on your cell phone or tablet a laptop with some game playing abilities is better than one which has no hope of playing anything - even at reduced frame rates and resolution+quality.


(A collection of Nintendo handheld hardware+games CAN offer up a decent gaming fix much better than a cell phone/tablet or even a laptop can do and is MUCH more portable to boot!)

magicmase
magicmase

@VenkmanPHD @tavo000 Defragmenting is seriously overrated. Instead get rid of useless programs you don't need and always have ample free space

magicmase
magicmase

@Gravity_Slave Not trying to make your statement hopelessly inadequate, but the console is an endless circle of defeat. It was specifically designed for those not intelligent enough (or too lazy) to learn to use a PC for more than word-processing. Your shiny new boxes will be obsolete in a few years...because my PC made them.
Don't feel bad, we got you covered. Will design a new box for you soon.

dustdevil15
dustdevil15

@Gravity_Slave Honestly, instead of purchasing an Xbox One and PS4, I would just buy a PS4 and a PC. That way you have access to a massive library of fantastic classic games on Steam, but you can also play all the exclusive titles that Sony has to offer.

demrocks
demrocks

@Gravity_Slave while you pay 60 or 70 euro for games we pay almost half.

Go back to your console kiddo, dont talk trash if you dont understand a word of it.

I buy tons of games so in the end my gaming rig pays for itself lol.


Rushaoz
Rushaoz

And you are the poster boy for console ignorance and Bieber lovers. Not interested in talking to you so keep it moving.

dannydopamine8
dannydopamine8

@magicmase @dannydopamine8 

Half life 2 engine changed gaming forever, it is still probably one of the best engines of all time.

But half life 2 as a game is just a regular first person shooter. How is it in any way better or worse than all the others? Seriously.. Tell me. It's linear, has no reward or perk system, has a limited selection of weapons, has maybe three enemy types throughout the entire three episodes. Seriously. Tell me what makes half life 2 the holy grail? The story? I've played games with 100x more engaging stories than half life.


It's like one of those things you are "SUPPOSED" to like because everyone tells you that you have to. Like pulp fiction or fight club


half life 1 was actually a much better game as whole

dustdevil15
dustdevil15

@epic_sam @dustdevil15 Just saying it would be better than a laptop, obviously a high end gaming desktop would be the most ideal but not everyone can afford that.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@magicmase @VenkmanPHD @tavo000 Well yeah, I figured that was just kind of assumed...

but you need to defragment after you uninstall a bunch of crap.

That's WHOLE point of defragmentation, to fix the holes your uninstalls leave behind.

dustdevil15
dustdevil15

@epic_sam @dustdevil15 Well, for example a laptop screen can only be so large, whereas with a console there's pretty much no limit to the size of the screen you play on. I also understand that they don't last very long, and additionally, have you seen the price of a high-end alienware or razer laptop?? Those things can run you more cash than a desktop, even if the specs aren't as good. You say you would hate to become a console peasant, well, PC elitists are just as annoying. I prefer to play on my PC and consoles, because it's not a war. You can play on both platforms and be indifferent, you know. You don't have to condemn people who play on consoles, and vice versa.