Optimizing System Performance...

For help with SW3DG game related technical problems or configuring/optimizing your computer for the games.

Optimizing System Performance...

Postby Vice » Thu Oct 04, 2007 4:47 pm

This thread is being posted to help anyone encountering performance problems in SW3DG games or any game in general. It may be edited from time to time.

The problems:

Freezing - Entire system locks up, audio can sound like it's stuck in a loop
CTD (crash to desktop) - With or without an error message dialog box
Sound stuttering, chopping, and/or static - Can effect sounds or music
Low framerate performance - Especially on a system that should perform better
Frequent pausing with hard drive activity - Often occurs with other problems
Error messages (10, 31, 32, 93, 94 and 99 for SW3DG games) - The game is not able to load media it needs

The solutions to try:

Background tasks (including anti-virus and anti-spyware) - The more background tasks your system has running, the fewer resources it has to run a game. Some background tasks, such as A/V and A/S programs (reported by many gamers) like Norton, McAffee, AVG, and Spyware Doctor, can also interfere with games, preventing them from accessing media/resources they need. Obviously, you'll need to be aware of any security and/or operation implications disabling certain programs may have, then disabling unnecessary background programs (even just temporarily while you play a game) can give your system the resources it needs to run a game reliably and with the best performance it can. Individually, persistent background programs/tasks may not use much of your system's resources, but combined they can have a signifigant impact on its stability and performance. You can check the available physical memory your system has by clicking on Start > Run > type in MSINFO32 and press enter. On the system summary screen, the value listed next to 'Available Physical Memory' is how much RAM your system has left to work with. Ideally, this should be most of what your system has installed and not less than about 500 MB minimum for reliably playing most recent games. To check the list of programs currently running on your system, press Control-Alt-Delete to bring up the task manager, then click on the Processes tab. You can check the list of programs that launch when your computer starts up by clicking on Start > Run > type in MSCONFIG and press enter. Then click on the Startup tab. You'll see a list of programs with checkboxes next to them. Most of these programs are not needed, you can usually still access the programs they're affiliated with. Simply uncheck the boxes next to the programs you want to disable, leaving those related to Windows and your video/sound system. Then you can restart your system and check the impact the changes had on the available physical memory. If you disable something that you decide needs to be running, you can simply recheck the box in the startup. It's a good habit to get into to check the programs your system is loading any time you install new software as many programs plant startup tasks on your system without prompting you. Some software developers are starting to treat your system as a gateway for advertising, monitoring your activities/your use of their software, and automatic background updating. And to do these things, they will run a program in the background that uses some of your system's resources. It's a good idea to remain aware of what's running on your system and what function(s) those programs may be performing. Checking like this can also alert you to possible spyware and adware that could be running in the background. A recommended anti-virus program that doesn't seem to interfere with too many games or other applications is Avast (it's currently free). Some recommended programs for anti-spyware and anti-adware that are low on system resource use and don't seem to cause interference problems with games include SpyBot and Ad-aware. It's a good idea to run periodic checks on your system using tools like this as spyware and adware can also impact your system's stability and performance, in addition to the privacy problems they pose.

Dual Channel - On DDR capable systems, enabling dual channel can have a dramatic impact on performance. Most systems made in the last few years support the dual channel memory mode for DDR memory (DDR400/PC3200 memory for example), but it often is only enabled under certain conditions and the performance difference can be very dramatic. You can usually check that dual channel is enabled in your BIOS configuration screen. Here are the conditions I'm aware of that can cause your system to not use dual channel, resulting in a performance decrease:

- If you are using 1 memory slot out of two or four.
- If you are using 3 memory slots out of four.
- If the memory you've installed is different in paired slots (example: slot 1 has a 512 MB stick, slot 2 has a 1 GB stick, or the speeds are different).

If any of these conditions apply, then your system may not be able to enabled dual channel. On some systems, the memory sticks are just in the wrong slots and simply need to be repositioned into matching pairs. In others, one more stick is just needed of matching speed and capacity. Whenever you buy additional memory, make sure to install matching sticks in each pair of slots. Once dual channel is enabled, the performance improvement can be major. Windows Vista includes a performance analysis and with a system I worked on recently, the memory test score went from 3.5 to 4.9. Framerates while gaming improved about 25%-40% on average.

This can be a low cost (free in some cases) way to improve your system's performance if you determine that dual channel is not enabled. It may also help resolve sound stuttering issues and other performance related problems you may experience in games.

Settings - Another step is changing the settings in the game. Most games let you reduce detail, including the display resolution. Try changing various video/detail settings and measure the performance changes, if any. In addition to in-game settings, also check the control panel for your video card (usually accessed by double clicking on the ATI/Nvidia icon on the taskbar). Setting anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering to 'Application Preference' can often increase performance if it was previously set to something else. There are also other performance options in the control panel that you can try.

Drivers - Updating the drivers for your video card and sound system can improve performance. Some audio stuttering problems are often resolved with a driver update. Updating video drivers can also sometimes improve reliability.

Upgrading - If none of the other steps provide sufficient performance, an upgrade may be necessary to further improve performance. A better video card is often the best way to improve performance the most. Make sure you find one that works with the motherboard in your system (AGP or PCI-E for example) and that the power supply is sufficient for the model you're considering. Memory (see the dual channel section above) and processor upgrades are additional options.

[Edited on 1-10-2009 by Vice]
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