Tips from the Pad: Fixes for PC game lag

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Experiencing lag? We got you!

One of the many frustrations in gaming is experiencing a phenomenon called “lag”. That notorious moment where your game is not running the way it should or is slow to the point of being unplayable. This is oftentimes the primary reason why others rage quit or simply lose patience and interest in a game. After all, seeing your game stop every now and then is really quite annoying. Especially, if you know your machine is more than powerful enough to handle the job.

All hope is not lost though, especially if we’re talking about the PC platform, as there are ways to fix this ever so notorious problem. So, if you’re one of those gamers who is experiencing lag, don’t fret we got your back.

Author’s note: We’ll be dividing the fixes in this guide to software and hardware. Also, a fair warning, buckle up it’s a pretty long read so use the table of contents below to jump to your particular area of interest!

Software

First up, let’s talk about the fixes you can do right of the bat without changing any of the internal parts of your machine — Software fixes. Here are some of the things you can do on this side:

Changing graphics card settings

More often than not the most common reason why a game lags is because it’s using the wrong graphics card. Specifically, it might be using the integrated graphics of your machine, which is undoubtedly less powerful than its discrete one. Although, this is probably more common on laptops than desktops since they typically have two graphics cards.

Unless, of course, your desktop has multiple cards or its processor also has an integrated one. In any case, if this is the problem then a simple change in settings will do the trick. Changing settings works differently for Nvidia and AMD Radeon cards, we’ll walk you through both.

Nvidia

That’s Langrisser in the background if you’re wondering. 😂

For Nvidia users what you have to do is bring up the Nvidia Control Panel, which is done by right-clicking on your desktop and selecting it from the list. The control panel is where you can manage the settings of your Nvidia card/s. You have two options here:

  • Force your PC to solely use the Nvidia card on all its operations via the global settings.
  • Choose what GPU a specific program will use via the program settings.
Global Settings

If you wish for your machine to solely use its Nvidia card then all you have to do is select the “High-performance NVIDIA Processor” option on the drop-down menu at the global settings then hit “Apply”. This will force your PC to use just its Nvidia card in any and all activity. The biggest advantage to this is that you won’t be second guessing if your game is using the right GPU.

However, the downside is that even if you aren’t doing any heavy activity (gaming, video editing, etc.) your PC will still use your discrete GPU. This will be disadvantageous to laptops as it will drain battery life faster. So, this method is recommended only for desktop users or laptop users who spend most of their time plugged in.

Program Settings

On the other hand, if you only want to change the GPU usage of your specific game, then its best to head over to the program settings-side of the panel. From here, you can select a specific program via the drop-down list and choose which GPU it’ll use — integrated, discrete, or same as the global settings. If your game isn’t showing on the drop-down list then just click add and search for it.

This is the recommended method for laptop-users as it still allows your device to take advantage of the “Auto-select” global setting. The option that dynamically switches your GPU usage based on needs. Meaning, you can rest easy that your laptop will be using the minimum power it needs when you’re just doing light activities. Do take note though, this will only work for laptops with the “Nvidia Optimus” feature.

AMD Radeon

Note: Sadly, we have no access to a Radeon device as of writing. So, we weren’t able to provide a more detailed rundown of the Radeon Software features.

For those with an AMD Radeon card, all you need to do is download the Radeon Software found here. After that, the program will do most of the heavy lifting and shifting. It does still give you the option of customizing your graphics settings but for the most part, it will automatically use your Radeon GPU in games.

Changing in-game graphics settings

Sekiro’s in-game graphics settings!

We hear you, we hear you — “isn’t this common sense”? Well, actually, yes and no. Yes because this is the easiest and most obvious way of fixing lag. No, because changing the graphics settings of a game is more than adjusting graphics quality.

Then again, changing all settings to low and turning everything off is the easiest solution. So what if cranking every down still doesn’t work? Well, there might be another culprit to that, known as V-sync.

V-sync

Pathfinder Kingmaker Graphics Settings!

V-sync or vertical sync is a feature that matches the frame rate of your game to your monitor’s refresh rate. It helps in keeping visuals stable, intact, and visual artifacts, like screen tearing, at bay. While it sounds like a very helpful feature, V-sync actually puts a lot of strain on your system in order to keep your frame and refresh rates synchronized.

This is why you’ll feel a huge performance drop when it’s turned on. So, it’s often times recommended you keep it off to boost performance. In most cases, eliminating V-sync can double your frame rate, though at the cost of possibly experiencing screen tearing.

Screen Resolution

Conan Exiles Graphics Settings!

Another option you can try outside of graphics quality is lowering screen resolution. Of course, the lower the resolution, the fewer pixels your game has to push to your screen, effectively reducing overall stress to your system. Although, this will sometimes cause blurring and stretched images, especially when you lower the resolution from your monitor’s native one (ex. lowering resolution to 720 when your monitor is at 1080).

Yet that sometimes only happens if you have your game on fullscreen, changing it to windowed may remove those visual defects. On this regard, there isn’t much wiggle room for laptops since they only ever have one display option. Not to mention, the commonly available units only have 1080p resolution, with only a few having 4k.

So, this is actually more of an option for desktop users, who have an array of choices when it comes to monitors. As a reminder, if you have a high-res monitor, say 2k or 4k, make sure to double check if your game is running at your native resolution. If it is and your game is lagging, then consider lowering the screen resolution to, the very least, 1080p.

Reverting or Upgrading Graphics Drivers

Sometimes the reason why a game is not performing the way it should is it’s not receiving the proper software support or some certain update is messing around with it. This is when it’s time to consider checking your graphics driver, the software handling the communication between your GPU and system. Manufacturers, particularly Nvidia and AMD, are constantly updating their driver line-up to support the influx of games being released on the market.

With these constant updates, there are two things that can happen:

  • The new driver update provides better support for your particular game or is actually needed in order for you to play it.
  • The new update introduces changes that affected your particular game negatively.
Nvidia Drivers Patch Notes!

This is why it’s important to always check feedback whenever a manufacturer releases a driver update because it can either be a hit or miss. It’s also best to check out the patch notes for these drivers to be informed.

Now, Nvidia and AMD have different driver update programs, though they work almost the same way. Don’t worry though, we’ll walk you through both.

Nvidia Graphics Driver Update

Right then there are two ways for you to update your Nvidia Graphics Driver — Manually or Automatically via Nvidia’s GeForce Experience. Automatically updating your driver via GeForce Experience is a no-brainer, just open the program, select the drivers tab, and click download. The GeForce program will then proceed with the download and installation of your driver.

Manually updating, on the other hand, will require you to dig through Nvidia’s graphics driver portfolio over at their website. After sifting through the options and downloading your desired driver update, you simply run the installer. Like the GeForce program, the installer will do the work of removing the old driver and replacing it with the new version.

AMD Radeon Graphics Driver Update

As with Nvidia, AMD also has their own program for handling driver updates — AMD Radeon Settings. Like with the GeForce Experience program, the AMD Radeon Settings can automatically detect, download, and install your Radeon graphics driver. To update your driver just open up the program, select the updates menu at the lower left, then select “Check for Updates”.

Like Nvidia, AMD also has their website of drivers, if you wish to update manually. Like before, just sift through the settings, download your desired driver version, then run the setup. Alternatively, you can download their Auto-Detect and Install program here. It’s basically the same as downloading the driver manually except it removes the hassle of going through the entire AMD graphics card line-up.

Reverting Graphics Drivers

Alright then, updating graphics drivers look like a walk in the park but what if this new one is messing with your game? Well, the only solution to that is to revert to a previous version. Now, before we continue though, we’d like you to know that reverting back a driver update has its risks.

So, unless you know someone who has experience in doing this and can ask for help or have the confidence enough to try, then we advise that you stick with your version and just wait for a new update.

Display Driver Uninstaller

Right then, if you do have the confidence or you know someone who has experience then the next thing to do is get the necessary tools. You’ll need a driver uninstaller, the most widely used one is Display Driver Uninstaller (DDU). What DDU does is it removes all traces of a driver update, think of it as a permanent delete option.

Now, using DDU means that you’ll be left without a graphics driver, which is where problems may occur. Without a graphics driver your system won’t be able to communicate with your GPU, hence you might experience a malfunctioning display (ex. your display blinks every now and then) or you might not have one at all, it just becomes one big black screen.

In any case, all you have to do after deleting your old driver is install the one you want. Remember how you can download and search for a driver update manually? Then that’s what you have to do, just search for the driver version you want from your manufacturer’s website, download, then install.

Windows Revert Option

Now, if you don’t want to go through DDU, Windows actually has an option to revert to a previous driver version. This is done via right-clicking on start – selecting device manager – heading to display adapters – right-clicking on your GPU – selecting the driver tab – hitting Roll Back Driver.

After that, your system will automatically delete your current driver and reinstall your previous one. This is a safer method than using DDU. Although, it only allows you to revert to your previously installed driver. Meaning, if you want to revert to an even older one, you won’t be able to.

Hardware

Let’s now move on to the stuff you can do on the hardware side, where you’ll be able to do more direct changes. Actually, there are only two options you can do here — Upgrade parts (duh?!) and Cleaning. Let’s start with the most obvious one.

Upgrading Parts

Yes, yes, we hear you guys again “but isn’t this really really obvious?”. Well, yes it is but upgrading parts of your PC and laptop are actually the most obvious fix to any lag problems. After all, it may be time to accept that the problem isn’t the game or any software but your machine itself.

Rather, your machine can no longer handle the demands of the game. Right then, there are only a few parts you can upgrade that directly affects your device’s performance — namely RAM, GPU, CPU, and Cooling systems. CPU and GPU are rather self-explanatory, obviously upgrading to the newer components will improve performance. So, let’s talk more about the other two.

RAM

Razor sharp RAM!

Sadly, this option is only effective for desktop users as laptops only ever have one upgrade option, RAM. Still, it’s recommended for laptop users to at least have a minimum of 8GB of RAM for gaming. If you have lower than that, then we advise that you increase it. Another aspect to consider is using pairs of RAM sticks rather than just a big one (ex. two 4GBs instead of a single 8 or two 8GBs instead of a single 16). This is because your RAM will perform faster in a Dual, Triple, or even Quad channel setup.

Why? Well, in a dual, triple, or quad channel setup your RAM bandwidth is increased and your RAM modules are used simultaneously. Effectively increasing overall system performance. Some tests though proved that having these setups rarely affect gaming performance but there is no harm in gunning for it. After all, it does improve your system entirely.

Cooling Systems

A rig is never complete without RGB! (Corsair ML120 Pro RGB)

Again, this is more for desktop users as there is no way to possibly change a cooling system of a laptop, conventionally that is. Right then, another possible reason why your game is lagging, despite the capabilities of your system, is that your components are thermal throttling. What is thermal throttling exactly? Well, it’s an event where your component will lower its performance to keep itself cool. In this case, a processor or graphics card will lower its speed (Hz) to maintain safe temperatures.

Hence, the lag experience in some cases, because lower speeds equal lower performance. There are two reasons for a component to thermal throttle — your cooling system cannot handle the heat generated or your entire system is just plain dirty (from dust build-up). We’ll talk about how to solve that second problem, for now, let’s focus on how to improve your system’s cooling. There are a few ways to approach improving your cooling system, from just simply swapping fan positions to changing the fans or even completely changing your PC case.

Fans

The Cooler Master, MasterFan Pro 120!

Going to the specifics of fan positioning requires its own article, so for now what you’ll just have to understand is that your case must have proper airflow. Meaning, there should be fans in intake position (to take-in air) and fans on outake position (to blow out air).

These two must be balanced, having just intake or outake fans will spell doom for your system. Normally, a setup of two to three intake fans and a single outake is enough in creating proper case airflow. You’ll just have to adjust them accordingly depending on your case and your system.

Heatsink and Fan (HSF)

Of course, it’s still RGB! (Cryorig H7 Quad Lumi)

There’s also the case of your HSF, the one handling your CPU’s cooling. Most processors come with stock coolers, which are sometimes enough if you won’t be doing heavy activities. Then again, we are playing games, so throw those stock coolers out the window as they won’t be of any help. What you’ll need are more dedicated coolers.

So, if you are still using your stock cooler at this point then we recommend you swap it out for a third party one. There are a lot of options out there, so go with what you prefer. Although, we do recommend coolers from Cryorig and Noctua, if they fancy your style and budget.

All-in-One Coolers (AIO)

ID-Cooling AURAFLOW x 240! Yes, it’s RGB!

If you aren’t afraid of playing with a bit of water, then one option for your cooling system would be All-in-One Coolers (AIO). These coolers come with fans and a radiator for liquid cooling. Don’t worry these are your safest options when it comes to this type of cooling as they have the lowest risk of leakage.

These coolers come in a myriad of options from single 120mm to three 140mm blocks. So, we recommend checking your case’ support for radiators before heading to your local retailer for an AIO. The advantage of AIO’s over fans is that it has lower noise and better overall cooling performance.

PC Case

The Phanteks Eclipse P600S!

Last but not least in upgrading your cooling system is considering changing your PC Case. Yes, it will be a hassle to take apart your system then reassemble it again but the pain will be more than rewarding. So, why do we even have to consider changing cases? Well, your fan, AIO, and HSF will mean jack if your case itself has problems in airflow. That’s right, the way a case is built has a direct factor in how it handles the flow of air. Meaning, your case may also be the culprit on why your components are overheating.

Choosing a case is more than just getting the latest, biggest, or most expensive one. There are factors to consider as some cases are built with air cooling in mind, there are those that are built for liquid cooling, then there are those that are built just for the purpose of housing a PC (the worst kind). So, it’s best to do some research before you decide on what case to change to. Also take into consideration what kind of cooling system you have, whether air or liquid.

Repasting

The Cooler Master, MasterGel Maker!

The last option in improving your cooling system is considering replacing the thermal paste some of your components. This method is often referred to as “repasting”. Right then, thermal paste is a substance used on components for better heat conduction. For desktops, this is on your CPU, while for laptops it’s for both the CPU and GPU.

Its main purpose is to eliminate air gaps or spaces between interface surfaces to maximize heat transfer. Basically, it links together your CPU, GPU and its heatsink for better heat conduction. Meaning, a properly applied thermal paste will greatly help in keeping component temperatures down.

It’s generally recommended to repaste a laptop after purchase as factory paste are considered low-quality. Not to mention, they over apply paste making your components look like a sandwich, which actually lowers heat conduction. So, if you are experiencing thermal throttling right after buying your laptop, this might be the reason.

Repasting is important because as time goes by the paste dries up and no longer conducts heat properly. A dried paste is as much as an air gap as an actual air gap and will now be another factor in generating heat rather than eliminating it.

Cleaning

Okay, what if you already know you have a rock solid cooling system but still experience thermal throttling. Well, then it might be time to consider cleaning your PC or laptop as the culprit may now be dust buildup and a dirty system. Having a dirty fan or a clogged exhaust is sure to hamper your system’s cooling. After all, if an exhaust isn’t able to allow hot air to exit and a fan isn’t rotating at the right speeds, what use are they right?

So, what we’ll do here is a little bit of spring cleaning. For desktops, that’s taking out all your cooling systems, your case mesh, and even your graphics card for some dusting, wiping, and what not. Make sure to also dust off your other components inside such as your motherboard, PSU, and even the insides of the case. Basic rules of cleaning electronics apply here, do not, by the grace of God, use water on important components.

As for laptops, it’ll be a bit more complicated. Since this will require opening your device and taking apart some of the components. Unless you’re experienced with laptop disassembly, we recommend bringing it to a service center or a shop that handles cleaning to avoid any system damage.

It’s way easier to determine when to clean your desktop since you can clearly see whether it’s dirty or not. For laptops, it’s recommended to have it cleaned every 6 months, including repasting.

Final Reminders

Just a screenshot of Zelestiv playing Albion Online!

Remember that a game’s performance works both ways — your system must be able to handle its load and the developers should have optimized it for consumer use. That’s right, if all else fails and you’re sure you have a powerful enough and clean system then the problem may now be on the game itself. If that’s the case, then the only thing to do is wait for the developers to fix the issue.

Lastly (and this is plain obvious), if you are playing online, do not be quick to blame the game, its servers, or your system for the lag. Check your connection as it might be your internet that’s causing all the commotion. And that’s about it from us! If we missed or got anything wrong, do hit us up in the comments section below.

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