How to improve video performance without buying new video card

Your video card is a bit outdated but you don't feel it like upgrading right now. Is there any way to improve video performance without buying new video monster? Yes, there is.

Modern video drivers try to sacrifice graphics quality to video performance. Sometimes their attempts go beyond the point where games run fast but there's just no fun playing due to poor graphics. For most gamers, it is better to find their own balance between speed and neat picture.

Depending on your video card, you will need either NVidia ControlCenter or ATI Catalyst Control Center. It's usually available from menu that appears when you right-click your desktop, or in the system tray (provided that you installed either of these applications). Once there, head to "3D settings" section.

Feel free to experiment with settings available. There is one main slider with words "Performance" and "Quality" on each side. To reach our goal, you should move it closer to "Performance". Try spending some hours playing with each preset, and notice how they impact gameplay. If you still aren't happy after trying them all, it's time to take controls in your own hands.

In "3D Settings", find "Custom settings" or "All settings". Here's a list of some key values affecting performance and quality.

  • Antialiasing. The resource hog of all video cards. This setting makes picture smoother in exchange of reduced performance. For many users, the gains of extra antialiasing are not comparable to lags that it causes. 4x antialiasing is enough for most tasks, and shouldn't take much resources. If games are still running slow, try to set it to lowest setting possible or disable at all.
  • Anisotropic filtering. This feature is more significant yet eats less GPU resources. When anisotropic filtering is off, distant objects look a bit fogged, as if you had some eyesight disability. To avoid this, enable 4x or 8x anisotropic filtering and disable antialiasing. The picture should be much better yet performance is not so deadly slow.
  • Advanced antialiasing. Both major video card manufacturers have their own antialiasing technologies. ATI calls it "Adaptive Antialiasing" and NVidia goes for fancy name of "Transparency Antialiasing". Both of these techs eat LOTS of resources to make picture A LITTLE BIT smoother. Furthermore, some games look weird with these features enabled, so it is best to turn them off.
  • Mipmap level. This one is a bit similar to anisotropic filtering, except that it applies to textures. If it is off, faraway surfaces look like they were painted by drunk painter. Most modern cards support this feature without major performance losses, so you can safely set it high.

NVidia Control Center has some extra controls to play with. Most of these fancy features eat resources or behave unpredictably, especially in old games. So it is best to turn them off. If you have enough patience, you can read help texts that appear when you select each setting. These are quite handy when determining how much you want each of these features, and also are educational.

And finally last tip: for most of these features, you have to choose if driver or application settings are used for them. Whenever possible, set it up so that the driver overrides everything according to your settings, even if your games have preferences of their own. This will save you time, as you won't need to configure each game separately.