With desktop computers, you can upgrade the hardware. Laptop users will probably know that they can only replace the memory (and perhaps the hard drive) with an upgrade. So, what can you do to ensure your favorite games will play well on your laptop?
These 10 tips (mostly intended for Windows 10) will definitely make a difference.
1. Keep Your Laptop Clean and Dust-Free
Once the heat builds, the processor, GPU, and most other components will slow down. This doesn’t make for an effective gaming machine.
But it isn’t just the vents on your laptop that you need to keep clear. If you’re using the keyboard regularly (a staple of PC gaming) it’s important to ensure there is no dust, food, or other matter able to cause sticky keys. For that matter, you don’t want a mucky screen, either.
Our guide to cleaning your laptop computer will help here.
2. Update Your Drivers
There was a time when having the right drivers installed on a Windows PC was considered something of a joke. It was usually initiated by the hardcore Apple Mac users, and worked simply because those computers had such a limited range of hardware available. Any devices that would work already had the drivers installed.
However, when it comes to graphic drivers, you might need a more hands-on approach. While Intel graphics — largely unsuitable for hardcore gaming — will enjoy updated drivers via a Windows update, your third-party graphics provider doesn’t offer that option. Instead, it’s vital that you ensure the management software (such as Nvidia GeForce or AMD Gaming Evolved) is set to automatically update.
3. Install the Latest DirectX Version
A collection of software tools that facilitate the graphics in a video game, DirectX is vital to gaming on Windows (and even on the Xbox consoles). Various iterations of DirectX have seen release over the years. For instance, the last version of DirectX to run on Windows XP was DirectX 9.0. If you’re looking for ways to improve performance on your laptop, you shouldn’t be running this…
To check your current DirectX version, press WIN + R to open the Run menu and enter dxdiag. Wait for the DirectX Diagnostic Tool (DXDiag) to load, then open the Render tab. Here, you’ll find information about your dedicated graphics card. In the Drivers pane, look for Direct3D DDI — this should be numbered according to the latest version of DirectX.
As well as having your graphic drivers up to date, it is worth ensuring that your audio drivers are fit for gaming. You can check your audio driver status in the Sound tab of DXDiag, where the date of the installed driver can be found. Note also that Input device drivers are summarized here too.
4. Overclock the GPU
Perhaps a bit risky for the beginner, overclocking can force some additional performance out of the graphics card. Tools are available for both AMD and Nvidia GPUs, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with this.
The main problems are with power and heat. Overclocking uses more electricity, so you’ll need to adjust your computer’s power settings appropriately (see below). But overclocking also increases the heat of the GPU. Usually, this is handled by the laptop’s built-in cooling system. This network of heatsinks and fans must be regularly cleaned, as outlined in #1. If not, your laptop will automatically shut down — as a safety precaution — as soon as it gets too hot.
Looking for an overclocking tool for your GPU? The most popular at present is MSI Afterburner, which is suitable for Nvidia and AMD graphics cards.
5. Adjust Your Computer’s Power Settings
We’re focusing on improving performance, and few devices can enjoy improved operation without effective power management. When it comes to laptops — devices that are intended for use away from a permanent power source — power management is a big deal.
Windows gives you some detailed power management options, but using a laptop often means that these are overlooked in favor of maintaining the battery. This makes sense, but for a strong gaming experience, you should have your laptop connected to a power outlet.
Once this is done, it’s time to look at your computer’s power settings. In Windows 10, you can open Settings > System > Power and sleep > Additional power settings and select the High performance option. It’s also worth clicking Change plan settings > Change advanced power settings to check you haven’t previously adjusted anything here. You don’t want less-than-optimum power settings when squeezing gaming performance from your laptop.
6. Employ Game Mode in Windows 10
To activate this, call up the Xbox panel by pressing WIN + G after the game has launched (preferably with the game menu on screen) and click Settings. In the General tab, click the check in the Use Game Mode for this game box.
7. Close Background Apps
We’re assuming you’re running Windows 10 for many of these tips. But if not, you don’t have Game Mode. Fortunately, there is a manual change you can make to your laptop before you launch a game. Before you click Play in Steam, or double-click the icon on your desktop, ensure all other apps (and even games) are closed.
Once you’ve done that, take a look at the System Tray. This part of the Windows taskbar lists apps that are running in the background. Right-click each icon and close it. You may like to keep your graphics card management app or a voice chat tool like Discord open, of course!
All that should be running in the taskbar before you launch the game is your digital download service… or nothing at all.
8. Online Gamers: Check Your Network Speed
Gaming performance for your laptop is mostly determined by your hardware, drivers, and how your computer is configured. But if you’re playing online games, there is one other element to take into account: your internet connection speed.
9. Manage Automatic Updates
Unfortunately, you can’t disable Windows Updates permanently, so you have the following options:
- Keep your computer offline.
- Install updates as soon as prompted.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to completely disconnect from the internet if you’re using a gaming laptop, so installing those updates as soon as possible is the best answer.
However, it isn’t only the operating system that pushes updates out. Digital delivery systems such as Steam use them too. There’s a chance that a second game will download updates in the background while you’re playing another game. To avoid it, open Steam, and head to Steam > Settings. In the Downloads tab, ensure the Allow downloads during gameplay check box is cleared. Click OK to confirm this change.
10. Adjust Texture and Shader Settings
Finally, it’s worth looking at your graphics card settings. Here, you’ll find master controls for texture and shader details, which will determine how your games look. The memory available to your laptop’s GPU limits what options are available here, so it’s usually good to select a configuration that offers performance over looks. In short, high-resolution textures will consume your RAM, impacting frame rate.
Note that you can also give individual games their own texture and shader preferences here. This is useful if an older game is capable of running with high settings. Meanwhile, you’ll still be able to adjust individual games’ video settings as they play, from the video/display settings screen.
It can take a while to find the optimum video settings for games. Once you’ve established that performance-quality tradeoff, however, you’ll see that it was worth the effort.
Laptop Gaming Performance: Improved!
- Regularly clean your laptop.
- Update your drivers (especially for the GPU).
- Install the latest version of DirectX.
- Overclock the GPU.
- Optimize the power settings.
- Activate Windows 10’s Game Mode.
- Close background apps.
- Check the network speed for online gaming.
- Disable automatic updates for games and the operating system.
- Adjust texture and shader settings.
For desktop computers, upgrading your hardware can have a massive impact on gaming; as a laptop user you’re limited. You can’t upgrade the graphics card or processor in the overwhelming majority of laptop computers. That’s why these ten tips are so vital to improving gaming performance. Check our general PC gaming performance tips for more advice.
Have you tried these tips to improve laptop gaming performance? Perhaps you have one of your own? Tell us about it in the comments.
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