Tweaking the settings on your graphics card can do a lot to improve play during gaming. We've put together some guidelines for obtaining good image quality, as well as for finding the right blend of quality and performance, when tweaking the settings.
Increase resolution before anti-aliasing
Sometimes, bumping up anti-aliasing will actually reduce the detail you see in the game.
Anti-aliasing tends to soften what you see on screen slightly, and running anti-aliasing at relatively low resolutions can often produce a game world that looks a little blurry. That's a result of the colour blending needed to create good anti-aliasing effects.
If you're running a game at, say, 1440x900 with anti-aliasing, consider turning off anti-aliasing and bumping the resolution up to 1680x1050.
The performance hit will be roughly the same, but you might see a little more game detail.
Don't turn up shadow detail
When you're playing a game, you're always in motion, and you probably won't stop to gaze at the scenery.
High shadow levels can seem very immersive - if you're standing still.
If you're constantly on the move, you may notice an absence of shadows, but you'll often not see the difference between medium shadows and high shadows.
Maxing out shadow levels can often cause a huge decrease in performance. Turn up this setting only after you've pumped up other image-quality settings and are still running at high frame rates.
Avoid DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 with low-cost graphics cards
Don't get me wrong: DX10 and DX11 can offer substantial increases in 3D graphics image quality.
And due to improved multithreading in the DirectX libraries and drivers, installing DirectX 11 can boost performance over DirectX 10 even if the game was developed prior to DirectX 11.
However, graphics board companies do buyers a disservice by advertising cheap versions of cards as being able to run the latest graphics APIs (application programming interfaces).
Technically, a Radeon HD 5450 can run DirectX 11 games in DirectX 11 mode - but the results will look like a slideshow.
Revert to DirectX 9 modes if you have a low-end GPU, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by higher frame rates.
Usually you can use the in-game control panel to change the mode, but sometimes you'll need a different executable or shortcut, such as with Tom Clancy's HAWX.
And with some games, the way to alter the mode is not always obvious.
For example, in Crysis, you enable the DirectX 9 mode by reducing the global detail settings to 'high' instead of 'very high'.
Experiment with anti-aliasing settings
Even if the game offers merely the usual 2x/4x/8x multisampling anti-aliasing schemes, those aren't your only choices.
Here's a case where using the Windows graphics card control panel may be more useful, because you can fool around with transparency anti-aliasing or other modes.
You can also turn on anti-aliasing modes that aren't available in-game, such as nVidia's CSAA (coverage sample anti-aliasing), which can offer good image quality with less of a performance hit than standard multisampling anti-aliasing.
If your game provides more than the usual settings, experiment with them. You may find that 8x CSAA on nVidia cards looks just as good as 4x multisampling anti-aliasing but offers better performance.
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