There’s one enemy that gamers fear more than any digital foe: lag. Slow and choppy PC performance breaks your immersion and can cost you a hard-fought victory in competitive games. Moreover, it’s often hard to pin down exactly what’s causing the lag, turning troubleshooting into a frustrating game of trial and error.
If your laggy gaming PC has you at your wit’s end, we’re here to help. These tips will aid you in identifying (and defeating) whatever evil forces are slowing your PC down.
Make sure you’ve installed the latest drivers and software updates.
Much as a Ferrari still needs oil changes, even the fanciest prebuilt gaming PC with all the fixin’s needs to be regularly updated. Thus, before you even start troubleshooting, take a few minutes to ensure you’ve got everything up to date:
- Although Windows generally updates itself automatically, it’s worth checking your Windows update settings to make sure you’re getting the latest OS updates.
- Next, check your graphics card manufacturer’s website and verify that you have the latest drivers for your model. Certain control peripherals, particularly gamepads and joysticks, may also require driver updates.
- Finally, make sure you’ve installed any software patches available for the game, which often include performance improvements.
If these don’t fix the problem, it’s time to hunt down the lag beast.
Understand the different types of lag and what causes them.
Laggy game performance comes in two basic types, split up according to what causes it:
- Graphics Lag: Your PC hardware is rendering graphical frames slowly or inconsistently.
- Connection Lag: Your internet connection isn’t sending and receiving data quickly enough.
You can use free tools like FRAPS to track your frame rates. If you’re consistently getting less than 60, or simply less than you want, it’s time to look at some options for troubleshooting graphics lag. Connection lag, meanwhile, will show itself in the form of a poor ping rating, which you can check using many different tools online.
Graphics Lag Troubleshooting
Close other programs running in the background.
Try not to leave any other applications running while gaming if you don’t strictly need them. The fewer other apps you run, the more resources your computer can devote to running your game efficiently. Open Windows Task Manager to see everything that’s running and how much CPU and RAM each program uses. You might be surprised at how much widely-used apps like Chrome and Discord can slow your performance, so try closing them and see if your PC’s performance improves.
Make sure your monitor is plugged into the graphics card rather than the motherboard.
On any PC with a graphics card, your monitor’s input should be connected to the card, not the motherboard. If your CPU has an onboard GPU, connecting your monitor to the motherboard will tell it to use the much slower and weaker onboard chip rather than the graphics card. Instead, take a look at the I/O plate (the part of your PC where everything plugs in) and verify that your monitor’s HDMI or DisplayPort cable is connected to the graphics card. If it’s not, simply switch it to the port on the graphics card. (Don’t worry — most PC gamers do this at least once in their lives.)
Clean your PC case.
Dust and dirt can clog a PC’s fans and heatsinks, making them less effective and potentially triggering thermal throttling. That means your PC will slow itself down to protect its components from excessive heat — at the cost of game performance. The solution: Open up your PC case, and get to work with a soft anti-static cloth and a can of compressed air if you see any dust hanging around. Pay special attention to heatsinks, fans and vents, as dust tends to accumulate there.
Turn down the graphics settings.
You might be trying to run a game at settings your PC simply can’t handle. If that’s the case, try turning down options such as textures and shadows via the in-game graphics settings. You’ll trade off some graphical goodies for smoother and more enjoyable game performance. Try setting everything to the lowest option and then gradually increasing settings until you determine which ones are causing the graphics to lag.
Connection Lag Troubleshooting
Use a wired Ethernet connection instead of WiFi.
Your wireless router has to send your signals back and forth over the air, which can give you a slower connection if you’re not close enough to the access point. That’s why most gamers prefer wired Ethernet, which will consistently give you the fastest speeds and most stable performance. Simply grab an Ethernet cable, connect your computer to your router’s LAN ports, and try again. (If you’re using a laptop without an Ethernet port, an Ethernet USB adapter is an inexpensive and effective option.)
Use a 5GHz network on a dual-band router.
The majority of routers today are dual-band, meaning they offer two network frequencies: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 5GHz band is often less crowded, so try switching to that one if you’re experiencing laggy performance. If you haven’t gotten your 5GHz network set up yet, do it now. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s perfect for gaming while other people in the house are simultaneously using WiFi for other things.
Move closer to the router.
If Ethernet isn’t an option, try getting as close to the router as possible. The farther WiFi has to travel (and the more things in its way), the weaker the signal will be. If the router is somewhere that isn’t practical for gaming, consider running an Ethernet cord from it and creating a wireless access point closer to where you game.
Of course, nothing in the world of PCs is ever this simple. A myriad of other things can be behind lag as well. These options, however, make a great starting point for optimizing your game’s performance.