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Fabrice Roux

Troubleshoot Gaming issues

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Fabrice Roux

Generic Gaming Issues Troubleshooting

I) Identify the type of issue

The main types of issues are:

  • Crash. They come it two flavors the Crash To Desktop (aka CTD) and the Blue Screen Of Death (aka BSOD). They can appear at game launch, while gaming or randomly. While the first one takes you back to the Windows desktop, the second one sends you back to square one with a nice PC reboot.
  • Poor performance / stuttering / slowdowns. These can be either permanent or appear after a few minutes of gaming.
  • Rendering errors. From the flashing pixel to the missing polygons or even ghosting effect this type is a infinitly deep hole.

II) Know the possible cause(s)

Each of the previous type of issue has some classic causes (this list is not exhaustive):

II.1) Causes for crash
  • Incompatibility between hardware (graphic card, USB device, chipset, soundcard, ...), driver and the game.

  • Defective hardware element. (graphic card, RAM, chipset, ...)

  • Borderline or worse specifications in comparison to the game requirements.

  • Overclocking of the video card.

  • Poorly programmed game.

  • Monitor refresh rate different than 60 Hz.

II.2) Causes for poor performance
  • Borderline or worse specifications in comparison to the game requirements.

  • Wrong game / driver settings.

  • Poorly programmed game.

  • Overheating of the CPU, the GPU or both.

  • Incompatibility between hardware (graphic card, USB device, chipset, soundcard, ...), driver and the game.

II.3) Causes for rendering errors
  • Borderline or worse specifications in comparison to the game requirements.

  • Overclocking of the video card.

  • Overheating of the video card.

  • Poorly programmed game.

  • Defective hardware element. (graphic card, RAM, chipset, ...)

III) Nail the possible cause(s)

III.1) Verify minimum requirements

Visit the game official website for the precious game minimum requirements. I'll need to read between the lines since most of the time the minimum/recommended requirements are vague (huge lack of resolution and framerates).

If you have a doubt on your hardware specifications head over to
. They have an online tool
(ActiveX for Internet Explorer / Java for Mozilla based browsers)
that checks your hardware against popular games minimum and recommended specifications.

Depending on the game the minimum framerate definition at the game company expect something like 15-20 frames per seconds at 640x480/800x600. The definition of fluid gaming also change from player to player. IMHO below 15 fps it's unplayable and a fluid gaming starts at a steady 30 fps.
(past 60 fps it's a waste of ressources... time to improve image quality)

Also keep in mind that Role Playing Game and First Person Shooter games don't have the same requirements... the same applies to online and offline gaming. I personally would't go online with a FPS that doesn't stay above 30 frames per second. But I would tolerate lower frame rate on a offline RPG.

The best case is when the game requirements specify the graphic card supported. In a lot of case you only get a vague "DirectX 9 compatible graphic card". If you are not sure how your mobile graphic card compare to the desktop versions, visit the
it holds a lot of information about mobile GPU specifications.

III.2) Cross checking

One of the first thing to do when you facing an issue is to run a reference program.

For further DirectX testing you might want to remember the specifications of each 3DMark:

Once you ran this test successfully you can rule out a lot of causes. You are likely to face one driver/game incompatibility or poor game programming.

III.3) Apply game patches

A lot of games receive patches monthly. Be sure to
download and apply these patches
on a regular basis.

But also keep the updaters archived since sometimes patches do more harm than good. Try to remember when a problem appears, it can be related to a patch.
*pointing the finger in the general Battlefield 2 direction*

III.4) Install the latest DirectX runtime

It's rarely the cause of the issues since all the game CD now feature the required DirectX runtime. So head over to
page and download the latest runtime.

III.5) Remove external polluters

III.5.1 Soundcard

The soundcard is often the cause of poor performances or crashes. The simplest way to rule it out is to simply
disable the soundcard
either under the BIOS or Windows devices. If it fixes your problem you can enable the soundcard but tone down the hardware acceleration in the sound control panel. (Audio / Advanced parameters / Performance)

III.5.2 USB devices

In my own little world... "a good USB device is a unplugged USB device". You have no idea of the issues that USB can bring. So unplug the unnecesary USB devices.

III.5.3 Resident programs

Keep the resident programs to the strict minimum. In my case I have a firewall, an antivirus, an instant messenger and a virtual CD manager running. To prevent extra programs from running you can use either
or
(or both).

III.5.4 Turn off the firewall and the antivirus (and the rest)

In order to be exhaustive in the testing at one point you'll need to turn off the firewall and the antivirus. Unless you try to fix online issues
unplug your computer from the internet
while your security shields are down.

III.5.5 Use only one monitor

If you want to achieve best performance and compatibility you'll have to turn off and unplug the external monitor or the laptop monitor or the TV.

III.6) Monitor your system temperatures

One classic cause of crashes and slowdowns during gaming is the GPU/CPU overheating. Use a software temperature monitor to keep track of the GPU and CPU temperatures. For Dell laptops the perfect tool is
.

If the temperatures rise too much the GPU and the CPU can switch to lower frequencies to protect themselves. This thermal throttling is the cause of the slowdown or stuttering. In worse cases it ends up directly a game crash.

Visit the
.

III.7) Check your system RAM

In case you are still encountering crashes. It might be time to run a system memory check. I use
directly from the
.

In my Pentium 3 days I had one bad memory stick that crashed only with DirectX games. The PC was rock solid, I could play Tribes in OpenGL for hours but as soon as I launched a DirectX title CRASH. So don't judge memory stability with just Windows.

III.8) Lower your GPU frequencies to achieve stability

If the GPU temperature is high, the computer can be stable with one game but unstable with another. A game that is CPU limited will not stress the GPU as much as a CPU/GPU balanced game. So even if the 3DMark 2003 is rock solid... your game that uses all the GPU features will make the temperature reach a limit.

In that case you wan to downclock your GPU. In order to do so you'll need to access the GeForce Clock panel. This panel is activated on LaptopVideo2Go drivers but is likely to be locked on official OEM drivers. So you might need to use
to unlock this panel. (read the first steps of
).

Then in the 3D mode, remove 20% off the GPU and RAM clocks. If you reach stability using this technique you'll have to follow the better cooling guidelines.

III.9) Set the game / driver parameters correctly

You won't believe how many times I saw players right after the install of the game before even trying the game default settings
crank all the eye candy to the max
. (it must be the same people that use the salt before tasting) Options like High Dynamic Range (
aka HDR
) and Full Screen Anti-Aliasing (
aka FSAA
) are flattering to the eye but they come with a humongous frame rate price tag.

IMHO having a great gaming experience doesn't imply compulsary best looking game. For 2006 standards the 3D on the Nintendo DS is kinda light... still I bought 2 DS Lite and 12 games in a month. (
girlfriend vampirized my DS so I had to buy an extra one
) Since we are talking of gaming on laptops, until you reach the screen native resolution the blur generated by the stretching kinda anhilate the need for FSAA.

Only turn the extra eye candy options if your framerate at native screen resolution leaves room for frame rate drop. For example I can play Counter Strike Source with full options but FSAA on my laptop. Turning it on would turn me into a sitting duck... which is not even an option as I want to be the highest on the foodchain.

Play the game in fullscreen mode
and set your Flat panel properties to Fixed Aspect Ratio Scaling. It will use the most of your screen without distording the image.

Keep VSYNC OFF
. While VSYNC ON was almost compulsary when you played games locked at 60Hz on a CRT. On a LCD unless your bakclight is flicking you are unlikely to get a headache.

On newer graphic cards Anisotropic Filtering (
aka AF
) has a rather small impact on performance but gives a nice sharpness boost to the game. It can be turned on even if you can't reach native resolution. This is always my first eye candy option to turn on. If I still have enough fps headroom I activate HDR if it doesn't handicap me too much... you would not want to be blind for 2 seconds while rushing out of the dark warehouse on the CS_Assault map. If it enhance the experience without ampering my habilities its a GO... otherwise NOGO.

III.10) Change your graphic driver

The
in the FAQ section will ease the process of finding what should be the best for your need. But keep in mind that
with older hardware the newer drivers can cause more arm than good
.

The current "reference driver" is the
which has the most features and game compatibility fixes. If your laptop OEM offers a driver above the 84.25, it's probably the first driver to try.

III.11) Monitor "exotic" refresh rate

Some poorly programmed games such as the Battlefield serie try to use 60 Hz as their default refresh rate.
(at least for the intro and menus)
On a CRT or a 60 Hz LCD it doesn't cause any trouble... but on
a LCD that runs at 59, 61 or 62 Hz these stupid games just crash
.

The right approach would be to use the DirectX API to get the supported refresh rates on the current monitor then get the closest to 60Hz. This could be done in less than 10 lines of code. Complain to the game company support.

In the case of the Battlefield serie, you can edit the video config file to change the default refresh rate to match your screen. All the details are available in the
.

III.12) Read the forum and use the search function

Blockbuster games have their own threads
take the time of reading those for help. Then
use the search function
of the forum to look for similar issues.

ie:
,
and Oblivion.

IV) Post your question on the forum

In order to improve your chances to get help follow these simple guidelines:

  • Post properly, don't piggy back your question about game B on a thread about game A. Create a new thread if you have a new issue.
  • Post your system specifications, hardware (GPU, CPU, RAM,...) software (driver version, game version,...). "Game A with latest patches" means something the day you post... but it can mean something totally different within a couple of days.
  • Don't use accronyms of games... it's really painfull to try to help a desperate DSKO23 player when you have no clue about the game fullname.
  • Post a link to the official game website. Even if the modern browsers allows to "select search" it's much more convenient to just click on a provided link. Especially when you look for minimum requirements specifications.
  • Post simple phrases with simple words and grammar. A lot of members are not native english speakers. Use punctuation marks, the return and shift keys...
  • Keep it to the facts but gives them all in one post. It's really painfull to receive details one by one post after post... when the issue could be solved in one single answer. (This situation is known as an argentinian incident.)

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The_Lead_Factor

How exactly do USB devices cause problems? Should I be unplugging my USB hard drive when playing a game?

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Fabrice Roux

If you run into issues yes... it might be a good test to unplug your USB HDD enclosure.

Remember: don't fix if it ain't broke.

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The_Lead_Factor

Thats true...Im gona go pick up a Firewire cable anyway so ill compare the two when I gte back,

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Fabrice Roux

I added a reference to the exotic monitor refresh rate causing trouble. By exotic I mean different than 60 Hz. (thanks René for the reminder)

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Fabrice Roux

I added a link to the System Requirements Lab thanks to René for posting the news on the frontpage.

I cross my fingers so Guest would use it before asking if installing driver 102.74 on a GeForce 2 Go will make Oblivion faster.

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Fabrice Roux

Added a comment about multiple monitor issues. So use only one for best perfomance and compatibility.

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