Part of the beauty of PC gaming is enjoying the best graphics the industry has to offer. But when you’re suffering from a low frame rate, it’s hard to enjoy a game at all.
Whether your latest purchase isn’t running smoothly on your PC, or you suddenly find games struggling to perform in general, we’re here to help. Here’s how to fix low FPS issues in Windows and get back to high-quality gaming.
Before you spend time fixing low FPS on your PC, it’s important to understand the difference between low FPS and online lag. These are sometimes confused.
When you experience low FPS, something with your computer is at fault. You’ll know you have an FPS problem if games stutter like you’re watching a slideshow, even when playing an offline game. Make sure you also understand what monitor refresh rates and frame rates are, so you know what to expect from your display and games.
Lag, on the other hand, lies with an issue in the network. You can have a high FPS count, yet still experience terrible lag. This occurs when players in an online game freeze up, warp around suddenly, and otherwise don’t behave normally.
If you’re experiencing online lag, make sure you’re wired into your router with an Ethernet cable if possible. You should also close bandwidth-hungry apps running on your network, and check for common issues that slow down your connection.
Let’s begin by looking at a few fundamental fixes you should perform to boost frame rates. In many cases, when you wonder why your game FPS is so low, these tweaks will make a big improvement.
Drivers are special pieces of software that handle the interface between your computer and connected hardware. Average PC users don’t usually need to worry about updating them, but it’s a different story for gamers. Running out-of-date drivers can hamper gaming performance.
Follow our guide to finding and replacing outdated drivers to make sure everything on your system is current. The chipset driver is an important one, but your graphics driver is the most vital for reliable FPS in games.
To update your graphics driver, visit Nvidia’s driver page or AMD’s driver page, depending on what graphics card you have. If you play on integrated graphics, run Intel’s driver update tool (though remember that using integrated graphics will severely limit gaming performance).
Instead of downloading drivers manually, Nvidia and Intel both offer software utilities that make downloading the latest drivers easy. You can download these on the driver pages above, which we recommend doing. In addition to letting you know when a new update is available, they give you access to more tweaks and features.
When you’re playing a game, especially demanding modern titles, it’s a good idea to close other processes that you don’t need. This frees up resources that your computer can dedicate to the game.
You can do this quickly by closing anything that’s open on your taskbar. It’s worth checking the system tray at the right side of the taskbar for background processes, too.
To dive a little deeper and see what’s using up resources, press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open the Task Manager. Click More details if needed to expand it, then you can see what’s using resources on the Processes tab. Anything using a significant amount of the CPU, memory, or your GPU will likely harm game performance. Close those before you start your game.
Having your browser open with 30 tabs, letting cloud storage apps sync, or running file transfers while trying to play games can result in lower FPS—even on a good PC.
Most gamers have hopefully upgraded to a solid-state drive (SSD) by now. But in case you’re still using an HDD, you should make sure the disk is defragmented. If you use an SSD, you should not defragment, as doing so can shorten the life of your drive.
To do this, type defrag into the Start menu and click the Defragment and Optimize Drives entry. If it’s been a while since the drive was last defragged, you should do so.
Windows 10 does this automatically, so you shouldn’t need to defrag manually. You can adjust the schedule if you like, though. And if you are using an HDD, prioritize replacing it with an SSD as soon as possible for a boost in gaming performance.
Now that you’ve performed the basics, let’s take a look at some Windows settings you can adjust to enhance gaming performance.
The power options in Windows let you change settings related to energy consumption with your machine. On the default plan, Windows tries to balance power consumption with performance. Sometimes, especially on laptops, this can lead to decreased performance in games.
It’s a good idea to switch to the High performance plan. To do this, visit Settings > System > Power & sleep and click Additional power settings on the right side. This will lead you to the Power Options section of the Control Panel.
Here, choose Show additional plans if necessary, then select the High performance option.
Note that this will increase the power consumption of your computer. On a desktop, this isn’t really a problem, aside from a slightly higher energy bill. But laptops will see worse battery life.
By default, Windows uses a lot of fancy visual effects around the OS. These make menus and other common elements look smother, but use up a small bit of resources.
Since every little bit of performance helps when gaming, you can disable these effects. You likely won’t see much benefit from this unless you’re on a low-end PC, but it’s still worth a try.
To disable visual effects in Windows, type performance into the Start menu and select Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows. On the resulting menu’s Visual Effects tab, you’ll see a list of graphical features you can enable or disable.
Click the Adjust for best performance button to disable all these effects, followed by OK. It will take a moment as Windows disables them. When it’s done, the interface won’t look as slick, but you won’t notice that when you’re playing a game anyway.
Windows 10 includes a Game Bar feature that allows you to record game clips, take screenshots, and even stream your gameplay. While it’s handy in certain situations, it can also negatively impact game performance.
Unless you specifically want to use this feature for something, you should disable it to avoid potential interference. Head to Settings > Gaming > Xbox Game Bar and turn off the Enable Xbox Game Bar… slider at the top to prevent it from running.
Next, you should switch to the Captures tab and ensure the Record in the background while I’m playing a game toggle is turned off. This is another Windows 10 gaming feature that makes it easy to capture big moments, but uses up system resources better put towards graphical performance.
Also in the Gaming section of Settings, switch to the Game Mode tab. Here, confirm that you have the slider turned on.
Microsoft’s vague explanation about this feature says that while in Game Mode, Windows «prioritizes your gaming experience» as it «helps achieve a more stable frame rate depending on the specific game and system.» It also prevents Windows Update from bothering you while you play.
Next, we turn to settings you can change in most games that can solve your low frame rate problem.
Most PC games allow you to change a variety of graphical options; the exact choices will depend on the game. As a general rule, the more graphical effects you enable for improved visuals, the lower your frame rate will be.
For an overall tweak, try lowering the Graphics Quality slider, as less-intense graphics will help the game run better. Dropping from Epic or Ultra graphics quality to High, for example, should help a lot.
You can also turn off individual visual effects, such as reflections and fog. While these can make the game look pretty, they put a strain on your GPU. To further improve the frame rate, disable extraneous options like these.
Also, keep an eye out for options that let you limit FPS. These can be useful if your GPU sends more frames than your monitor can keep up with, but obviously limiting your FPS may result in a sub-par frame rate. If you have a 144Hz monitor, you don’t want to limit the game to 60FPS.
If you’re really struggling to run a game smoothly, consider lowering the resolution. Dropping it from 1920×1080 (1080p) to 1080×720 (720p), for instance, will have a positive effect on FPS. And for games where performance matters more than looks (like competitive online games), this is a worthy tradeoff.
Most games allow you to play in fullscreen, windowed, or borderless windowed modes. For maximum performance, you should choose fullscreen.
This is because apps and games running in this mode have full control over the screen output. While borderless windowed might be more convenient, the game doesn’t enjoy that display exclusivity in this mode, and may thus dip to a lower frame rate.
If you only experience FPS issues with one game, it might have some corrupted files causing the problem.
Certain games may have a Repair option (on Steam, you’ll find this by right-clicking, choosing Properties > Local Files, and selecting Verify Integrity of Game Files) that can fix this.
Else, try uninstalling and reinstalling the game to see if that improves performance.
If you tried all of the above and games are still running at low FPS, your hardware is likely a bottleneck. In this case, you can look at making changes to your graphics card and other hardware for better frame rates.
If you don’t have the money to upgrade your PC’s components right now, you might consider overclocking your existing hardware. This allows you to squeeze a little more power out of what you already have, at essentially no cost.
Overclocking might sound dangerous, but it’s safe if you do it properly. See our guide to overclocking your GPU if you’d like to give it a try.
While the above tweaks are quite helpful, they have their limits—even overclocking. If you have outdated hardware in your PC, you might suffer from low game FPS, no matter what software changes you make.
In that case, it’s time to upgrade your hardware. You may need a more powerful video card that can handle higher-quality games, more RAM to keep the game running smoothly, or a stronger CPU.
Don’t forget that heat can affect your hardware too. If you experience FPS problems after your game has been running for some time, your system might be getting too hot. Open up your system and remove any dust buildup inside. You should also make sure your computer has sufficient airflow.
Find out which computer upgrades improve performance the most to see what you should replace first.
We’ve looked at a number of tips to fix low FPS on your PC. Hopefully, some combination of these helps boost your frame rate back to an acceptable level.
In the end, FPS issues come down to system resources. This is the case whether your computer is wasting resources on other processes or unnecessary features, or doesn’t have enough power in the first place.
Here are the most common PC gaming problems you’ll encounter, what causes them, and how to fix them.
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