Limit game frame rates
Phil Iwaniuk reckons you can sometimes have too much of a good thing.
Counterintuitive as it may seem to the PC enthusiast, sometimes your frame rate is too high. It might be that your fondly remembered classic game is running like a VHS tape stuck on fast forward, because it was never designed to run on those four GTX 1080s you plumped for. It may be that you’re getting a variable frame rate in a game that doesn’t offer its own limiter or V-sync option, and you’re sick of the stutter, even above 60fps. Or after several alarmingly high electricity bills and considerable hearing loss from listening to your red-hot GPU whine and blow a gale, you might decide that, actually, 2,500fps is more than you need in Counter-Strike: GO.
The reasons are multitudinous, and consequently the methods are, too. You’ll want to take a different approach if you’re frame-limiting an old game on an Nvidia card, for example, than if your objective is locking out a solid 60 in a DX12 title with AMD silicon in your PC. Happily, although the methods vary, they’re unilaterally simple, and basically amount to finding the right option in the right screen, entering a figure and checking a box. But, oh, the satisfaction of seeing that unwavering number in the top-left...
1 CONSIDER V-SYNC AS AN ALTERNATIVE
It’s a good idea to take V-sync completely out of the equation before heading into frame limiter territory. However, it’s also a good idea to make sure V-sync isn’t actually the answer to your problems. If you’re gaming on a 60Hz monitor, say, and you’re being tormented by frame dips above 60fps, turning V-sync on is the best solution, because it locks the FPS output to an even division of that refresh rate. Plus, you get to eliminate screentearing in the process, which is a nice little kickback.
However, when running old games, trying to even out dips below 60fps, or looking to reduce power output and temps caused by unnecessarily high frame rates, limiters are the way to go, because they cap menu screens and cinematics, too. Make your call, and proceed. There’s also the world of frame limiting to improve V-sync lag — we’ll get to that later.
2 TURN OFF V-SYNC
For Nvidia cards, head to the Nvidia Control Panel and set ‘ Vertical sync’ to ‘Off’ in “Global settings” [ Image A]. For AMD cards, find the ‘Frame rate control’ header in Radeon’s software, and disable ‘ Wait for vertical refresh’. Quick and painless. You need to visit the graphics options screen of the game
“In order to check that your limiter is working once you’ve set it up, you need a good, reliable counter overlay.”
in question, too, and disable all V-sync options there. Leaving V-sync on while running a cap might tank your FPS to half the desired rate, and has the potential to provide any number of complicating factors that you could do without.
3 ENABLE MSI AFTERBURNER’S FRAME COUNTER
In order to check that your limiter is working once you’ve set it up, you need a good, reliable counter overlay. FRAPS once ruled the roost, but doesn’t play nice with DirectX 12, and common alternatives from Steam, Nvidia and AMD can be a little limiting. For that reason, we pick MSI Afterburner.
Don’t worry, it works fine on non-MSI cards of both denominations, but it does take a bit more setting up than usual. Hit the cog button on Afterburner’s main overlay, and you’ll find an options screen, with several tabs at the top. Navigate to Monitoring, check the ‘Frame rate’ option, then the ‘Show in on-screen display’ option below that [ Image B]. Do the same for GPU temperature and fan speed, so you can see the benefits of your limiter. In the next tab along, ‘On-screen display’, choose a shortcut key to toggle the overlay on and off.
4 SET A LIMITER
So your love for Interstate ’76 is undying, but trying to play it with a frame rate well into the hundreds results in unmanageable handling. We’ve all been there. Setting a limiter solves your problems, and brings the game back down to a playable speed, but it’s not always plain sailing. For example, if the game in question is so old that it’s using a software renderer, or you’re emulating a 3dfx card to run it in the first place, setting a limiter in many programs doesn’t work, because the game isn’t trying to communicate with your graphics drivers directly, in the same way as a modern game does.
For newer games, it’s less of a dark art, but in both cases, we’ve found Nvidia Inspector to be the best program for — you guessed it — Nvidia cards. Locate the spanner and screwdriver symbol in the program’s UI, and you’ll open a huge options screen. Simply find ‘Frame rate limiter’ under the ‘Sync and refresh’ header, and select your target frames per second [ Image C].
The good news for AMD gamers is that Radeon’s Frame Rate Target Control utility, bundled into Radeon Software, is actually pretty effective. Under ‘Game settings’, find or add the game you want to cap, and scroll the bar along to the desired frame rate. And if that doesn’t work, we found RivaTuner Statistics Server to be a decent contingency plan for AMD cards, too.
5 REDUCE V-SYNC LAG
V-sync has a lot to do in a very short space of time. In the process of arranging your GPU’s frames and serving them at just the right time for your monitor’s refresh rate, a bit of input lag can creep in. However, introducing a limiter can reduce that lag. Using the methods described in the previous step, you can set a limiter of 58fps to achieve a smoother experience on a 60Hz monitor with V-sync enabled, 73fps for a 75Hz display, and so on.
6 TEST THE RESULTS
This is where the GPU temp and fan speed readouts in the Afterburner overlay come in handy. Load up the game you want to limit [ Image D], hit that shortcut key, and observe the overlay. You should see a lovely consistent frame rate, and reduced load on your card. Measuring V-sync lag is a less exact science, but hopefully you’ll feel a difference at 58fps.