5 Tips to smoother gaming
The trouble with (online) gaming
Online gaming is a massive success as thousands worldwide engage in real-time strategy confrontations, play together in MMOs or shoot at each other in team-based First-person shooters. But no matter how powerful your PC is, you will find at times that the quality of the game decreases because of drops in connectivity and processing.
This leads to disconnecting from the game, jerky gameplay or idly running in place for a while as the game frantically tries to catch up with your position in the server's database. Now, you don't have to be a tech-savvy wizard in order to optimize your performance and enjoy a nice game - you just wait and see!
This article assumes a basic desktop or laptop PC with Windows operating system. I will describe things that improve your (wireless) connection, general PC operation and maintenance.
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When your game performance is bogging down, there are five quick things to check:
The big one: Windows Update
The biggest culprit when it comes to bogging down your system performance is Windows Update. In its default configuration, it will download and install updates automatically, and occasionally prompt you to restart the PC. Most people think this is a hassle, so they change these settings. The most common one is to ask Windows to download updates, but only install them when prompted by the user.
Most people believe that when the update is downloaded, that's the end of it. But in reality, Windows update is continually sitting in the background, his hands on the download, ready to install it. And until you do, this is going to eat up some system performance - with big updates and low-end systems, this can make a game run at a crawl.
My first recommendation would be to always install updates after they are downloaded, and get it sorted before you start your game. However, in the long run it is more beneficial to tell Windows Update to not download or install anything until you say so. This will free up this lost performance for your personal use.
Bad, bent network cables
Now I'm not saying your cables have to be new and shiny, but if you are using network cables and they are battered and bent, there's a chance that they are on the verge of breaking. And before they break, their deteriorated state will cause a lot of interference to network activity, reducing online gaming performance.
When you put down your network cables, always make sure that they are coiled or at least free of obstacles, so they don't get pulled tight against something that causes them to bend sharply or break. Check your cables every now and then (say, once a month) to make sure that they are still in proper shape. There are a lot of products in the market to protect or organize your cables, from clips to protective tubing.
It may seem like a hassle or overdone, but solid groundwork with your cables can keep your gaming smooth and steady for a long time.
Protect your cables with:
Another big issue, if you are using a wireless connection to the internet, is that wireless signals are vulnerable to interference by thick walls and (especially) metal constructions. An example of such a culprit is a metal CD/DVD rack, which looks like a tower of metal rings in which you can plug your CDs/DVDs. They are very convenient, and a lot of people still have them. But they also seem to "eat" the wireless signal, causing it to be weak or even making it vanish altogether.
The signal seems to get trapped inside the metal "cage", if it stands between your PC and the wireless modem/router. I tested this myself when my own wireless signal failed to work - moving the metal CD rack which was in between away to the side instantly allowed my wireless signal to reassert itself.
The same is true of the distance between the modem/router and your PC. Wireless signals can traverse the entire house and you might even have reception at your neighbour's house - but distance and obstacles (such as the metal beams in floors and ceilings) lowers the signal strength. For the best result, even in these modern times, you want to stay in sight of the router.
Hard drive and registry artifacts
We do a lot with our PCs - we chat, install and remove programs, play games and browse the internet. Every action we take and every change we make in our PC is recorded and traces are left behind. Even if we are diligent to remove programs we don't need and to empty our recycle bins, things will be lingering on our system. This eats memory, puts a little more strain on our registry and takes up space on our hard drives.
One of the tools I heartily recommend is a program called Ccleaner by Piriform, available for free here: http://tinyurl.com/d8xvecx
Using this tool you can properly empty your recycle bin and internet history, remove unwanted programs and fix unused or faulty registry items. It's a perfectly safe to use program (just be sure to use the manual and follow the onscreen instructions) that will make your PC run a lot smoother and stay cleaner longer.
Alternatively, use one of these products:
Studying the case
Anyone who's ever taken a long, hard look at the surprising amount of dust and hair that can accumulate under a couch should be prepared for what I will say next: your PC, especially if you have pets, will have a frightening amount of dust inside of it. Most of this dust tends to accumulate in the fans and on top of the circuit boards, with a nice clean layer of dust on the "floor" of the PC.
This dust clogs up the fans, which means they have to work harder (making more noise) to keep your PC clean (so the PC becomes hotter and its performance suffers).
There's no harm in opening the PC case by removing the screws at the back, as long as you turn off the PC, remove the power cable and let it rest for ten minutes or so. You will find that one side of the case looks into the circuits, while the other one looks at the metal "case" structure in which the components are set. You will want to open it up at the side where you look into the case freely, because you will need to some room to maneuver.
Clean the PC in this order: Top fan, working down to the circuit boards and finally the bottom floor.
I recommend a small feather duster for cleaning the fans; use one finger to slowly rotate the fan while using the feather duster to gently pry the dust loose from underneath the fan's blades. Depending on how long ago you last cleaned the PC, the dust could range from a thin coat to thick "dustballs".
As dust drifts down, you want to clean each fan in turn on your way down. This prevents your cleaning from dusting up a fan you just cleaned before.
If you don't feel confident enough, don't dust off the mainboard or any other circuitboards. The danger of breaking anything or causing a shortcircuit is very small, but still present. You can always blow some dust off instead of using a duster. Finally, scoop up whatever dust lies at the bottom, or vacuum it up with a small vacuum cleaner.
Once you are satisfied, close the case, connect the cables and turn on the PC again. You will discover that it produces a lot less heat and noise than before, when dust clogging the fans prevented it from properly getting rid of heat.