10 Ways to Improve Gaming Performance on a Laptop

By | December 7, 2021

A high-end gaming laptop will never achieve the performance of a gaming desktop for the same price. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t play the latest games. Instead, it just puts a little extra pressure on you to ensure that your laptop is optimized for gaming.

With a desktop computer, you can upgrade the hardware. Laptop users will probably find that they can only replace memory (and possibly hard drives) with an upgrade. So, what can you do to make sure your favorite games will play well on your laptop?

Following these 10 tips will definitely make a difference.

Keep Your Laptop Clean and Dust Free

First things first. You will only enjoy increased performance on your laptop with a proactive attitude towards physical maintenance. Dust and dirt are the enemy of performance. This detritus reduces airflow, resulting in the computer overheating.

Once the heat builds up, the processor, GPU, and most other components will slow down. This does not make for an effective gaming engine.

The best way to deal with this is to remove the dust. Obviously, this is not the simplest task. Your laptop may be sealed, and if not, opening it will almost certainly void the warranty. The solution is to use some very specific cleaning techniques. Even though it’s aimed at MacBooks, our cleaning tips will help most laptops.

But it’s not just the vents on your laptop that you need to clear up. If you use your keyboard regularly (a staple of PC gaming), it’s important to make sure there’s no dust, food, or other issues that could cause sticky keys. For that, you also don’t want a dirty screen.

Update Your Driver

There was a time when installing the right drivers on a Windows PC was considered a joke. It was usually initiated by hardcore Apple Mac users, and worked only because those computers had a limited range of hardware. All working devices have drivers installed.

Of course, the situation has changed. Today, computers running Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems are almost all based around the same hardware, with the same architecture. This means that regardless of the operating system, keeping device drivers up to date is extremely important. Luckily, it’s no longer a hassle. Instead, it’s a bit of a hassle which has mostly been swallowed into standard OS updates.

However, when it comes to graphics drivers, you may need a more direct approach. While Intel graphics – mostly unsuitable for hardcore gaming – will enjoy updated drivers via Windows update, your third-party graphics provider doesn’t offer that option. Instead, you should make sure your management software (such as Nvidia GeForce or AMD Gaming Evolved) is set to update automatically.

Install Latest DirectX Version

A collection of software tools that facilitate graphics in video games, DirectX is essential for gaming on Windows (and even on Xbox consoles). Various iterations of DirectX have been released over the years. For example, the last version of DirectX to run on Windows XP was DirectX 9.0. If you’re looking for a way to increase performance on your laptop, you shouldn’t be running this…

Launched in 2015, DirectX 12 is the latest version, and you should have it installed on your computer. This manual installation is rare. In most cases, the new version of DirectX is installed automatically when a new game requires it. Other times, the installation of DirectX occurs as part of Windows Update.

To check your current version of DirectX, press WIN + R to open the Run menu and enter dxdiag. Wait for the DirectX Diagnostic Tool (DXDiag) to load, then go to the Render tab. Here, you will find information about your particular graphics card. In the Drivers pane, look for Direct3D DDI – it should be numbered according to the latest version of DirectX.

As well as having your graphics drivers up to date, it is necessary to make sure that your audio drivers are suitable for gaming. You can check the status of your audio drivers in the Sound tab of DXDiag, where the date of the installed driver can be found. Also note that the Input device drivers are summarized here as well.

DXDiag is a good way to check if your gaming-related hardware is missing any drivers. But when in doubt, run Windows Update, or update device drivers manually.

GPU Overclock

Maybe a bit risky for beginners, overclocking can force some extra performance from the graphics card. Tools are available for AMD and Nvidia GPUs, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with this.

The main problem is with power and heat. Overclocking uses more electricity, so you’ll need to adjust your computer’s power settings accordingly (see below). But overclocking also increases GPU heat. Usually, this is handled by the laptop’s built-in cooling system. This network of heatsinks and fans should be cleaned regularly, as outlined in #1. Otherwise, your laptop will automatically shut down – as a safety precaution – as soon as it overheats.

Looking for an overclocking tool for your GPU? The most popular today is MSI Afterburner, which is suitable for Nvidia and AMD graphics cards.

You can enjoy good results with overclocking, but it’s something you should be careful with.

Adjust Your Computer’s Power Settings

We focus on improving performance, and some devices can enjoy enhanced operation without effective power management. When it comes to laptops – devices meant to be used away from permanent power sources – power management is a big deal.

Windows gives you some detailed power management options, but using a laptop often means it’s neglected to preserve the battery. This makes sense, but for a robust gaming experience, your laptop must be plugged into a power outlet.

Once this is done, it’s time to look at your computer’s power settings. On Windows 10, you can go to Settings > System > Power and sleep > Additional power settings and select the High performance option. It’s also a good idea to click Change plan settings > Change advanced power settings to check you haven’t adjusted anything here. You don’t want sub-optimal power settings when squeezing gaming performance out of your laptop.
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Use Game Mode in Windows 10

This is a tip that anyone can use. Windows 10 comes with an Xbox app (if you delete it, you can download it again from the Windows Store) which includes several features. Along with screen recording and streaming, the Xbox app also features Game Mode settings.

To enable this, open the Xbox panel by pressing WIN + G after the game has launched (preferably with the game menu on the screen) and click Settings. On the General tab, click the checkbox for Use Game Mode for this game.

Once enabled, this Windows 10 Game Mode will ensure that the OS runs games at optimal settings, which may involve closing or suspending some background tasks.

Close Background Apps

We’re assuming you’re running Windows 10 for a lot of these tips. But if not, you don’t have Game Mode. Luckily, there are manual changes you can make to your laptop before you launch the game. Before you click Play on Steam, or double-click the icon on your desktop, make sure all other applications (and even games) are closed.

Once you’ve done that, take a look at the System Tray. This section of the Windows taskbar lists the applications running in the background. Right click each icon and close. You may want to keep your graphics card management app or voice chat tool like Discord open

All that has to be running on the taskbar before you launch a game is your digital download service… or nothing.

For Online Games Check Your Network Speed

Gaming performance for your laptop is largely determined by your hardware, drivers, and the way your computer is configured. But if you are playing online games, there is one other element to consider: the speed of your internet connection.

Problems with online gaming are usually centered around lag. This could be due to a problem with your internet connection, but often the slow connection between your laptop and router is to blame. In most cases, your wireless network card will have the most up-to-date drivers, thanks to Windows Update, or whatever system your OS updates.

If nothing changes after applying the update, consider a wired Ethernet connection to the router. You should also check to see if the gaming router is right for you

Manage Automatic Updates

Automatic updates can be a pain. Take Windows Update, for example, which can download updates in the background, before periodically reminding you that updates need to be installed. Not only can downloaded updates affect performance (peer-to-peer networks share updates with other machines), so can reminders.

Unfortunately, you can’t permanently disable Windows Update, so you have the following options:

  • Take your computer offline.
  • Install updates as soon as prompted.

There’s no way you’ll be able to completely disconnect from the internet if you’re using a gaming laptop, so installing the update as soon as possible is the best answer.

However, it’s not just the operating system that pushes updates out. Digital delivery systems like Steam also use it. It is possible that the second game will download updates in the background while you are playing other games. To avoid it, open Steam, and head to Steam > Settings. In the Downloads tab, make sure the Allow downloads during gameplay checkbox is cleared. Click OK to confirm this change.

You can also manage update rules for each game. Right-click the game in the Steam menu, select Properties > Updates, and check you’re satisfied with the options for Automatic updates and Background downloads. Further tips on managing Steam downloads also have the potential to improve your laptop’s gaming performance.

Adjust Texture and Shader Settings

Finally, it’s worth looking at your graphics card settings, especially if you need to run certain games. Here, you’ll find the main controls for texture details and shaders, which will determine how your game looks. The available memory for your laptop’s GPU limits what options are available here, so it’s usually a good idea to choose a configuration that offers performance over looks. In short, high resolution textures will consume your RAM, impacting the frame rate.

Note that you can also give your own game its own texture and shader preferences here. This is useful if older games are capable of running on high settings. Meanwhile, you can still adjust the video settings of each game as it plays, from the video/display settings screen.

It took a while to find the optimal video settings for the game. However, once you settle on that performance-quality trade-off, you’ll see that it’s well worth the effort.

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