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The ultimate guide to tweaking your GPU's most arcane settings

Loyd Case | Feb. 6, 2013
Understand the weirdest, most complex options of your graphics control panel, and start tweaking your display like a pro.

Think your CPU is king? Think again.

The most complex processor inside your computer is bolted to your graphics card. Capable of massive parallel processing, the best GPUs render games at high speed with superb image quality, stutter-free video and excellent fidelity. GPU drivers include software that gives you granular control over image quality and performance, but these control panels tend to be complex and confusing.

This guide will walk your through the various settings in the control panels supplied by AMD and Nvidia. We won't try to cover every possible setting; instead, we'll offer rules of thumb to help you understand what to tweak and what to leave alone. When possible, we'll show the same settings on the different control panels, side by side, since AMD and Nvidia often use different terminology for the same setting.

Let's start with general display control, and then move on to video. We'll discuss 3D settings last, as these can be the most confusing. By the time we're finished, you'll have mastered the most complex GPU settings and be able to start tweaking your display like a pro.

Two basic rules of thumb

Before plunging into control-panel specifics, we should review two important guidelines that everyone ought to follow.

Use Windows system controls for basic settings:  If all you need to do is set the resolution for one monitor, work from the display control panel built directly into your operating system. Sure, you could work in the GPU control panel instead, but if you ever changed graphics cards later on, you'd need to learn a new control panel. In contrast, if you handle the operation through Windows, the behavior will remain the same.

You'll still want to use the graphics control panels to deal with GPU-specific settings. For example, you can set up Windows for multimonitor support, but if you want additional features such as bezel compensation (which lines up pixels on bezel boundaries to create a seamless image), you should use the graphics control panel.

When possible, use in-game controls to change 3D settings: Changing settings inside a game is the best way to control image quality and performance. GPU control panels let you tweak various 3D settings, but the settings they may be impractical and imprecise. Consider antialiasing, which eliminates jagged edges but tends to reduce your frame rate: The game's designers have optimized in-game antialiasing settings for the game, applying antialiasing algorithms only when they consider those adjustments necessary. But turning on antialiasing from your dektop's GPU control panel may apply it to every pixel of every frame at all times, dramatically reducing (in some cases) the frame rate your system can deliver.

 

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