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GPU and Gaming at Fastest PC

GPU and gaming


GPUs – Graphics that make you weep, but not because of the price of the card


GPU


Is there anybody out there who can spot the difference between 8x AA and 16x AA? COME ON. Really? In actual gaming, it's easy to think you won't be able to get the highest frame rates and that your budget graphics card isn't good enough, because the magazines and sites test them with all the anti-aliasing options, and to a lesser extent (because it doesn't make such a big performance difference), the anisotropic filtering turned on to full. This can KILL frame rates, and therefore the smoothness of your gaming experience.

But are the highest settings necessary? Not usually. Nice maybe, but not necessary. Sometimes you can't tell the difference.

We'll test 1080 and 1440 and the occasional 4K for actual function—subjective opinions, sure, but realistic ones important to gamers. You don't necessarily need the most expensive and fastest pc to get a good gaming experience, and if you did, the consoles would be left behind completely.

Much more important to quality of experience and frame rates are RESOLUTION, TEXTURE QUALITY, SHADOW AND LIGHT QUALITY, and optional extras such as Bloom (light lens effects) and Tessellation (complexity of geometry and surfaces).

In this section we'll play some games with the settings that matter turned up and the ones that aren't so important turned down, on a range of sample cards. Not on a brand-new system with the latest processor—we'll show you that it doesn't make a huge difference unless your tech is really outdated—but on a reasonable budget and mid-range system.

We'll see if you can run games on old processors. We'll tell you what you really need for a fast-enough system. This section is geared towards the budget and mid-range user, not the tech enthusiast.

We'll do PC builds that match console performance but for less money, cheaper games and parts. And of course PCs that beat console performance, because don't they mostly?

We're going to be chucking in a whole bunch of subjective reviews of new and old games too.

Guide to settings you can turn down without affecting basically anything

AA

Anti-aliasing smooths the edges of graphics and makes for cleaner objects and textures. There are several methods, with varying implications for performance: WON'T RUIN YOUR FRAME RATES (i.e. easiest type to choose to improve game performance) up to WILL MENTALLY RUIN YOUR FRAME RATES:

FXAA – Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing

It's like the smudge tool in Adobe Photoshop. I like the smudge tool. I can smudge the whiter parts of my teeth over the more aged, greying parts and look better. FXAA applies the smoothing effect to whole images without getting too anal about it. It's faster for the GPU to perform, but it results in a blurrier image overall. This setting will barely affect your frame rates, so it's a big thumbs-up from us, mostly.

MSAA – Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing

Like a finer smudge tool. Takes colours from the edges of graphics and squishes them together, to eliminate jagged edges. It's a wonderful illusion, like what Penn and Teller used to do. MSAA lets you choose the number of samples it takes – more mean a better illusion, but a harder frame rate hit. You can usually do 1X, 2X, 4X, 8X, and 16X. It differs for each game, but I can almost never tell between 8 and 16, and sometimes 2 or even 1 will do the trick. Play about a bit, but start low and if you're getting 60+ frame rates you can afford to crank it up a bit.

TXAA/MLAA – Temporal Anti-Aliasing (Nvidia), and Morphological Anti-Aliasing (AMD)

Ooh, look, Team Purple and Team Pink are calling the same things different names, just to jargon the place up a bit. These are the same. It's like MSAA, but it uses previous frames to make the colour samples in the current ones. I can't really tell the difference between this or MSAA in performance or quality terms. So, uh, try it? Don't try it?

SSAA – Supersampling Anti-Aliasing

The daddy and mummy of AA, this stuff is crazy. It will eat your graphics card and perhaps also your grandfather's graphics card. This also makes the cleanest, loveliest image. But it's definitely an extra only for those people who spend on a high-end GPU, or with older games. It renders the graphics in a higher resolution, then down-samples, or shrinks, the image to fit your screen resolution. It sort of virtually increases the pixel density of your screen, and the result is a sharper image of all the goblins and the guns and the Japanese schoolgirls and whatnot on your screen, you sickies.

If you turn this on, you might play a game that moves like it's in thick sludge. If this happens, try FXAA or MSAA or, uh, that other one.

For a great graphical experience, whack the texture detail up to Ultra or at least High. Slap some high-level shadows in there. Treat yourself to good water and reflection effects. Aaaaahhhhh. That's nice. Enjoy yourself in there. Not that much though. I'm calling the police.

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