How to Improve Gaming Performance on a Laptop

Improve Gaming Performance on a Laptop
Image credit: Artiom Vallat / Unsplash

Gaming laptops are slightly weird in the sense that it can be difficult to get them to perform optimally. Due to the small enclosure that houses all the components, it is very easy for your laptop to overheat and limit performance.

What you may not know is most of the problems commonly associated with a gaming laptop are fixable. Of course, there are the standard guidelines that almost everyone knows (e.g., close background programs), but there are a lot of things you can do that you probably don’t know.

Here, we take a look at how to improve gaming performance on a laptop. These tips should not only improve gaming performance on your laptop but should also help your laptop last longer. In fact, with the proper care, your gaming laptop can last 5 years or more.

We begin by taking a look at things that you can do in terms of hardware. We explore both the upgrades available and optimization. After that, we explore improving performance through software tweaks and system settings.

How to Improve Gaming Laptop Hardware Performance

While you do not have the same options as a desktop PC when it comes to upgradability, there are certain parts on your laptop that you can change or optimize to improve performance. Let’s take a look at how to improve your gaming laptop’s hardware.

Upgrade What You Can

It is not possible to swap out your CPU or your GPU on a laptop. However, they are not the only parts that may be causing poor gaming performance.

For example, upgrading your RAM could be an easy fix, especially if you are playing demanding AAA titles. An easy way to determine if you have enough RAM is to take a look at the recommended system requirements of the games you play. Just to be clear, try to have the ‘recommended’ amount of RAM, not the ‘minimum’.

If your games take a long time to load, your SSD or HDD may be at fault. For one, if your primary drive is still an HDD, it is advised to switch to an SSD and use the HDD as a supplementary drive. If you are using an SSD, switching to a model with higher read and write speeds is a good idea.

Lastly, another component that can be upgraded that is often overlooked is the network chip (or the WiFi card). This won’t directly impact gaming performance, but it could reduce your ping if you game on a wireless connection. Of course, it is best to use a wired ethernet connection for the most optimal online gaming experience.

Clean the Hardware

You would be surprised how much of a difference a clean laptop can have on performance. It is a great idea to open your laptop once every few months and clean everything out. If you do not feel comfortable about opening your laptop, taking it to a professional is a viable alternative.

If your laptop suffers from heating issues while gaming, you may need to change the thermal paste. However, make sure that you have ruled out all other possible explanations for the high temperatures. Thermal paste is not something that you need to change very often, and the process for changing the paste can be a bit complicated on laptops.

Understand the Limitations of Your Battery

While one of the reasons that you buy a laptop is so that you can use it on the go, using the laptop on battery will limit its performance. This is true even if you are using the laptop on the ‘High-Performance’ mode, as discharging the battery too fast could lead to permanent damage and shorten the lifespan of the battery.

Ideally, you should game when plugged in. For certain laptops with extremely high-power GPUs, your laptop may automatically switch to the integrated GPU on battery power, or limit FPS in games to a small figure (like 30).

Consider Using an External GPU

Using an external GPU is an easy way to improve performance on a gaming laptop, especially if it comes with a low-end GPU. Of course, an external GPU is a great option for people that do not have gaming laptops and would like to game on their device.

However, using an external GPU is an impractical solution for many people. For one, you must have a laptop that has a Thunderbolt port, as that is the only port that has enough bandwidth to support a GPU. Secondly, external GPUs are quite expensive, and it may not be possible for you to afford one.

Lastly, remember that using an external GPU will not have a major impact on your laptop’s performance if the laptop is underperforming due to CPU limitations. As such, make sure that the only reason your laptop’s gaming performance is subpar is the GPU before spending money on an eGPU.

Consider Overclocking and Underclocking

This may come as a surprise to some people, but both overclocking and underclocking can end up improving performance on laptops.

Overclocking is a great idea if your laptop is not suffering from thermal throttling, while at the same time being unable to keep up with the games that you are playing. This is an ideal solution for people with older hardware, as the increase in performance may improve your frame rates just enough to make newer games playable.

Overclocking is also a great way of fixing a CPU bottleneck. If you find that your CPU usage is maxed out when gaming but your GPU is performing well, supplying a bit of extra juice to your CPU may allow you to squeeze extra performance out of it.

On the other hand, if you are able to achieve the desired frame rates but experience stability issues (e.g., random drops in FPS), underclocking might fix the problem. When you underclock a component, you reduce its overall performance but compensate for it by running your PC at lower temperatures. As such, you might be able to avoid thermal throttling and have a smoother experience overall.

If you are having stability issues on your laptop, you should consider learning how to underclock a GPU.

How to Improve Gaming Laptop Software Performance

Now, we will be taking a look at the software side of things. There are a few things that you can do to improve gaming performance on your laptop that will have a sizable impact on your gaming experience.

Some of the steps you can take are quite obvious, such as reducing the detail through the in-game settings or making sure your laptop is running in the ‘High-Performance’ modes. Some guides on the internet also suggest changes that have a barely noticeable impact on your laptop’s performance.

Here, we will only look at changes that will have a meaningful and immediate impact on your laptop’s performance. To begin with, we will talk about the changes you can make to your operating system.

Keep Your Operating System Healthy

Here’s the thing: Your operating system is the driving force behind your entire PC. Regardless of whether you are working on a spreadsheet or playing the latest Call of Duty, the application will be running on the OS. As such, keeping it healthy is of the utmost importance if you want to improve gaming performance on your laptop.

Here are some of the things you can do to make sure your operating system does not cause performance issues.

  • Make sure your OS is up to date. However, turning off automatic updates might be a good idea as downloading updates in the background may impact online gaming.
  • Make sure all the relevant programs (such as Steam and DirectX) are also kept up to date. Updates usually bring incremental performance optimizations with them, and may help your games run better.
  • Increase the size of the virtual memory. On Windows, the easiest way to do this is to click on the Start menu and search for ‘Advanced System Settings’. From here, click on the ‘Advanced’ tab at the top and then on the ‘Settings’ button in the ‘Performance’ section. It is a good idea to have Virtual RAM equal to your actual RAM capacity.
  • Uninstall or turn off any unwanted apps, widgets, and services.
  • Use reputable cleaning programs and anti-virus software to avoid bloatware and malware.
  • If you have an HDD, defragment it regularly.

Optimize Your GPU

The next step to improve your laptop’s performance when gaming is to make sure that the GPU is working at its maximum. If you think that your GPU is struggling to keep up, it might be a good idea to reset your graphics card. Then, reinstall all the appropriate drivers and consider whether you should over or underclock the GPU.

Remember that it is very important that you keep your GPU drivers up to date. Drivers not only improve performance but bring with them numerous fixes for bugs and glitches that may be dragging down your GPU’s performance.

On top of that, both NVIDIA and AMD GPUs come with their own control panels. These panels can be accessed by searching for ‘NVIDIA Control Panel’ or ‘AMD Radeon Settings’ in the search bar. When you open these panels, you will be able to tweak certain settings that could help performance.

For example, you may be able to limit Anti-Aliasing to Bilinear no matter what game you are playing. While the total number of options available to you in the control panel will vary depending on the model of your graphics card, you should be able to easily find options to sacrifice visuals for performance and vice versa.

Using Game Mode and Game Boosters to Improve Laptop Gaming Performance

Enabling game mode and using game boosters is a good idea. However, the trick is to not overdo it. Once you have enabled game mode and have a game booster set up to optimize your gaming experience, that is about all the extra FPS you are going to get.

In many ways, game boosters and game mode do exactly the same things that we have outlined above. They usually make sure that no background services or programs get in the way of your gaming experience. They also ensure that your game receives the maximum possible resources.

To enable game mode, you need to go to Start Menu > Settings > Gaming > Game Mode, Here, you need to enable game mode. As for game boosters, you have a lot of options such as GameBoost, Game Fire, and Razer Cortex. Choose one that fits your needs (and price, as some of them are free while others can be purchased) and test it out.

The only thing to remember is that some users report better performance with game mode turned off. This is prevalent amongst users with low-end PCs. As such, you should test your games before and after you enable game mode to see if it has any positive impact. If it does not, just turn it off from the settings menu.

Improving Network Performance for Online Gaming

The last thing we will look at is how you can improve network performance for better (or at least more stable) ping. Apart from using an ethernet connection, the most important thing you can do is to make sure nothing else is consuming network bandwidth apart from the game. Closing those YouTube tabs and the downloads in the background is essential for gaming unless you have the appropriate bandwidth.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a high-speed connection to play games online. However, you do need a stable connection. If you suffer from high packet loss or inconsistent speeds, it might be a good idea to upgrade to a better connection.

Your ping mainly depends on your distance to the server. As such, you may also benefit from switching to a server that is closer to you.

Conclusion

Following all of the steps outlined above should improve gaming performance on your laptop by a considerable amount. There are many other things you can do, but most of them do not offer any significant benefits.

If all of this still does not improve your laptop’s gaming performance, it might be time to invest in a new device.

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