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Discovering Bottlenecks in PCs Built for Gaming? 142

Posted by Cliff
from the what's-the-hold-up dept.
QMan asks: "I, like many others here at Slashdot, am an avid gamer. Recently, I've been thinking about upgrading my gaming PC, but with all the mish mash of components in the box, I don't really know which components are slowing down the rest, and would be an ideal candidate for replacement. I'm looking for advice on how to discover the inherent bottlenecks in my system, whether they be from my video card, RAM, CPU, or other components. I've tried various benchmarking utilities, but they generally give an overall performance rating, but not much info on which device(s) had the most impact in limiting that rating. I'd imagine many of you out there have encountered the same problem, and might have ideas on where to start."
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Discovering Bottlenecks in PCs Built for Gaming?

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  • OS? Hardware? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @10:49PM (#14888137) Journal
    Perhaps you should give us the OS you are running. That will greatly impact the answer(s) you will get.

    For example, if you were running Windows 2000 or greater, there are various performance monitors that will give you a good clue about what is actually going on while your game is playing. Otherwise, you are in a guessing game.

    Alternatively, you could swap out components and do observation based tests. However, this tends to be subjective, and less reliable.

    Bottom line: give us more details, and someone might be able to help.
    • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:1, Interesting)

      Agreed. You really aren't being specific enough for us to be able to help.

      Please tell us your
      - current gear
      - OS
      - budget
      - and the types of games you play
      and then we might be able to make some recommendations.

      If you're after a magic utility that says "it's you CPU that's slowing an otherwise good system", I'm doubtful that one exists (but there is probably a real market for one).

      • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:5, Informative)

        by CSMastermind (847625) <freight_train10@hotmail.com> on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:38PM (#14888368)
        Well there might not be a magic utility that will tell you what's the bottleneck in your system....SiSoft's (http://www.sisoftware.co.uk/ [sisoftware.co.uk]) Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) (http://www.sisoftware.co.uk/index.html?dir=dload& location=sware_dl_3264&langx=en&a= [sisoftware.co.uk]) program can be a big help. If offers free benchmarking (which from expirence I can tell you is very well done) of most major parts of your system and it offers some tips to make you computer run faster and smoother. It can also generate report files. Also the best bang for you buck will proablly come from getting more ram (just a guess no knowing what hardware you have now) and a good/better graphics card if you don't have one already. Honestly cleaning up your software will proablly help too. Defragging your hard drive and turning off background programs will also offer some boost.
      • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:5, Informative)

        by theqmann (716953) on Friday March 10, 2006 @01:12AM (#14888719)
        Note: I posted the original article.
        (It's a Windows machine, as the majority of newly released commercial titles don't play well with Linux.)

        It's a multi-tiered question. I've built a number of gaming machines in the past, and upgraded various components over the life of each machine. I've always wondered if there is a way to figure out if getting a video card with more texture memory would help much, or upgrading to faster or less latency RAM would help, or all that's needed is just getting _more_ of it. It doesn't really help to get RAM though if the CPU/GPU/HardDisk is the bottleneck. Thats why I was asking the question in the first place. I'm sure a lot of people who upgrade their gaming machines might get help from this as well. This is for all of us who want to upgrade, but are not quite sure which component needs it the most.

        For reference, I've been building machines on a medium budget, getting middle to upper class hardware. I've got a gig of 3-3-3 PC3200 RAM, a nice SATA RAID0 array, a GeForce 6800, and an Athlon64 3200+ rig. I know that most components I have could be upgraded, but not intrinisically which ones are the most crucial to performance. I play all sorts of games, from RTS (AoE, Empire Earth, etc) games, to FPS (Quake 4, UT2004), to simulations (SimCity 4).

        -QMan
        • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:3, Informative)

          by AuMatar (183847)
          Hard disk is never the problem- games are not disc intensive. You might speed up laods slightly with a faster disc, but not by much.

          CPU is never the problem- for the past decade or so, the CPU has been so fast compared to RAM that it can't get enough memory.

          RAM- you need enough RAM so you don't hit swap. For today's games, thats 1 GB. After that, the number 1 thing you can do to improve system performance is to get low latency RAM. Your CPU will be waiting for RAM, minimize the time that it is.

          Video
          • by BobPaul (710574) * on Friday March 10, 2006 @05:26AM (#14889331) Journal
            RAM- you need enough RAM so you don't hit swap. For today's games, thats 1 GB. After that, the number 1 thing you can do to improve system performance is to get low latency RAM. Your CPU will be waiting for RAM, minimize the time that it is.

            Well, ok, it's not trash-junk, but it's not up to the hype either. There was a review on TechRepublic [techreport.com] a while ago that I'm pretty sure made it to slashdot (if not, then digg). Basically it showd that Low Latency RAM in itself made little to no difference and more RAM was always the way to go.

            That said, Low Latency ram is not entirely a waste of money. Low Latency ram has a better shot at overclocking (like turning DDR 400 into DDR 450 by relaxing the timings and pumping the clock rate.) It's also more likely to be higher quality and thus less likely to go bad on you. As an asside, if you're interested in RAM in general, I've found this site [xtronics.com] very informative/userful.

            But I would minimize the value of Low Latency in and of itself.
          • "Hard disk is never the problem- games are not disc intensive. You might speed up laods slightly with a faster disc, but not by much...

            RAM- you need enough RAM so you don't hit swap."


            Just to be pedantic... if you don't have enough RAM and you do 'hit swap' a fast HDD will help - but it'll still be slow in comparison.
          • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:3, Informative)

            by tolan-b (230077)
            Some games now aren't comfortable in 1Gig of RAM when features are turned up high. Battlefield 2 is an example of this, with the recommendation being 1.5-2Gig if you're setting the graphic options to high. There's a lot of geometry in a BF2 level and you can get hiccups when you turn your head if you haven't enough RAM.

            I think the main things in order are:

            A recent card revision. That 6800 ought to do ok as long as you're not maxing the quality settings.

            A video card with a decent amount of RAM. Currently tha
          • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Ford Prefect (8777) on Friday March 10, 2006 @08:07AM (#14889761) Homepage
            Hard disk is never the problem- games are not disc intensive. You might speed up laods slightly with a faster disc, but not by much.

            ... Which is one reason why loads of people suffer from the infamous 'stuttering' in Half-Life 2.

            The game uses a 'soundcache [valvesoftware.com]' to keep the first 125 milliseconds of all referenced sounds in memory. If a sound needs to be played which isn't fully in memory yet, it starts playing that 125ms while streaming the rest of the data in from disk.

            If many new sounds are needed simultaneously, or the hard disk is particularly slow, then you get a glitch in the audio.

            Have a fairly fast disk, and things improve considerably - and maps load much more quickly too, thanks to the many megabytes of textures... ;-)
          • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:3, Informative)

            by spyrochaete (707033)
            Sorry, I disagree with many of your suggestions.

            Hard disk is never the problem- games are not disc intensive. You might speed up laods slightly with a faster disc, but not by much.

            This is mostly true, however no matter how much RAM you've got you still need at least a 512MB paging file somewhere on your system. Since the PC isn't a dedicated gaming machine you can expect Windows to fiddle with all kinds of stuff in the background which will invariably draw on the swap file. Since this guy has RAID
            • >>Hard disk is never the problem- games are not disc intensive.
              >>You might speed up laods slightly with a faster disc, but not by much.

              This is mostly true, however no matter how much RAM you've got you still need at least a 512MB paging file somewhere on your system.

              Untrue. If you have 2GB of RAM and aren't doing things way beyond power user usage (ie, you're playing games, run word and excel, play with email and browse the web) you'd never hit the 2GB limit. If, however, you edit video or

              • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:3, Informative)

                by spyrochaete (707033)
                Untrue. If you have 2GB of RAM and aren't doing things way beyond power user usage (ie, you're playing games, run word and excel, play with email and browse the web) you'd never hit the 2GB limit. If, however, you edit video or RAW photos or do other high memory usage tasks, and you exceed your 2GB limit, then in the windows world you need a swap file.

                What you're saying makes perfect sense, but who says Windows makes sense? There are many Windows apps, first and third party, that assume you have a swap
                • The key to the swap file is to make sure it is on a fast sector of the disk and to make sure it is a constant size. Set the minimum and the maximum to the same value so that the OS never spends time resizing it and it doesnt get fragmented. As to size, harddrives are huge these days, set it to one or two gigs and leave it there.
          • RAM- you need enough RAM so you don't hit swap. For today's games, thats 1 GB. After that, the number 1 thing you can do to improve system performance is to get low latency RAM. Your CPU will be waiting for RAM, minimize the time that it is.

            I would believe that if I hadn't watched my XP machine with 1GB of RAM paging in an application when I still had 512MB free, and this isn't even in a gaming context.

            In my expereince, Windows seems to allocate the paged memory not long after it allocates the RAM.

            If someon

            • The page file in windows is different than the swap file used in a linux system. It is not simply a haven for data to go when your RAM is full, but it is where the system puts data that had to be loaded into memory but isnt exactly needed. This is why it will move pages of your memory to the file even when your ram is nowhere near full. This isnt a bad thing as you arent going to be using those pages when you play your game so you will have more RAM available for the game.
          • This post is inaccurate.

            When I was playing Everquest frequently, the standard consumer was still using ATA100 or slower drives.

            I was using Ultrawide SCSI with a very fast (for that era) 9 GB drive.

            I would load at least twice as fast as most people then. During that era, load times were quite lengthy, so it made a huge difference.

            Many games (esp MMORPGs) use the HD far more than people realize.
        • For reference, I've been building machines on a medium budget, getting middle to upper class hardware. I've got a gig of 3-3-3 PC3200 RAM, a nice SATA RAID0 array, a GeForce 6800, and an Athlon64 3200+ rig. I know that most components I have could be upgraded, but not intrinisically which ones are the most crucial to performance. I play all sorts of games, from RTS (AoE, Empire Earth, etc) games, to FPS (Quake 4, UT2004), to simulations (SimCity 4).

          Is there a particular game that you are having trouble w
    • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:5, Informative)

      by TimCapulet (954269) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:02PM (#14888193) Homepage
      Since the poster says he is an avid gamer, it is probably safe to assume that he runs Windows XP.

      A site that I have always found helpful is AnandTech [anandtech.com]. Every couple of months or so they publish a guide on recommended hardware for different performance levels of computers. The systems they recommend are usually designed so that no one piece of hardware is a bottleneck on the performance.
      • I was going to suggest Anandtech too, but for the CPU/GPU scaling. Here's an example URL:http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.a spx?i=2330&p=6.

        As for RAM, you can run tests or pretty much jump up to 2GB if you're running games like BF2.
        • Not only do you fail to make your link clickable but you write it in such a fasion that there is a space inserted into it making simple copy/paste or the clickable link plugin completely useless.
    • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bios_Hakr (68586) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [lacitpx]> on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:30PM (#14888326) Homepage
      Start >> Run >> "perfmon.msc"

      You should start recordings for:

      Physical Disk >> Reads/sec and Writes/sec

      Memory >> Avalable MBytes

      Processor >> Priviliged, Processor, and User Time

      Now that you have these counters running, fire up a game that you like. After you play a few rounds, you can look back at the charts and see the data. Interpreting the results can be very difficult.

      If you are seeing processor usage 100%, then your video card may be holding you back. If you see excessive hard drive activity, maybe more RAM or a RAID0 setup could help.

      Just look at the charts and see what jumps and when.

      Most games are optimized to use RAM and proc when in-game. But if you see excessive periods where one line is 100% while the other lines are 70~80%, you'll know where the bottleneck is.
      • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I think you have it backwards. I would think if cpu was 100%, the video card
        would NOT be the bottleneck, it would be the CPU.
        • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Friday March 10, 2006 @01:41AM (#14888794)
          Unless directx is emulating a missing feature from the video card in software. It will do that on occasion, and it won't be obvious just from reading performance monitor outputs what is going on.

          I don't think this quest for global bottleneck optimization is likely to be successful unless you have a lot of time and a lot of money to buy hardware. The only good way to do it is brute force, mixing and matching every likely combination. If you think about it too much and try to read the tea leaves of performance numbers, you'll go crazy.

          It's a whole lot of frustration for something that is always in flux. One driver release could change your results. I guess that would infuriate me enough to give up computing forever.
          • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            You make it sound like there is no hope, give up before even trying.

            But if you use a little intellegence and some methodical testing, you really
            can figure things out about your system.

            For instance, you can select a high resolution on your graphics card, then
            run quake or some other benchmark. Lower the resolution until the frame
            rate doesn't get any higher. At that point, you are CPU limited.

            If you removed memory from your system, you could also figure out if
            memory was a problem.

            I suspect there are lots of
            • No, not hopeless. You just need a lot of time and money. Intelligence can actually hurt you, unless you really know how each subsystem works. I would argue it's almost impossible to know that, unless you designed it and spent a lot of time playing with DirectX.

              If resolution effects performance, then you know you are fill rate limited. In theory, with modern games, your CPU should not be involved with the fill rate. Your CPU would only be involved in that if it was using the software rasterizer, or the game
      • Re:OS? Hardware? (Score:3, Informative)

        by Intocabile (532593)
        I'd also look at things like page faults per second. I had some bad nForce IDE drivers that were causing an incredible number of page faults in Half-Life 2. Updating the drivers got rid of the problem and increased my framerate considerably.

        Bottlenecks can be non obvious also like an underpowered power supply.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      For example, if you were running Windows 2000 or greater,

      I have a Mac. That counts as "or greater", right?
  • Here's a thought : post the spec's of your machine so we have something to baseline.

  •     Get as much ram as you can afford. Presume you are
    running Windows -- so turn off the swap file if you
    have 1.5 - 2GB of ram. The difference in performance is
    astounding.

        Besides that, turn off unneeded services and keep your
    system clean of spyware. Most "slow" systems I come across
    aren't that slow at all, they are just poorly configured.
    • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:16PM (#14888264)
      Do not turn off swap file. Windows will not remotely work right without one. You can knock it down to 512 or 256 megs if you life. Windows generally won't use it until you're out of memory. Generally.

      Other than the obvious suggested already, disk management is often overlooked. After you uninstall or install a game, defrag the drive. Applying a patch? Defrag. Changing the size of your swap file? Defrag.

      Shut off indexing. Shut off any service you don't need or use.

      Clean out /local settings/temp periodically. Defrag.

      Reboot every 48 hours or so.
      • Well, it really depends on which apps you are running, I
        run these all the time:

        1. Firefox with 30-40 tabs open and numerous extensions.

        2. Thunderbird hooked up to 3-6 IMAP accounts

        3. Gaim

        4. Poweroff

        5. AVG anti-virus

        6. Sharpreader

        7. Daemontools

        8. VNC server

        9. Openssh server

        10. Kerio firewall

        11. Auctionintelligence

        12. Excel, word, etc.

        13. Note
        • I'm running an Opteron 165 with 2GB of RAM and I have considered turning off my pagefile for quite some time. The apps you use are pretty much in line with what I use, with the exception that I sometimes have twice as many tabs open in Firefox (80 to 100 is not uncommon). I think I'm gonna turn off my pagefile when I get home...
          • I think you will do fine -- I was running the above on
            my old AMD XP 2400+ with 1GB for a long long time without any issues.

                I only upgraded because the old system is being turned in to an all
            Linux workstation.

                Only regrets are not springing for a SATA drive. Hard drive speed
            is really the bottleneck here...
            • Yeah, I hear that. When I first heard about Gigabyte's I-RAM [bit-tech.net] peripheral I was really excited, until I found out that it used the SATA bus which is a huge bottleneck for such a device. A company called Cenatek makes something known as the RocketDrive [cenatek.com] which is actually a PCI card which interfaces via the PCI bus for 0.6 microsecond access times. It is, however, $3,000 [cenatek.com] for one with 4GB of RAM on it. They're just regular DIMMs, too (PC133 IIRC) so I can't see why it's so damn expensive. They used to sell just t
      • Bzzzt fail. Some good points from the parent - but, the pagefile thing is just wrong.

        Windows will run fine without a pagefile. In fact it does run much better. I've disabled my pagefile and home and left it that way for quite some time.

        Some applications, Photoshop being one of them, absolutely require Windows to be running a pagefile. These applications account for less than 5% of the software that an "avid gamer" would be running.

        The only proviso is that you must provide more than enough RAM for your s
        • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Friday March 10, 2006 @01:37AM (#14888788)
          >Perhaps the parent tried disabling his swapfile when he only had 128MB of RAM?

          Nope, theres a long list of apps that wont work without a pagefile. MS advises against it too. I wouldnt suggest this without telling people that they will run into weird problems.
          • I'm with you on this, I'd never turn it off! If you have enough RAM windows won't touch it, although you may want to make it a static size rather than letting Windows automatically resize it.

            Personally I run Linux mainly but I have a Windows partition on my IDE boot disk. Even with 1GB of ram I purposely left 342mb at the end of each of my 3 scsi disks to have a raid 0 stripe of 1024 (ish) swap, just in case windows ever needs it.

            Remember, disk space is cheap!
      • by toddestan (632714) on Friday March 10, 2006 @01:47AM (#14888813)
        Windows will not remotely work right without one. You can knock it down to 512 or 256 megs if you life. Windows generally won't use it until you're out of memory. Generally.

        Windows loves the page file. Windows is constantly paging out programs and data to the pagefile in order to have a block of memory available to launch a new program into. However, Windows still retains the data in ram so long as the ram isn't needed for something else, so if you have to pull up that program or data again, Windows won't have to go to the pagefile to get it. However, Windows still counts that memory as available (since it has already been paged out), hence the reason why the numbers in Task Manager tend to not add up quite right. Overall, the system works quite well, especially for computers with a modest amount of ram.

        The problem is that Windows is still aggressively paging out data on high memory systems, when there really isn't a reason to have 800MB-1000MB or more of memory available at any time. The only way I know to really change Window's behavior is to disable the pagefile (which I don't do). What I do recommend is setting the page file to a set size, and using a defragging program to make it one large file at the beginning of the drive. If you have a second harddrive that is fast, it is probably better to put in on the beginning of the second drive.
      • I run with page file turned off and have very few problems. In fact, the only one I can think of off the top of my head is cropping in photoshop (which doesn't work without a page file). My system runs WAY better with the page file off, it's ridiculous. I used to have slow downs all the time as the HD was accessed, and that has been largely eliminated. I would recommend anyone with plenty of RAM give it a try and see how it goes.
        • I need to reply to my own comment, because after typing it I got to thinking about the photoshop cropping problem I've been having... and voila I found it wasn't an issue with the page file at all. So in reality, I have absolutely no problems that I've noticed with having my page file turned off!
          • Yeah, one thing I've discovered about 2000 and XP is that they are absolutely terrible about the way they handle the pagefile. In particular, they love to keep swapping out parts of running applications to make room for applications you might want to start later. This is why you can have 1GB of memory, open up Mozilla browse a bit, and minimize it, and when you go to unminimize it the application takes 3 minutes to swap back in, despite the fact that you weren't anywhere near expending your physical memor
  • Heat is killer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macdaddy357 (582412) <macdaddy357@hotmail.com> on Thursday March 09, 2006 @10:50PM (#14888144)
    What are you using to keep your gaming PC cool?
    • What are you using to keep your gaming PC cool?

      Why is the parent modded Offtopic?!?
            Heat can very easily cause performance problems as virtually every CPU manufactured today will slow itself down to avoid damage if it's running too hot.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 09, 2006 @10:51PM (#14888149)
    My 386sx 16 is just not not enough to handle Falcon 4.0! The box specs IBM PC compatible, 286 min, 640k and an Ad Lib sound card ... and I am at least 1.5 those specs. I mean WTF man??!!
  • One idea... (Score:2, Informative)

    by parasonic (699907)
    Call me an AMD fanboy, but one place where you can be most certain that there's not a bottleneck is where you have fast and innovative access methods. If you're using an amd64-based system, you're probably okay with the CPU and probably motherboard. Integrated memory controller. Relatively short pipeline. It's very nice to have this stuff integrated and be maxing out the speed.
    • Actually, it depends to a great extent on WHICH Athlon 64 you're running, how fast your ram is, and what socket the processor is running on.

      Don't assume that just because you use a magically delicious architecture for your CPU that you are going to never worry about it again.

      An AMD64 2800+ on socket 754 with 512mb of high-latency (generic) ram will not perform at all up to par on some modern games.

      Whereas a 4500+ X2 on socket 939 with 2gb of CAS-2 OCZ ram will be blazing fast.
      • My bad, 4500 is nonexistent, I was thinking of the 4600 (probably my next purchase)
        • My bad, 4500 is nonexistent, I was thinking of the 4600 (probably my next purchase)

          If you're looking at that, check out the Opteron 175 as well (What I just got).
          It's 200MHz slower which is easy to OC (mine's running at 2.4 same as the 4600 and I've never overclocked anything before) but it has double the cache. 1MB per core versus 512K on the 4600.
          Both are Socket 939 as well.

          The Froogle prices that showed up when I just did a google search on both of these show the opteron as being less expensive as well.
  • by suspected (907639) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:00PM (#14888186)
    In my personal experience, I've found that upgrading the video card impacted the performance within video games more than any other upgrade. The only exception would be in the case of RAM; RAM is one of those things where if you have enough, everything goes well, but if you're lacking, it can really hurt. Just be sure to have 1gb of RAM and then upgrade your video card if you're looking for the biggest bang for your buck in terms of performance within a video game.
  • by paulius_g (808556) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:07PM (#14888219) Homepage
    Like many other people, I assume that you are locked into Windows for most games. But, if you do play games and if they are available for Linux, try to play them on Linux. Your performance may be augmented by very much.

    Now what you should do is, first of all, make sure that you have enough RAM. Observe your hard disk drive activiy LED while playing games. If your game stumbles, you'll need more RAM. And let me make this clear, the minimum today for gaming should be at least 1GB. If your games require more, feed the beast with fresh RAM DIMMs.

    The second thing you want to do is to open your task manager and then starting and playing your game. The task manager will then create a graph of the CPU usage which you'll be able to look on later. Does the CPU spike for a while? Is it always on the edge? A new CPU will cure!

    Otherwise, it is safe to assume that your video card is up for an upgrade.

    Really, there aren't many bottlenecks possible in a gaming system. Everything is logical.
    • No, Windows will give you much better performance, simply because the video drivers for Windows for both ATI (especially) and Nvidia are much higher performing. The only games that are even close are unreal engine games, since apparently they are more dependent on CPU speed than your video card (I could of course be completely wrong). Also, the 3D drivers for my GeForce FX5200Go cause my Ubuntu Breezy Badger to be as stable as Windows 98. Face facts. Linux isn't ready for gaming due to no fault of any
      • I know that I have no solid numerical facts for this, but Armagedtron looks and feels far smoother, and graphically looks better on the box while running under gentoo than when running win2k.

        Just my 2 cents
        • I experience at most a 10%-15% performance hit running games with Cedega/Debian over Windows XP. The system is drastically overbuilt for the games I was then (and still am) playing, so I don't care much.

          One of them was Everquest. With my standard settings (rather high),I was managing a nice 60-70fps in open conditions and 35 in "raid" conditions under Windows XP. Same settings, same machine, Nvidia binary drivers and Cedega, 55-65fps/30fps. Max framerate didn't change, was about 120fps with either.

          Most game
      • Actually, you should consider upgrading the OS. I have heard Windows Server 2003 is about 10% faster than Windows 2000/XP. For one, Windows 2000 and XP are dog slow at starting new processes. An article from several months ago showed Windows takes 5 times as many instruction cycles to start a process as pretty much any Unix OS. Only snag is some games might not run on 2003.
        • The process spawning time doesn't matter much, as most games are single-process programs.
        • Unless you have some batshit insane game developer that spawns a new thread for every bullet or something, I doubt "5x as many instructions to spawn a process" is going to matter much for games. Even if they are relatively expensive, it's absolutely nothing compared to the amount of CPU most games suck down for AI and whatnot.
          • Number of instructions to spawn a process is just an example of why Windows 2000/XP is slow. I don't know for sure why Server 2003 is faster or rather XP is slower, and haven't experienced Server 2003 myself, but I would guess Server 2003 is more efficient than XP at housekeeping and context switching. Starting may not happen often but switching can, and overhead is always present. What I have seen is DOS programs running noticably faster under OS/2 than under Windows 9x, MSDOS 6.2, or MSDOS 7.

            The Linu

      • In my experience the frame rates are almost always as good, but slightly worse, however things like startup time are much faster. And the system is as I left it when I exit the game while on Windows it takes minutes for the disk to stop buzzing and the desktop to be responsive again.
    • Ahem even if you're joking, perhaps you should warn that you only get better, or really any performance on Linux when you're using an nVidia graphics card. ATI doesn't support their later graphics cards under Linux.
  • Benchmarking (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mr_Tulip (639140) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:16PM (#14888261) Homepage
    I like to use Sandra [sisoftware.co.uk] as a benchmarking utility, as it allows you to test various bits of hardware independantly, and compares them to various common models currently on the market.

    This will let you work out which pieces of hardware are not up to scratch. Then you just have to work out whether they're responsible for whatever 'bottleneck' you're trying to get around.

    • Alot of its benchmarks are better optimized for Intel procs than AMD. It is good to compare one AMD system to another but not interbrand comparisons.
  • by tengennewseditor (949731) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:20PM (#14888278)
    The poster is asking for utilities that will help him discover the bottleneck in his gaming machine. He is not asking how to improve performance for a particular setup, and that is why he did not post specs for his system. He probably should have posted what OS he is using, but since this question is about gaming you can assume that he's using Windows, or at least has access to a Windows boot.

    I wanted to clarify the original question because I'm looking for this kind of utility myself and was getting annoyed at everyone simply asking for specs.

    • (as soon as i posted this the above poster posted the link to a bottleneck finding utility -- he was the first to do so)
    • by GuyverDH (232921) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:36PM (#14888354)
      Unfortunately, there are NO magic utilities that will wave it's magic wand and *poof* out pops a list of the 10 recommended steps to ultimate gaming perforgasm.

      It's called trial and error, and it takes time to figure things out for yourself.

      Don't try the all encompassing, single pass, benchmark utilities as they are too general.

      #1 - Memory - It's been repeated here multiple times - Gaming takes memory - I won't play on a gaming rig with less than 2GB RAM. Disable virtual memory (as stated earlier as well) - try downloading TweakXP from totalidea - it has some nice memory tweaking settings that take the guesswork out of things.

      #2 - Benchmarking / Tweaking / Re-benchmarking...

      SiSoft Sandra (as mentioned earlier in this thread) is a good start. It has several modules, which can be run individually.

      Go through your memory benchmarks - tweak settings in the BIOS (if they are available for tweaking), then re-run - DOCUMENT your changes, 1 change at a time - it's time consuming as hell, yet it's the only way to truly know what changes caused what differences in performance.

      Run the disk benchmarks, tune the cache settings in the registry, re-run the disk benchmark, then re-run the memory again to see what impact having changed the disk cache has on memory performance.

      Networking - if you are using a motherboard, with an embedded network interface, and it's not a hardware (ie seperate chip) implemented network interface - replace it with a card - software based network interfaces, running from chipset/cpu ruin system performance.

      Places like http://www.dslreports.com/ [dslreports.com] under the tools section have some decent tools for examining your system settings, and suggesting changes to optimize throughput.

      Playing with QOS settings may also effect network performance.

      #3 Video - what games are you planning on playing, what refresh rate does your monitor support?

      If your monitor only supports 60hz refresh, then it doesn't do a lot of good to go out and get that 80fps monster video card (unless you plan on replacing the monitor). The only place this isn't true, is in the digital realm of LCD monitors, where the faster you can refresh the image, between syncs, the better off you are.

      Monitor - if using an LCD, what's your black to black / white to white delay? Replace the monitor if it's over 8ms - as that may introduce ghosting while playing. (I personally use a Viewsonic VX922 - with 2ms black to black / white to white - it's awesome IMNSHO)

      HTH
      • by strider44 (650833) on Friday March 10, 2006 @12:46AM (#14888642)
        I won't play on a gaming rig with less than 2GB RAM. *Looks down at my puny 1GB rammed computer and sobs* Anyway I want to add another point (and I'm adding this as a 3D developer rather than a game player as such!) that really what's bottlenecking your system depends on the application/game rather than the actual system. Sure some setups might do better than others just generally, but considering a generally well rounded system then really it almost totally depends on which game.

        For example, one app/game (say your average FPS) might have the polygons and maps neatly optimised in memory (assuming you have enough) just loaded at the start of the level while you might also play a flight simulator which will be constantly streaming data from the hard drive. For the first game getting a 1337 SCSI hard drive won't help a bit, but it'll probably make things easier on the flight simulator.

        For memory, having 2GB vs 3GB on a game that only uses 1GB of memory won't do you any good. Having less than required would be horrific though, especially if you don't have that 1337 SCSI hard drive to cope with all of the swapping from disk. Having extremely quick 2GB memory might help compared to slow 3GB memory, however for games like RTSs where the units are probably all held on display lists on the video card anyway there won't be much streaming of memory to the video card so having faster memory won't help *all* that much (don't get me wrong, it will help, just not as much as you might hope).

        I'd guess that most games now-a-days would be a balance between an uber video card and an uber CPU. Of course each different game would have a different optimum balance so I guess you're stuffed there.

        Wow, looking back at my message I realised that I said lots of interesting things that didn't help one bit in answering the question except by saying "Nice try mate, but it's not that simple". Anyway I'll stop now.
      • As there is no magic utility to tell you what to upgrade, it seems this is a business opportunity. Someone needs to develop this software! Ideally make it cross-platform, so you reach the widest audience and impress the adventurous Linux-ites, BSDers and OSXers. cross-platform C that does not depend on libraries. Just read/write to disk, read/write to memory, do some openGL, aggregate the data and print out suggestions that the user can follow to increase their numbers.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Make sure you have 1 gig of ram and at least a 2.5 ghz equivalent processor. If so, then your bottleneck is 99% likely your video card.
    • Make sure you have 1 gig of ram and at least a 2.5 ghz equivalent processor. If so, then your bottleneck is 99% likely your video card.

      Mod the parent up morons. I have karma to burn.
    • ...and the remaining 130% of statistics are made up on the spot.
      My system was awfully slow, with specs similar to the ones you described. Especially load times, and whenever any disk activity happened.
      Bottleneck? Motherboard chipset drivers, the disks were working in some goddamn PIO mode eating up a big chunk of CPU time and being slow as hell. Drivers installed, disks work fine, everything speeded up.

      The problem with PCs is that they contain mothaloads of legacy hardware and they default to using it - any
  • by humblecoder (472099) on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:42PM (#14888391) Homepage
    Here are some simple steps that you can take to figure out where the bottleneck is:

    1. If you see the disk activity LED lit up a lot, you probably need more memory. The system is trying to extend the memory of the system by swapping data from RAM to disk and back. If you had more memory, the system would be able to keep more data in RAM. You can also confirm this by looking at the memory usage statistics in Task Manager (assuming this is a Windows box).

    2. Another thing you can see from Task Manager is the CPU utilization. If it maxed out at 100%, the CPU is probably the bottleneck, so you may benefit from having a faster processor.

    3. If neither of these things is the issue and the game you are running has a lot of complex graphics going on, then the issue could be your Video Card.

    In my limited experience with benchmarking games, these seem like the three most common bottlenecks.
    • //quote/ If you see the disk activity LED lit up a lot, you probably need more memory. //quote/

      wow.

      Do you watch the blinking lights in the communications closets to calculate out how much the network switches are pushing though and whether or now you need to upgrade to full gigabit or fiber to the desktop?

      Those methods are just about as accurate. Please don't become my superior and order me to install this...I will rebel and cause a mutiny.

  • Lights (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 09, 2006 @11:50PM (#14888442)
    I think you should add flashing lights. Maybe one of those fishtank windows. Don't forget to paint your case and don't buy a power supply unless it's painted black.

    Be sure all the fans you buy have LEDs in them, and your front panel should be covered by a motorized door that you can open by remote control.

    Then you will have a "gaming rig" instead of just some workstation with a video card in it.
    • I think you should add flashing lights. Maybe one of those fishtank windows.

      When I was ordering my new computer I picked everything out and was waiting around until I could justify the purchase to myself. My boss ended up buying it for me (since me geeking out helps the company :-). So we sat down to order it and they were out of the RAM I'd picked out. The only paired RAM they had a vailable in one GB sticks had flashing LEDs on it. So I'm all well...crap... Fine, let's get the goofy RAM.

      Turns out the case
  • Windows Vs. Linux (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Neo-Rio-101 (700494) on Friday March 10, 2006 @12:40AM (#14888624)
    I have a dual boot computer between Windows XP and Linux. Experimenting with "America's Army" and "Unreal Tournament 2004", the speedup when using Linux is actually very significant.

    Now, if there were only more commerical Linux games!
  • Which game? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cgenman (325138) on Friday March 10, 2006 @12:46AM (#14888641) Homepage
    Games vary quite a bit in terms of utilization. Deus Ex 2 hit the main processor pretty hard. Half Life 2 destroys RAM. World of Warcraft sucks no matter what you do thanks to the server on the other end.

    There is really no way to benchmark every game out there, so you have to go on the "feel" of the games that you are playing.

    If your game experiences sudden large performance hits, you probably have run out of RAM and are hitting the hard disk. Any time you hit the hard disk is bad.

    If you want to see if your CPU is maxed out, go to a relatively visually quiet section of the world and start knocking objects over. This shouldn't increase render times, but will show you if you have processor clock to spare.

    If you want to see if your graphics card is maxed out, find a relatively static section of the world without NPC's or moving objects, and go from a very narrow view to a fully pulled back vista. Assuming you aren't hitting a we-render-it-so-we-add-physics-to-it wall, you should be hitting the graphics processor pretty hard while staying light on the other components. This should also be able to be sensed in gameplay... if your framerate glitches vary a lot from moment-to-moment based upon your vision cone, you're probably hitting the graphics card. If your framerate glitches are relatively constant within an area or an encounter, you're probably hitting something else.

    FSB speed is tough to judge, as that effects everything else. But really the only way to improve that is to get a new motherboard, at which point you should be upgrading everything anyway.

    To complicate matters further, which "bottleneck" you hit depends upon what your graphics settings are. Want to max out your graphics processor? Turn on 8x sampling and turn the resolution all the way up. Want to max out your ram? Use the maximum texture size on the largest maps.
  • by GMC-jimmy (243376) on Friday March 10, 2006 @12:52AM (#14888661) Homepage
    It really doesn't matter if I know your PC specs or not. Me knowing isn't going to change what's in your box. Different game publishers make use of different hardware optimizations and performance will vary from one machine to the next. But these general tips will still apply to most situations. Knowing what hardware your chosen game was optimized for will help too. Video games make such extensive use of all your hardware that it's more like finding a team for the job than just one individual. There's no one magic do-all piece of hardware that runs all games. Here's a few basic tips to keep in mind while making hardware choices. Other than the usual 3D accelerator card perks, watch for things like...

    • CPU / RAM speeds. Make sure your CPU and RAM can talk to each other as fast as possible. They communicate via the FSB (Frontside Bus). When buying RAM, buy it all at once. Don't mix and match old and new peices of different speeds. Games make more use of the CPU/RAM combo than anything else. While a highend video card helps video, the CPU/RAM are left to work on audio, network (for online play), and physics as in games like Half Life 2. 1 gig of DDR400 memory will far out perform 2 gigs of 133MHz SDRAM with the same CPU.

    • Minimize harddrive access time. Harddrives are the usual bottleneck when a PC doesn't have as much RAM as a game needs to cache those enormously bloated textures. Harddrive performance is usually rated by spindle speeds and seek time. Higher spindle speeds and lower seek times are generally better.

    • Spend a few extra bucks on a decent audio card. Avoid onboard audio whenever possible. And the same goes for the network card. If you have too few slots for all this, it's better to go with onboard network than onboard audio.


    Outside those general things, another thing to keep in mind is the more hardware devices like printers and scanners that you have plugged into your machine the more often the CPU polls those devices during each cycle. Also allowing third party applications to automatically launch and idle while you play will hurt performance.

    Hope this help. Game on.
  • by creimer (824291) on Friday March 10, 2006 @02:01AM (#14888846) Homepage
    My credit card doesn't have an unlimited limit and I'm penalized if I don't pay it back. Whatever happened to God Mode in real life?
  • simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by convolvatron (176505) on Friday March 10, 2006 @02:12AM (#14888881)
    1) get a high-end logic analyzer

    2) get or build a socket shim and appropriate decode modules for your cpu fsb(assuming intel)

    3) track down the physical addresses for your graphics device and memory. the bios should map these the same for each boot if you are lucky.

    4) get some traces and write some analysis software to correlate bus issues with responses. one good metric would be the time spent waiting for memory vs the time between issues

    5) look at the driver for the graphics card to figure out the indication of when the graphics command pipe stalls. extend your trace analyzer to track these

    6) dig through the intel performance event documentation and write or run monitoring code which logs these over time

    this should give you a general indication of whether its your cpu, memory system, or graphics card that is the bottleneck. it may be none of the above. you may have to dig deeper because interpreting all that data can be difficult.

    good luck!

    (note that your system may not work at speed with the analyzer hooked up..in that case stop whining, buy reasonably high end parts and forget the whole thing)
  • For me, I have to shut down any MSI apps (the motherboard maker installs things like it's own "Live Update" that sucks 100% of CPU every 3 or 5 seconds and doesn't register a blip on Task Mananger).

    On my friend's machine, receently, after uninstalling Symantec Antivirus (what a pain, doesn't uninstall itself , 5 pages of manual instructions, screw something up and it relentlessly tries to re-install itself), which was running 10 or so services, his bootup happens almost instantly (compared to 5 minutes with
  • 3DMark06, now breaks its scores out to give you a little more of an idea how the overall score was built. That might help you to figure out what limiting components you have.
  • You have to attack the bottleneck problem from all angles. This means using many utilities, but also using your gut feeling. To do so, you need a lot of data.

    Benchmarking programs are a great start. 3DMark and PCMark from Futuremark [futuremark.com] are great tools for this. 3DMark plays scripted animations that use the latest pixel shaders and other effects. Because it's scripted it mostly taxes the GPU. PCMark benchmarks many components in isolated tests. Both utilities let you compare results with other people'
  • Don't waste your time tinkering your PC to play games. Buy a game console and waste your time actually playing games!
  • Okay, here comes my troll points. My opinion is that it is one of those, "if you need to ask, this is not for you." Gamers know their machines more intimately than most. It's not a step by step process, though there are steps to quicken a machine. Instead, it is a love affair as the gamer touches every little nook, exploring his/her computer.

    I think for the person who needs to ask about tweaking a game machine, the best advice is throw money at the problem, and then hit google. The truely passionate wi
  • First off make sure that you're not sharing IRQs between things like you nics, video card, sounds card, USB chipsets, etc. This is a major concern if you're buying motherboards with everything onboard since they almost always share IRQs among at least a few components.

    Next look into RAID. Make absolutely certain that you are not utilizing onboard RAID and are instead using an addon card. I can guarantee you that any mobo you can afford with onboard RAID will in fact be software-based RAID ano not hardw

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