Understanding and Optimizing Video Game Frame Rates

How to optimize and improve graphics performance and frame rates

The frame rate in a video game reflects how often the screen refreshes to render the image. It's most often measured in frames per second (FPS).

What Determines the Frame Rate of a Video Game?

The areas that can impact game frame rate/FPS include:

  • System hardware, such as the graphics card, motherboard, CPU, and memory.
  • Graphics and resolution settings within the game.
  • How well the game code is optimized and developed for graphics performance.

The graphics card and CPU are the most significant contributing factors to a game's frame rate or FPS performance. The computer's CPU sends instructions from programs to the graphics card. The graphics card (GPU) will then process the instructions received, render the image, and send it to the monitor for display. 

There is a direct relationship between the CPU and GPU, with the performance of your graphics card being dependent on the CPU and vice versa. If a CPU is underpowered, it does not make sense to upgrade to the latest graphics card if it's not going to be able to utilize all of its processing power.

There's no general rule of thumb for determining what Graphics Card/CPU combo is best, but if the CPU was mid-to-low-end 18-24 months ago, there's a good chance it's already at the low end of minimum system requirements. The key is to try and find the right balance with the game's graphics and resolution settings.

Doom 4 Video Game

What is an Acceptable Frame Rate for Video and Computer Games?

Most video games today are developed to hit a frame rate of 60 FPS, but anywhere between 30 FPS and 60 FPS is considered acceptable. That's not to say that games cannot exceed 60 FPS—many do—but for anything below 30 FPS, animations may become choppy and show a lack of fluid motion.

The actual FPS you experience varies based on the hardware and what's happening in the game at any given moment. In terms of hardware, your graphics card and CPU will play a role in the frames per second, but your monitor can also impact the FPS you'll be able to see. Many LCD monitors are set with a refresh rate of 60Hz, meaning anything above 60 FPS will not be visible.

Coupled with your hardware, games such as Doom 2016, Overwatch, Battlefield: 1942, and others with graphics-heavy action sequences may impact the game's FPS due to many moving objects, game physics and calculations, 3D environments, and more. Newer games can require higher versions of a DirectX shader model that a graphics card may support.

If the GPU does not meet the shader model requirement, often poor performance, low frame rate, or incompatibility can occur.

How to Measure the Frame Rate of a Computer Game

Several tools and applications are available to measure the frame rate of a video game while you're playing. The most popular and one that many consider the best is called Fraps.

Fraps can be run behind the scenes for any game that uses DirectX or OpenGL graphics APIs (Application Programming Interface) and serves as a benchmarking utility that displays your current frames per second.

In addition to benchmarking, Fraps also has functionality for game screenshot captures and real-time, in-game video capture. While the full version of Fraps is not free, there's a free version with limitations that include FPS benchmarking, 30 seconds of video capture, and .bmp screenshots.

There are some Fraps alternative applications like Bandicam, but you'll have to pay for those as well if you want full functionality.

How to Optimize Hardware or Game Settings to Improve Performance

There are two main things you can do to improve the frame rate/frames per second and overall performance of a game:

  1. Upgrade your hardware.
  2. Adjust the game's graphics settings.

Depending on your computer's model, you may be able to upgrade your CPU or install a new graphics card. Alternatively, you can invest in a gaming PC or build your own computer for gaming.

The vast majority of installed DirectX/OpenGL PC games today come with a half dozen or more graphics settings that can be tweaked to improve the performance of your hardware and FPS count. Upon installation, most games will automatically detect installed PC hardware and set the game's graphics settings for optimal performance. That said, there are some things users can do to help improve frame rate performance even more.

Common Graphics Settings

Here's a list of common graphics settings available in games that can be manually tweaked by the user.


Antialiasing, commonly referred to as AA, smooths out rough pixelated or jagged edges in graphics. For each pixel on your screen, it takes a sample of the surrounding pixels and tries to blend them to make them appear smoother. Many games allow you to turn AA on or off and set an AA sample rate expressed as 2x AA, 4x AA, 8x AA, and so on. It is best to set AA in conjunction with your graphics/monitor resolution.

Higher resolutions have more pixels and may only need 2x AA for graphics to look smooth and perform well, while lower resolutions may need it set at 8x to smooth things out. If you're looking for a straight performance gain, lowering or turning AA off altogether should give you a boost.

Anisotropic Filtering

Distant objects in a 3D environment will use a lower-quality texture map that may appear blurry. In contrast, closer objects use high-quality texture maps for more detail. Providing high-texture maps for all objects in a 3D environment can significantly impact overall graphics performance, which is where Anisotropic Filtering, or AF, comes in.

AF sample rates can range anywhere from 1x to 16x, and increasing this setting can provide a marked improvement in the performance of an older graphics card. Lowering the setting has its disadvantages, as more of the view will use the lower quality texture making seemingly near objects appear blurry.

Draw Distance/Field of View

The draw distance (or view distance) and field of view determine what you will see on-screen. These settings are most relevant to first and third-person shooters. The draw distance setting determines how far you see into the distance, while the field of view refers to the peripheral view of a character. At higher settings, the graphics card must work harder. However, the impact should be minimal, so lowering it probably won't affect the frame rate.

Lighting and Shadows

The shadows setting determines how detailed or realistic the lighting looks in a game. The impact of this can vary from scene to scene based on the number of objects and lighting, but it can significantly impact overall performance. While shadows may make a scene look great, it's probably the first setting to lower or turn off for a performance gain when running an older graphics card.


The resolution settings depend on what's available in the game and your monitor. The higher the resolution, the better the graphics will look. However, higher resolutions come with a trade-off.

Since there are more pixels to display on the screen, the graphics card must work harder to render everything, which can lower performance. Lowering the resolution setting in a game is a solid way to improve performance and frame rate. Still, if you have become accustomed to playing at higher resolutions and seeing more detail, you might want to look at other options, such as turning off AA/AF or adjusting lighting/shadows.

Texture Detail/Quality

Textures, in the simplest terms, can be thought of as wallpaper for computer graphics. They are images that overlay objects/models in graphics. This setting typically does not impact a game's frame rate, so it's safe to have this set at a higher quality than other settings such as lighting/shadows or AA/AF.

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