Understanding and Optimizing Video Game Frame Rates

How to Optimize and Improve Graphics Performance and Frame Rates

Doom 4
Image from the upcoming Doom 4 - A game that's going to require the most from your graphics card. © Bethesda Softworks

One of the most common benchmarks used in measuring graphics performance of a video game is the frame rate or frames per second. The frame rate in a video game reflects how often an image you see on the screen is refreshed to produce the image and simulation movement/motion. Frame rate is most often measured in frames per second or FPS, (not to be confused with First Person Shooters). 

There are many factors that go into determining a game's frame rate, but as with many things in technology, the higher or faster something is, the better.

Low frame rates in video games will result in a number of issues that can occur at the most inopportune times. Examples of what can occur with low frame rates include choppy or jumpy movement during action sequences that involve a lot of movement/animations; Frozen screens making it difficult to interact with the game, and a number of others.

The frame rate FAQ detailed below provides answers to some basic questions surrounding video game frame rates, how to measure frames per seconds and the different tweaks and tools you can use to improve frame rate and overall graphics performance.

What determines the Frame Rate or Frames Per Second of a Video Game?

There are a number of factors that contribute to a game's frame rate or frames per second (FPS) performance. 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 with in the game
 • How well the game code is optimized and developed for graphics performance.

In this article, we will focus on the first two bullet points as the last is out of our hands as we rely on the game's developer to have written optimized code for graphics and performance.

The largest contributing factor on a game's frame rate or FPS performance is the graphics card and CPU. In basic terms, the computer's CPU sends information or instructions from programs, applications, in this case the game, to the graphics card.

The graphics card will then, in turn, 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 verse. If a CPU is under powered it does not make sense to upgrade to the latest and greatest 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 a mid to low end CPU 18-24 months ago there's a good chance it's already at the low end of minimum system requirements. In fact, a good part of the hardware on your PC is probably being surpassed by new and better hardware within 0-3 months of being purchased. The key is to try and find the right balance with the game's graphics and resolution settings.

What Frames Rate or Frames Per Second is acceptable for Video/Computer Games?

Most video games today are developed with the goal of hitting a frame rate of 60 fps but anywhere between 30 fps to 60 fps is considered acceptable. That's not to say that games cannot exceed 60 fps, in fact many do, but anything below 30 fps, animations may start to become choppy and show a lack fluid motion.

The actual frames per second you experience varies throughout the game based on the hardware and what may be happening in the game at any given moment. In terms of hardware, as mentioned previously your graphics card and CPU will play a role in the frames per second but also your monitor can also impact the FPS that 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 1 and others that have graphics intense action sequences may impact the game's FPS due to large number of moving objects, game physics and calculations, 3D environments and more. Newer games also can also require higher versions of a DirectX shader model that a graphics card may support, if the shader model requirement is not met by the GPU often poor performance, low frame rate, or incompatibility can occur.

How can I measure Frames Rate or Frames Per Second of a game on my computer?

There are a number of tools and applications available for you to measure the frame rate or frames per second of a video game while you're playing. The most popular and one that many consider to be the best is called Fraps. Fraps is a standalone application that runs behind the scenes for any game that use DirectX or OpenGL graphics APIs (Application Programming Interface) and serves as a benchmarking utility that will display your current frames per second as well as measure the FPS between a start and end point. In addition to the benchmarking functionality Fraps also has functionality for game screenshot captures and real-time, in-game video capture. While the full functionality of Fraps is not free, they do offer a free version with limitations that includes the FPS benchmarking, 30 seconds of video capture and .bmp screenshots.

There are some Fraps Alternative applications out there such as Bandicam, but you'll end up having to pay for those as well if you want full functionality.

How can I optimize hardware or game settings to improve Frame Rate, FPS and performance?

As mentioned in previous questions above 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 or 2. Adjust the game's graphics settings. Since upgrading your hardware is a given for improved performance I will focus on the different graphics game settings and how they can help or reduce performance and a game's frame rate.

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 hopefully your FPS count. Upon installation, most games will automatically detect PC hardware that is installed and set the game's graphics settings accordingly for optimal performance. With that said there are some things users can do to help improve frame rate performance even more.

It's easy to say that lowering all of the settings found in a game's graphics settings would provide performance because it would. However I believe most people want to get the right balance of performance and appearance in their gaming experience. The below list includes some common graphics settings that are available in many games that can be manually tweaked by the user.

Common Graphics Settings


Antialiasing, commonly referred to as AA, is a technique in computer graphics development to smooths out rough pixelated or jagged edges in graphics. Most of us have encountered this pixelated or jagged look computer graphics, what AA does is for each pixel on your screen it takes a sample of the surrounding pixels and tries to blend them to make them appear smooth. Many games allow you to turn AA on or off as well as set a 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 in order to smooth things out. If you're looking for a straight performance gain then lowering or turning AA off altogether should give you a boost.

Anisotropic Filtering

In 3D computer graphics it is generally the case that distant objects in a 3D environment will use a lower quality of texture maps that may appear blurry while closer objects use high quality texture maps for more detail. Providing high texture maps for all objects in a 3D environment can have a big impact on overall graphics performance and is where Anisotropic Filtering, or AF, setting comes in.

AF is fairly similar to AA in terms of the setting and what it can do to improve performance. Lowering the setting does have it's disadvantages as more of the view will use the lower quality texture making seemingly near objects appear blurry. AF sample rates can range anywhere from 1x to 16x and adjusting this setting can provide a marked improvement in performance of an older graphics card; This setting is becoming less of a cause for performance drop off on newer graphics cards.

Draw Distance/Field of View

The draw distance setting or view distance and field of view settings are used to determine what you will see on screen and are most relevant to both first and third person shooters. The draw or view distance setting is used to determine how far you see into the distance while field of view determines more of the peripheral view of a character in a FPS. In the case of draw distance and field of view, the higher the setting the means the graphics card will need to work harder to render and display the view, however the impact for the most part should be fairly minimal so lowering may not see much of an improved frame rate or frames per second.


Shadows in a video game contribute to a game's overall look and feel, adding a sense of suspense to the story being told on screen. The shadows quality setting determines how detailed or realistic the shadows will look in the game. The impact of this can vary from scene to scene based on the number of objects and lighting but it can have a fairly big impact on 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 setting is based both on what available in the game as well as the monitor. The higher the resolution the better the graphics will look, all those extra pixels add detail to the environments and objects improving their appearance. However, higher resolutions come with a trade off, since there are more pixels to display on the screen, the graphics card needs to work harder in order to render everything and thus may lower performance. Lowering a the resolution setting in a game is a solid way to improve performance and frame rate, but if you have become accustomed to playing at higher resolutions and seeing more detail you might want to look at some 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 are laid over objects/models in graphics. This setting typically does not impact the frame rate of a game as much, if at all so it's fairly safe to have this set at a higher quality than other settings such as lighting/shadows or AA/AF.

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