You first noticed it on the latest Tomb Raider game: You barely made it past the title screen before the scene jumped, froze and disappeared. You might have chalked it up to your computer’s hardware — your graphics card might be just a few months too old — and resolved to invest in an upgrade as soon as you can. However, you probably started noticing problems with your other games, too; even on arcade games with 8-bit graphics, your computer has been having trouble keeping the correct pace.
When your computer isn’t running your video games optimally, your first instinct might be to replace the video card — but that could be an expensive and unnecessary mistake. Before you shell out for a top-of-the-line GPU, you might try one of the following faster, simpler and cheaper fixes to sub-optimal gameplay.
Clean out Your Disks
Before you open up your wallet, you should try to work with the device you have. To start, you should try to clear out any unused, unnecessary data stored on your device to make room for your games to run smoothly. The easiest way to do this is with a dedicated program, like Mac Cleaner for Apple evangelists or one of dozens of PC cleaners for the rest of us. This type of software sifts through your disks for you, looking for programs, temporary files and junk data that takes up space. You can set the program to delete this stuff automatically, or you can glance through what it has found and salvage items you want to keep.
If this solution doesn’t vibe with your typical hands-on style of computer care, you can manually perform the same kind of search for outdated and unneeded files. You should look primarily for software you no longer use (including games you haven’t played in years) as well as pictures and videos, which require an exorbitant amount of storage space. You can either relocate this stuff to the cloud or an external hard drive or else erase it from existence.
Clean up the Device
Once your digital spaces are squeaky clean, you should start putting elbow grease into the physical device. Over time, your computer accumulates dust and debris, which adds warmth and resistance that force the machine to work harder to produce the same effects. That’s why you should spend an hour or so every few months vacuuming, dusting and wiping your device back to optimal performance.
If you have a laptop gaming computer, your work here will likely be minimal. After turning the device off, you should use some canned air to blow out any dust or food particles that might be trapped around the keyboard. Then, use your vacuum’s hose attachment to suck all that stuff away. You should also use some rubbing alcohol on a microfiber cloth to wipe the oil and fingerprints off the screen and casing.
Desktop computers are slightly more labor-intensive. First, you should unplug your CPU and take the rig outside, where dust bunnies are unlikely to find their way back into your machine. Then, wipe down the exterior, to include beneath the base. Pull out the dust filter and knock all the trapped fuzz into a garbage pail; you might even rinse the filters with a hose or the sink to ensure it is as good as new. Now, turn your attention to the interior of the case, where you will manually wipe down every component with a microfiber cloth. Avoid the impulse to use canned air here; doing so will only blow the dust around, not remove it from your device. If you have the patience, you should also remove each component and wipe it down with a cloth or a cotton Q-tip before putting the rig back together and firing it up.
Invest in More Space
If neither of these options improves your gameplay, you can begin purchasing new components for your computer — but don’t immediately leap to the graphics card. Instead, you should be focusing on memory and storage.
First, consider adding more RAM, or random-access memory. Your computer uses RAM to run programs, and larger programs usually require a larger percentage of your RAM. You can upgrade RAM easily and inexpensively, but before you do, you should investigate how much RAM your computer can handle and in what configuration. Installing the RAM incorrectly will result in an inoperable machine.
Next, look to hard drive storage. Storage is slower than RAM, but it’s where your computer goes when there isn’t enough RAM for running programs to share. A terabyte is a generous amount of hard drive storage; even if you downloaded every video game you ever wanted, you probably wouldn’t use all that space. Still, it is better to have extra storage than not have enough, and because storage is also inexpensive, you can probably afford a major upgrade.
You probably don’t need to drop thousands of dollars to play your favorite games. With the right maintenance, any computer should be in tip-top shape to run what they say they’ll run.