If you've ever played a game with unexpected lag spikes, delays, and choppiness, then you've experienced game stuttering. It is one of the more frustrating aspects of PC gaming, although it’s also known to happen on consoles as well. PC gamers, however, have the luxury of potentially doing away with the stuttering issues, because the problem has numerous fixable root causes.
What is screen stuttering?
Screen stuttering is an issue caused by irregular delays between the graphics processing unit
(GPU) and the image on your display
. This is most notable when gaming, because it can have a profound detrimental impact on your experience. When dealing with online screen stuttering, the game will feel slow, appear laggy, and it will skip frames. This can cause a delay in player actions, which wreaks havoc on gameplay.
There are many different reasons why you may experience stuttering in games. Much of it depends on the type of game itself. If you are playing a graphics-intensive title like Cyberpunk 2077
, for example, then your GPU
is likely the culprit. However, if you’re playing a simulation game that needs to load many assets at once, such as Cities: Skylines, then your RAM may be causing the issue
Sometimes, you’ll need to look beyond your PC hardware limitations to fix stuttering in games. Aside from your GPU or RAM, there are various software settings that you can adjust to solve this problem. As such, fixing screen stuttering is often a multifaceted task that requires several different solutions.
Hardware settings that cause stuttering in games
Your PC hardware is the first place that you should look when determining how to fix stuttering. This is because overheated and overutilized hardware is often the leading culprit when it comes to online game stuttering. Here are the top 3 things to look for with your hardware.
1. Underpowered GPU
Trying to play a game when you don’t have powerful enough hardware
is one of the biggest reasons for game stuttering. When you purchase a game for your PC, you should always check the recommended settings and specifications. This is particularly important with graphics-intensive games, because PCs that lack the components recommended by the game developer will stutter due to lack of resources.
Similarly, if your setup lacks adequate cooling, your computer may overheat. Running components at or beyond their recommended capacity for long periods, which is a side effect of trying to play on an underpowered CPU or GPU, will generate a lot of heat. If your cooling system is not up to the task of dissipating that heat, you can potentially damage your components. And if your device does overheat, your game may start to stutter and run erratically.
3. RAM usage
Another reason why you need to carefully check the system requirements for any game you want to play is to ensure adequate RAM. That’s because if you plan to play modern triple-A (AAA) games on your computer, you need to make sure it has at least 16GB of RAM.
In gaming, RAM helps computers improve frame rates and frame pacing. If you don’t have enough RAM, your computer can’t process the information it needs quickly enough, which leads to overall poor performance and game stuttering.
If you do have enough RAM and you’re still experiencing issues, be sure to close other software programs and apps that may be hogging RAM, like your internet browser.
4. CPU bottleneck
If a game uses a lot of your CPU’s resources, then this could be why you’re experiencing issues. This can happen for two reasons:
- Your CPU is underpowered.
- The game you want to play is very CPU-dependent.
This bottleneck often occurs when you try to pair a lower-powered CPU with a high-end GPU, because there’s a sizable gap in power. To fix this, upgrade your processor and make sure that it better matches your graphics unit. You can also check your CPU usage to make sure it is running under 99%. If not, you may want to try closing some programs outside of the game.
How to fix stuttering in game settings
While a hardware solution is usually the most obvious fix, it is not the only way to resolve stuttering issues. You can also do so by modifying the settings within the game itself. Most games have an in-game benchmarking tool that allows you to see what your PC is capable of when running the game. You can also configure these settings manually to get the best performance and decrease the possibility of a choppy, lackluster experience.
1. Lower screen resolution setting
The first game setting you should look at when trying to fix stuttering in games is screen resolution. This can have the most immediately noticeable impact on performance, and often solves game stuttering on its own.
Adjusting the resolution helps to take some burden off your GPU. Also, your monitor may not be able to handle the larger resolution that you’re trying to use when playing a game.
Some games don’t allow you to directly adjust the resolution in the game settings. In that case, you can do so within Windows:
- Right-click on your desktop and select Display Settings under “System Settings”
- Select Advanced Display Settings at the bottom of the menu
- Adjust your screen resolution to a lower setting
- Click Apply
After doing this, reboot the game to see if the stuttering issue is resolved or reduced.
2. Toggle VSync or FreeSync
VSync (or vertical sync) is an NVIDIA® graphics technology that allows you to synchronize the frame rate of a game to the refresh rate of a monitor. This typically allows for seamless and uninterrupted gameplay. However, it may lead to issues in games with variable frame rates because it locks the game to a fixed framerate.
VSync is beneficial if your GPU is rendering more frames than your monitor can display. However, if the frame rate drops below the monitor's refresh rate because of a graphically intense section of the game, such as a busy cutscene, then you may experience lag.
- Enter “NVIDIA control panel” into your Windows search bar
- Select Manage 3D Settings
- Under the Global Setting tab, look for “Vertical Sync” under a list of features
- Using the dropdown menu to the right, select VSync “on” or “off”
If you have an AMD graphics card, you can use FreeSync
to eliminate game stuttering. FreeSync uses a different methodology by delivering dynamic refresh rates that synchronize the frame rate of a monitor. However, you’ll need a FreeSync monitor to make this work. NVIDIA has a similar technology called G-Sync that works with NVIDIA graphics cards.
3. Decrease anti-aliasing
Anti-aliasing is a process that eliminates jagged lines in games. It’s accomplished by rendering frames multiple times to smooth over the transition between surfaces in the game world. However, higher levels of anti-aliasing can cause the GPU to work overtime, potentially leading to a bottleneck.
You can set anti-aliasing in the settings of most games to 2x, 4x, 8x, and 16x. If you're experiencing games stuttering, it is best to use the 2x setting or simply turn it off entirely to give your PC extra time to render the game world.
4. Drop texture filtering
Texture filtering is used to calculate how a 2D image is mapped to a full 3D model. However, a single pixel does not directly correspond to a 3D model, because it’s viewed from different angles and distances. There are several ways that texture filtering can occur. The most basic of these is called bilinear filtering, and all this does is translate the nearest pixels to create an average color gradient.
There is also trilinear filtering and anisotropic filtering, both of which further enhance graphics quality. However, these settings tend to reduce the frames per second, so adjusting them to lower settings can be helpful in reducing stuttering in games.
5. Reduce texture quality
Texture quality is easily adjustable in most games, and it’s related to the quality of the graphics. The lower the graphics quality, the higher your frames per second in-game. However, the trade-off is that the game will look much worse.
Before you adjust this, check the game's recommended settings for the texture quality you want to target, then make sure that your GPU and CPU can accommodate it. This will help to avoid having your games “running choppy” at the expense of higher texture quality.
There are many possible solutions to reduce – or outright eliminate – stuttering in games. However, fixing this issue is a multifaceted process that often requires several solutions and some detective work.
While you should always start by looking at the hardware settings and recommended game settings, you will also want to manually adjust your game settings to make sure that the game runs as smoothly as possible with your current specs.
About the Author: Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.