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How to get into PC gaming

The tweaks

PC gaming is all about swallowing your fears. The cost isn’t as bad as you think. Building a PC isn’t as hard as you imagine. Tinkering inside your system isn’t as scary as it seems. And even if you don’t plan on gaming at all, these tweaks will make your PC faster in general. First, an easy way to start off is to download the PC decrapifier. Just run that puppy and it will show you if you have unnecessary programs that could be hogging resources. When in doubt, do a quick internet search on a program and see if you need it. A lot of manufactured PCs come with weird crap the company puts on there for the idiot users, but this stuff slows you down – and no, I’m not saying non-computer-geeks are idiots – if you’re a regular, knows-almost-nothing-about-computers user, you still don’t need a lot of that crap.

Next, let’s disable unnecessary services. A lot of services are totally useless crap using up resources on your PC. Don’t know what services even are? Who cares! If there’s a magic mouse chewing on your RAM, smash that asshole! To make changes to your services, go into your Start menu, then type services.msc in your search box (Vista/7) or click on “run” and then type services.msc (XP). A big scary list will come up, but feat not! A wonderful fellow who goes by the name of Blackviper will walk you through what services you can turn off here. Take special note that he provides a handy grid that shows you different levels of tweaks, with each level shutting off more stuff. I prefer to go with the “Safe” tweaks as opposed to “Bare Bones” so I don’t have to worry. I’ve used these tweaks for years and never had problems. Just scroll through the grid along the “Safe” column and look for the starred entries, which indicate changes from the default setting. You’ll be amazed how good it feels to disable stuff you don’t need.


Above: Such gridly sexiness. Seriously, though, Blackviper's shit is genius and easy to use

Another potential tweak you might want to try is to optimize your page file. It’s too much to write here, but you can find an explanation for what the hell it is, what it does, and how to tweak it here.

If you’re on a budget you want to squeeze every drop out of your PC, you can minimize wasted resources other ways. Believe it or not, but the pretty Windows themes use resources, so let’s make them as ugly as possible (you won’t care because you’ll be gaming – if you really care about pretty windows, you can switch this stuff back). Go into your Start Menu, right-click on Computer, and choose Properties. Go into Advanced System Settings and click on Settings under the Performance heading. You can then click the option for “Adjust for best performance.” This will make your desktop look awesomely 90s, but also a smidge faster. Also make sure you don’t have any animated or changing images for your desktop.

If you have a dual-monitor setup, that second monitor can really eat up resources when you’re gaming, so shut that jerk down (if you want to be able to switch it back on easily, create a shortcut to Display or your graphics card on your desktop). Typically you do this through your graphics card – the common command is to right-click your desktop, select your graphics card, go to Display, and pick “Set up multiple displays.”

Finally, when you are actually ready to game, there is one temporary tweak you should consider doing before you start a game: shut off your anti-virus software. Now, this is a controversial subject, as paranoid (or prudent) gamers will tell you to never shut off your anti-virus. You can try gaming with it on and you may have no problems. But if your game is chugging, consider trying this tweak. Your anti-virus may also have a gaming mode, which is an obvious choice to use. If you are the nervous type, you can unplug your internet and disable security while playing single-player games, and then you know you have nothing to worry about. Even so, if you’re gaming online, viruses are typically not a huge threat. It may be possible to get one if you go onto other people’s servers and have to download some extra map or something, but if that scares you, leave your anti-virus on. The easy thing to do is to just leave it on, but if you’re trying to squeeze every last drop from your crappy PC, it’s a viable route to take. I do it even on my beefy PC because I don’t want anything getting in the way of my framerate.

Almost everything you can do to speed up your PC will have advocates and detractors online, and there are many, many more ways you can try to speed things up. There are more detailed guides than this one, such as one found here. I find it fun trying to find as many tweaks as possible, but if you don’t want to bother with the headache, just at the minimum do the tweaks I’ve mentioned above. It only takes a few minutes.


The tools

There are tools to help you get the most from your PC, and there are tools to keep it safe, and there are tools for playing around. There’s an amazing site called Ninite, which allows you to simply check boxes for things like web browsers, PC maintenance tools, anti-virus, and a bunch of other useful stuff. The great part is it combines everything into a single installer file that you just run and it does the rest for you – and automatically won't install extra garbage like toolbars. You can even keep the installer and transfer it to a new computer so you can just reinstall everything easily and you won't forget anything. If you're not sure what an app does, do some research, but I'll talk about a few particularly important ones.


Above: Ninite lays everything out for you to lazily check off and gobble up

CCleaner is a nifty little program that removes temporary files, fixes registry problems, and in general helps get rid of gunk on your PC. I like running this out of habit right before playing a game. It also updates regularly.

There are several options for a defragmenting program – I use defraggler but it's possible there are better ones I haven't tried. You may ask: why would I need this when Windows can defragment on its own? Well Windows isn't the best there is. You may also ask: what's defragmenting? Short explanation: as your hard drive writes files, it shuffles things around as it sees fit, causing files to become fragmented. This means in order to read these files, the hard drive has to jump all over the place, slowing it down. Defragging puts everything together in an orderly fashion, speeding up your PC. Also note that frequent defragging can actually extend the life of your hard drive, saving you a huge pain in the future – this doesn't mean you should do it every day, but probably at least once a month. It can take a long time to defrag so you might want to leave your PC on overnight for it. Note that many people say if you have an SSD (Solid State Drive) you shouldn’t defrag it, but I found lengthy arguments going both ways on this, with everyone telling everyone else they don’t know what they’re talking about. But then if you have an SSD you probably already know what you’re doing with PCs.

Since viruses and spyware can slow your PC down, you want to scan regularly, and typically one type of security won't catch everything. I actually have multiple security programs I use, including Avira (free version), Ad-Aware (also free version), and Spybot. If your PC is weak, you may not want multiple security programs running simultaneously – you can turn off or elect not to install certain components – for instance with Spybot I don't install the real-time protection because it's annoying. AVG is another good free anti-virus, although I have had it slow my PC down with automated scans - but again you can change settings within it to prevent this. I also recommend getting CWShredder, which is a tool for removing a specific spyware known as CoolWeb, which is particularly difficult to get rid of – whoever created the shredder is a godsend. Other good security tools you can use that don't run in the background, and which you just use when you want as an added layer of security, are things like Malwarebytes.

Another great tool is the FileHippo update checker. Basically it looks at your system and finds the latest updated drivers for almost anything you have installed. It defaults to running in your system tray so if you want to save precious resources, you can turn it off and just run it manually occasionally. One great aspect of it for gaming is that it will find new drivers for your graphics card, which can help your performance and stave off glitches.

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112 comments

  • xidax121 - January 1, 2014 3:23 a.m.

    It’s good news if they lower the prices on built retail ones, and made their specs a THOUSAND times better… But that is probably not going to happen lol.. http://www.xidax.com/desktops
  • michael-last - March 8, 2013 9:48 p.m.

    The biggest mistake people make is trying to game on a laptop. Companies will label them "gaming Laptops" and the salesman will swear up and down that they are powerful. Every laptop I've seen is either underpowered (and not terribly upgradeable) or gets as hot as a thousand suns and melts hard drives and other important things. You can start with a cheap desktop, which will at least play games on medium-low settings, then slowly upgrade it as you have the money; and you are not going to have the heat issues. If you build your own and pick your sockets/features wisely you can keep your desktop cutting edge, or at least competitive for many years. A desktop is just a better gaming experience as well, since you can get a quality keyboard and mouse as well as a large monitor (or just use your tv).
  • Green_Shade - January 11, 2013 11:04 a.m.

    The worst problem I've had with installing an old game on a new computer was with the Infinity Engine games (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale), they would BSOD every time at the end of the install, it turns out Safe Mode is the only way to get them running on Win7. And as far as it goes, modding is sometimes a superior experience to the original game, such as in Oblivion, with total conversions like Nehrim or extra content like the companion Vilja or the entire province of Elsweyr or Valenwood.
  • majormoses117 - August 15, 2011 11:22 p.m.

    why is this article under PS Vita?
  • VagueRaconteur - July 20, 2011 11:27 p.m.

    For anyone on the edge - my graphics card costs £30 to this date, and I was able to play Mass Effect 2 at the highest settings. No word of a lie. The only thing that won't work well with a graphics card that bad - games with a lot of layers. They just won't run fluently on anything higher than medium settings. But, this guy's right. If you don't have Shogun 2 Total War, you've missed out. I've played the total war series since the beginning, and they're the only games I can play over and over again.
  • Hubadaeus - July 20, 2011 3:05 p.m.

    I just wish I had the money for a computer that doesn't only play Minecraft
  • jmcgrotty - July 19, 2011 8:33 a.m.

    "I own all three consoles" There are only 2 consoles, and some worthless Nintendo crap.
  • firepainter - July 19, 2011 7:45 a.m.

    So uh, I jumped in and I sorta regret it. I suppose I just didn't do my homework right. Thing is, I spent about 1300 dollars on an xps 15 laptop this past summer. Thought the specs--6 gigs of ram, 500 gigs memory, and a geforce 525 card--would be capable of running the Witcher on low settings. So I thought. After experiencing game crippling lag in the opening scenes, I downloaded the latest drivers, defraggled my laptop, did a variety of things the internet thought would help. My guess is that it's my graphic card, which being in a laptop, I can't replace even if I wanted to. So, is there something I could do, or did I just waste 50 bucks on something I could have waited for on the 360? Any help is greatly appreciated. Also, I bought it off steam, if that helps anything.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - July 18, 2011 9:52 p.m.

    Blackviper's tweaks vary depending on your OS. Win 7: http://www.blackviper.com/2010/12/17/black-vipers-windows-7-service-pack-1-service-configurations/ XP: http://www.blackviper.com/2008/05/19/black-vipers-windows-xp-x86-32-bit-service-pack-3-service-configurations/ Various instructions are at the top and the services grid is farther down the page.
  • lovinmyps3 - July 18, 2011 9:13 p.m.

    I just want to play The Witcher 2.
  • HOOfan_1 - July 18, 2011 4:09 p.m.

    Obsolete within a month? Talk about hyperbole on a grand scale. I could have bought a computer in 2005 when the Xbox 360 came out that would still play most games available today. THe Xbox360 launched at $400, you could have bought 8 or 9 games for your original Xbox instead of buying a 360...
  • HankVenture - July 18, 2011 12:45 p.m.

    All I play on my PC is MineCraft and I LOVE IT because of it being on a PC and able to get mods, So HOPEFULLY with this guide I will be able to get a PC that is able to play these games and enjoy a whole new part of gaming that I have wanted to experience. Thank you Matt Keast
  • CitizenWolfie - July 18, 2011 9:04 a.m.

    Truly great article! I'm not a PC gamer purely for the fact that I DO have a crappy PC but even if I don't bother using it for games I will definitely check out those links to speed up my PC. I always worry about stuff like defrag programs and cleanup applications so it's nice to have some recommended
  • Kameltoemunch - July 18, 2011 7:27 a.m.

    @copedude: Sorry, but everything you said is pure ignorance. Computer hardware doesn't become obsolete in a month. It does require upgrading every year or two, but PC games and their graphics are at least a full generation ahead of consoles. Seriously, the difference is like night and day. Secondly, PC games are significantly cheaper than console games because of sales. Steam, with its' sales, is the holy grail of gaming. Generally you don't get deals on brand new games, but I would gladly wait and pay 20% of the price than blow $65 (w/ tax) on an inferior product. To put this in perspective, I sunk 200+ hours into BF:BC2 on Xbox. During the Steam Summer Sale I bought the PC version for $5 and haven't looked back. It is smoother, larger, more intense and the graphics are far better. I have a 360 and love it, but gain some real knowledge before you just let things fall out of your mouth. Better yet, come to the better side. Also, if you really want to know: your console has been obsolete for 4 years, by your definition. 360/PS3 are nearly two generations old. Time for new hardware.
  • mike.brrrr - July 18, 2011 5:07 a.m.

    I like how people in the comments keep talking about how much money they save on PC games as though used games/bargain bins/online stores don't also exist to sell titles for consoles at super cheap prices. Steam didn't invent the concept of savings, guys.
  • Yeager1122 - July 18, 2011 4:11 a.m.

    I like playing games on my pc but overall i prefer console gaming especially since none of my friends are pc gamers which is a major factor.
  • zubb1 - July 18, 2011 3:12 a.m.

    hahahhahha! got my pc for 800 hundred an plays toal war2 fine is my favorite pc game and i didnt know witcher was for 360 thanks.
  • ThatGuyFromTV - July 18, 2011 1:14 a.m.

    If anyone needs a gateway PC game, go for Team Fortress 2. YOu don't need anything near a top-end system, it is top=notch, and it just became free. Start playing it now if you want to see what he's saying about FPS's being made for a mouse. And go for the sniper class, a controller-controlled sniper is meh, but a trained mouse-controlled sniper is nothing short of incredible.
  • Bobishungry - July 17, 2011 10:15 p.m.

    I just made a steam account a week ago and i bought terraria and fallout: New Vegas. I had never played an FPS on the pc before and at first it was confusing to get used to using a keyboard and mouse but now i see that it is way easier to kill stuff with a pc. My only problem is that when i play New Vegas i get some lag. I'm not even sure if it is my computer or just the bugs in the game. anyone wanna help?
  • wolfboy20 - July 17, 2011 9:54 p.m.

    Hey GR do you know where that list is on blackviper is?? because i cannot find it and i need more performance!

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