October 07, 2012, 6:49 AM — Just as there's more to racing than showing up at the drag strip, there's more to gaming than booting up your rig.
Smart players spend time tuning, tweaking, and pushing their systems' capabilities, reaping the benefits of a better gaming experience as a reward. The results are impressive, with games that look and perform better than their developers ever intended, and often the users didn't have to spend a dime.
To get a piece of this action, roll your hot rod into the software garage and give these half-dozen tools a close look to improve the speed, control, and capability of your system. Most are free, and one costs about the same as a drive-through lunchand all of them give you more of a gaming edge.
Video card speed shop
Low frame rates can make or break a 3D game, and while 5 or 10 frames per second (fps) might not seem like a big difference, in action titles this performance delta can change a gaming session from fun to frustrating. Video cards depreciate faster than any other system component, and upgrades aren't always an easy answer. Assuming your rig can even handle the power draw the latest models require, good replacements run hundreds of dollars.
But there's a cheaper way to squeeze performance out of your aging system: overclocking. When overclocked, most video cards push past their posted limits with ease and offer better gains than CPU boosts when it comes to gaming. Although many utilities to tweak graphics cards exist, three in particular are worth a closer look.
ATI stalwarts have AMD to thank in recent years for stepping up factory support for overclocking virtually every aspect of system operation. The AMD OverDrive utility not only replicates the OverDrive clocking controls built into Catalyst drivers, it also provides a full range of BIOS-style CPU speed, voltage, and system controls unified in a tabbed window.
Nice touches include fan controls, a simple benchmark, and a burn-in stability test. OverDrive is also the quickest and easiest way to disable Cool and Quiet downclocking technology when you're looking for consistent performance or high-clock-speed stability. If you're running an AMD rig, this one-stop application is a must for system-tuning.