Nvidia Forceware Tweak Guide

[Page 6] Forceware Control Panel

This section covers the settings in the Nvidia Control Panel, which can be accessed either by right-clicking on your Desktop and selecting it, or by going to the Windows Control Panel and launching the 'Nvidia Control Panel' item.

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Note: Additional components for the Forceware Control Panel are available if you install the Nvidia System Tools (formerly nTune) utility, the latest version of which is available for download by clicking the link of the same name at the bottom of this page. The System Tools will work on all motherboards, however you may not be able to use all of its features on non-Nvidia motherboards. If you don't install this utility, some of the Performance-related functions may be found under the 3D Settings section of the new CP instead of being under a separate category. However installation of these tools is not required - for most purposes you can use the free GPU-Z utility to monitor your graphics card for example, so Nvidia System Tools is not a necessary component.

Nvidia Forceware Control Panel

To launch the Nvidia Forceware Control Panel, you can either right-click on your Windows Desktop and select the 'Nvidia Control Panel' item, or open the Windows Control Panel and select it from there.

If you want to remove the Nvidia Control Panel item from the Windows Control Panel, go to your \WINDOWS\system32 directory and rename or delete the nvcpl.cpl file to remove it from the Windows Control Panel. Note however that this Control Panel icon reappears each and every time you install a new version of the Nvidia drivers or the System Tools utility.

If you want to add or remove the 'Nvidia Control Panel' context menu entry which appears when you right-click on your Windows Desktop at any time, you can untick the 'Add Desktop Context Menu' item under the View menu in the Nvidia Control Panel.

Each of the relevant sections of the Forceware Control Panel are covered in more detail below.

Importantly: Some of the setting names and the order in which they're listed may differ slightly beween XP, Vista and 7 at any time, and also depending on the specific driver version and model of graphics card you're using. Furthermore some settings below may not exist in certain versions of the Forceware drivers, as they may be very new (e.g. experimental Beta features), or very old, or available only to specific models of graphics cards, and hence not visible in your Nvidia Control Panel.

3D Vision

By default the Nvidia drivers install a separate Nvidia Stereoscopic 3D Driver, which enables 3D functionality in games when combined with the right hardware. I do not have this hardware, so I cannot provide details for this functionality, however it should be fairly intuitive to set up if you follow the on-screen wizard.

Importantly though, if you can see this section in your Forceware Control Panel, it means the Stereoscopic 3D Driver and related Service are active and running. You can prevent the installation of this driver during installation as of the 260 Forceware series onwards - see the Forceware Installation section for more details. If it is already installed and you do not use this functionality, follow the instructions under the 'Disable Unnecessary Services & Startup Items' section on page 4 of this guide to remove this component.

3D Settings

There are three major sub-components here, each is covered below:

Adjust Image Settings With Preview

This option is only recommended for beginner users - advanced users should not use this method to adjust their driver settings. This option allows you to either 'Let the 3D Application Decide' - which is not recommended; 'Use the Advanced 3D Image Settings' - recommended for most users, see further below; or 'Use my preference emphasizing' - allows you to use a slider to adjust the overall image quality until you're happy with the quality of the preview image shown. Unfortunately, the problem is that the preview image performs well at any quality level, whereas in actual games your performance may be extremely poor. For example, if you set the slider to the far right (i.e to 'Quality' mode), it enables some significantly stressful options, namely 8x Anisotropic and 4x Antialiasing. Using these settings in many recent games on low to mid-end hardware will result in very poor performance. So once again, it is strongly recommended that you learn more about and manually adjust individual settings by using the 'Manage 3D Settings' option below.

Manage 3D Settings - Global Settings

This option is recommended for most users and will take you to a screen which lists all the 3D graphics options under the Global Settings tab. Make sure you are in Advanced View (check under the View menu). By default the settings changed under here apply to all games and 3D applications, hence the name 'Global Settings'. To use specific settings for individual games, see the 'Program Settings' options further below. Each setting is covered below:

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Ambient Occlusion: This setting can be used to force Ambient Occlusion (AO), which will work in certain games. The available settings are Off, Performance and Quality. By enabling this option, the realism of lighting is enhanced in the way ambient light generates shadows - there is greater depth and richer shadowing in the scene. However this setting can also significantly reduce FPS in certain games, at times crippling frame rates. Therefore you can use the Performance option to enable a less realistic form of AO to improve performance, or select the Quality mode to enable full AO for optimal image quality at the cost of performance. It is generally recommended that this option be set to Off globally, and if you wish to experiment with it, only enable it in specific game profiles which support it. More details of Ambient Occlusion, including image quality comparisons, can be found here.

Anisotropic Filtering: Anisotropic Filtering helps make textures - the 2D images covering the surface of all 3D objects - appear clearer. In general, the higher the sample rate of Anisotropic Filtering used, the crisper and clearer the surface of objects will remain, especially as they fade into the distance. However the higher the level of Anisotropic Filtering applied, the lower your graphics performance. The precise performance and visual impact depends on your graphics hardware and the resolution of the game in question. To find out more about Anisotropic Filtering read the bottom of this page of the Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide which also provides screenshot comparisons.

If you wish to individually select your level of Anisotropic Filtering in each particular game, select 'Application Controlled'. This is the recommended setting and will mean that the level of Anisotropic Filtering is determined by your game's in-game Anisotropic Filtering/Texture Filtering settings (if such settings exist in the game). If your game does not have AF settings, you can manually select a specific sample rate such as 2x, 4x, 8x or 16x to force across all games. It is preferable however that you use game profiles (see further below) to force such a setting for specific games. If you want to guarantee the fastest performance in all games at the cost of image quality you can set this option to Off to forcibly disable Anisotropic Filtering. Make sure that if you choose anything other than Application Controlled, that you disable any AF settings in your games as these can conflict with the setting you choose to force in the control panel.

Antialiasing - Gamma Correction: This setting only works on 7800 series graphics cards or newer, and if set to On improves color quality and further improves the reduction in jaggedness for a slight peformance hit. I recommend it be enabled unless you want the absolute fastest performance. It also appears to only apply to OpenGL games. See 'Antialiasing - Setting' further below for more details of what Antialiasing does.

Antialiasing - Mode: This setting determines how Antialiasing (as described in the setting further below) is applied. If 'Application Controlled' is selected, each game can use its own independent Antialiasing sample rate as set using the in-game settings - this is the recommended setting. If you want the absolute fastest performance, you can force Antialiasing Off for all games regardless of their in-game settings. If you have a GeForce 8 series or newer graphics card, you can select whether to 'Enhance the Application Setting', namely to first set a level of AA in a game using the in-game settings, then to select this option and set a higher level of Coverage Sample Antialiasing to add to that AA already used in the game. Finally, you can simply force a specific sample rate of Antialiasing (as specificed in the 'Antialiasing - Setting' option below), regardless of the game's in-game settings, by selecting 'Override any application setting'. I recommend selecting 'Application Controlled' here, and then if you want to apply forced AA to a specific game which has no in-game AA settings, use the relevant game profile to do so.

Antialiasing - Setting: Antialiasing helps to smooth the appearance of aliasing (jagged lines) in games. In general, the higher the sample rate of Antialiasing used, the smoother jagged lines will appear, but the lower your performance. The precise performance and visual impact depends on your graphics hardware and the resolution of the game in question. To find out more about precisely what Antialiasing is read this page of the Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide as it contains more details and has screenshot comparisons of Antialiasing. Here you can select the level of Antialiasing to force/apply to all games and 3D applications if the 'Enhance the application setting' or 'Override any application setting' options are chosen in the Antialiasing Modes setting above. The sample rates shown vary depending on your particular model of graphics card but can include 2x, 2xQ, 4x, 4xG, 4xS, 6xS, 8xS, 8xQ, 16, 16xQ, and 32x. Antialiasing modes ending in 'Q' provide better image quality at the cost of some performance vs. their standard counterparts. Antialiasing modes ending in 'S' provides greater sub-pixel coverage, meaning the quality of Antialiasing provided is better, however performance may be lower. Note that any 'S' mode Antialiasing setting only works in Direct3D games. Finally, any 'G' (Gaussian) Antialiasing mode provides better image quality than the equivalent standard Antialiasing sample rate, but at a lower performance level.

Antialiasing - Transparency: This setting helps improve the appearance of jaggedness of images which have transparent textures, such as grass, chain-link fences, etc. It can be set to Off, Multisampling and Supersampling. Image quality comparisons can be seen in this article. If you want improved image quality when using AA, selecting Multisampling provides an improvement with minimal performance hit, while Supersampling provides the most noticeable image quality improvement, but has a very significant performance hit, especially at higher sample rates. If you don't use AA in games, or just want the best performance, set this to Off. Otherwise setting it to Multisampling provides a good balance of performance and image quality when AA is enabled.

CUDA - GPUs: Compute Unified Device Architecture, or CUDA, is a parallel computing architecture developed by Nvidia and designed to allow software to utilize the power of a GPU for general computing tasks, not just graphics. This makes the GPU more like a CPU. A GeForce 8 series card or newer with at least 256MB of RAM is required to support CUDA. This option allows you to select which Nvidia GPU(s) on your system are allowed to be used as a CUDA processor for things like PhysX or AI processing where supported by the application or game. You should leave this setting at its default globally, however in specific game/program profiles this option allows you to select which GPU a CUDA-based application will run on. This can be useful for either troubleshooting purposes, or if you want to ensure that the load is spread more evenly across your Nvidia GPUs for example by forcing CUDA onto an underutilized GPU. Alternatively you might want to force CUDA support off - though this is not recommended - by unticking all available GPU(s).

Maximum Pre-Rendered Frames: If available, this option - previously known as 'Max Frames to Render Ahead' - controls the number of frames the CPU prepares in advanced of being rendered by the GPU. The default value is 3 - higher values tend to result in smoother but more laggy gameplay, while lower values can help reduce mouse and keyboard lag. However extremely low values such as 0 may hurt performance, so I recommend this option be kept at its default of 3 globally, and only adjusted downwards in specific game profiles. Remember, in most cases mouse lag is due to low framerates, so adjusting this option is not an automatic cure to lag issues, nor should it be the first thing you try. Finally, it only works in DirectX games, not OpenGL games.

Multi-display/Mixed-GPU Acceleration: The possible options for this setting are 'Single Display Peformance Mode', 'Compatibility Performance Mode', and 'Multiple Display Performance Mode'. This setting is not relevant to SLI multi-GPU rendering. If you have only one display, the Single Display Performance Mode option should be used. If you are using multiple displays then select the Multi-device performance mode. If you are using multiple displays and experience issues with particular programs, select the 'Compatibility Performance Mode'. The difference between the two multi-display modes is in OpenGL games - the 'performance' mode is faster but may result in more graphical glitches.

Power Management Mode: Available only for the GeForce 9 series and above, this feature makes use of these graphics cards' abilities to support different performance levels depending on how much power is required by a 3D application. The available options here are Adaptive and 'Prefer Maximum Performance'. Adaptive is the default, and when chosen the graphics card automatically steps down in clock speed in 3D applications if they are not drawing much GPU power. Adaptive is the recommended setting for all users because it ensures that the GPU steps down its clock speed and hence power usage when it is not required. In 3D gaming the Adaptive setting should not cause any problems, as the GPU will always run at full speed when required without interruption. Typically only very old games and very basic 3D applications may see the graphics card reduce its power, and even then this may be desirable. However if you are concerned that a game is not performing properly, particularly for troubleshooting purposes, then you can change this setting to 'Prefer Maximum Performance' to ensure that the card is always running at maximum clock speed. Remember that this setting only relates to 3D applications and games, not to the Windows Desktop for example.

Texture Filtering - Anisotropic Sample Optimization: If your 'Texture Filtering - Quality' setting (see further below) is not set to High Quality, this option can be set to On or Off. If set to On, it uses an optimized texture sampling technique resulting in a slight drop in image quality in return for faster performance. If you want the highest quality graphics set this option to Off, or set it On for best performance.

Texture Filtering - Negative LOD Bias: LOD is the Level of Detail, and in some games you can alter the LOD Bias using various settings to sharpen details on screen. In such cases, you should set this setting to Allow, however note that altering LOD Bias can introduce aliasing (jaggedness to lines and edges) and shimmering. Since Anisotropic Filtering can also improve the sharpness of images without adding to aliasing, I recommend that you change this setting to Clamp for games in which you use any level of Anisotropic Filtering to give you better overall image quality.

Texture Filtering - Quality: The available options are High Performance, Performance, Quality and High Quality. This setting determines among other things the level of Anisotropic and Trilinear texture filtering optimizations applied by the Forceware drivers. Generally speaking, the High Performance setting enables all optimizations, meaning slightly lower image quality but the highest level of performance. If you select Performance, some optimizations will be disabled, progressively more if you choose Quality. If you choose High Quality you are assured the highest image quality at the cost of some performance. Unless you have a high-end graphics card and/or want the best possible graphics, Performance mode should be a good balance without any major degradation in image quality.

Texture Filtering - Trilinear Optimization: If your 'Texture Filtering - Quality' setting (see above) is not set to High Quality, this option can be set to On or Off. Enabling Trilinear Optimization will result in better performance, but can reduce the quality of textures slightly. In general it is recommended that you enable Trilinear Optimization (set it to On), however if you want the highest quality graphics and/or you are experiencing texture glitches you should set this option to Off.

Threaded Optimization: Controls the use of multithreaded optimization for all 3D games on systems with multi-core/HyperThreaded CPUs. The available settings are Auto, On and Off. I strongly recommend the default option of Auto, allowing the drivers to set this appropriately for various games based on your hardware. Only turn Off for troubleshooting purposes if you believe a particular (older) game is not compatible with multi-core CPUs, and only set to On if troubleshooting to see if it improves performance in a recent game.

Triple Buffering: This setting is covered in detail on this page of the Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide. If set to On, this setting allows your overall performance to improve when Vertical Synchronization (VSync) is enabled in games. Therefore if you want to enable VSync - whether in the in-game settings or in the Nvidia Control Panel, it is recommended you enable Triple Buffering as well. However note that using Triple Buffering may cause problems for graphics cards with lower Video RAM, so disable this option if you’re experiencing problems such as mouse lag in games. Note further that this option only works for OpenGL games at the moment, so to force Triple Buffering in Direct3D games (which is the majority of recent games), see the Advanced Tweaking section.

SLI Performance Mode: If you are running two or more Nvidia graphics cards in SLI Mode, you can select a specific SLI rendering mode here. This option will not be covered in detail as I do not have access to an SLI setup to test or describe these options properly. If in doubt, select the default Recommended option.

Vertical Sync: Vertical Synchronization (also called Vertical Sync or VSync) is the synchronization of your monitor and graphics card's abilities to draw a certain number of frames per second (or FPS) on the screen. It is covered in detail on this page of the Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide. If Vertical Sync is disabled, your FPS will improve, and it can now also exceed the refresh rate cap, however you may notice some screen "tearing" – portions of the screen being slightly out of alignment during fast motion. This causes no damage to your monitor, and in general it is recommended that Vertical sync be disabled in strenuous games to improve performance and prevent mouse lag. Since almost every current game has the option to enable or disable VSync in the in-game settings, I recommend you select the 'Use the 3D application setting' option here, and manually set the VSync in each game. This prevents conflicts between games and the Nvidia Control Panel settings. Note that if you enable VSync in any game, also enable Triple Buffering to improve overall performance when VSync is used.

Manage 3D Settings - Program Settings

While the changes under the Global Settings tab usually impact equally on all games and 3D applications you run in Windows, you can also set individual applications and games to use particular unique settings by clicking the 'Program Settings' tab. Here you can select the relevant application/game profile from the list shown and then change the specific graphic settings below it, and they will only apply to this particular game when it is launched.

To change an existing application-specific profile, first look through the list provided under the Program box. If the game you want to assign specific settings to is there, select it. If you've ticked the 'Show only programs found on this computer box' (if available), the list will be abbreviated to only the games detected on your system; if you untick the box the list will be as complete as possible. If a profile for a game or 3D application you wish to adjust doesn't exist on the full list, you can create one at any time by clicking the Add button, going to the game's main directory, finding the main game executable, then adding it to the list. Highlight the relevant program item in the list, and you can now examine its specific settings under the box further below. They are identical to the settings described further above in the Global Settings section. If you make any changes, make sure to click the Apply button and the changes will be saved for that particular game profile and used each time that game launches.

The next page continues the description of Nvidia Forceware Control Panel settings.