“Game Booster” software programs claim they can improve gaming performance with a single click, putting your PC into “Game Mode” and allocating all your resources to games. But do they actually work?
PC gaming is different from console gaming. Consoles run a stripped-down operating system optimized for games, but PCs run a general-purpose operating system like Windows that may be doing other things in the background.
What a “Game Booster” Program Actually Does
Here’s how the Razer Game Booster product page describes its “Game Mode” feature:
“This feature focuses in on your game by temporarily shutting down unnecessary functions and applications, putting all your resources purely for gaming, allowing you to zone in on your game the way it’s supposed to be played without wasting time on settings or configurations.
Pick your game, click on the “Launch” button and let us do the rest to reduce stress on your computer and improve frames per second.”
In other words, the program allows you to select a game and launch it through the game booster utility. When you do, the Game Booster will automatically close background programs running on your computer, theoretically allocating more of your computer’s resources to the game. You could also just toggle “Game Mode” on and launch the game yourself.
This “one-click optimization” is the core of a Game Booster program, although they also contain other features. For example, they may show you which of your drivers are outdated, although you generally only have to keep your graphics drivers updated, and graphics drivers automatically check for updates these days.
Razer Game Booster also allows you to see what processes will be automatically closed when Game Mode is enabled. These processes are restored when you leave Game Mode. You’re free to customize the processes you want to close and the ones you want to leave enabled.
We’re skeptical about these promises, so we ran a few benchmarks with the benchmark tools built into a few recent games — both with and without Razer’s “Game Mode” enabled.
Here are a few benchmark results taken from our system, performed with high graphical settings:
Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Minimum: 31 FPS
- Maximum: 62 FPS
- Average: 54 FPS
Batman: Arkham Asylum (With Game Booster)
- Minimum: 30 FPS
- Maximum: 61 FPS
- Average: 54 FPS
Interestingly enough, the benchmark was actually slightly slower with Game Mode enabled. The results here are well within the margin of error, however. Game Mode didn’t slow anything down, but it also didn’t speed anything up. Game Mode didn’t do much of anything at all.
- Average Framerate: 17.67 FPS
- Max. Framerate: 73.52 FPS
- Min. Framerate: 4.55 FPS
Metro 2033 (With Game Booster)
- Average Framerate: 16.67 FPS
- Max. Framerate: 73.59 FPS
- Min. Framerate: 4.58 FPS
With Game Mode enabled, the results were again well within the margin of error. Our average framerate was a bit slower, even though the maximum and minimum framerate were each a tad higher.
With Game Mode enabled, our results were actually a touch lower across the board. This isn’t because Game Mode did anything wrong. Instead, it’s likely that background tasks were using resources more during the Game Mode runs. Game Mode tries to minimize such interruptions, but Windows is a complicated operating system with many moving parts and there’s no way to stop everything that may happen in the background. Game Mode tries, but just can’t deliver.
Note that these benchmark results won’t apply to every computer. Because of the way Razer Game Booster works, people who have a hundred programs running in the background will see a noticeable improvement while people who only run a few background programs that are light on resources won’t see an improvement. These benchmark results give us an idea of how much “Game Mode” can actually improve performance on a typical computer with a reasonable amount of background programs, but none that are heavy on resources.
Is a Game Booster Useful?
A Game Booster program just does something you can already do yourself. For example, if you have a BitTorrent client running in the background, downloading files and using your hard drive, this will increase game load times as the game will have to compete with the BitTorrent client for disk access. A Game Booster program that automatically closed the BitTorrent client when you launched a game would indeed increase game load times, but you could also just speed things up by closing the BitTorrent client or pausing the download yourself when you start playing games.
On a modern computer, programs running in the background are generally not using a huge amount of resources and are generally sitting at 0% CPU utilization while not doing anything. You can check this yourself by opening the Task Manager — you probably won’t see many background programs sucking up CPU time. If you do, you should do something about them.
A Gaming Booster program is just a shortcut that allows you to launch games without managing the programs running on your desktop yourself. It won’t massively increase your PC gaming performance.
We should also note that such tools may often offer features that can be useful to even more knowledgeable users. For example, Razer Game Booster offers a FRAPS-like Screen Capture feature for recording your screen. However, Game Mode itself doesn’t seem very useful.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 09/6/13