PC games usually have built-in graphics options that you can change. However, you’re not limited to the options built into games — the graphics control panels bundled with graphics drivers allow you to tweak options from outside PC games.
For example, these tools allow you to force-enable antialiasing to make old games look better, even if they don’t normally support it. You can also reduce graphics quality to get more performance on slow hardware.
If You Don’t See These Options
If you don’t have the NVIDIA Control Panel, AMD Catalyst Control Center, or Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel installed, you may need to install the appropriate graphics driver package for your hardware from the hardware manufacturer’s website. The drivers provided via Windows Update don’t include additional software like the NVIDIA Control Panel or AMD Catalyst Control Center.
Drivers provided via Windows Update are also more out of date. If you’re playing PC games, you’ll want to have the latest graphics drivers installed on your system.
NVIDIA Control Panel
The NVIDIA Control Panel allows you to change these options if your computer has NVIDIA graphics hardware. To launch it, right-click your desktop background and select NVIDIA Control Panel. You can also find this tool by performing a Start menu (or Start screen) search for NVIDIA Control Panel or by right-clicking the NVIDIA icon in your system tray and selecting Open NVIDIA Control Panel.
To quickly set a system-wide preference, you could use the Adjust image settings with preview option. For example, if you have old hardware that struggles to play the games you want to play, you may want to select “Use my preference emphasizing” and move the slider all the way to “Performance.” This trades graphics quality for an increased frame rate.
By default, the “Use the advanced 3D image settings” option is selected. You can select Manage 3D settings and change advanced settings for all programs on your computer or just for specific games. NVIDIA keeps a database of the optimal settings for various games, but you’re free to tweak individual settings here. Just mouse-over an option for an explanation of what it does.
If you have a laptop with NVIDIA Optimus technology — that is, both NVIDIA and Intel graphics — this is the same place you can choose which applications will use the NVIDIA hardware and which will use the Intel hardware.
AMD Catalyst Control Center
AMD’s Catalyst Control Center allows you to change these options on AMD graphics hardware. To open it, right-click your desktop background and select Catalyst Control Center. You can also right-click the Catalyst icon in your system tray and select Catalyst Control Center or perform a Start menu (or Start screen) search for Catalyst Control Center.
Click the Gaming category at the left side of the Catalyst Control Center window and select 3D Application Settings to access the graphics settings you can change.
The System Settings tab allows you to configure these options globally, for all games. Mouse over any option to see an explanation of what it does. You can also set per-application 3D settings and tweak your settings on a per-game basis. Click the Add option and browse to a game’s .exe file to change its options.
Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel
Intel integrated graphics are nowhere near as powerful as dedicated graphics hardware from NVIDIA and AMD, but they are improving and come included with most computers. Intel doesn’t provide anywhere near as many options in its graphics control panel, but you can still tweak some common settings.
To open the Intel graphics control panel, locate the Intel graphics icon in your system tray, right-click it, and select Graphics Properties. You can also right-click the desktop and select Graphics Properties.
Select either Basic Mode or Advanced Mode. When the Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel appears, select the 3D option.
You’ll be able to set your Performance or Quality setting by moving the slider around or click the Custom Settings check box and customize your Anisotropic Filtering and Vertical Sync preference.
Different Intel graphics hardware may have different options here. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see more advanced options appear in the future if Intel is serious about competing in the PC graphics market, as they say they are.
These options are primarily useful to PC gamers, so don’t worry about them — or bother downloading updated graphics drivers — if you’re not a PC gamer and don’t use any intensive 3D applications on your computer.
Image Credit: Dave Dugdale on Flickr