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Advice on Improving PC Performance?

HeindrichHeindrich Member, Moderator Posts: 2,959
I do all my gaming on an old laptop that's getting on in years. It was pretty good when I bought it and could play Shogun 2 Total War at near-max settings with no problems until armies get really large with more than two players, at which point lag becomes an issue.

Aside from Total War, and there wasn't really any other performance-demanding games that I am into, and so I don't really want to buy a new computer at a time when finances are rather stretched as it is. So I'd like to get a bit more performance out of my laptop if possible, and would appreciate some advice on how to do so.

My main game for the last 9 months has been Baldur's Gate, which runs beautifully of course, as it is not very demanding at all. However, I do record Let's Plays sometimes, and running a game, Fraps and Audacity at the same time seems to tax the computer considerably, and leads to lag quite regularly.

It was a problem when I recorded BG 2 Vanilla, but it seems to be an even bigger problem with BG:EE, presumably because of increased fps, which results in much larger Fraps files. These larger Fraps files are also more work to compress, and take considerably longer than they used to with BG 2 Vanilla.

I feel like the computer is generally more sluggish than it once was, although I cannot find any viruses or malware with Avast. Can anyone suggest another means of cleaning the system? I have 88 processes running in the background, and I am not sure if all of them are legitimate, and I'm not IT-savvy enough to know which ones I can tamper with.

I have also known for a long time that my laptop has a problem with overheating. On occasion it has crashed, presumably because of it, but whenever I do anything very demanding, parts of the laptop gets pretty hot. I have wondered if a cooling mat would help with performance? Something like this...

Anyways some details about my laptop:


  • CrevsDaakCrevsDaak Member Posts: 7,145
    edited March 2014
    Heindrich said:

    It was a problem when I recorded BG 2 Vanilla, but it seems to be an even bigger problem with BG:EE, presumably because of increased fps, which results in much larger Fraps files. These larger Fraps files are also more work to compress, and take considerably longer than they used to with BG 2 Vanilla.

    It's the resolution (by default 480x900 in vanilla and your screen's size in the EE), not the FPS, by default in BG:EE (both games) the FPS are at 30 like in the originals. Increasing the FPS on a IE game increases the game's speed (that's why I play at 60 FPS :D).
    My computer has this same problem too, that's why I haven't made a let's power-re-play BG:EE.
    EDIT: not power-play, power-re-play :P

  • smeagolheartsmeagolheart Member Posts: 7,345
    get a solid state drive and you will experience a big speed jump by your system.

  • HeindrichHeindrich Member, Moderator Posts: 2,959

    That's really good advice! I never heard of that before, but it looks like it would make a real difference. However... my laptop is around 3 years old, I wonder if it is worth upgrading. It seems pretty expensive... I mean 256GB upgrade kit is £150... my laptop has over 900 GBs... I dread to think how much that would cost to replace, if it was even possible.

  • TJ_HookerTJ_Hooker Member Posts: 2,438

    get a solid state drive and you will experience a big speed jump by your system.

    Based on what I've read, nearly all the benefit of getting an SSD comes from decreases in loading times, whether you're loading a OS, a program or a file. Seeing as how none of those things seems to be the issue here, I'm not sure if it'd help all that much with the problem Heindrich's having.

    Unless the HDD is unable to keep up with writing the captured video and audio, but I don't really know what would happen then. You could maybe check if this the case by viewing disk usage under the Performance tab of the task manager.

  • ChildofBhaal599ChildofBhaal599 Member Posts: 1,781
    it could merely be from age. on my laptop's later years I was seeing decreases in performance on games that used to be fine. there are certainly a few things you could still do though. if you are avoiding putting any more money in, then you may still have some programs that you don't really need by chance but are always running and eating some of your memory and processing power. i find a lot of things work better with skype turned off so you may want to find these programs you don't need and disable/remove them to have the processing power for your recording. other than that you may want to just put a bit of money into upgrading or replacing your machine.

  • CorvinoCorvino Member Posts: 2,269
    There are a couple of free things you can do that might help. Defragmenting your hard disk can make a difference if you've not done it in a while.

    Slightly more drastic, but often effective, is backing up your music, saves, work etc and reformatting your hard disk. This will get rid of any unnecessary processes as well and freeing up space. Before you do it make sure you have backed up everything you need and that you have a Windows disc to reinstall from.

    Laptops are a pain in terms of ageing though. They're a bugger to upgrade or replace components of. Good luck.

  • FinneousPJFinneousPJ Member Posts: 6,456
    edited March 2014
    I agree with @Corvino that the simplest solution is backing up everything (1 TB HDD for back ups is like $50) and reinstalling to begin from a clean system again.

    As for aging, computers don't have any mechanical parts (except HDDs), so they don't really wear with age. Under extreme circumstances semiconductor components do experience degradation, but that shouldn't happen with consumer electronics. For example, I'm still on a first-gen Intel i7 from 2008 and it's still good as new.

    EDIT: To clarify, under extreme circumstances you get RAPID degradation. The components do degrade nevertheless, but at a rate that is insignificant (in ten years everything is already beyond obsolete).

  • MusignyMusigny Member Posts: 1,018
    My best advice is to proceed with a solid problem determination before attempting to trigger anything.

    A ssd usually helps but it may have a minor effect if you have no real I/O issues.
    For someone playing with video and sound editing softwares, a 4GB amount of memory seems rather weak. This is the first thing I would monitor.

    As regards the laptop heat, it is easy to understand it keeps you warm. You have two watt-hungry components in your machine : the cpu (a cpu generation which is clearly not ideal for laptops) and a discrete graphic chip. There is not much to do about that, except if you think the internal mechanical parts / air flow circuits are dusty.

  • AristilliusAristillius Member Posts: 873
    edited March 2014
    Im not sure if you need Avast running in the background? I only use microsoft Security essentials/defender which is not quite as good as buying anti-virus programs but good enough for regular use in my experience (I have used it for several years without virus problems, they have daily virus definition updates), you might have security essentials already integrated in windows, at least that is the case with windows 8. It is a free download at any rate.
    And then I do some regular manual swipes with SUPERantiSpyware (which I only turn on and update when I search the computer). That can be a good idea to do despite avast.

    Also, you can google your processes to determine if they are legitimate/useful or not. Also, although an SSD is great, new hard drives are generally very fast - getting your OS installed on an SSD might be benefical though. What I am more concerned with is the cost of upgrading the hard-drive in a laptop (which might become very expensive). If you want to buy a new computer you might also want to consider a good old-fashioned desktop, I just bough one fairly cheap but good enough specs for me and easy to upgrade if I feel the need.

    Post edited by Aristillius on
  • MusignyMusigny Member Posts: 1,018
    Well, those MS "resident" / "real time" anti-something have a serious performance impact when opening/closing large files or listing directories with hundreds of files. They do their job at the cost of performance.

  • HeindrichHeindrich Member, Moderator Posts: 2,959
    Thanks for all your input guys!

    @Musigny and @TJ_Hooker
    I did a Disk Cleanup, which liberated about 6GBs of space, and Disk Defragmentation, which took ages! It seems to have improved things a little bit.

    I also discovered that I have at least one malware on my laptop, Yontoo Desktop, which is stubbornly difficult to remove.

    Anyway here's some more details for my PC performance, I can't pretent to understand a whole lot...



    I took those screenshots whilst running video compression. It would seem that when my laptop struggles, the limiting factor is CPU, which oscillates from 70% to 100%. Memory is a bit more stable, and seems to peak around 70%. That said, I've noticed that for reasons I do not understand, compression can take either ~300KBs of memory or ~700KBs. When it is the latter, the process becomes very slow.

  • FinneousPJFinneousPJ Member Posts: 6,456
    Unfortunately replacing the CPU in a laptop is difficult to impossible and probably not worth it. Many laptops have soldered in CPUs which are quite impossible to replace. Even if it's replaceable, you sound like you lack the know-how, so it'll be quite expensive to pay someone to do it. It's better to put that money towards buying a new laptop.

  • ChildofBhaal599ChildofBhaal599 Member Posts: 1,781
    i don't know how much "getting on in years is", but I do know laptops often do not last like a desktop. my laptop was done in 3 years. if it really is old, it could actually be good to replace it. a fresh computer would feel like a huge performance increase compared to the older one. for example booting Sims on that laptop of mine took ages because my hard drive was just old and took ages to load but my desktop also uses a hard drive and it loads in a respectable amount of time so I can wait as it loads rather than do something else for a while and come back. heck a few games i don't even see a loading screen anymore where I used to. the laptop was also a gaming laptop so the CPU and GPU were quite good so I don't think my new parts on those fronts had as much impact as just having new hardware.

  • MusignyMusigny Member Posts: 1,018

    A high cpu usage is not bad per se. After all this is good to have cpu-hungry applications actually using the hardware you bought.
    A simple metrics/correlation to detect a cpu bottleneck is to look at both the cpu % load and the processor queue length. To do that you have to learn how to use the performance monitor (not the nice looking resource monitor). If the queue shows a substantial increase when the cpu saturates then there is a real bottleneck (or alternatively the queue is too big and the scheduler does not grant enough time to the processes requiring it).
    Something is weird though. You seem to have a high cpu usage but your cpu frequency remains underclocked (blue line on the first graph if I am correct); Are all of your logical cpus (cpu 0, 1 etc) close to 100% ?
    You should verify your power options to make sure there is nothing wrong with your power manager (windows or dell provided).

    Next : your laptop memory.
    There is a suspicion of BG1 iron memory shortage. Nothing certain though.
    Let me explain : your computational memory is at least 78 % as indicated by the fake "used physical memory" percentage. This is a lot even for a pc/workstation.
    It is too difficult to make a conclusion based on a single static (and partial) screenshot. Let me check the right MSwindows naming of the metrics I have in mind and I will let you know (perfmon again).

    Something you can do is to take a screenshot of the Disk tab too.
    We can have a look at the response time and the queue length (digression : hey Microsoft what about a simple Fword-ing-nonPG13 I/O per sec metric here).
    Call for help : does anyone know a MS windows command line equivalent to iostat ?

    One last point, could you try to test your performance and capture the same graphs 1) without using Chrome and 2) with no Windows Update previously activated (this might be a "security essentials" update too) : reason bieng that Chrome and TrustedInstaller have a substantial memory footprint on your system screenshot.

  • TeflonTeflon Member, Translator (NDA) Posts: 517
    Spending money (i.e.upgrade) is best shot however if you using laptop then how about delete unnecessary program or format?
    Old times like win98 it was good to remove temporal folder but nowdays os didnt work.

  • karnor00karnor00 Member Posts: 679
    It's probably worth checking how much stuff is loading itself into memory when you start up your laptop.

    If you run msconfig and look at the startup tab, this will show you exactly what is being run. Anything you don't need to run at startup can be switched off and should help speed up your PC.

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