Here are some tips from Lifehacker users for troubleshooting gaming issues and performance.
Use the guide linked below to set up MSI afterburner’s overlay to display pretty much any performance info you need. Then simply play as usual, while paying attention to your usage and you’ll start to get an idea of what’s getting hit hard (is your RAM full? Is your GPU/CPU being used highly?).
You can also post your specs and what you play on just about any tech/computer site (along with some idea of what budget you have for upgrades) and ask for suggestions. It’s not quite as specific as looking at numbers yourself, but you’ll generally get some good advice (probably not a bad idea to do both). If you play 1 or 2 games semi-exclusively, you could see if they have active tech-support forums and try those as well.
When it comes to troubleshooting, the tool that’s come in most handy for me lately is MSI Afterburner. Anytime I get freezes in a game, I underclock my video card a little bit, play until I hit a freeze, and repeat. Eventually I get to a point where the game no longer freezes. I also keep a Google Drive spreadsheet of what settings work best for which games.
Regarding hardware upgrades, I would consider the following, in this order: more RAM, new video card, or start over from scratch.
CPU – This is a hard thing to sort out. Generally speaking most games are not CPU bound. Exceptions include simulation-heavy games. An insufficient CPU could also knock your gfx card down a few pegs. If you got a mid-high range CPU from the last few years this is probably not your problem, and wont be for a good long while. Note that the number of cores you have could be bad. More cores generally means more heat, resulting in lower clock speeds. Most games cannot utilize more than a few cores, so the shiny quad core CPUs will actually be worse than a higher clocked dual core. Exceptions exist like Intel’s ability to shut off cores and OC cores on the fly based on use. But price wise you are probably better off with the i5 series. There are some exceptions like BF3 which can actually utilize an i7.
RAM – Not likely your problem if you got at least 4g. Most games will not use that much – most I’ve seen is around 2-3g, and most stay under 1g. To detect if you don’t have enough, open up the Resource Monitor and go to the Memory tab. Don’t be freaked out by the in use metrics, look at the Hard Faults/sec graph. If you see crazy amounts of spikes while playing your game you may need more. It is normal to see it spike a lot during loading sequences (Screens, reaching the edge of the loaded world in open world games).
HDD/SSD – Assuming you have enough ram this really only impacts your loading times. Great when you’re dealing with loading screens. Bad when you’re dealing with content loaded on the fly (skyrim, other open world games). You will see frequent stuttering at random times if this is an issue (I saw this on Bioshock actually). Resource monitor/disk tab will essentially tell you everything you need to know. Game stuttering will occur when the disk sees high activity suggesting you might need a faster disk
GPU – this one is actually another tough one. GPU performance is impacted by everything else in your system and simply cranking settings up in games will not always stress the GPU. Or they stress only parts of the GPU. On the plus side there are a lot of reviews and benchmarks out there on GPUs which provide you with most of what you need to know. Tools like CCC are not that useful here as they only tell you temperature (well, if you’re worried about overheating) or GPU utilization (which tends to be either 0 or 100%, so useful right?).
What is useful is realizing what certain settings in your game will do, what part of system they will stress more. Tweak them to see where your system slows down. Some common ones:
Resolution/shaders/Anti-Aliasing – Typically stresses your overall GFX card, little dependency on other parts of your system. If raising this causes significant framerate drop, you might need an upgrade.
Texture resolution – this impacts 2 parts of your system. Your storage (hdd/ssd) or your ram. If you have insufficient ram you will see a lot of swapping, see the RAM section. If your hdd/ssd is slow load times will take longer and you might see more stuttering when the game is loading. Sidenote GPU RAM also impacts this, but most games wont load enough to fill up the monster amounts available today…
Physics settings – This actually depends. Some games can use PhysX, which for Nvidia cards run physics on the GPU. Most other cases it is CPU-bound. And for most games these days a higher clock speed is better than more CPUs, unless you have less than a certain number. 4 cores or 2 cores with hyperthreading is probably the current sweet spot.
Also, never forget about google. Google is your friend. Google is why I know all this crap. It looks intimidating but it really isn’t when you take small chunks at a time. Also don’t forget that software is sometimes the problem too. Keep an eye on what else is running and make sure drivers are up to date.