Getting your graphics card’s FPS output to match the refresh rate of the monitor shouldn’t be an issue, but sometimes it is. Although this aspect of the gaming experience is getting easier, there are still way too many cases of this problem popping up and causing unnecessary distractions.
The biggest reason why we even need to discuss this is that there are several solutions from various different sources with differing results.
Before we start talking about those FPS limiting solutions, let’s first see why they are even necessary.
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Screen Tearing – The Bane Of Gamer’s Existence
The effect known as screen tearing has the potential of breaking the immersion gamers achieve when playing a favorite game. It kind of reminds us that we are not actually a part of a counter-terrorist unit and instead are just a person in front of the computer.
The biggest reason why this problem is happening is that the graphics card and the monitor aren’t in sync. Most often, the case is that the monitor’s refresh rate is locked at a certain point, say 60Hz, and the GPU is outputting more than 60 frames per second.
In that instance, the monitor will try to show more frames than it can and will sometimes try to display two or more frames at the same time resulting in one frame being shown by the upper half of the monitor and the other on the lower half.
The Best Solution Is Also The Most Expensive
Discussions of screen tearing will soon be a thing of the past, and not thought of fondly. With FreeSync and G-Sync monitors and graphics cards becoming better and better, we will probably forget in a few years that screen tearing was an issue.
However, we want to play games now, and unfortunately, screen tearing is still somewhat of a thing.
The single best way to combat this issue is to get a monitor with a variable refresh rate. Both AMD and Nvidia have their own FreeSync and G-Sync certified monitors which work with their respective graphics cards and although that can feel restrictive for the future upgrades, it’s a perfect solution.
The variable refresh rate means that software will be able to communicate between the monitor and the GPU and sync the frame rate output and the refresh rate. So, if the game drops to 45 FPS, the monitor will shift its refresh rate to 45Hz, and if the monitor can’t refresh at a rate higher than 60Hz, then the GPU will limit its frame production to 60 FPS.
The Cheaper, But Still Good Solution
Getting that buttery smooth picture doesn’t have to be expensive and thanks to development in technology it can be achieved relatively easily.
The original sync solution for screen tearing was V-Sync, but it wasn’t as good as advertised and both AMD and Nvidia eventually came up with their own fix for this problem.
However, before either company managed to produce an adequate synchronization option, people were forced to resort to an FPS limiter.
FPS limiter is very aptly named as it does exactly what it sounds like – limits the output of frames to the monitor. The secret for the FPS limiter’s good standing in the gaming community is that it can work to stop screen tearing, but it can also help out gamers with more demanding games by allowing their GPUs to remain with its limits.
Although that is just a side effect of the tool, it can be invaluable for gamers with more budget PCs who are trying to play AAA games. Although initially intended to fix the screen tearing issue, the FPS limiter works well to stop the GPU needlessly exerting itself to produce the additional frames, which just causes the unstable frame rate.
So, even if it’s not a high frame rate like 120 FPS or even 60 FPS, having an FPS limiter set at 30 FPS when your GPU swerves between 25 and 40 can give you that console-level of stability and quite frankly, make you forget you ever even had FPS issues. Of course, many PC gamers might take issue with gaming like a console player, but those opinions should be irrelevant to your experience.
Another cool side effect of the FPS limiter tool is that because there are fewer frames required, the GPU will logically produce fewer frames and therefore use less power.
The best use for an FPS limiter is to prevent the screen tearing issue we talked about earlier. If set to the monitor’s refresh rate, you will ensure that you won’t experience any issues. Well, that’s not completely true, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Let’s talk first about FPS limiter variations.
FPS Limiter Options
The same way both AMD and Nvidia have come up with their own synchronization options, they came up with their own FPS limiting solutions.
AMD uses its own software called ‘Frame Rate Target Control’ and it’s a pretty good tool. Of course, this is an AMD-specific solution so it will only work with their graphics cards. FRTC can be found in the Radeon software that’s designed to keep the drivers up-to-date.
Well, not anymore. FRTC had a good run and it was fun while it lasted, but following a major December 2019 Radeon software update, this feature completely disappeared. But, there’s no reason to panic. AMD replaced FRTC with Radeon Chill which is essentially an upgrade to FRTC.
Chill isn’t exactly an FPS limiter, it’s more of an FPS ranger. That may not be the perfect expression, but it relatively describes what Chill does. It sets the upper and lower limit of the frame production required from the GPU which acts in the same way an outright FPS limiter will work.
While Chill won’t work the best with older setups, it is extremely effective with a monitor with a variable refresh rate. You would simply set the upper and lower limit to the upper and lower variance of your monitor’s refresh rate and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a great experience.
As always, there is a downside. It doesn’t hinder the performance but in order to change the FPS limit, you will have to exit the game and then re-start it to actually notice the effect. In practice, this is really annoying because it makes fiddling with the settings to get the best possible experience way too tedious.
Nvidia’s FPS Limiter
In early 2020, Nvidia released a new driver update with a brand new FPS limiter. The limiter is able to work on individual games, but is also able to be used on a global scale.
Unlike AMD’s, Nvidia’s solution is pretty straight-forward and does the job it’s supposed to do. Better yet, it does that job without fault and that’s pretty much exactly what we need out of an FPS limiter.
However, just like AMD, Nvidia’s FPS limiter requires you to exit the game in order to change the settings which, just like Chill, make this tool tiresome to use.
Rivatuner Statistics Server (RTSS)
This is a third-party FPS limiting solution that has been used pretty widely. It comes in a standalone version but also packaged with the MSI Afterburner, which is a really useful tool for a lot of things, including overclocking.
RTSS works pretty much as you would expect – sets the limit to FPS output.
Although it’s a really useful tool, it can interfere with recording software like OBS and cause additional problems when trying to run those two simultaneously, which is something that should certainly be avoided.
There is a big downside, but there isn’t much evidence besides anecdotal about it. We’re talking about the dreaded input lag. While the input lag with RTSS is noticeable, it isn’t much worse than that of either AMD’s or Nvidia’s options.
The upside, however, is that unlike AMD’s and Nvidia’s FPS limiting options, RTSS can be manipulated while the game is running and the effects can be clearly visible.
What Is The Best FPS Limiter?
None of these.
The best way to limit frame production is actually inside game settings. The reason why this is the best way to limit FPS is that external software has to intercept the frame production while the game itself will be able to actually limit the number of frames being produced.
The biggest detractor for this method is that only a small number of certain games actually have this option. The good news is that these are the games that will need frame limiting the most, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch.
In conclusion, if you need to use an FPS limiter, you’re guaranteed to have the best results with an in-game tool. If that is not available, you have other options, both from your GPU’s manufacturer and from a third-party. Each has its pros and cons, but the important thing is that they perform with only the slightest of difference.