Windows 10 Game Mode can boost performance after all

Microsoft’s Game Mode has been a puzzling feature addition to Windows 10 ever since we got wind of the option at the tail end of 2016. After keeping quiet about expected improvements, Microsoft finally let drop that average PCs might only see a 2-5 percent improvement. This is, to be clear, more-or-less what we expected based on how Microsoft had described the software.

A couple new stories from PCWorld shed more light on the situations in which Game Mode really can make a difference, as well as Microsoft’s plans for the future of this capability. Test Game Mode on a high-end PC with lots of threads and minimal background programs, and the situation is much as you’d expect — frame rates improve very little, if at all.

But Brad Chacos decided to test the mode a bit differently. He fired up a number of simultaneous applications, left them running in the background, and then started benchmarking. I recommend reading the full article, but here’s a slide of how much minimum frame rates can improve when you start running background tasks while using Game Mode:

GameModeMinimum

Graph and data by Brad Chacos, PC World

According to Chacos, none of the games became great to play, but all of them were playable, whereas the colossal lag and poor response time otherwise made that impossible. One thing to keep in mind is that other tasks that you’re performing in the background may suffer as a result — YouTube started stuttering when Chacos switched Game Mode on.

What’s Microsoft doing next?

In a separate article, Microsoft told Mark Hachman at PCWorld that it’s always looking for new ways to improve overall performance. “We focused on this initial release in Game Mode on CPU and GPU contention,” Kevin Gammill, program manager for Xbox’s Platform Partner Group, said in the article. “You can imagine other areas of contention that we would focus on in the future.”

Microsoft might consider memory and network traffic in the future, the report said, with the latter possibly baked in with specific network support. It’s an interesting idea, particularly since the network idea could boost performance even in cases where your PC is more than powerful enough to maintain high frame rates.

No, Game Mode isn’t going to boost performance on an already-swank desktop PC with minimal background task processing. But it might help your traveling laptop or secondary system score noticeably better frame rates without requiring a lot of tweaking. If you’re trying to game on older hardware but still upgraded to Windows 10, this could be worth checking out.

Now read: Windows 10: The best hidden features, tips, and tricks

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