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Aug 27, 2012

Maxxing out the PC

When you are running a new PC game, what percentage of your PC is actually working to produce the experience? Obviously it depends massively on the game, the specs of your PC, your monitor resolution and other factors, but even in extreme cases I suspect it is pitifully small.The most obvious under utilisation is the CPU. 

Most games still run in 1 thread, maybe 2 or 3 if there is some sound streaming, possibly more if they are ambitiously attempting multithreaded streaming in of textured data, and maybe a few more for online play. I don’t think that there are many games that will happily place 8 different threads on the 8 cores of my machine (quad core, but hyperthreaded, so showing up as 8). I can max out the CPU by rendering in a 3d package, or by compiling in visual studio, but I’ve yet to see a game manage it. I can understand why, mutlithreaded code is a bitch. (One problem is, we don’t have exclusive access to all those cores anyway.

 Right now, this laptop has 53 processes running 715 threads. There are 17,000 handles open (mostly files, one assumes). All I’m doing is typing in firefox) The second missed opportunity is hard disk access. Go to windows task manager, performance, then check out the resource monitor. Check out all that disk access. Who is doing that? and what for? You can bet that even during a gaming session, a dozen other apps and ’services’ will be spamming your disk drive. Of course the same goes for memory, and access to peripherals, the network yada yada. 

 It makes you wonder just how jaw droppingly awesome a PC game could be if it didn’t have all that nonsense going on all the time. Imagine a special ‘gamer’ mode of windows 8/9 that effectively locked out all those other services, clawed back all the RAM and the cpu cycles, and let your game have console style complete control. A pipe dream, of course, because of backwards compatibility and a million other reasons, but I do find myself wondering what percentage of my PC is actually needed to play Battlefield:Bad Company 2. Is it 5%? 7%? certainly not much more?

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