Here’s why people lock the FPS:
Most people lock the FPS in a game to stabilize the performance and make it easier to play the game consistently.
Locking the FPS can also help manage computer hardware resources to reduce strain and lower operating temperatures.
This stability helps performance but can increase input lag.
So if you want to learn all about the pros and cons of FPS locking, then this article is for you.
Let’s jump right into it!
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What Is an FPS Lock?
None of this is going to make good sense unless we first tackle the technical concepts.
What does it even mean to lock your FPS?
For starters, FPS stands for frames per second.
You might be familiar with the basic way that video displays work.
Basically, a computer shows you a bunch of pictures in really fast succession.
If the pictures come and go fast enough on a screen, your brain interprets them as a motion picture.
This is true for old movie films, and it’s true for modern digital displays.
To put this in perspective, traditional movies play at 60 FPS.
Modern games can play in excess of 200 FPS.
So, there’s a big range there, and all of it still looks like video to your brain.
An FPS lock is a setting you can use in a video game (and other video software) that tells the computer not to exceed the frame rate that you set.
You can also use third-party software to limit frames if a game doesn’t include such a setting.
Let’s say that your computer is capable of playing a game at 200 FPS.
You can use the FPS lock (also called a cap) to 100 FPS instead.
If you do, your computer will never try to run the game at a higher rate than 100 FPS.
I’ll get much deeper into why this setting exists, but the important thing to understand is that people do choose to use this.
And, you might already be able to guess one compelling reason.
If you cap the frame rate, your computer won’t have to try quite as hard to run a game.
That can come with some benefits.
Why Do People Lock FPS?
The primary reason people cap their frame rate is that they think it leads to a better gaming experience.
In many instances, they’re exactly right.
A capped frame rate can stabilize your gaming experience and make it easier to make adjustments and take good care of your computer.
I’ll get into the very specific aspects of the pros and cons later, but for now, let’s look at the simple idea.
Would you rather have your computer constantly jumping from 60 to 240 FPS and back again?
Or, would you prefer a consistent 100 FPS?
That’s a hard question to answer if you don’t have a lot of firsthand experience with these various frame rates, but for a lot of advanced gamers, the second choice is preferable.
Now, keep in mind that this is an example I made up.
The correct frame cap and maximum possible frame rate are different for each game on each system.
But, this is the idea we’re working with.
If you have a big variance in your frame rates, then locking the FPS becomes a lot more appealing.
What Are the Pros of FPS Locking? (3 Sections)
A lot of people lock their frame rate when gaming, and you can see that they seem to have good reasons to do so.
But, we can do a lot better than that overhead view.
I want to get into the specific ways that FPS locking can lead to better gaming performance.
I’m going to break it into three sections: stability, resource management, and heat.
There’s a bit of overlap across these concepts, but really, the FPS cap is doing three things for you. It’s helping you play better.
It’s helping you troubleshoot computer issues more accurately, and it’s making things a little easier for your computer.
This is the primary argument.
The idea is that if you cap your FPS, and your system can maintain that cap, then you no longer have a bouncing frame rate.
Whether you’re in a light graphical moment or in the midst of heavy graphics processing, you have the exact same frame rate.
This stability is good for gameplay.
The game looks the same regardless of how hard the system is working, and that makes it easier to control everything.
This is especially true when playing first-person shooter games at a high level.
Whenever the frame rate changes, it impacts your ability to track everything in the game and aim with ultimate precision.
For many gamers, a stable frame rate is more important than a high frame rate.
So, you cap the FPS at the highest number that your system can sustain, and you get the best possible performance from yourself.
#2 Resource Management
A stable frame rate also helps with resource management.
When you’re playing games that push your computer to the limit, then you’ll get performance peaks and valleys.
There are moments in a game where the graphics processor (and other components) have to work extra hard to keep up with everything.
There are other points where the system isn’t struggling as much.
One thing that really taxes a system is trying to push out as many frames as possible during those harder moments.
The system has to draw on everything and push it to the max, and even while doing so, the frame rate probably still drops.
When you cap the frame rate at a level that your system can handle consistently, it’s easier to tinker with software and hardware optimizations to get the best possible performance.
As an easy example, if you want to stream while playing a game, you can cap your FPS.
When you do this, you take a little bit of strain off of peak performance, and that makes it easier to see if your streaming software is putting too much hardship on the computer.
You might find that different streaming software or settings help your computer, and you’re able to make those deductions faster because you have a stable frame rate.
There’s also the issue of heat management.
The harder your system works to play a game, the more heat it generates.
If heat management becomes a problem, you can get massive frame drops and even total system crashes.
If you’re ever noticing heating problems, capping the frame rate can help the system a lot.
This especially helps with newer games that are prone to overworking systems.
Basically, the software of a game determines how your computer uses hardware resources to run the game.
Newer games are always trying to push the envelope in terms of graphics and performance, and software engineers often allow these games to draw on more hardware resources than were previously available.
Even very small coding mistakes can lead games to overdraw resources and lead to heating problems.
If you have ever heard of a memory leak or runaway GPU usage, these are two of the many problems that can lead to overheating.
Capping the frame rate limits how much the software can demand from the computer, and it prevents a lot of these problems.
What Are the Cons of Locking the FPS? (2 Problems)
Let me be clear about this.
In many cases, FPS caps are a net benefit to performance and gaming experiences.
If you have random frame drops, finding the right FPS cap can help a lot.
But, FPS locking isn’t always the right solution, and there are trade-offs that you should understand.
Mostly, I can distill it into two problems.
FPS caps can lower your frame rate too much, and they can create input lag problems.
Let’s look at each of these issues in more detail.
#1 Not Enough Frames
First, the setting you are using caps the number of frames per second.
It doesn’t guarantee that the game will perform at the cap.
It’s a maximum, not a minimum.
Because of that, if you cap the rate too high, you’ll still get frame drops, and you haven’t solved anything.
So, if you have to cap the FPS too low for your system to find a good balance, then even gaming moments that don’t stretch your computer to the limit will still have that lower frame rate.
You won’t be able to see as much.
You won’t be able to respond or control your game as well.
A frame cap that is too low just means that you are always struggling.
It still might prevent overheating, which is important, but you’re really just seeing that your system isn’t able to provide the performance you want with the game you’re playing.
It might be better to lower the resolution or look for other avenues of performance improvement.
Frame caps are not a silver bullet.
#2 Input Delay
One of the biggest problems with low frame rates is that they create input delay.
It’s easiest to understand if you imagine a very slow frame rate.
Let’s say that you are playing a game at one frame per second.
Whenever you input something into the game, you won’t see the results of that input until the next frame, which can take up to a whole second.
For games where you’re putting in hundreds of inputs per minute (or even dozens of inputs for that matter), this frame rate creates a lag effect.
You make your inputs, and then you have to wait for the results.
It makes precision control very difficult.
Now, when your FPS is staying above 60, the input delays created by frame drops are a lot more subtle, but they’re still present.
So, if you cap your frame rate at 60, then you have more input delay than if you were running at 120 FPS. If you cap at 120, then you still have a delay relative to 200.
You get the idea.
Any time your computer is running at a frame rate lower than the best it can provide, you’re dealing with some amount of input lag.