Run Games At Lower Resolution Than Native: Good Or Bad For FPS?

The arguments between getting the best possible graphics of the best possible frame rate all come down to what you’re looking for in your game. However, sacrificing resolution for FPS can cause problems, and you can crash a game.

Lowering the resolution of a game can usually increase the frames per second. However, sometimes you don’t get a FPS boost – either due to bugs, your CPU being unable to handle the increased speed, or certain games even rely on a set FPS for internal calculations that can’t be changed.

You can often take other options to increase your FPS like updating your GPU driver, defragment your hard drive, or overclocking your RAM and CPU.

Let’s take a closer look at frames per second, resolution, and how they’re tied together.

What is FPS for Games?

FPS means a lot in the world of gaming. It can mean the genre of first-person shooter, but for today’s article we are talking about frames per second. This is the amount of individual frames your PC is capable of displaying each second which directly correlates to how smooth animation can be.

FPS is one of those loaded terms and gaming. You’ll see people chasing ultra-high FPS rates like 150 frames per second, but most gamers can comfortably enjoy modern titles with just 30 frames per second. However, 60 frames per second is quickly becoming the new norm when it comes to gaming, with a small number of gamers pushing the boundaries to the ‘holy grail’ of 144 fps.

The graphical quality and max FPS settings on a PC game Serious Sam 4
The graphical quality and max FPS settings on a PC game (Serious Sam 4)

So, why do some gamers push for the highest possible frame rate? It’s because a high FPS has a direct relationship with getting a performance advantage in competitive gaming.

The higher FPS your computer can generate, the smoother the animations and game will be. This gives you an accurate sense of how the enemy is moving, and allows you to respond with more pinpoint precision.

In a sense, if your FPS is higher than your opponents, you’re moving in bullet time while they’re still loading.

It also makes animation look smoother. This is an aesthetic that can change based on the game you’re playing. Certain games, especially old school titles, can actually run worse when you push the frame rate beyond what the game was designed for.

In-game Resolution VS Monitor Resolution

Now we have to spend a second talking about in game resolution vs. monitor resolution.

In-game resolution is the quality of the video inside of the game window itself. This can often be manually adjusted in the game settings. In-game resolution doesn’t have to be the same maximum is what your monitor is capable of:

The resolution drop down in Rocket League
The resolution drop down in Rocket League

Monitor resolution is the absolute max resolution that your computer can produce. This is the highest resolution that your monitor is capable of, and it will govern all of the graphics that your PC can put out. This is usually selectable within your operating system, such as in the Windows “Display Mode” screen:

The display settings and resolution menu on Windows
The display settings and resolution menu on Windows

If your monitor can’t display anything greater than 1080p, running a game at 4K won’t deliver the same results. Heck, the game usually won’t offer you 4K as an option – since the operating system should lock all graphics settings down to 1080p or lower.

With this said, it’s not just your monitor that affects overall resolution. Your graphics card, CPU, type of drive, and RAM are all going to affect the amount of processing power your computer has to run to the highest graphics possible. The GPU is the single most important piece in delivering high graphics performance while the CPU, storage and RAM play more of a side role.

The Theory Behind Lower Resolution Increasing Frames Per Second

There’s a lot of good reason to think that lowering your resolution would increase your frames per second. In fact, the biggest reason is that this actually works most of the time.

Your graphics card is responsible for both your resolution and your frames per second. Depending on your needs and the game you’re playing, you can actually lower the resolution of the game to get better frames per second.

When you lower the resolution of your game, you’ll get more frames per second. This works by ‘diverting’ the computing power that your GPU is currently using. If it’s using less of its power to increase the resolution, it’s going to have more ability to increase the frames per second.

Technical Note: this is because a higher resolution means that there are more pixels to render. 4K resolution (3840x2160p) has more than four times as many pixels as HD (1920x1080p). As a result, graphics cards need to work harder at 4K – since there’s four times as much screenspace to generate for.

However, this isn’t a perfect science. Let’s dive into some of the reasons that lowering the resolution to increase your frame rate can actually be worse for performance than just leaving things as is.

Why Lowering Resolution (Might) Actually LOWER Performance

Contrary to what you might expect, lowering your resolution can actually cause more problems than it fixes. Let’s take a look at the two big reasons why messing with your frame rate can actually create a worse gaming experience.

An Imbalance Between CPU and GPU

A Ryzen 5900X installed in my Asus motherboard with Noctua CPU cooler brackets installed
A Ryzen 5900X installed in my Asus motherboard with Noctua CPU cooler brackets installed

We’re sensing an imbalance in the force… That is the force that your CPU can handle.

If you lower the graphics quality and get more frames per second, your GPU is going to be putting out frames faster than your CPU might be able to handle. This means that all of the calculating that your CPU has to do in order to keep up with these increased frame rate is putting too much stress on your processor.

This can cause all kinds of glitches, dropped frames, and potentially crash the game.

This typically happens when there is a noticeable gap between the age of the CPU and the GPU. This can also be a gap between how powerful the CPU or GPU happen to be.

Your CPU is responsible for all of the basic calculations that keep your software running while your GPU is only responsible for rendering graphics. If your GPU is putting out information faster than your CPU can handle, you’re going to see a lot of problems in your game – from lag, to ‘weird’ looking graphics.

Bugs In Windowed/Borderless Mode

Another potential reason for having worse performance (FPS) when lowering your resolution is if you select windowed or borderless mode (these modes allow you to easily flick between a game and other programs, such as your browser or Discord):

The display mode drop down in Rocket League
The display mode drop down in Rocket League

Whilst this mode usually works seamlessly, some games have buggy implementations that struggle when they aren’t running in fullscreen mode. Simply switching to windowed or borderless mode can trigger these bugs, since the game sometimes has to ‘try too hard’ to allow you to flip between the game and other programs.

Alternatively, if you have windowed or borderless set and also lower your in-game resolution, you can hit across similar (but different) types of bugs:

Resolution and display mode settings that can cause FPS drops in some systems
Resolution and display mode settings that can cause FPS drops in some systems

In the above case, the game is running at HD resolution, but Windows (and any running programs) is running at 4K. But since it’s set to windowed, the game has to try and allow you to switch between the game and operating system – even though they are set to different resolutions.

This can also trigger some bugs in the game’s code, since there’s essentially a conflict here:

Summary: the game is running a different resolution to the operating system, even though you have said that you wait to freely switch between the game and operating system. Some games handle this fine, but some struggle big time, resulting in lowering FPS.

The Game Engine is Linked to Frame Rates

There’s another problem we have to consider in it has to do with how games are written using code.

Some games and even game engines, use a set frame rate as an internal clock by which the game can make all of its calculations. This used to be a very reliable way of coding video games back when frame and refresh rates were essentially set in stone.

However, we are in an age where frame rates seem to change year by year. This means that linking your coding to the frame rate is a surefire way to get a lot of problems in your game.

This is also why some games are locked in at certain time frame rates. The code simply can’t handle faster or slower frames per second.

So, if you happen to be playing a game that needs to have a set frames per second in order to function properly, you should probably leave the frame rate as is. Increasing or decreasing the frames per second is going to result in glitches and possible crashing for your game.

Six Ways To Increase FPS

Now that we’ve gotten all of this out of the way, let’s take a look at six other ways you can increase your FPS that are less likely to cause problems for your games.

Update Your Drivers

The first thing you want to do is update your GPU driver. Both AMD and NVIDIA are always releasing new drivers and updates for their graphics cards. The software improvements allow you to make the most out of the hardware you’ve already got installed in this includes boosting your FPS.

All you need to do is head over to either the AMD or NVIDIA website and download their GPU management software to make sure your drivers are updated today.

Side Note: You might also want to check if the game itself has any pending updates, since these might also fix some performance bugs that were holding back your FPS.

Defrag Your Old-School Hard Drive

The defragment and optimize drives window
The defragment and optimize drives window

You have probably seen people talk about defragmenting your hard drive, but most people don’t know what it means.

As data is written and deleted from your hard drive, the empty spaces of data are separated from each other and scattered across the hard drive. This means that new files have to be fragmented and stored in several separate locations rather than in the same place.

Defragmenting your hard drive (or at least, the drive that your games are stored on – if they’re separate to your OS) removes these fragments and allows everything to be stored together. This causes less physical travel time and getting your data off the hard drive which allows you to process information much faster than you could when things were still fragmented.

Note, however, that there’s a bit of a debate about whether you should defragment a solid state drive (this includes newer M.2 drives, and the older SATA SSD style of drives). SSDs often don’t need defragmenting, or certainly not in the same way as old style hard drives do.

And that brings us onto another quick way of boosting your gaming performance.

Upgrade To A New SSD

If you still have an old-style hard drive, bin it.

Well, maybe not bin it. But you should go out and at least buy a SATA SSD:

An older SATA6 SSD with SATA cable attached
An older SATA6 SSD with SATA cable attached

These will result in noticeable better performance when using your computer, and also when gaming. This is because the read/write speeds are much quicker, allowing game settings, textures and more to load much quicker.

If your motherboard was released in the last few years, though, you should instead look to upgrade to an M.2 SSD:

An M.2 PCIE4 SSD with a third party heatsink attached to it
An M.2 PCIE4 SSD (with a third party heatsink attached to it)

These are substantially faster again, and offer more future-proofing that older SATA SSDs. Nonetheless, if you are rocking an older hard drive, changing to any sort of SSD will see an increase in your FPS rate.

Close Background Applications

Running too many background applications can also hold back your frames per second. This can bog down your CPU, and even your GPU, depending on the software that you’re running in the background:

Seven active programs running on Windows
Seven active programs running on Windows

If you’re looking to get maximum possible FPS in performance games, kill all non-essential applications and software before you fire up your favorite game.


Another thing you can do is overclock. You want to be able to push your CPU, GPU, and your RAM to the limits of what they’re physically capable of.

This will open up plenty of processing power to allow you to get more performance out of your video games. This not only can increase your frames per second, but it can also help improve stability and allow you to run things at higher graphics settings.

Upgrade Your CPU and GPU

A Sapphire Pulse RX 6700 XT graphics card resting on an anti static bag
My new Sapphire Pulse RX 6700 XT graphics card

When in doubt, you can always update your CPU or GPU.

The physical hardware you have is going to be the single biggest limiting factor when it comes to getting maximum performance out of your software. Unless you have the latest GPU with the highest possible specs, there’s only so much that you’re going to be able to get out of your existing hardware.

We’re talking about the difference between marginal gains and unlocking the best settings and highest resolution that often can only be handled by updating your tech.

cropped A picture of me Tristan
About Tristan Perry

Tristan has been interested in computer hardware and software since he was 10 years old. He has built loads of computers over the years, along with installing, modifying and writing software (he's a backend software developer 'by trade').

Tristan also has an academic background in technology (in Math and Computer Science), so he enjoys drilling into the deeper aspects of technology.

Tristan is also an avid PC gamer, with FFX and Rocket League being his favorite games.

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