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What does “Game Mode” do in Windows 10?
First introduced in the Creators Update of Windows 10 released in April 2017, “Game Mode” promises to improve the performance of many PC games.
Here’s the official description: Microsoft says Game Mode “helps achieve a more stable frame rate depending on the specific game and system.”
Technically, it works by detecting games and giving them priority access to your computer’s resources. The game you’re focused on will get more CPU and GPU resources, while other applications and background processes will get fewer resources. This only works if Windows 10 detects that you are playing a game.
Microsoft’s limited explanation of game mode also says that in game mode Windows Update does not automatically install hardware drivers or tell you to restart your PC while playing a game. This reduces interruptions.
Does Game Mode improve performance?
Game mode may or may not improve your PC’s gaming performance. Depending on the game, your PC’s hardware, and what you’re running in the background, you might not see any difference.
You’ll see the greatest increase in game performance when a game competes for resources with other running programs on your PC. If your PC has enough CPU and GPU resources, Game Mode probably won’t do much.
A 2017 test from PC Gamer found that Game Mode improved gaming performance a bit on low-end hardware. However, that came at the expense of background tasks – with Game Mode enabled, it was not possible to play a YouTube video in the background while gaming without the video playback stuttering. It’s a tradeoff: while gaming, resources are taken from background tasks and spent on the game.
Why is it enabled by default?
Game Mode tries to automatically detect when you play a game and only takes action if Windows thinks you are. So if you use web browsers and office software all day, Game Mode won’t do anything at all.
However, when you launch a game, Windows 10’s game mode takes effect and prioritizes this game over everything else on your PC. So why shouldn’t Game Mode be on by default? It doesn’t do anything unless Windows thinks you’re running a game.
Game mode can sometimes cause problems
Some Windows users have reported that some games actually slow down with game mode enabled. It sounds strange, and it certainly shouldn’t work this way, but sometimes it does.
For example, in May 2020, Guru 3D wrote about reports of game mode leading to stuttering and frozen screens with both NVIDIA and AMD graphics hardware.
Why can this happen? We only have speculation. However, by allocating more hardware resources to a PC game and deprioritising background tasks, Game Mode could theoretically take resources away from important background tasks, causing the system to falter or the game itself to slow down. Or maybe there are just odd bugs in game mode with specific games or graphics drivers. Windows is very complicated.
Regardless, if you run into strange issues – stutters, freezes, crashes, or all round low FPS – while playing a PC game, you might want to turn off game mode and see if that fixes your problem. It is a useful troubleshooting step.
Enable and disable Windows 10 game mode
To operate Game Mode, open the Settings window from the Start menu or by pressing Windows + i. Go to Settings> Gaming> Game Mode.
Here you will find only one setting: Game Mode, which you can turn on or off. It is enabled by default. To turn off game mode, click the switch and move it to ‘Off’.
That is it. In modern versions of Windows 10, there is no way to manually enable or disable game mode for an individual game. In the 2017 Creators Update, you could enable or disable game mode for specific games in the Xbox Game Bar interface, but this option is now gone. As of the Windows 10 October 2020 update, you won’t find it anywhere in the modern Xbox Game Bar.
All you can do is enable or disable game mode for the whole system. When Windows thinks you are playing a game, Windows activates the game mode tweaks. If Windows doesn’t detect that you’re playing a game, you can’t turn it on manually.
But don’t worry – even if Windows doesn’t notice you’re playing a game and don’t activate game mode, you probably aren’t missing out much.
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