Massively's guide to reducing your Second Life lag: Your computer

Tateru Nino
T. Nino|09.29.08

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Tateru Nino
September 29th, 2008
Massively's guide to reducing your Second Life lag: Your computer

1. Your computer

This is probably one of the least popular forms of lag, since a lot of people infer it to mean that it is somehow their own fault.

The fact is that your computer can only do so much work per second. The more work you ask it to do, the longer that work takes. That might seem kind of obvious when your boss dumps a whole pile of last minute work on you on a Friday afternoon, but not many people are aware of all the things their computer might be doing, or how those interact.

How to tell if your computer is working too hard

Check the viewer frame-rate. Press SHIFT CONTROL 1 (that's the number one on your keyboard). A small display will pop up on the right. This is the statistics display. Remember how to bring this up, because we'll be referring back to various parts of the statistics display later. If you want it to go away, just press the same key combination again.

It looks quite fearsome, crowded with mysterious numbers and little graphs.

The more you draw...

Don't panic! There are just a couple key indicators that we need to look at. Right now, we're only interested in one of them: Viewer frames per second (FPS). You'll see the average FPS right at the top.

The lower this number is, the more overworked your system is. Things start to get pretty slow if it drops below 12FPS, and below 8FPS you'll probably be tearing your hair out and setting fire to the cat in frustration.

If it drops too low, you can be disconnected from Second Life or the viewer might unexpectedly crash.

The cure

Your PC doesn't have the resources for the amount of work it needs to do. It's trying to draw too much, or other programs are stealing time away from it.

  • Close down other programs that are memory hogs or that are trying to do a lot of work. They're stealing resources from your Second Life viewer. You should see the FPS increase as they go away.
  • Turn off visible property lines in the viewer, if you have it enabled (Pull down the View menu and make sure the item Property Lines is not checked). Rendering visible property lines can cut your FPS by as much as 30% on some hardware and systems. Also turn off Land Owners, just below it. When you need these information displays, they're very useful. The rest of the time, they just waste your computer resources.
  • Turn down or turn off your graphical options. A vehicle carrying one ton can go faster than the same vehicle carrying ten tons. If you want to be selective (and we advise it), ignore the Quality and Performance slider in Edit > Preferences > Graphics, and use the Custom checkbox right next to it. That will give you the chance to adjust individual graphical options so that you can maintain a satisfying visual quality, while cutting the workload. Our most commonly used UI option ever is the Draw Distance slider. In any given session in Second Life we probably adjust that at least a dozen times. In a crowded place? Turn it down. Need a longer view for a photo? Turn it up. We'd like to have that slider right on the UI where we could twiddle with it at will.
  • Reduce your ARC. The one avatar your viewer always has to pay attention to is your own, whether you are on-camera or not. Avatars with lower ARC figures are less work for your computer. Thrift starts at home. Since your viewer always has to pay attention to your avatar, you may as well reduce your ARC. Attachments and accessories with lower ARC are better designed, from a graphics perspective. If the Advanced menu does not appear in the menu bar to the right of Help, press CONTROL ALT D to bring it up (some users may also need to use SHIFT). Under Advanced > Rendering > Info Displays select Avatar Rendering Cost. Note that it will significantly reduce your FPS if you leave this switched on, so only use it when you need it. You can't control the actions of others, so don't complain about their ARC total. Just fix your own ARC; since your avatar remains with you wherever you go, your own ARC will always affect you.
  • Enable multi-threading if you have more than one CPU or more than one core. If the Advanced menu does not appear in the menu bar to the right of Help, press CONTROL ALT D to bring it up (some users may also need to use SHIFT). Under Advanced > Rendering select Run Multiple Threads. This hands off texture decoding to another processor core. Users with only one core/CPU will likely see no improvement. This option might increase the incidence of viewer lock-ups, but this seems to hardly ever happen.
  • Upgrade your system. If all else fails, an upgrade is in order. As much RAM as your system will take, for starters, and frankly that seven-year-old video card probably isn't doing you any favors either. Watch out for 'budget' 3D cards (budget 3D chipsets wind up in many laptops, too); They've got almost the same numerical designations as the regular performance models, but just don't deliver as well when push comes to shove.
  • Don't overclock. The odds are you'll just crash your viewer, over and over. Second Life is unusually sensitive to overclocking. You can get away with it if you know exactly what you're doing, but the trouble isn't usually worth it compared to an upgrade.

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