How To get a Faster Second Life

Several people in the forums are asking how to get better Frames per Second rates and why their computer is so slow running SL. Several are asking about upgrading their computer for Christmas or getting a new one. So, I decided to write a HOW TO specific to Second Life so I could avoid repetitive forum posts…

Speed Hump? - Image by TheDarkThing - Flickr

Even if you never want to open the computer’s case, this information will help you know what to have your computer tech upgrade for you.

First consider what we are working with, other games have better graphics and performance than Second Life. When comparing SL with other games, one is wise to remember that most things in the SL world are made by novice content creators. Render efficiency is not foremost in their design goals and that shows in SL frame rates. Take a look at: Typical Second Life Frame Rate Performance by Graphics Card/GPU. The page was last updated in August 2011. It shows an nVidia 470 getting about 45 FPS.

Most 3D games, think Skyrim, contain content made by professionals, who do have efficiency as a primary goal. Plus those games are optimized and content is built for the specific optimization. Second Life is more generalized for a wider range of content. Plus it is based in a system initially created about 10 years ago.

Second Life is not going to have the graphics quality and performance of highly optimized games. Still, it is reasonably impressive when running in Ultra mode. While frame rates tend to be in the 25 to 45 FPS range even with high end equipment. I’ve occasionally seen 65+ using an 8800.

So, getting the best Second Life results is a unique challenge. What helps performance in other games often does not improve performance in Second Life. So, let’s get into what can help Second Life the most.

Warning

Be warned. Some of the physical changes like adding memory, changing CPU’s, or heat sinks require more technical knowledge than I’m going to provide. Putting your hands inside the computer can destroy the computer. Static electricity is a deadly enemy of computers. Opening power supplies is dangerous for you. Even a dead power supply can curl your hair and have you looking like a burn match. It is up to you to know what you’re doing. I’m providing the knowledge to know what to do not how to do it.

Settings

Performance and render quality are competing goals. The better the render quality is, the worse the performance. All tweaking is about arriving at the best balance for your preferences and hardware. For adjusting the SL Viewer and graphics card settings see: Graphics Tweaking for Second Life.

When settings don’t give the render quality and performance we want then we look at upgrading the hardware and software. However, there are a few things we can do before spending any money.

Computer Use

One can get a bit more performance out of Second Life viewers by closing all other running programs, especially programs that use Internet connections; email and browsers. Google Chrome can kill SL performance.

More improvement can be gained by finding all the tasks Windows runs and shutting them down. You can see what is running in Windows by opening the Windows Task Manager or Performance Monitor. The Task Manager does not come up when one uses START’s Start Search feature. Right-click any blank space in the bottom task bar of Windows and select Task Manager. In the Processes tab you can see most of the running tasks. Those using the most CPU time are candidates to be closed.

Use Google to find out which tasks can be ended and how. Use System InternalsProcess Explorer to easily disable and lookup the processes on Google. This is a pretty geeky task and requires some knowledge. But, there are a number of tutorials on the net for improving general computer performance that get into cleaning up the process list. Hard core competitive gamers get into really serious process pruning.

If you use the Performance Monitor, look in memory and look for the tasks that are running a high number of Hard Faults. Try to stop those tasks and set them to only run on demand.

Hard Disk & Cache

With the new viewers made during 2011 the cache has expanded to a possible 1gb. Indexing is used with the cache. So, as the cache fills up the viewer should not slow down as the older viewers did. So, all the past and still often heard recommendations to clear the cache are mostly outdated. Clearing the cache should be limited to problems known to be caused by a corrupt cache. Otherwise you are needlessly slowing your viewer down.

Disk Speed

Hard disks have several criteria to define their speed. Disk rotation limits how much data can be moved on and off the disk in a given time. Faster RPM is better. Most spin at 7,000 or 10,000 rpm.

Speed - By: jpctalbot @ Flickr

Access time is the time needed to find something on the disk. Data Transfer Rate is the amount of data that can be transferred per second. These are the two important criteria for a hard drive. Shorter access time and more data transfer are good. If you are considering a bigger disk drive, get the fastest you can afford.

There is no way to change the access time or transfer rate of an existing drive. But, there are ways to make the existing hardware work at its best.

Cache Location

If your computer has more than one disk drive, consider placing the cache on a drive other than the C: drive, which has the Windows or Mac temporary files. The computer has a channel to each drive and can be writing to different channels and drives at the same time, which means things go faster.

If your computer only has 1 drive, consider adding another, so you can split where the cache and Windows temporary files live.

Ram Drive

If your computer has more than the minimum ram, over 2gb, consider placing the cache on a ram drive. Ramdisk is a free program to make a ram drive. Ram drives are very fast. Faster than any hard disk. If your ram drive does not save its content when you shut down the computer, every restart is a cache clear. This means you will have to refill the cache each computer start, which uses up bandwidth and is slow and defeats the purpose of the cache.

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6 thoughts on “How To get a Faster Second Life

  1. Pingback: Kirsten's Viewer is no more... - Page 2 - SLUniverse Forums

  2. EXCELLENT! Well done article. I think this is a great primer for all who want to know about their computer hardware.

    I will be using a few of your tips for my Second Life stuff. Thank you!

    One thing you might want to mention is that it is pointless to upgrade to more that 4 gigs of RAM if you are running a 32 bit instead of 64 bit operating system which most who have computers more than 3 years old are.

    Again thanks and well done!

  3. Second Life will continue upgrading, Hopefully laptops would get as bad-ass as current monster desktops do.

    • One can hope. There are physical limits to how much power and heat dissipation one can put in laptop or fit into a battery. While it is only moving around electrons, the laptop does have to accomplish actual work to render the image. For those reasons I see some limitations for laptops and mobile devices until someone finds a new paradigm for 3D rendering.

  4. Thanks for the tips.
    I’ve been using a ram disk and also a secondary drive for cache on my mac, until I got an SSD disk. It now seems to be faster even if SL is running and caching on this same drive.
    So far, I haven’t found anyone who tested this possibility. Any info on that?

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