Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fixing Warhammer Performance

So I haven't written about it, but certain situations in Warhammer Online have been practically unplayable for me. Altdorf, in particular, would just kill my computer. Not always, but often. The main culprit appeared to be the number of players, npcs and terrain models in my immediate area.

For Scenarios and Questing, I was having few issues. I also avoided Altdorf during peak hours or simply struggled through the occassional crash (or getting stuck in a wall). Needless to say, I have been a bit concerned about how the game will play at endgame when 300 people are all in the same region.

Last night, during a massive keep siege in Tier 3, my concerns proved well-founded. The realization struck me hard and I realized that unless I took dramatic steps, I wouldn't really be able to partipate in any truly epic RvR.

The Problem
Generally speaking, this particular issue is symptamatic of either not having enough memory, not having a fast enough CPU or video card, or not having a fast enough internet connection. Or in other words, it could be any number of things.

I do use a laptop and they are notoriously difficult to setup for games. CPU is not an issue for me. I'm well above the minimum recommended settings. Internet connection shouldn't be an issue since it's not a problem in other games. That leaves memory or the video card.

Unfortunately for me, I'm at the maximum 2GB of memory allowed for my computer and my onboard nVidia Gefore 7600 Go can't be upgraded or replaced. I'm not in the market for a new computer, so if that's my issue then I'm stuck with the problem.

LaptopVideo2Go
If you have ever had a graphics problem in any game, the first thing anyone recommends is getting the most up-to-date driver. With most vid cards, you can simply go to the chipset manufacturer to download the latest drivers. But for laptops, driver support must come from the manufacturer.

This means that unless HP, Acer, Toshiba or whoever made your laptop decides to provide an updated driver, you can't update it. In some cases, this means that the most up-to-date driver is the one provided by Windows Update. To say that video drivers are poorly supported by laptop manufacturers is a bit of an understatement.

Luckily, as with most things on the internet, enough people with the same problem breeds third party solutions. Enter LaptopVideo2Go.com -- a site whose sole purpose is to modify the most up-to-date drivers so that they work with the mobile chipsets.

nVidia low/choppy FPS fix
I'd like to tell you that an updated driver solved my issue, but alas... no. I still recommend it (it did help) but it wasn't the magic cure. This was actually one of the first steps I took several weeks ago.

Then I read a post by Syp about an nVidia FPS fix and decided to give that a try. The interesting thing about this "fix" is that it is simply about setting up a specific 3D profile for Warhammer Online by selecting WAR.EXE from the "add" option. Even if you leave the 3D profile on all the defaults, you still see a performance increase.

And while this still wasn't my magic cure, it helped tremendously -- particularly with my alt-tabbing issues. I highly recommend it to anyone using an nVidia card. I also tried a lot of changes with the 3D settings for WAR.exe, but outside of simply setting up the individual profile, none of the other changes helped much.

Is it Vista?
So while I made the problem significantly better by addressing the video card software, I still experienced severe unplayability issues in any situation where there were a large number of players, NPCs or buildings.

A few days ago I came across a forum post that indicated the problem might be with Windows Vista. The forum poster listed the specs of their computer and they matched mine almost exactly (Core2 Duo 1.73GHz, 2GB RAM, nVidia 7600 Go). He wrote that played on Vista it was almost unplayable at times. When he played on XP, he had no issues.

Believe it or not, this makes A LOT of sense. Minimum memory requirements for Warhammer in Vista is 2GB, while minimum requirements for XP is only 1GB. Vista uses quite a bit more system memory than XP (~700mb), so all other things being equal, there is less available memory for Warhammer in Vista than in XP.

This would most certainly explain the issues I was experiencing. I had commiserated in vent with a few guildies experiencing issues and started asking them which OS they were using. Every single one of them said Vista. So then I started asking people I knew didn't have issues and guess which OS they said? That's right, XP. Not terribly scientific, but certainly further evidence that XP instead of Vista might solve my problem.

Now it's worth pointing out that I suspected the problem wasn't Vista itself, but the amount of memory Vista was consuming versus the amount that XP consumes. The easiest and simplest solution would be to add additional system memory (from 2GB to 4GB). However, as I mentioned above, my laptop is maxxed at 2GB and that wasn't an option.

Dual-Booting Vista & XP
That left me with either outright replacing Vista or Dual-Booting XP. Say what you will about Vista, but it is the better operating system and I wasn't really all that keen on replacing it simply to play a game. That leaves Dual-Booting.

Now picture this situation: There I am, hundreds of players/defending the T3 keep in Avelorn, and I can barely move or cast. Meanwhile, I have everyone in vent talking about "how awesome" it is and "how cool"it is and "how fun" the siege is with that many players participating on both sides.

So at 9:00 at night, I logged off and started configuring my computer for a Dual-Boot. By 6am, I had WAR running in Windows XP on my now Dual-Boot system. It would have taken me a lot significantly less time, but I ran into some pitfalls that I'll warn you about it in a moment.

So did it work?
Yes. so far, so good.

After logging into WAR, I performed my now standard "Altdorf" test in which I mount up and run around the populated areas of town. There were no really noticible hitches and thus far, I am inclined to think this was a pretty significant fix.

How-to Dual-Boot XP & Vista
I had never Dual-Booted a system and by 9:05, I had learned the recommended way to setup a Dual-Boot is to install XP first and then install Vista.

Of course, I already had Vista installed and had no interest in reformatting my drive.

By 9:10, I had found this website with a step-by-step guide for Dual-Booting with Vista already installed. Alternately, I also found this site which also had great instructions. If you plan to try this, I highly recommend reading both of those sites before beginning the process.

I also thought I would note a couple of issues that I ran into during the process:

No Vista Install DVD
It was immediately obvious upon reading both those tutorials that you need a "Vista Install DvD" in order to complete the process. If you are like me, Vista came pre-loaded on the computer and I didn't recieve an install disk. All I have is an "HP Recovery Disk" that I made off a partioned hard drive and that isn't the same thing.

The reason this disk is important is because it repairs the boot record for Vista after XP is installed. Without it, you can't get Vista running again. Luckily, I found this site which allows you to download a Vista Recovery Disk. It comes in the form of an ISO image, which is easily burned to a CD or DVD.

XP Disc is older than XP SP2
My XP installation disc was much older and dated back to the original release. It turns out there is an issue with old XP install discs not recognizing Vista partitions or unallocated space on newer hard drives. If you have a 120GB or bigger hard drive and an install disk that dates back prior to SP2, then you need to take some extra steps to prepare a new installation disk.

To create a new XP install disk, you need to "slipstream" it to SP2 or SP3. Slipstreaming the install disk allows you to put apply service packs and hotfixes directly to the install files (among other things) and create a NEW install disk. I used a really nice program that helps with this process located here.

SATA drives
If you have a newer computer, then chances are you have a SATA enabled hard drive. XP installs don't recognize SATA drives without drivers.

You can disable SATA in the BIOS, or look to your laptop manufacturer for a tool to create a floppy disk that has drivers, or look up the drivers and slipstream them into the install disk along with the Service Pack.

5 comments:

onlinelaptops said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SleepySam said...

This is interesting. I checked out the site you linked for laptop drivers, but I was hopelessly lost. Anyone have any idea if the site has an updated driver for a Dell XPS M170 running NVIDIA geforce 7800 gtx?

sid67 said...

Well, most (perhaps all) of the latest nVidia drivers will support or work for any nVidia based graphics card.

The difference is that the OEM devices (which the laptops use) are not included in the driver .inf file that lists the supported devices. This is why if you try to use the "latest" driver from nVidia, you get a "your device is not supported" message.

So LaptopVideo2Go provides a modified .inf file you will use to replace the one in the default install. Basically, this just adds your device to the list of supported devices.

You will download two files -- an archived .exe that includes the default setup files and the modified .inf file. Once you extract the install files to a setup folder, you just copy/replace the modified .inf file to the setup folder and run the setup.

It's advisable to uninstall your old drivers first.

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Pavel said...

Hi there,
my laptop is a little faster than your system (Core2Duo T7500 2,2Ghz, 2GB Ram, 8600GT 512Mb dedicated), but i had the same issues >_> I followed every single advice i could find on forums and blogs (macros, addons, nVidia settings...) and still got allmost no improvement. Today was gonna delete the game, but i saw your post and "wow", if that guy can play - why cant i too?

So tonight im gonna go for dual-boot too...

Just want to say one big Thanks for the info, there arent much posts about the performance issues from people with laptops :)