When I was younger, my low-budget PC struggled to run most games, so I made it a habit to shut down any unused background programs, virus scanners, and services before every gaming session.
Nowadays, I'm older, have a real job, and am fortunate enough to be able to spend more money on my beloved hobby. With a high-end CPU and two high-end GPUs in SLI, I have the luxury of being able to just boot up a game, put all settings to max, turn on 3Dvision, and enjoy what is usually a smooth, sumptuous gaming experience. But I started wondering: was I hurting my performance by forsaking this old habit? Could I still get a noticeable boost by shutting off a few programs before I launch a game?
Conventional wisdom says that 'No, those days are over': today's CPUs are much better at multi-tasking, so leaving background programs running shouldn't impact gaming in any serious way. Still, I decided to find out for myself, if only for peace of mind.
The testing system:
Asrock z87 Extreme9ac
Gigabyte GTX Titan x2 (SLI) & Zotac GTX 650ti (PhysX)
I tested 5 games, using their built-in benchmarks for accuracy. I did several runs in each test, and averaged the results. I first tested them with a bunch of background programs and processes running (see list below). Then, I disabled all of those background apps, and tested again. These were the background programs in question:
- MediaMonkey (idle)
- Folding@Home (idle)
- Google Chrome (system tray only)
- logitech gaming software
- fitbit connect
- razer synapse 2.0
- corsair vengeance mouse config
- Nvidia geforce experience
- Microsoft Security Essentials (real-time protection turned on)
- Display Fusion Pro
- Google Drive
- Thunderbolt Software
- Epson Event Manager
Phew! Quite a list - and those are just my everyday startup programs! OK. below are the FPS results, both before and after disabling all those background programs.
As you can see, the difference is basically zilch. Certainly nothing meaningful. This is bad news for anyone who was hoping to pluck some extra performance by emptying their system tray. But personally, I'm relieved, as it means I won't ever feel compelled to go through that tiresome ritual of closing everything before each game session.
It might be argued that, because my PC is pretty high-end, it doesn't make a good test sample, and that closing background applications might have a more pronounced effect on low-end PCs. Perhaps - I can't promise otherwise - but I doubt it.
Remember: I stressed my PC by setting all settings to max, and in the case of Hitman and Metro, my PC was struggling to produce barely playable framerates. Yet there was still no significant difference between before and after.
This is all well and good for programs that are robustly designed and behave as intended. But some programs are just stinkers, and take up way more resources than they should. Ferric in the comments mentions that Spotify has a large impact on their system.
Another culprit is xboxstat.exe. It's a piece of official Microsoft software that comes with the xbox gamepad controller, but it is a horrible resource hog. Get rid of it. It is completely unnecessary for the gamepad to function properly, and it has been known to consume crazy amounts of resources. On my system, it regularly consumed 13% of CPU even when not idle. Others have reported it consuming as much as 90%!
I've written a guide on how to safely remove it towards the bottom of my Razer Sabertooth article (but you don't need to own a Sabertooth to be affected - xboxstat.exe actually comes with the official Microsoft xbox gamepad driver).