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Windows 10 Creators Update Game Mode investigation and benchmarks

dr_rus

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After spending a couple of days doing various benchmarks and tests on Windows 10 Creators Update / 1703 / 15063 (which are all the same thing btw) Game Mode feature I thought that the results I've got are different enough from what was described in the previous thread OP link for me to share them.

There's also seem to be a lot of confusion surrounding this feature in general as MS hasn't bothered to provide any solid information on what it does, how it works, how to enable it, etc.

So first things first - how to enable / disable it in any game you want?

  1. Go into Settings (Win+X -> Settings), then Gaming.
  2. Make sure that you have the option of "Record game clips, screenshots, and broadcast using Game Bar" enabled in "Game bar" section. This option is in fact enables or disables Game Bar feature. No idea why it has such strange label.
  3. Note the "Open Game bar" keyboard shortcut below - it's Win+G by default.
  4. Now to enable Game Mode in a game of your choice you need to invoke Game bar in it and hit the "Use Game mode for this game" checkbox:


There's a couple of quirks with this still:

  • There's a separate section called "Game Mode" in the Settings->Gaming. It allows you to choose if you want to use Game Mode or not, globally. What this setting does is a bit of a mystery right now though as it has no effect on any of the games I've tried and all of said games have Game Mode disabled for them by default when I checked it in the Game bar no matter what you set it globally to. If you choose not to use Game Mode here it has no effect on the Game Mode switcher in Game bar either - you can still enable Game Mode from Game bar in a game of your choosing and it will in fact work just fine, even with Game Mode being disabled here in Settings app.
  • The list of games where you can easily invoke the Game bar with Win+G shortcut include all <=D3D9 games and all D3D12 games but only a small portion of D3D10/11 games. This is due to the fact that D3D10/11 games use a different (well, it can be called "true" really) exclusive fullscreen mode in Windows 10 which makes it impossible for Game bar to appear on top of such games.
    While 1703 Windows update expanded that list again, with additional 88 titles, some notable recent titles are still missing from it - one example being Rise of The Tomb Raider (DX11 version of course). However, there's a way of getting the Game bar to show up in pretty much any DX11 game - for this you need to switch this game in a windowed or borderless windowed mode, invoke the Game bar, make the changes and after that you can switch the game back to exclusive fullscreen - the changes will "stick".

So what does Win10 "Game Mode" actually do? The post on Windows Central from the earlier thread OP stated that:
Game Mode will prevent system tasks from stealing resources from your games, making frame rates and performance generally more consistent. You should see fewer dropped frames as a result of Game Mode, specifically during scenes and situations that are more intensive on your system's hardware. Game Mode will also limit CPU thread contention between your games and existing system processes, helping to speed things up even further.
Notice that there is no info on HOW exactly Game Mode will achieve all this. But after some investigation I think that I have a pretty good idea.

What Game Mode actually does is reserve a couple of CPU threads purely for OS and non gaming tasks (that's on my 6C/12T CPU - the number may be different on a 4C/4T CPU for example).

Here's a CPU load graph, the left high load portion is with Game Mode off while the right high load portion is the exactly same sequence but ran with Game Mode on:



Notice that with Game Mode being on the first two CPU threads aren't getting much load while the load on the rest ten threads have gone up a bit.

What this means is that Game Mode is actually stealing CPU resources from the running game and allocating them to background tasks - which may not even exist, as in the example above. This also means that the promise of "fewer dropped frames, specifically during scenes and situations that are more intensive on your system's hardware" is not true at all as with two CPU threads being reserved strictly for background tasks you are likely to see more dropped frames in such scenes and situations - unless they meant situations where something CPU heavy spins up in the background while you're playing a game.

Generally, enabling such Game Mode when you're short on CPU resources - which most modern Core i5s and some older Core i7s are in most recent AAA games - will result in a performance loss in gaming while not providing much benefit unless you have something rather CPU heavy running in the background while gaming. I personally can't think of any software which I might be running in the background while gaming which would require whole two CPU threads being reserved to itself.

OS reserved CPU threads aren't limited to one CPU core, btw, and can in fact be reserved from different CPU cores leading to an even more questionable benefit even in cases when there is something CPU heavy running in the background - as in such cases these CPU heavy background tasks will fight with the game you're playing for physical CPU resources because they'll be running on SMT/HT threads.


So, pure theory suggests that Game Mode is unlikely to lead to any performance gains or even framerate stability improvements outside of situations where you have some WinRAR storing a couple of terabytes of files in the background while gaming - and this is exactly what I'm seeing in my becnhmarks.

Firstly, the "no change" group - these games are either completely GPU limited or can't make any use of 12 CPU threads and thus loosing two of CPU threads to OS reservation don't lead to any significant performance changes.





Here's where things are starting to get ugly though - these games are able to make use of 12 CPU threads sometimes and are thus loosing some performance due to Game Mode locking two CPU threads:








So TL;DR: should you enable Game Mode feature of Win10 1703 / Creators Update? Only if you have something CPU heavy running in the background while playing. In pretty much every other situation Game Mode reservation of CPU threads will likely lead to performance loss or - at the very best - no change in a game's performance.

Owners of 4C/4T CPUs (Core i5s) should be especially wary of Game Mode as it will most likely do more harm than good on their CPUs in pretty much every modern AAA game.

Hopefully this will clear up some confusion around Game Mode feature. Due to what I was able to find out on my PC, I personally will be disabling Game Mode because I struggle to think of any situation where it may be of any benefit to me.


Here's a couple of benchmarks from Creators Update release version from the previous thread first of which show when Game Mode can actually be beneficial:


If anyone's got more links with Game Mode benchmarks - feel free to post them here, I'll add them to the OP.
 

Ricerocket

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Predicted this before.

This is to ease in the xbox users to PC with play anywhere. No effect on PC gamers who already know how to deal with it manually.
 

Kayant

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Feb 25, 2014
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Good investigation analysis. &#128077; &#128076; &#128077;
Thanks for the write-up.

No noticeable improvement/change in framepacing?
This I would like to know also but based on OP I would guess not.
 

Massicot

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How well does the DVR work? Any reason to switch from shadowplay (or nvidia share shadow recording or whatever they call it now)

Geforce experience is eh but shadowplay works great for me. But I would love to do it at the OS level.
 

Echoplx

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Unless you are measuring minimum FPS or frametimes those graphs are pretty useless, I don't think anyone expect a performance boost for Max/avg fps.
 

dr_rus

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Thanks for the write-up.

No noticeable improvement/change in framepacing?
I haven't noticed any improvements during my tests. I'd say that with Game Mode on there were even more sudden stutters sometimes but not so much more as to say that it causes them. This is something I would be interested in someone checking out properly as well. For me here it would be a bit too much work as I'd need to store the frametimes and do graphs for them, preferably during gameplay and not via the built-in benchmarks.

Unless you are measuring minimum FPS or frametimes those graphs are pretty useless, I don't think anyone expect a performance boost for Max/avg fps.
Generally speaking, a lower average fps means a lower minimum/maximum fps too.
 
Sep 3, 2014
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I haven't noticed any improvements during my tests. I'd say that with Game Mode on there were even more sudden stutters sometimes but not so much more as to say that it causes them. This is something I would be interested in someone checking out properly as well. For me here it would be a bit too much work as I'd need to store the frametimes and do graphs for them, preferably during gameplay and not via the built-in benchmarks.



Generally speaking, a lower average fps means a lower minimum/maximum fps too.
Great write up man, do you think this is something they can improve overtime?
 

DarKshodaN

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well believe it or not on my i7 6700/GTX1070 Forza Horizion 3 runs with Game Mode on alot smoother, so i think it is a great feature to have
 

SoundLad

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This may actually be useful for people streaming gameplay (Twitch, etc.).

For example, OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is a huge CPU drain in the background and most professional streamers opt to use 2 separate machines because of that - 1 machine dedicated to streaming, the other for running the game on).

It would be nice to see if this comes close to solving that problem at all.
 

Wonko_C

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I was hoping it helped me even if just a little bit on my super old core 2 quad CPU. (for more consistency with Street Fighter 5) But I have no way of knowing it's making things better or worse, LOL.
 

Echoplx

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This may actually be useful for people streaming gameplay (Twitch, etc.).

For example, OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is a huge CPU drain in the background and most professional streamers opt to use 2 separate machines because of that - 1 machine dedicated to streaming, the other for running the game on).

It would be nice to see if this comes close to solving that problem at all.
OBS uses those resources for a reason, if you limit them it will just ruin the stream.
 

tuxfool

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Predicted this before.

This is to ease in the xbox users to PC with play anywhere. No effect on PC gamers who already know how to deal with it manually.
Who exactly is ever going to be running some CPU heavy task in the background, while playing a game?

How well does the DVR work? Any reason to switch from shadowplay (or nvidia share shadow recording or whatever they call it now)

Geforce experience is eh but shadowplay works great for me. But I would love to do it at the OS level.
No. It's rubbish, don't use it, stick with shadowplay.
 

Killthee

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Anyone know if this prevents a auto update from starting on it's own in the background?
No idea, but the update settings are a bit more flexible in CU at least for pro. They've increased the active hours window to 18 hours and it says it'll check if anyone is using the pc before auto restarting now. There's also a restart setting now that will let you schedule when you want your current update to install (specific time or day). And I'm assuming these are Pro only options, but it's now letting me dictate how many days I want to defer feature updates (up to a year), security updates (up to a month), or temp pause all updates one time for up to 35 days.
 

Diablohead

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Who exactly is ever going to be running some CPU heavy task in the background, while playing a game?



No. It's rubbish, don't use it, stick with shadowplay.
Main thing I can think of is video streaming software, if this does anything to help that I have no idea but I also don't own 12 cores like the OP, only a regular i5 quad core.
 

tuxfool

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Main thing I can think of is video streaming software, if this does anything to help that I have no idea but I also don't own 12 cores like the OP, only a regular i5 quad core.
The only people that should use CPU based encoding are those with enough cores to do so, i.e. Ryzen and HEDT users. Otherwise people should stick with letting their GPUs do the encoding work.
 

dr_rus

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Great write up man, do you think this is something they can improve overtime?
Well, the only obvious way to improve it that I can think of is to lock CPU threads to background tasks only when such tasks are actually exist. This would get us the best from both worlds - full CPU power for gaming when there's nothing running in the background and dedicated CPU threads to heavy background tasks which lead to less contention and collisions and thus - higher minimum fps in such cases.

One would think that this is how it should've been done in the first place.

Actually, arstechnica posted this today:

"Low-end PCs get big performance boost from Windows 10 Game Mode"

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/04/windows-10-game-mode-shows-big-gains-on-low-end-pc-performance/
It references to the same PCWorld article I've already linked in the OP.

Anyone know if this prevents a auto update from starting on it's own in the background?
I don't see why it would but this is something only MS would know.
 

TSM

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Unless you are measuring minimum FPS or frametimes those graphs are pretty useless, I don't think anyone expect a performance boost for Max/avg fps.
Yeah, I'm willing to give up some frames at the top end for improvements there. I'd imagine someone will do more thorough benchmarking at some point.
 

btags

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So I have no idea what game mode does or is supposed to do, but I feel like it is a stretch to say the other threads (past two) have gone up in usage in a statistically significant manner. They look the same to me. If they are increased, does the increase in usage on the other threads just negate the decreased usage on the first two threads?
 
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Well, the only obvious way to improve it that I can think of is to lock CPU threads to background tasks only when such tasks are actually exist. This would get us the best from both worlds - full CPU power for gaming when there's nothing running in the background and dedicated CPU threads to heavy background tasks which lead to less contention and collisions and thus - higher minimum fps in such cases.

One would think that this is how it should've been done in the first place.


It references to the same PCWorld article I've already linked in the OP.


I don't see why it would but this is something only MS would know.
interesting, thanks for the reply.
 

Gren

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I was just thinking about Game Mode. The scant articles I took a cursory glance over seemed to indicate it provided marginal gains.

I'll just defer activating it until I can find evidence as thorough as this to the contrary.
 

Kadin

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Amazing work OP. Just told some friends about this thread as we all have been recently discussing this update. On an i5-4690k here and thinking this won't seem to do anything positive for me. Then again, everything has been running fine for me so it's not really anything terrible.
 

Scotch

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Thanks, excellent write-up.

I installed the Creators Update this morning and just noticed that Game Mode was turned on by default, so I have turned it off. I have a habit of closing most other applications when I'm gaming so I don't think this is for me.
 

Sword Of Doom

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I keep my pc extremely lean anyways so game mode was always going to be redundant for me.

I do wonder how this impact lower performing cpu's and people who do recording/streaming while
Gaming, which can be CPU intensive
 

Last_colossi

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Thanks dr-rus it's good to know what it actually does.

Also I just upgraded to the Creators Update and I want to give a heads up to anyone using custom high refresh rates, Windows seems to install it's own version of Nvidia's latest driver which for some reason wouldn't let me play Overwatch at anything higher than 60Hz at 1080p, I tried the "deleting and remaking your custom resolutions" fix to no avail, but I found that reinstalling the drivers via Geforce Experience did the trick, so if everything else fails try that.
 

Dictator93

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If they are increased, does the increase in usage on the other threads just negate the decreased usage on the first two threads?
Assuming a theoretical scenario where there are no other confounding factors, then yes it would. But that is a large assumption that presumes that (1) the game does not scale beyond your available virtual and hard thread count on the CPU (2), if it does the now more laden cores are not oversaturated thus depressing performance. I think point counterfactual reality of 2 and point 1 lead to dr_rus' hesitation at recommending this for 4C/4T users. Locking away such vital threads for background processes that should not be running in the first place is ultra silly. I honestly also can imagine the negation of (2nd) scenario occuring on &C/12T systems in certain scenes where now more laden threads in game-mode are overburdened with tasks that would have otherwise spread out across more dedicated threads.

I will test this out as well in games that I know are CPU heavy, but I think dr_rus' OP points out how useless this kinda is... so thanks dr_rus!

EDIT: I am curious if this could, potentially increase the performance of games that are known to use only 1 or 2 threads. But even then, I imagine that it would barely help (think Crysis or any pre-2005 game).
 

Ratros

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That's a great analysis. Thanks!

Now I know that it must be psychological effect that I feel my Surface Pro 4 runs Starcraft 2 a little better with Game Mode on. It's Microsoft after all, naturally I shouldn't have expected much. Shame on me.

P.S. I thought Game Mode would also disable some non-critical system services, which could provide a (really) minor performance boost to games. Did I remember it wrong?
 

Candescence

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So... It's basically pointless for the most part? I'm not sure why MS even bothered. Their efforts on PC this gen have been an absolute travesty.
 

Dictator93

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also, am I insane or bad at english where I cannot see this "settings" option after hitting "win + x" ?

It is in German mind you, but there is no "Einstellungen" here which would be the equivalent word.
 

Head.spawn

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also, am I insane or bad at english where I cannot see this "settings" option after hitting "win + x" ?

It is in German mind you, but there is no "Einstellungen" here which would be the equivalent word.
'Win + I' Goes straight to settings.

In that picture though, 'systemsteuerung' is in the spot where it says settings on mine.
 

Ratros

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also, am I insane or bad at english where I cannot see this "settings" option after hitting "win + x" ?

It is in German mind you, but there is no "Einstellungen" here which would be the equivalent word.
I believe it is the option below "Task-Manager".

It's just the regular Windows 10 Modern Control Panel, with a new "Gaming" section added. Personally speaking I found it quite amusing that Windows does not include Game Mode settings in the search result:



Well, Microsoft.
 

justsomeguy

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Unless you are measuring minimum FPS or frametimes those graphs are pretty useless
Thanks for the write-up.

No noticeable improvement/change in framepacing?
Agreed. Since game mode is apparently to reduce frame rate drops, it seems odd not to focus on, or at least give equal attention to, that aspect for the analysis. With the write up as-is you'll get responses like this:

Bless yah for doing this work. Won't even touch it.
Where actually there may be genuine benefits in consistency of frame pacing. As it stands it's only part of the picture.
 

Zarth

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Is this really all thats going on? Doesn't sound any different then when we used to do things like set core affinity/core parking.

Most of the time you don't need it and it just makes things worse for a normal user.
 

Dictator93

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'Win + I' Goes straight to settings.

In that picture though, 'systemsteuerung' is in the spot where it says settings on mine.
I believe it is the option below "Task-Manager".

It's just the regular Windows 10 Modern Control Panel, with a new "Gaming" section added. Personally speaking I found it quite amusing that Windows does not include Game Mode settings in the search result:



Well, Microsoft.
Thx for the repsonses. Pretty strange translation decision to make "settings" basically the new control panel (old one is of course still there), yet maintain the same german name for it!