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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Second Life in the Fast Lane

Today's post is about speeding up the performance of Second Life!

Lots of people who are familiar with computer games get frustrated by SL, because its performance is typically a lot worse than the games they're used to.  The main reason for this is that SL needs to download content almost continuously...while most games download a whole level's worth of content to your hard drive, where it can be accessed quickly.

You do have a cache for SL though.  Three of them, in fact, for your inventory, for textures that make up the world around you, and for audio.  If you have enough hard drive space, you can increase the size available for the textures cache to almost 10 GB.  Unless you go to new places constantly, this will help your performance.

If you are a builder, or even just decorate your own spaces, you can improve performance by limiting the number of high resolution textures (1024 x 1024 pixels) you use.  It doesn't take very many of these before your graphics card starts to complain.  I try to keep the textures I use to 512 x 512 or less, especially when I'm texturing very small objects.  Many tiny things can do just fine with 64 x 64 textures.

You can limit your draw distance, and turn off or turn down other options in your viewer's Graphics preferences tab.  If you can't afford to upgrade your computer or your internet connection, this may be your only option.  If you have to, don't be afraid to trade off pretty graphics for the ability to walk and communicate!

You can pay more for a higher bandwidth Internet connection.  Lots of ISPs are offering 100 Mb/sec, or even 1 Gb/second connections.  If you have gigabit internet, don't throttle it when it gets to your house...use a Gigabit router, and Cat 6 cables.  Even if you don't have that much bandwidth, don't use WiFi...connect your computer to your local network with an ethernet cable.

You can get a better graphics card.  There are three major graphics solutions:  Nvidia, ATI/AMD Radeon, and Intel.  Intel's solutions are not stand-alone graphics cards, they are "integrated graphics" that are designed into the main processing chip of your computer.  Nvidia and Radeon have chip-based solutions too, but they also make stand-alone graphics cards.  Any of these three major systems are capable of running, SL, but (arguably) the best solution is a stand-alone Nvidia GEforce graphics card.  Look for a GTX 970 or better.  As of this writing, cryptocurrency miners have driven up the prices of top-of-the-line graphics cards, but weakening cryptocurrency prices may turn that around soon (I hope!)

If you are still using a spinning hard disk drive in your computer, get a solid state drive (SSD)!  You can keep the old drive for storing images, old documents, music and videos...but put your operating system, your software programs, and your SL cache files on the SSD.  If your motherboard supports it with an M.2 slot, the new NVME type of SSDs are even faster than the kind that hook up with a SATA cable.  An SSD will make your computer feel like a brand new machine.

The price of RAM (the main memory in your computer) is also high these days, but adding more RAM to your machine can improve its performance, especially if you set aside some of it for a RAM drive.  A RAM drive is just a small piece of software that makes a part of your RAM act like a very, very fast hard drive.  I tried this with a freeware program called Soft Perfect RAM Disk, and put my Firestorm viewer and its cache on a RAM drive.  The performance boost was amazing!  I more than doubled my frames-per-second at ground level in most locations.  I have 32 GB of RAM, and allocated about 6 GB to the RAM drive.  You can download this software from Major Geeks.

Don't put anything you can't afford to lose on a RAM disk, though.  Even if you set it up to "image"...that is, download itself to your hard drive before your computer shuts down, and reload itself from that image when you start up...it's still less reliable than an actual disk drive.

I hope some of these tips will give you a better Second Life!




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