Friday, February 8, 2013

How to make your SL faster! Part 3: Graphics within the viewer

In part 1 you have learned how to identify your speed in graphics, in your viewer. In the second chapter, you have seen what you need to do before you actually start fine-tuning inside SL. The second chapter is essentially helpful also for NVidia owners.

Now we will look into options you can use within your viewer to speed up your SL. Basically, you will have to find a balance between "Looking good" and "Being fast". As we saw in Chapter one, comparing bandwidth usage and FPS, the more information is there that needs to be computed, the slower your FPS is.

We will start with the Graphics menu in the "preferences". As mentioned in previous posts, i am using the Firestorm viewer. So the menu is under "avatar - preferences - graphics", most viewers also respond to CTRL-P for preferences and then select the "graphics" tab.

click to enlarge

You see a slider and a button "advanced". Click the "advanced" button. If it has been clicked already earlier by you, the window might right away look like this, otherwise, it should do so now:

click to enlarge

The top slider "Render Quality (lower is usually faster)" is a quick way that changes some of the options, that you can alter individually, after you opened them with the "advanced" button. We will focus on the individual settings.

It is always good if you have the statistics bar open (see chapter 1), when playing with this window, so you can see the effect right away.

The most obvious fast effect you will see when you toy with the "draw distance". Draw distance tells the viewer, how far away your horizon is, until which you want to see things and people. In my picture, that is 256 meters. And that, is way too much for most uses. Reduce it to 96 and watch the statistics bar. Set it up to 512 and watch the bar. Play with it. In most environments, you are fine with 96 meters.
(Quick tip for firestorm users: you can also type in chat "DD 64" to set your Draw Distance to 64 meters, or DD 128 to set it to 128, etc.)

Once you have set your draw distance right, have a look at "max particle count". For this, find also a source that emits "particles". What are particles? These are textures, that change in size, and move, and then vanish again. You will find particles for example for achieving effects like:

  • snow
  • rain
  • chains (from cuffs to collars, or cuff to cuff, or pet to owner....)
  • foam (waterfalls, mist etc)
  • fire (smoke, flame)
  • dust
and many more.

Particles cause some load on your system. If you set ""max particle count" to 0, all the above mentioned effects will be invisible to you. So, for example, if others see snowflakes, you don't. But in return, your system is faster. Reasonable particle count is 512. Good is 1024. And totally pampered is 4096.

The next option to check is "basic shaders" and "atmospheric shaders" and "Lightning and shadows". I could write at length what they do. But most likely you will see it immediately on your screen when you toggle them on and off. The more are on, the more beautiful it is. And the slower.

These effects are, from what i experienced  the most effective ones in speeding up or slowing down. All other settings have an effect too, of course. But lighter in their impact. You are encouraged to read the help there, and most sliders are then easy to understand.

Two hints now at the end of this chapter:
1. Firestorm users can also activate a quick-menu for these settings.  
Search this button:

If you can not see this button anywhere, click any other button on your Firestorm viewer with the right mouse, so you get this menu:

Then select "toolbar buttons" and drag and drop the Firestorm button into the other existing ones. There you go.
Once clicked the Firestorm button, your quick menu comes like this:

2, As i wrote above, the "Draw Distance" is telling, how far away around you, details are rendered. One of the major projects in 2013 for SL is the so called "Interest List". This means, your viewer will try to render only things, that you can really actually see and which are not hidden by other obstacles like a large house. (yes, that is very simplified as explanation, i know, dear techies.). If you are interested in details, a good read is here:

More about how to speed up your SL comes in the next chapters.

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