Must craft mines
October 8, 2011 10:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I improve my computer's performance enough to play Minecraft?

I'd like to play Minecraft, but it runs extremely slowly on my computer---slower than I expected it would. Am I overestimating my hardware, or is something else wrong? Here is what I'm using:

Biostar A880G+ motherboard
AMD Athlon II X2 4400e processor (an unlocked Sempron 140, actually)
30 GiB solid state drive for the operating systems, and a larger conventional drive for everything else.

Minecraft isn't functional at all in Fedora 15, though I've never had much luck getting video drivers working properly with Fedora in the first place. In Ubuntu 11.04, I get framerates of 16-19 per second on the highest settings and 20-30 on the lowest settings, with frequent dips below 20.

I know the motherboard and processor are not state of the art, but I thought they would be fine given the amount of RAM and the SSD. If I'm wrong about that, would adding a video card make a difference? If so, are there any under, say, $60 that would meet my needs and play nice with Linux, especially Fedora? (I'd rather add a video card than upgrade the processor or motherboard, but I'm open to suggestions if my small upgrade budget would be better spent there.)

For what it is worth, Ubuntu is generally sluggish, and Fedora frequently slows down dramatically when I use Kile, enough that there is about a two-second delay from what I type to what appears on the screen. I don't know if that is a related problem---I haven't even tried a fresh install to see if it persists---but if a video card will help there too, I'll be happy to kill two (three?) birds with one stone.
posted by Made of Star Stuff to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried installing OptiFine?
posted by Memo at 10:17 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

when researching computers to play minecraft, the one single best improvement we saw in thread after thread was moving from onboard video to a video card. thom's hardware has some suggestions.
posted by nadawi at 10:36 PM on October 8, 2011

A videocard isn't really optional even with a game like minecraft.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:38 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The one major difference that makes Minecraft awesome on my desktop and barely playable on my laptop is the integrated video on my laptop. Even my desktop's $150-four-years-ago video card runs Minecraft smoothly (above 30 FPS except in the most cluttered views), while the laptop is under 25 FPS even with the view distance fog set close.
posted by WasabiFlux at 10:47 PM on October 8, 2011

I was looking at your specs and couldn't figure out what could possibly be the problem until you said "add a video card."

That is your problem. That is a huge problem. I mean, if you're shelling out for SSD, you want at least a basic discrete card even for business performance let alone doing any level of gaming whatsoever outside of Nethack.

Here is a video card that runs $55 after rebate from Newegg. You'd need a PSU of at least 400W to run it. Honestly, you'll need a PSU of 400W+ to run any reasonable video card. Most Radeon cards in the $50-75 range should suffice, that one should deliver plenty of bang for the buck.

If your power supply won't handle a discrete graphics card, you really need to upgrade both. You will almost certainly notice a huge improvement in your OS, and with even a decent older graphics card like the 5670, you'll be just fine with Minecraft.
posted by Saydur at 10:48 PM on October 8, 2011

Response by poster: That's good news. It has been more than a decade since I put a computer together. I somehow got into my head that separate video cards were not as important for performance as they once were and thought I might get away without one. Good thing I bought a PSU with enough wattage to support a card in case I couldn't.

If anyone else has suggestions for (or warnings against) particular cards, I'm happy to hear more; otherwise I'll probably pick up one of the cheaper Radeon cards.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 11:04 PM on October 8, 2011

They're just as important though I've heard of a new chipset from intel that can somewhat double as a videocard... somehow.

I don't believe it.

Get a videocard. Just get something between $60 and $100 with decent reviews.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:36 PM on October 8, 2011

I somehow got into my head that separate video cards were not as important for performance as they once were

You may have been thinking of sound cards. You used to need a separate sound card for games but now onboard sound is standard.
posted by Justinian at 1:23 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll probably pick up one of the cheaper Radeon cards.

No, no, please don't. Get an NVIDIA card, because their Linux drivers and configuration tools are light-years ahead of the current ATI mess. A 9800 will do well for Minecraft or even something more demanding like TF2 at max settings, and you can easily pick one up under $100.
posted by sophist at 2:05 AM on October 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Not to mention that I had many issues previously with ATI's drivers, including one that stopped me from installing new drivers (as the previous driver had the system convinced there was no ATI card at all). I have my moments with Nvidia, but never like that. Plus, Nvidia throws you basically a free PhysX card to boot.
posted by Samizdata at 4:38 AM on October 9, 2011

Yes, you need a separate/good video card if you are going to be playing games.

Separate video cards are pretty much not necessary at all for everything else but games anymore. At least with Intel chipsets, I have no experience with any other ones. But the onboard Intel GMA stuff works just fine for business stuff and video.
posted by gjc at 4:51 AM on October 9, 2011

Response by poster: You may have been thinking of sound cards. You used to need a separate sound card for games but now onboard sound is standard.

Yep. That was it.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:35 AM on October 9, 2011

There are some decent embedded video cards, my macbook air runs minecraft and other 3d games surprisingly well.
posted by empath at 10:25 AM on October 9, 2011

Seconding NVidia for ease of use and reliability. I'm still sporting a 3-year-old 9800GT and it runs pretty much everything except for the newest of new shooters (Crysis 2, RAGE) at high settings.

I think I'm going to have to upgrade for Skyrim though. :(
posted by erstwhile at 10:40 AM on October 9, 2011

Onboard video (i.e. built into the chipset) usually doesn't have separate graphics memory. It uses the same RAM as the CPU, and it has access priority over the CPU, which means that if you're doing something that uses a lot of graphics memory, the CPU is seriously bottlenecked. This is a particular performance problem for a lot of low-priced notebook computers.

Separate video boards have their own RAM, so even a cheap underpowered graphics card will gain you a lot of performance.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:16 PM on October 9, 2011

i have a similar CPU and less memory (and no SSD) with an old slow Nvidia GTS 9600... never was a very good card, but we get upwards of 60-100 fps in MC depending on the scene (this is using Ubuntu.)

spend under $100 on a Nvidia and you should be golden.
posted by at 4:31 PM on October 9, 2011

Don't delve into the millefeuille of insanity that is video card nomenclature.

Just buy an Nvidia 9800GT.

It's a superb card that still does handstands on the price/power divide despite coming out in 2008. It will play anything that works on an Xbox 360 (which is nearly everything) at high settings.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:50 PM on October 9, 2011

I am rocking a 1Gb 9500 GT and it plays plenty of stuff nicely, both under Windows and Linux.

One tip - A lot of people tend to think extra memory on a video card means flat-out better framerate. It doesn't. It does mean better textures without using system main memory. Yes, that can play out to better performance, but I think you can see what I mean.
posted by Samizdata at 5:43 PM on October 9, 2011

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