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How to Play with Onboard Graphics
Some computers, particularly package deals which aren't designed for gaming, don't have a real graphics card. Instead, they have a chip on the motherboard which does the job of the graphics card. However, even the strongest of these chips are not as effective as a real card, and for gaming you really want to have a separate graphics card.
Even if your computer seems to run okay with integrated graphics at first, it may not continue to be that way. What usually happens with computers trying to play The Sims games on integrated graphics is that things will work, although not perfectly, for a time. The longer you play the game the harder it is on your computer and eventually things work less and less well.
First off, you need to be sure that you are using onboard graphics - use the System Specifications FAQ to find out. Much of the advice in this article can also be useful for low-end graphics cards.
What Can Go Wrong with Onboard Graphics?
Some of the most common indicators that your onboard graphics chip is having trouble are:
- Blurry clothes, skin and eyes on your sims
- Blurry textures on objects and on the ground
- Blurry reflections in mirrors
- Blurry/crunchy thumbnails in the Buy and Build catalogue
- Graphics may become distorted and textures may get strange patterns or holes over them. (Artifacts)
- Water in neighbourhood view (TS2) shows up as big blue blocks, instead of a smooth shoreline with waves and reflections
- Game crashes to desktop, the colors go weird and the resolution drops, and an error message tells you that your graphics drivers have stopped responding
- The computer still appears to be running but the screen goes totally black. The computer will not recover and must be crashed.
- Computer overheats and shuts itself down
If any of these occur, you need to do something about it! If you leave things as they are, not only will the game be nigh unplayable; but in the end you will damage your graphics chip. If it does fail completely it can damage your motherboard, thereby totaling your computer.
Turn Down those Settings!
The first thing to do is to turn your graphics settings right down in game. Turn off everything you don't need - shadows, reflections, lighting - and turn everything else down as far as you can stand to. You may be able to improve things dramatically just by fiddling around with settings. It's not a permanent fix, and eventually you will want to upgrade - particularly if you install more Expansion Packs, as these increase the stress on your graphics chip with each new release. But you can certainly make the game more playable, and extend the life of your onboard graphics considerably.
Although updating your drivers won't make your graphics chip any less underpowered, it might improve the way things look somewhat. There's more info on updating your drivers here: Updating Your Graphics Drivers.
Play in Windowed Mode
Play your game in Windowed mode.
Remove or Reduce Custom Content
Having a lot of custom content, especially if you have things with large polygon counts, can place a lot more stress on your computer and really slow down your game play. If you are playing on integrated graphics, it is recommended that you keep your custom content down to a minimum. If you find yourself having any of the game problems listed above, it is recommended that you remove ALL custom content, at least until you can upgrade your computer.
Clean Your Computer
Computers get exceedingly dusty inside that case, and the more dust and gunk there is, the hotter the components get, and the harder it is for them to work right. If you have a laptop, you need to get a professional to clean it out for you, but if it's a desktop you can do it yourself.
Here's how to give your computer a basic spring clean:
To start off, you need a hand-held vacuum cleaner, or an extension for an upright vacuum which gives you a small nozzle or slit to use - think of the kind of thing you'd use to vacuum out your car or the top of a cabinet.
Making sure that you unplug your computer first! If you have an area of your house without carpet, especially if you have wood floors, work there. Make sure you have plenty of space and nothing lying around that could accidentally be knocked or fall into your computer. Start by vacuuming the fans at the back of your computer, particularly the power supply fan. Keep going until there's little or no fluff coming out of them, it might take a while depending on when they were last cleaned.
Now you need to figure out how to open your case. For most cases, one of the sides can be removed. You can find information on how to get inside most cases if you do a simple google search, or look on the manufacturer's home page. Make sure not to touch any of the components inside, and if you think you're likely to brush against something by accident, make sure you're wearing an anti-static strap connected to the case, or are keeping hold of the case with one hand (or foot, if necessary) - and bear in mind that if you do this, you'll need to keep the computer plugged in, but with the power off.
Once you have the case open, get vacuuming! You need to get the fluff and dust out of the fans, the corners of the case, and off of the motherboard and other bits of circuitry. Don't be shy! You can get up pretty close to the components without having to worry about causing damage. The only things you definitely shouldn't do are drag the nozzle across components, and try to pick the dust out with your fingers. Keep on vacuuming until there's as little dust lying around as possible. You may also choose to use a can of compressed air to loosen dust that the vacuum may otherwise miss. Especially for fans, it is usually more effective to use a can of compressed air than a vacuum alone. If you're in a smallish room you might want to open a window - you'll be surprised at the amount of fluff you'll find.
Optimize Your Windows OS
Remember to close ALL other programs while you are trying to play The Sims 2/3. This includes your anti-virus program. To keep yourself protected, it is recommended you disconnect from the internet as well.
Even if you close all programs you know are running, your computer may have other unnecessary processes running which you cannot see. You can use the msconfig command to remove these and speed up your computer even more. If your computer does not have all these extra programs and processes to worry about, it can dedicate more of its resources to your game.
TS2's EPs significantly increase the strain on your graphics chip, particularly the later ones. Uninstalling expansion packs will help increase performance - although if you didn't back up your My Docs/EA Games/The Sims 2 folder before installing the EP, you will lose all your sims/lots/neighborhoods.
For TS3, uninstalling EPs doesn't help much. The thing which increases strain on a computer playing TS3 is patches, rather than EPs, so you may want to consider reinstalling and not fully patching your game. However, remember that, apart from meaning that you won't get any of the bugfixes included with the patches, this also means that you can't install any EPs which need a newer patch version than the one you decide to stay on, and you won't be able to use any mods or custom lots which are made for later patch versions. This is really only useful as an interim measure, to keep your computer going while you save up to upgrade. The exception to this rule is Pets, which causes lots of graphical problems with weak computers. If you're having graphical problems and you have Pets, it is strongly recommended that you uninstall Pets.
For both TS2 and TS3, doing the above will mean that your saved games or neighbourhoods no longer work, and you will have to go back to a backup version from an older patch/previous EP, or start over. If you later upgrade or buy a new computer, you can copy your old saves and neighbourhoods over and keep playing them on the new computer.
Invest In Better Cooling
Particularly if you have a laptop, overheating can be a big contributing factor to issues with onboard graphics.this, which can help keep your laptop from overheating. Keep in mind that not all coolers are created equal. Some will not do any better than elevating your laptop (see below) and others have actually been known to increase heat under load.
If you don't have the cash, or you want to try the cheaper method first, you can try just raising your laptop off of the surface it sits on - put books or CD cases under the laptop's FEET (being careful not to cover up the vents); or sit it on a wire mesh tray - the kind of thing you'd use to cool cookies.
When You Start Noticing Blurriness...
As soon as you start to see blurriness in your game, that means your graphics chip is getting to the stage at which it will get damaged. As soon as you start seeing this, SHUT DOWN YOUR COMPUTER!
Do not try to keep playing when it's like this, as you will be causing damage. Shut down, go do something else, and give it time to cool down. This is essential, as the longer you leave the computer running like that, the shorter the lifespan of your graphics chip will get.
By far the best solution to this problem, and the only one that will be a permanent fix, is to upgrade - install an actual graphics card. In many cases, you do not need to buy a new computer in order to install a dedicated card. You don't need to spend too much on it if you don't want to, just make sure that it's on the list of supported cards, and that your PSU (the component you plug into the power) has a Wattage at least 100W higher than what is required by any new graphics card you're looking at - the PSU's wattage is on a sticker inside the case. If you're not sure what to get, you can get help from the Computer Help Forum - make sure to read the rules and all stickies first! Be advised, though, that if you're using a laptop with onboard graphics, you will probably not be able to upgrade to a dedicated card, as laptops often can't be upgraded. Make sure to do your research!
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