Gaming Laptop FPS Drops Randomly, Plugged in or Not

Published by Nyau Wai Hoe - Updated on

For many gamers, a high-end laptop offers the best of both worlds: powerful performance and portability. This combination allows gaming on the go, at cafes, or during travel. But what happens when the seamless gaming experience starts to stutter, lag, or the Frames Per Second (FPS) suddenly drops?

Even more baffling, these issues can sometimes arise randomly and may be influenced by whether the laptop is plugged in or running on battery. This article addresses understanding and troubleshooting these unexpected FPS drops, specifically for Windows 11 or Windows 10 laptop computers, offering solutions and insights for both scenarios—when your gaming laptop is plugged in and when it’s not.

Gaming Laptop FPS Drops Randomly when plugged in or not

Understanding FPS and its importance

Before jumping into solutions, it’s crucial to comprehend what FPS is and why consistent frame rates matter in gaming. FPS stands for Frames Per Second, and it indicates the number of individual images (frames) that your computer displays each second. In simpler terms, it’s a measure of how smoothly a game runs.

High FPS generally translates to smoother animations and a more responsive gaming experience. On the other hand, when FPS drops, the game might stutter, lag, or freeze momentarily, greatly affecting gameplay. For fast-paced games like first-person shooters or racing games, a consistent and high FPS is crucial as it can make the difference between a game-winning move and a frustrating defeat.

Also see: GPU 100% Usage When Idle or Gaming (Good or Bad)

Game FPS drops on laptops

Factors affecting FPS drops on laptops

Various elements can impact your laptop’s gaming performance. When trying to decipher the mystery behind random FPS drops, consider the following:

  1. Power settings: Sometimes, a laptop’s power settings can throttle performance to save energy. This often becomes apparent when comparing plugged-in performance to battery mode.
  2. Thermal throttling: Gaming laptops pack powerful components in a tight space. If the laptop doesn’t dissipate heat effectively, it might reduce performance to prevent overheating.CPU and GPU overheat on gaming laptop reducing FPS
  3. Background processes: Applications running in the background can consume valuable resources, potentially affecting gaming performance.
  4. Graphics settings: Running a game with settings higher than what your hardware can handle can lead to FPS drops.

If you want to view the FPS in a game that doesn’t offer a display option for it, refer to: How to Show FPS in Games on Windows 11.

Now that we have a foundational understanding let’s proceed with troubleshooting and solutions based on the laptop’s power state.

Recommended reading: Force App or Game to Use Nvidia GPU or Integrated Graphics

Troubleshooting FPS drops on laptops when plugged in

When your gaming laptop is plugged in, it should ideally be operating at its maximum potential, drawing power directly from the mains. If you’re experiencing FPS drops in this state, here are steps to consider:

  1. Check power plan settings:
    • On Windows, right-click on the battery icon in the taskbar.
    • Select “Power Options”.
    • Make sure the power plan is set to “High performance”. This ensures your laptop uses its full processing power when plugged in.High performance plan settings Windows 11
  2. Update graphics drivers: Outdated drivers can lead to performance issues.
    • Go to your graphics card manufacturer’s website (e.g., NVIDIA, AMD) or your laptop manufacturer’s website.
    • Download and install the latest drivers for your specific model.Update graphics driver Nvidia
  3. Monitor temperatures: Overheating can cause throttling.
    • Use software like HWMonitor or MSI Afterburner to keep an eye on GPU and CPU temperatures.
    • If temperatures are too high, consider using a cooling pad or cleaning the laptop’s vents and fans.Laptop FPS drops randomly
  4. Optimize game settings:
    • In your game settings, adjust the graphics options to match your laptop’s capabilities.
    • Consider lowering resolution, textures, or shadow quality for better performance.
  5. Close background applications:
    • Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open the Task Manager.
    • Under the “Processes” tab, close unnecessary applications consuming high CPU, memory, or disk resources.

Pro tip: 30+ Windows 11 Services to Disable for Gaming Performance

Troubleshooting FPS drops on laptops when not plugged in

Running games on battery power can be challenging since many laptops automatically switch to power-saving modes. Here’s how you can optimize performance:

  1. Adjust power settings for battery:
    • Follow the steps above to access “Power Options”.
    • Adjust the settings for battery mode to prioritize performance, though this might reduce battery lifespan.
  2. Ensure battery health: A degrading battery might not provide consistent power to components.
    • Consider checking the battery’s health using built-in diagnostics or third-party tools.
    • If the battery is degrading, think about replacing it.Replace laptop battery to fix FPS drops
  3. Lower game settings: When on battery, even powerful laptops might struggle to maintain high FPS.
    • Reduce graphics settings to ensure smoother gameplay on battery power.
  4. Disable battery boost (NVIDIA laptops):
    • Open NVIDIA Control Panel.
    • Go to “Manage 3D settings”.
    • Set “Battery Boost” to off. This feature often limits performance to prolong battery life.

Remember, gaming on battery will consume power at a much faster rate. Always keep an eye on battery levels to avoid sudden shutdowns.

Useful tip: How to Allocate More RAM to a Game in Windows 11 or 10

Maintaining your gaming laptop for optimal performance

Keeping your gaming laptop in tip-top shape isn’t just about addressing issues as they arise. Regular maintenance can prevent many performance problems before they even start. Here’s a guide to ensuring your laptop remains a gaming powerhouse:

  1. Regular cleaning:
    • Dust Buildup: Over time, dust accumulates in vents, fans, and internal components, which can lead to overheating and performance throttling. Regularly clean the laptop’s exterior vents using compressed air. Ensure the laptop is off and unplugged, and hold the fans to prevent them from spinning while cleaning.Cleaning laptop dust
    • Keyboard & Touchpad: Use a soft, damp cloth to wipe away grime from the keyboard and touchpad. This won’t directly affect FPS but ensures a comfortable gaming experience.
  2. Software updates:
    • Operating System: Ensure that your OS is up to date. Updates often come with performance improvements and bug fixes.
    • Games & Game Launchers: Game developers frequently release patches to improve performance and fix issues. Make sure your games and their launchers (like Steam or Epic Games Launcher) are updated.
  3. Manage startup programs:
    • Excess programs running on startup can eat into your RAM and CPU resources. Use the Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Esc > Startup tab) to disable unnecessary programs from starting with Windows.Disable Startup Programs in Windows 11
  4. Optimize storage:
    • Defragment HDDs: If you’re using a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), regularly defragment it. This reorders the data, enabling faster read/write speeds. However, do not defragment Solid State Drives (SSDs) as it can wear them out.Defragment Windows 11
    • SSD Health: For laptops with SSDs, periodically check their health using software like CrystalDiskInfo. An ailing SSD can lead to performance issues.
  5. Consider external cooling:
    • Gaming laptops, given their compact nature, can struggle with heat dissipation. Consider using an external cooling pad, especially during intensive gaming sessions, to help maintain optimal temperatures.Cooling Laptop to improve gaming FPS
  6. Stay informed:
    • Join forums such as Reddit, or communities specific to your laptop brand or model. There, users often share tips, tricks, and solutions to common problems, helping you stay ahead of potential issues.

See also: How to Fix Game Stuttering on Windows 11

Customizing settings for individual games to improve in-game FPS

Every game is unique, with its own graphical demands and optimization levels. Sometimes, a universal approach to settings might not yield the best results. Instead, tailoring settings for each game can enhance performance:

  1. In-game settings:
    • Resolution: Higher resolutions demand more power. If you’re experiencing FPS drops, consider lowering the game resolution.
    • Graphics Preset: Most games come with presets like Low, Medium, High, and Ultra. Starting with a lower preset and then tweaking individual settings can help find a balance between visual fidelity and performance.
    • V-Sync: This setting matches the game’s FPS to your screen’s refresh rate. While it can eliminate screen tearing, it might reduce FPS. Experiment with turning it off.Set RAM in game settings
  2. Using graphics control panels:
    • NVIDIA Control Panel: If you have an NVIDIA GPU:
      • Right-click on the desktop and open “NVIDIA Control Panel”.
      • Go to “Manage 3D settings” and then “Program Settings”.
      • Choose the game from the drop-down list (or add it) and customize the settings for that specific game.Use NVIDIA Control Panel to improve game FPS
    • AMD Radeon Settings: For AMD users:
      • Right-click on the desktop and select “AMD Radeon Settings”.
      • Under “Gaming”, add your game and adjust settings tailored for it.
  3. Enabling or disabling G-Sync or FreeSync: G-Sync (NVIDIA) and FreeSync (AMD) are technologies designed to eliminate screen tearing and reduce stuttering by synchronizing the game’s FPS with your display’s refresh rate. While they can significantly enhance the visual experience, there are certain scenarios where you might experience FPS drops due to them.
    • Check compatibility: Ensure your laptop’s display and GPU support either G-Sync or FreeSync. Not all monitors and GPUs are compatible with these technologies.
    • Enable/disable in Control Panel:
      • For G-Sync: Open the “NVIDIA Control Panel”, navigate to “Display” and then “Set up G-SYNC”. Here, you can enable or disable the feature.How to enable G-SYNC in Windows 11
      • For FreeSync: Access the “AMD Radeon Settings”, head to “Display”, and toggle the FreeSync option on or off.
    • Test Your Game: After adjusting these settings, it’s essential to test your game to see if the change has a positive or negative impact on performance.
  4. Third-party software:
    • Tools like NVIDIA GeForce Experience and AMD Gaming Evolved can auto-optimize game settings based on your hardware. While they’re not always perfect, they can serve as a good starting point.Nvidia GeForce Experience Auto Optimize
  5. Mods and community patches:
    • For some games, especially older ones or those with lackluster optimization, the community might develop patches or mods to improve performance. Always ensure you’re downloading from reputable sources.
  6. Monitor game updates:
    • Developers often release patches that address performance issues. Keep an eye on patch notes, especially after a major game update, to see if there are changes you might need to adjust for on your end.

Linked issue: Game Lag When Watching YouTube or Twitch on Chrome

Upgrading hardware to boost performance and in-game FPS

If, after all tweaks and optimizations, your laptop still struggles with certain games, it might be time to consider hardware upgrades:

  1. RAM upgrade: More RAM can help with multitasking and games with heavy memory usage. Check your laptop’s specifications and compatibility before buying.
  2. SSD upgrade: If your laptop still uses an HDD, switching to an SSD can lead to noticeable improvements in load times and overall system responsiveness.
  3. External GPU (eGPU): Some high-end laptops support external GPUs. An eGPU can provide a significant boost in graphical performance, allowing you to play the latest titles at higher settings.Gaming laptop external GPU to fix FPS drops randomly

Remember, not all laptops support easy hardware upgrades, so it’s essential to research and consult your device’s manual or manufacturer before making changes.

Related problem: Game Stuttering and Lag on Dual Monitor (Fix)

Game ping (latency) and FPS

While most gamers attribute FPS drops to graphical or hardware issues, there’s another significant factor that often gets overlooked: networking. Poor network connections can create in-game issues that resemble FPS drops, particularly in online games.

  1. Latency vs. FPS:
    • Latency (or Ping): This measures the time it takes for data to travel from your computer to the game server and back. High latency can lead to laggy gameplay where characters might jump positions, or there’s a delay in action response.
    • While latency issues often seem like FPS drops, they’re different. FPS is about rendering graphics smoothly, while latency is about data transmission speed.Ping and FPS drops randomly on laptop
  2. Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet:
    • Wi-Fi: While convenient, Wi-Fi is more prone to interference and fluctuating speeds, potentially leading to unstable gaming experiences.
    • Ethernet: A wired connection is usually faster and more stable than Wi-Fi. For serious gaming, especially competitive online matches, an Ethernet connection is recommended.Check Ethernet LAN cable Windows 11
  3. Checking network health:
    • Use online tools like Speedtest.net to check your internet speed and latency. If your latency is high or your speed is far below your subscription plan, there might be issues with your internet connection.
    • Regularly reset or reboot your router/modem. Just like computers, they benefit from a periodic restart.
    • Keep your router’s firmware updated. Manufacturers often release updates to improve stability and performance.
  4. Game servers:
    • Sometimes, the problem isn’t on your end. If a game’s server is under heavy load or experiencing issues, you might notice in-game lag.
    • Check game forums or official social media channels for server status updates.Check Steam Server Status
  5. Optimize for gaming:
    • Some modern routers come with Quality of Service (QoS) settings, allowing you to prioritize gaming traffic. Dive into your router’s settings (usually via a web browser) and see if you can adjust QoS for an optimal gaming experience.
    • Turn off other devices or apps that might be using up bandwidth. Streaming videos, large downloads, or other data-heavy tasks can impact your gaming session.

Related resources: How to Check Game Ping with Task Manager in Windows 11/10

Tweaking in-game network settings

Many online games offer network settings that you can adjust for a better online experience:

  1. Server selection: If the game allows, always choose a server closest to your geographical location. This can significantly reduce latency.
  2. Limit FPS: Some games, especially those with a competitive scene, allow you to limit FPS to match tick rates, ensuring smoother online play.Limit Game Max FPS settings Windows 11
  3. Adjust bandwidth: Some games allow tweaking how much bandwidth they can use. Adjusting this can sometimes lead to smoother gameplay, especially if others share your network.

      Final thoughts

      Gaming is all about getting lost in another world, but nothing pulls you out faster than those annoying stutters, lags and random FPS drops, especially on a gaming laptop. Luckily, with a bit of knowledge and some tweaks, you can make those problems a thing of the past. From checking your laptop’s settings to understanding the games you play, every little bit helps in getting that smooth gameplay we all aim for. Remember, it’s not always about having the most expensive gear. Sometimes, it’s just about making sure everything works well together.



      Nyau Wai Hoe
      Nyau Wai Hoe is the Founder and Chief Editor of WindowsDigitals.com. With a degree in software engineering and over 12 years of experience in the tech support industry, Nyau has established himself as an expert in the field, with a primary focus on the Microsoft Windows operating system. As a tech enthusiast, he loves exploring new technologies and leveraging them to solve real-life problems.

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