GTA V: Performance Vs. Visuals – Balancing Act

By | 10/04/2018

Welcome to the First Day of the Rest of your Life in Los Santos

The City of Los Santos and Blaine County are beautiful in their nature, from the bright lights of Eclipse Boulevard to the calming ocean views of Paleto Bay. So why shouldn’t you be able to see these for what they are just because you don’t have a high-spec PC? Well I’m here to tell you that you can get a great visual experience from GTA V with some minor adjustments to your graphics card settings and the game itself to make the most of the GTA V graphics settings.

My PC is by no means a beast of a gaming PC but with some cheap upgrades and the right settings I can get great visual quality without losing performance when playing some of the best and most graphically intensive games available including Grand Theft Auto V, Far Cry 5, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Call of Duty: WWII and Batman: Arkham Knight at 2K 1440p without a 2K/4K monitor/TV. Yes, you read that correctly.

Here are my PC specs. and if yours are similar then follow this guide or make the recommended upgrades and then follow the guide. If you do not know your PC specs then download the free app Speccy from Piriform.; a great little tool which tells you all of your PC information. Ad and spyware free.

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad @ 2.4Ghz (Kentsfield Q6600)
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3 @ 533Mhz
  • Graphics Card: ATI Radeon RX550 (4GB GDDR5)

Note: please check your motherboard specifications before purchasing any component as some hardware may not be compatible. If you do not know how to install new hardware please have a qualified engineer do it for you. This article is only a guide and not a technical document therefore I can not accept any responsibility for any damage caused by inaccurate and/or inadequate hardware installation.

So, what does this mean?

Well, most games will tell you on the packaging that you need the latest Intel Core i5 (or equivalent) or better. While it might be true that the game was developed around this type of processor, it doesn’t mean that the game actually needs this processor to run. I have had my Intel Core 2 Quad for eleven years and it is still putting in a solid performance. It may be nearing its limit with some games but the point is that it is not failing.

While the packaging on a game will suggest a higher processor than might be required, I’m afraid that if you want near to the highest graphics with good performance then the graphics card and RAM are vital, especially with modern day AAA titles.

8GB of PC RAM is the current standard amount of PC RAM and I highly recommend that this is the minimum you have installed. 4GB VRAM on a graphics card also seems to be the standard of the current generation, variant consoles excluded.

That being said, you do not need to go and spend a small fortune. When I upgraded my RAM and graphics card in May last year, it cost me £129.90.

Aria Order evidence

That’s less than half of the price of a current generation gaming console but delivers the same gaming experience. It is not necessary to purchase over the top RAM with all the bells and whistles. I have Corsair Value Select RAM and it does the exact same job. The exotic and expensive gaming RAM just allows for extreme overclocking, that’s it.

The same can be said for graphics cards. Yes, having a £1000 graphics card is all well and good, but it isn’t necessary, especially if you don’t have the rest of the machine to support it. There are some amazingly good value graphics cards out there that will allow you to play the best, current games without stretching your wallet. My current graphics card is a great example.

The AMD Radeon RX550 (4GB) performs extremely well and even allows for a small amount of safe overclocking. With this graphics card I can play the current top AAA titles at almost the highest settings and at 1440p, that’s double the resolution of HD; some features in a game’s settings may need to be turned off, but I assure you these are the kinds of settings that use  a lot of processing power and offer little value, and I guarantee that you won’t even notice they are turned off. In GTA V this includes items such as ‘Soft Shadows’; there is no discernible difference between ‘Soft’ and ‘Softest’ but the difference in processing power required between the two is vastly different.

I am not stating that you need this exact graphics card as there are many with similar specifications. This guide should work just as well for other graphics cards of a similar quality.

Configuring GTA V with Radeon Settings

Note: for this article I have used AMD graphics manager, since that is the manufacturer of my graphics card. For nVidia please refer to the nVidia settings manager and change the equivalent graphics setting. For the most part these applications are almost identical but some settings may have different names and may or may or may not give the desired effect as with AMD settings. Because of this I cannot accept any responsibility for damage, adverse affects or a decreased gaming experience where nVidia graphics cards are concerned.

The game engine for GTA V (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) is a brilliant game engine, but like other game engines it is not perfect. The engine is configured is such a way that some of the GTA V graphics settings are not handled very well, Anti-Aliasing being one such example, and it is better to have your graphics card application handle it rather than use the game engine’s method.

I have spent days playing around with the settings of the graphics card and the settings in-game in order to come up with a good balance between the two so I can get a solid frame-rate without sacrificing visual quality. Please only adjust the settings mentioned and leave anything else.

AMD Radeon Settings

First, make sure that GTA V is installed. Next open up AMD Radeon Settings application. If you don’t have the application installed or you need the latest version you can get it here.

At the main menu click ‘Gaming’. this will take you the gaming configuration manager. From here you can set global graphics settings or graphics settings for individual games.

Radeon Settings Gaming button

Next click ‘GTA V’. this will open the GTA V graphics settings which will be applied for GTA V only. That means that none of the other games will be affected by these settings and the same goes for any other games you configure this way.

There are many settings for configuring your graphics card however we will not need to change all of them, only the settings which the hardware renders better than the RAGE software.

Anti-Aliasing

This reduces the appearance of jagged lines on objects in a game. Switching this on can substantially increase the visual quality of a game. Some games render anti-aliasing very well however in my experience and especially for GTA V it is better to use hardware anti-aliasing over software anti-aliasing. In the GTA V graphics settings the MSAA setting will cause a significant FPS drop.

  1. Mode: Override application settings
  2. Anti-aliasing level: 8xEQ
  3. Anti-aliasing mode: Multisampling (Multisampling does not apply anti-aliasing to transparent textures however there are very few in GTA V so it isn’t worth the FPS drop to use super-sampling).

Anti Aliasing settings

Morphological Filtering

This is an AA technique that is used to enhance an already applied AA setting, however it has never been useful in my experience and actually decreases the image quality, especially of text by applying a blur around the edges.

Make sure this is turned off.

Morphopological Filtering

Anisotropic Filtering Mode

This increases texture quality over distance such as when looking down a road. In GTA V graphics settings this is very noticeable when it is turned off; as the you look further down the road it starts to look blurry.

Make sure this is set to ‘Use Application Settings’ as I have found it looks exactly the same whether hardware of software renders this.

Anisotropic filtering

Texture Filtering Quality

Image quality of textures used in 3D applications can be improved with this setting. It doesn’t really impact on performance in GTA V so set this to ‘High’.

Texture filtering

Surface Format Optimization

This will use the driver to change the format of 3D object rendering surfaces to so that they can be rendered quicker. This will actually give you a small performance boost so ensure that this is set to ‘On’.

Surface format optimisation

Wait for Vertical Refresh

One of the main settings for gaming, wait for vertical refresh will reduce screen tearing which occurs when the number of frames per second being rendered by the graphics card are not the same as the refresh rate of the display. Since this setting only applies to OpenGL applications this will be configured in GTA V graphics settings so make sure this is set to ‘Off, unless application specifies’.

Wait for vertical refresh

OpenGL Triple Buffering

This improves the quality of ‘Wait for vertical refresh’ setting. This only applies to OpenGL applications to ensure this is set to ‘Off’.

OpenGL triple buffering

Shader Cache

This setting tells a shader intensive game to store and re-use shaders rather than having to render them each time the shader is used. In theory this can greatly improve performance, however for some reason I have found that with GTA V it can have a performance impact if left on, so ensure that this is set to ‘Off’.

Shader cache

Tessellation Mode

Tessellation increases the number of polygons on an object and renders them as such. This can be useful for typically flat surfaces and textures in a game such as a brick wall and can make an otherwise dull object seem to stand out by adding some depth to the object or image. This is better handled by the GTA V graphics settings software so ensure that this is set to ‘Use application settings’.

tessellation mode

Virtual Super Resolution

This is the cool part. Virtual Super Resolution allows you to set your display at a higher resolution than it actually is by rendering the image at a higher resolution and then displaying it at a lower resolution greatly increasing the image quality. This doesn’t just work for games, this will also allow you to view 2K or 4K videos on YouTube and watch 4k video if your GPU is good enough. However, for the Radeon RX550 I the highest I can go without stuttering is 2560×1440.

To enable virtual super resolution, open Radeon Settings and at the main menu click ‘Display’.

Radeon Settings Display button

Next click the button for ‘Virtual Super Resolution’ and switch the setting to ‘On’.

virtual super resolution

Note: Ensure that ‘GPU Scaling’ is set to ‘Off’ as this will disable VSR.

Configuring GTA V Graphics Settings In-Game

There are many setting which can be configured in GTA V and I will list what the settings are what they should be set to for the best experience in GTA V and GTA Online.

First, open the ‘Settings’ menu and go to ‘Graphics’.

GTA V in-game graphics settings

Display Settings

  • Direct X Version: 11 (you can save some FPS with DirextX10 but some graphical features will become unavailable)
  • Resolution: 2560×1440 (this could be higher at up to 4K depending on your graphics card’s capabilities)
  • Aspect Ratio: Auto
  • Refresh Rate: 60Hz
  • Output Monitor: 1 (or your primary display)

Frame Rendering

  • FXAA: On (this give a small but welcoming AA boost without losing FPS)
  • MSAA: Off (the software AA rendering will drain your FPS)
  • VSync: Half (No real noticeable difference between Full and Half, so set to half for some extra FPS)
  • Pause Game on Focus Loss: On

World Rendering

  • Population Density: Max
  • Population Variety: Max
  • Distance Scaling: Max

Graphics Processing

  • Texture Quality: Very High
  • Shader Quality: Very High
  • Shadow Quality: Very High (can set to High but shadows will appear to have jaggies)
  • Reflection Quality: Ultra (small FPS loss but worth the image improvement)
  • Reflection MSAA: Off (not really necessary)
  • Water Quality: Very High (small FPS loss but worth the image improvement)
  • Particles Quality: Very High
  • Grass Quality: Very High (this can cause wild FPS loss if set to Ultra.If you are having issues in wooded areas set this to High or Normal)
  • Soft Shadows: Soft (Soft seems to be a good setting with good quality vs. performance)
  • Post FX Quality: Very High
  • Motion Blur Strength: Max (minor FPS loss and worth the visual aesthetic)
  • In-Game Depth of Field: On (small FPS loss but worth the image improvement)
  • Anisotropic Filtering: x16 (no real FPS loss and necessary; roads will look terrible if this is off)
  • Ambient Occlusion: On
  • Tessellation: Very High (gives a great look to textured walls and tyre imprints. Minor FPS loss)

Configure Advanced Graphics – Not Necessary but Add Nice Touches

To configure the advanced graphics settings go to ‘Settings’ then ‘Advanced Graphics’.

GTA V in-game advanced graphics settings

  • Long Shadows: On (great aesthetic with small FPS loss. Makes lighting much more realistic)
  • High Resolution Shadows: Off (not really required)
  • High Detail Streaming While Flying: On
  • Extended Distance Scaling: On (distanced level of detail textures, worth the FPS loss)
  • Extended Shadows Distance: On
  • Frame Scaling Mode: Off

Get Back to Los Santos and Have Some Fun

That’s my hardware Vs. software configuration for GTA V. These GTA V graphics settings should give you a perfect balance between performance and visual quality. As I stated, some of the settings are handled better by the hardware and some by the in-game software.

It has taken me a long time to get to this point of a perfect balance and I hope you can appreciate the guide and use it for your self.

Not all of the settings may be the same for each player as some players will notice more than others and some players simply do not care about graphics, so I hope that this guide finds a happy medium between these two types of players and can improve the gaming experience for all players alike.

This was something which I have been meaning to do for some time and I hope it improves your GTA experience as it has mine.

Thank you for reading and have fun in Los Santos.

Grand Theft Auto V continues to do well almost five years after initial release and is available for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.

You can check the current game charts using the links below:

Playstation 4
Xbox One
PC
Nintendo Switch

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

All images are copyright of their respective owner(s).

4 thoughts on “GTA V: Performance Vs. Visuals – Balancing Act

  1. Angelique

    Good day wow thank you so much for explaining everything so clearly. I will play games from time to time. But with your help i could now do more than that. So thank you for that.

    And as for the software to check my computers specs wow i didn’t even know you can go to an app to check what it is your PC has.

    I really enjoyed reading your article and will definitely have otheres reading this too.
    Have a locvely day.
    Kind regards
    Angel

    Reply
    1. Michael Gore Post author

      Thanks Angelique.

      GTA V is one of those game that is so complex it will work well for some and not so well for others because of different PC implementations. It is very difficult for developers to get it right for everyone. This isn’t true of only GTA V but games in general. It is always a balancing act between the game’s software settings and the graphics hardware setting as some graphical features of games are not implemented well by the game engine.

      As long as you go away from this article with some new information and I helped in any way then I am happy.

      Thanks for reading and enjoy your games,
      Michael – Editor/Owner – ChartX Games

      Reply
  2. Wayne Rokmann

    Hi there. That is awesome on your info on video cards and how you explain all the differences each one has and the many kinds of Setups that go with it. I also game once in a while and the radeon card is my favorite is favorite one to use as it seems to be the best card for games that use high-end and powerful graphics. I am curious on what you recommend for a good graphics card that isn’t to expensive but isn’t cheap either as I’m do for an upgrade for sure? As well nice job on your site looks good and professional. I liked your article and will recommend it to others looking for a good graphics card.

    Reply
    1. Michael Gore Post author

      Hi Wayne, thanks for your comments. The good news is that GTA V is five years old now so it doesn’t require a high performance machine by today’s standards. I prefer Radeon cards my self as I have had issues in the past with nVidia. I would recommend Radeon RX550:

      USA
      UK
      Canada

      Note: I use the ASUS model but it doesn’t seem to be available in USA.

      This is the card I currently use my self. It’s great for current generation games such as Assassin’s Creed, Batman Arkham Knight, GTA V and much more. I guarantee you won’t have any issues with it. I have not had any so far and I play these games in 2K which is double resoultion of HD.

      The card is also “low profile” so you don’t need a huge chassis and it doesn’t require it’s own power source like other’s in it’s class. It does however take up two slot bays. Let me know if you need any advice. Thanks again and have fun with your games. Glad you found the article useful.

      Thanks, Michael.

      Reply

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