Did You Know? Windows 10 PCs Have “Game Mode” on by Default

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All Windows 10 PCs have “Game Mode” enabled by default. Microsoft once touted this feature, but it’s now faded into the background. Bizarrely, some people report that disabling Game Mode boosts the performance of certain PC games!

What Does “Game Mode” Do on Windows 10?

First introduced in Windows 10’s Creators Update, which was released back in April 2017, “Game Mode” promises to boost the performance of many PC games.

Here’s the official description: Microsoft says that Game Mode “helps achieve a more stable frame rate depending on the specific game and system.”

Technically, it works by detecting games and giving them priority access to your computer’s resources. The game you’re focused on playing gets more CPU and GPU resources, while other applications and background processes get fewer resources. This only works if Windows 10 detects that you’re playing a game.

Microsoft’s limited explanation of Game Mode also says that, in Game Mode, Windows Update won’t automatically install hardware drivers or notify you to restart your PC while you’re playing a game. This will reduce interruptions.

Does Game Mode Boost Performance?

The Performance widget window in Windows 10's Xbox Game Bar
This floating performance window is found in Windows 10’s Xbox Game Bar.

Game Mode might boost your PC’s gaming performance, or it might not. Depending on the game, your PC’s hardware, and what you have running in the background, you may not see any difference.

You’ll see the greatest increase in gaming performance when a game is competing for resources with other running programs on your PC. If your PC has plenty of CPU and GPU resources to go around, Game Mode likely won’t do much.

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A 2017 test from PC Gamer found that Game Mode boosted game performance a bit on low-end hardware. However, that came at the expense of background tasks—with Game Mode enabled, it wasn’t possible to play a YouTube video in the background while gaming without the video playback stuttering. It’s a trade-off—while gaming, resources are taken from background tasks and given to the game.

Why Is It on By Default?

Game Mode attempts to automatically detect when you’re playing a game, and it only takes action if Windows thinks you are. So, if you use web browsers and office software all day, Game Mode doesn’t do anything at all.

When you launch a game, however, Windows 10’s Game Mode takes effect and prioritizes that game over everything else on your PC. So why wouldn’t Game Mode be enabled by default? It doesn’t do anything unless Windows thinks you’re running a game.

Game Mode Can Sometimes Cause Problems

Some Windows users have reported that some games actually perform more slowly with Game Mode enabled. It sounds strange, and it certainly shouldn’t work this way—but it sometimes does.

For example, in May 2020, Guru 3D wrote about reports of Game Mode leading to stutters and frozen screens with both NVIDIA and AMD graphics hardware.

Why could this happen? Well, all we have is speculation. However, in allocating more hardware resources to a PC game and deprioritizing background tasks, Game Mode could theoretically take resources away from important background tasks, causing system stutters or slowing the game itself down. Or perhaps there are just strange bugs in Game Mode with specific games or graphics drivers. Windows is very complicated.

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Either way, if you encounter strange problems—stutters, freezes, crashes, or all-around low FPS—while playing a PC game, you might want to disable Game Mode and see if that solves your problem. It’s a useful troubleshooting step.

How to Enable and Disable Windows 10’s Game Mode

To control Game Mode, open the Settings window from the Start menu or by pressing Windows+i. Head to Settings > Gaming > Game Mode.

Here, you’ll find just a single setting: Game Mode, which you can turn on or off. By default, it’s on. If you’d like to disable Game Mode, just click the switch and set it to “Off.”

Game Mode settings on Windows 10

That’s it. In modern versions of Windows 10, there’s no way to manually enable or disable Game Mode for an individual game. In 2017’s Creators Update, you could toggle Game Mode on or off for specific games in the Xbox Game Bar interface, but this option is now gone. As of Windows 10’s October 2020 Update, you won’t find it anywhere in the modern Xbox Game Bar.

All you can do is toggle Game Mode on or off system-wide. If Windows thinks that you’re playing a game, Windows will activate Game Mode’s tweaks. If Windows doesn’t detect that you’re playing a game, there’s no way to manually enable it.

Don’t worry, though: Even if Windows doesn’t notice that you’re playing a game and doesn’t activate Game Mode, you’re probably not missing out on much.

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