When feverishly tweaking all the settings for optimal performance and graphical quality in the latest games, I often find it’s easy to gloss over something so simple as fullscreen options. To play a game in fullscreen seems like an absolute no-brainer, I mean why would you want anything to interfere with your gaming experience?
The advantages of a full screen set up are pretty clear to us all. As gamers it allows us to focus on the gaming, and the rest of the system is basically forgotten about behind the scenes. However, things aren’t necessarily so cut and dried, and there’s a lot to be said for Windowed PC gaming, or that altogether rarer beast - Borderless Full Screen.
Full Screen is the standard method by which all games run, but you’ll also more often than not find the option to run in Windowed mode tucked away in the video options screen. The advantage with Windowed mode is that you can of course run two or more things simultaneously on the same screen.
Obvious benefactors for Windowed settings are MMOs, where you can plough through some Netflix to ease the grind, or pull up a walkthrough to read alongside, rather than having to constantly alt+tab out. Windowed mode means that switching between windows is easy, so if you want a quick Google search it can be right at your fingertips.
Because the desktop is still running alongside the game you can also instantly switch between programs, rather than the lengthy pause when it seems like your PC is dying as you tab out. This is usually because the game’s textures are stored in your graphics card’s cache, so the desktop needs to be reloaded. Instant tabbing out can also be great for tracking performance data while playing a game or keeping track of video recording.
Living the dream
The disadvantage of Windowed gaming is the atmosphere is well and truly ruined. That moment you first step out of the prison in Oblivion becomes oh so much less impressive when you get a pop-up telling your PC needs to restart in four hours for Windows updates. Some games suffer more than others obviously, particularly those that rely on a sense of place an immersion. By that same token, if you’re struggling with a horror game that’s just too damn scary for its own good, putting it into Windowed mode can make it a walk in the park.
Moving on to Borderless Full Screen Windowed, and this is quickly becoming the weapon of choice for many PC gamers. As with Windowed, the benefits of Borderless Full Screen include seamless task switching, with no delay and barely any performance cost, but its key thing is it still appears as if it's full screen. So it looks like Full Screen but has all the seamless switching of Windowed. As a side benefit it also eliminates screen tearing without the use of in-game Vsync by making use of the operating system’s own tools.
It sounds too good to be true, but obviously there are some downsides. Firstly, AMD does not currently support CrossFire in conjunction with Borderless Full Screen Windowed, so your clock speed is going to get hit hard if you attempt it.
Secondly, multi-monitor set ups can prove a bit of a nightmare. The way borderless often works is by not locking your cursor to the game screen, so if you were to move it off the edge of the screen you could out of the game. Lastly Borderless is sadly not an option in many games, although it is possible to force it in some.
Choices, choices, choices, but which is your favourite? Are you full screen or nothing, or do you prefer to multitask during your gaming sessions?