Anti-aliasing is a technique used to remove the jagged edges of 3D models and textures. For most gamers, it’s an important setting that needs to be tweaked for optimal performance. There are several different types of anti-aliasing techniques available in PC games, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. This article will cover all you need to know about anti-aliasing modes, so read on!
Anti-aliasing modes explained: SSAA
The most expensive and the best possible anti-aliasing technique is Super Sampling Anti Aliasing (SSAA). It’s a brute force technique, which renders the game at extremely high resolutions and downscales it to your display resolution, in order to remove all anti-aliasing. Apart from the raw performance, it also has downsides like lower framerate and stuttering due to the high V-sync setting (see our Fraps tutorial). SSAA is unavailable in some games even if you have the hardware for it! To enable it, you need to edit game files or use third-party tools, as detailed here.
In short: use SSAA only if you have an extremely high-end GPU and a really weak CPU. If both your GPU and CPU are very strong, then you can also try downsampling, which is a combination of SSAA and downsampling (see below). It gives better results than SSAA alone. If your PC is not top-notch, you’re better off using one of the standard anti-aliasing modes below.
Standard anti-aliasing modes explained
The following are the most commonly used anti-aliasing techniques in PC games. Note that each of these techniques has multiple sub-modes which have slightly different behavior, so we’ll cover them all!
This is the most common technique, which actually works by shrinking your game resolution. It’s called “Multisample” because the GPU renders every frame multiple times (multi-samples), and then reduces it to the final size using anti-aliasing. Even though MSAA does not perform as well as SSAA, it’s still better than nothing.
Unlike SSAA, MSAA is not brute-force; it works by rendering some effects at custom resolutions (mostly lighting), then shrinking them to your game resolution (halving both width and height). This technique is very processor-intensive because of all the calculations needed for lighting. While input lag is almost non-existent, MSAA does not remove aliased textures. It only removes the jagged edges of 3D models and specular highlights (eg. shiny floor). You don’t need to use anti-aliasing with this technique if your game looks fine without it
This is NVIDIA’s proprietary anti-aliasing technique which was introduced in 2012. Unlike the common SSAA, TXAA has minimal performance impact even on very old GPUs. It’s a combination of hardware anti-aliasing, custom anti-aliased resolve, and optional chromatic aberration. Apart from the raw performance, it also has downsides like lower framerate and stuttering due to the high V-sync setting (see our Fraps tutorial). Since TXAA has an optional chromatic aberration, you can use a third-party tool to disable it and use your own anti-aliasing method (eg. SMAA). It’s also possible that TXAA is not available in some games, even if you have the hardware for it! To enable it, you need to edit game files or use third-party tools, as detailed here.
FXAA stands for Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, and it’s the most efficient technique because it’s a shader-based post process. It doesn’t work by shrinking your game resolution as MSAA and TXAA do. Instead, it works by color edge detection and blurring of detected edges (eg. pixels on lines). This method is very lightweight and eliminates most aliasing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as good as the other methods because of its blurriness – especially on distant textures – which can be noticed when viewing screenshots up close. It also has a very high input lag of about 1 frame (~33 ms). FXAA is Far Cry 3’s official anti-aliasing method (in addition to SSAA x2) and is available in all games which support MSAA. Since it’s a post-process filter, you can also try SweetFX or other custom shaders with FXAA (see our Anti-Aliasing article).
This is a modified version of FXAA, which performs similarly to SSAA 4x. It’s a post-process shader with edge detection and blurring, which can be injected into games using D3DOverrider or other similar tools. Note that, unlike the original FXAA, this version is designed for cameras above 35 degrees from the center (lower FOV), so it doesn’t work as well (if at all) with cameras below 35 degrees. It also doesn’t blur the FOV, which means you should use a wider FOV to compensate for the loss in clarity (eg. 95 instead of 90).
CSAA is NVIDIA’s proprietary anti-aliasing technique which stands for Coverage Sampling Anti-Aliasing. It’s very similar to MSAA, except that it samples more fragments per pixel which reduces the jaggedness of fine lines while maintaining the performance of MSAA. CSAA is available since Kepler architecture (2012), while DS2X is NVIDIA’s downsampling method which works with Maxwell 2 architecture (2014). The downsampling method has a similar performance to SSAA 2x, while the CSAA version is slightly slower. DS2X can be combined with other AA methods (eg. SMAA) to improve image quality even further! To use it, set the “DS2X” option in Inspector under the Profile Options category. At the moment only NVIDIA Inspector (1.9.6+) supports DS2X, while the latest driver doesn’t support it yet (375.95).
AMD has its own SSAA implementation called “Super-Sample Anti-Aliasing” available in Catalyst Control Center (older drivers)/Gaming -> VSR (newer drivers) options. It’s also possible to use VSR with the latest Crimson drivers, though it’s not officially supported. It works by rendering to a high resolution and downsampling, so its performance is nearly identical to SSAA 2x. Note that it only works for DirectX 9 games and older! To enable this method in newer games you need GVR (GeForce Experience Virtual Reality) compatible drivers which are only available for Windows 10.
The most common form of anti-aliasing, it actually renders the game at a larger resolution and then resizes it to fit your native resolution. You can use Nvidia DSR or AMD VSR to do this as well. Unfortunately, SSAA is the least efficient method because it has the largest performance impact among all anti-aliasing techniques. You can use NIVIDA DSR for DX9 games by setting them to 2560×1440 using key shortcuts and then downsampling from there.
In addition to downsampling, you can also inject custom anti-aliasing resolutions, for example 6x SSAA. To do so, get the CustomFX tool by Marty McFly, then start your game and configure it to use FXAA instead of MSAA/SMAA/CSAA/DS2X. Once you’re in the game, alt-tab back to the desktop and open CustomFX again.
Type your custom resolution (eg. 6160×3840) in the blank area, then hit + to add it to the list. Once it’s added, select it and then alt-tab back into the game. You can adjust everything using CustomFX while playing! Keep in mind that some games might not be compatible with injectors like these.