What is Anti Aliasing?

If you’re serious about PC gaming, you’ve probably heard about anti-aliasing. And there’s a decent chance that you’ve just nodded your head and pretended to understand when you hear people talking about it. That’s not uncommon. Anti-aliasing is an important component of modern gaming, but a lot of gamers don’t actually understand what is anti-aliasing.

It’s a fairly technical concept, but we’ll provide you with an understanding of what anti-aliasing is, why it’s important, and how to understand the different types of anti-aliasing technology. We’ll also answer some of the most common questions we hear about anti aliasing technology.

An Intro to Anti-Aliasing

If you’ve ever dug into the deeper graphics settings on your favorite games, you’ve almost certainly seen options for anti-aliasing. And if you’ve turned anti-aliasing on, you may have noticed that textures are less jagged and have more consistent quality, even on lower graphical settings.

The reason that textures get jagged in the first place comes down to the fact that everything on the screen is rendered in pixels – a format that’s fundamentally square. As graphical fidelity becomes increasingly more powerful, the GPU needs to create increasingly dense quantities of smaller and smaller pixels to smooth out the edges. But that also means that getting the best gaming settings on the latest games will always require the latest and greatest specs.

Anti-aliasing serves as a remedy to that. Anti-aliasing essentially serves as airbrushing for the 3D textures in games. Rather than forcing your CPU and GPU to crunch increasingly complex numbers to tighten up the number of pixels, anti-aliasing smooths out the edges.

The Downside

Anti-aliasing provides a lever way to outperform the specs in your computer when it comes to rendering images, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with any cost. While AA isn’t going to cost nearly as much of your computer’s mental bandwidth, it is going to demand processing power, and that means that you might experience a reduced frame rate as a result.

If that’s something that concerns you, we recommend tracking your frame rate if you’re worried about AA causing your game to jog or stutter. Steam includes the convenient option to apply a frames per second counter on your screen. This provides you with an easy way to compare frame rate with and without anti-aliasing. But if you prefer to not launch games off the Steam client, many games come with the option to display a frame rate counter in game, and software like MSI Afterburner and FRAPS can offer third party solutions for those that don’t.

The other downside is that the image quality in games with anti-aliasing enabled may trade jagged edges for blur. That’s less likely on higher resolution but it increases in likelihood the lower the resolution. The best way to deal with this blurred image issue is to make use of a better type of anti-aliasing. There are different types of anti-aliasing, and the image and video quality they offer can vary significantly between the different types of anti-aliasing.

The Types of Anti-Aliasing

Developers have come up with multiple solutions to anti-aliasing issues over the years, and it’s not always a case where one type of anti-aliasing may be objectively better than another. Different anti-aliasing techniques can work better in different circumstances, and a lower level of AA technology may also be the better choice for finding the balance between frame rate, performance cost, jagged edges, and image quality.

Unfortunately, the types of anti-aliasing a particular game offers can vary significantly from game to game. Most games will offer one or two types of anti-aliasing, but if you found a form that’s worked for you in the past, you may be able to find a workaround by digging into the interface of your graphics card or download new drivers from online.

Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA)

This type of aliasing is incredibly light on your processor. If you’re running a modestly specced budget laptop or an inherited computer, FXAA may be your best choice. Even on a more lightweight computer, FXAA is unlikely to affect your frame rates, although the lightweight nature of FXAA also means that the blur effect can get pretty bad.

Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA)

EQAA is a proprietary aliasing format from AMD. Similar to multisample anti-aliasing in terms of how it works, EQAA is only going to show modest performance improvements, and you’ll get the most out of it on an AMD card.

Coverage Sampling Anti-Aliasing (CSAA)

CSAA is essentially NVIDIA’s answer to EQAA. Just like EQAA, CSAA is going to provide you with modest performance dealing with jagged edges, but it’s not going to require a lot of power. It will also work best with NVIDIA graphics cards like the GeForce.

Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA)

The MSAA approach to anti-aliasing is that simpler is better. MSAA simply smooths out the edges of polygons rather than the whole thing, and while that provides an incredibly power effective way to remedy jagged edges, it doesn’t help with pixelated textures. But its value as an effective if specialized method makes it one of the more popular ones incorporated into games.

Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TXAA)

When available, TXAA is often going to provide you with the best bang for your buck. It requires a bit more power than the FXAA, but it uses multiple techniques to go a pretty effective method for smoothing out graphics. Just keep in mind that the blur effect can be pretty present when using TXAA.

Super-Sample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA)

SSAA is the granddaddy of anti-aliasing technology, and it was effective enough that it’s still in use today. It’s mostly outdated in modern games, but it still does a good job of smoothing out an image. Unfortunately, it requires too much processing power to be an effective solution for most gamers today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Use of Anti-Aliasing in Games?

When you move from a higher resolution to a lower one when playing games, you may start to experience jagged edges. Anti-aliasing smooths out those edges in a way that costs a comparatively modest amount of performance.

Is it Better to Have Anti-Aliasing On or Off?

That’s going to vary from player to player, computer to computer, and game to game. Anti-aliasing can smooth out those sharp edges, but it can also have an impact on your frame rate and create more blur in your game.

Why Do I Need Anti-Aliasing?

The most common reason you’d need anti-aliasing is if you’re a gamer. If you want to maximize your performance in the latest games, AA just adds another lever you can use to tweak out the optimal results.

What Anti-Aliasing to Use?

That depends on what AA tech is available to you, how powerful your system is, and what the demands of the game are. We recommend you experiment until you find a version that works for your circumstances.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a novice to game settings, you may just see anti-aliasing as a one size fits all fix for graphical performance. But like any experienced PC builder will tell you, it’s all about tweaking as many tools as possible and weighing sacrifices. But with your understanding of AA tech, you can use it smartly.