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F4 Performance Tuning

by Rrevved


To enable the average user to configure his system for maximum performance with Microprose Falcon 4.0. The tips here are chosen for ease of use and effectiveness in realizing substantial performance gains with minimum effort.

These tips do not include partitioning, cluster size, FAT32vs.FAT16 or other advanced tips. It is meant for the user who wants the most from his system without becoming a computer genius... :) Here we go..

There seem to be a lot of people having smoothness problems with Falcon. Here is what you need to do to adjust your system to make it run much better. These tweaks will also improve performance in lots of other sims and games. I am basing these tips on my personal experience with Falcon so far and with my past experience in system tuning for performance.


Since I only have one system, I can't say for sure how it will run on yours, but I can make a few generalizations from posts on the newsgroup and message boards. If you get better results than the ones I am mentioning here, good for you!

I am speaking in *general* terms to a wide variety of users. Every system is different. Your mileage may vary substantially. I accept no responsibility for the performance stats here.

- First, I am going to assume that you have Falcon installed properly, after carefully implementing ALL of the instructions contained in this guide.

- Next, I am going to assume that you have a GOOD 3D card installed. A GOOD video card means a card based on the 3DFX chipset (preferably a VoodooII) or a card based on the RIVA TNT chipset. Any other 3D video cards will not be considered in this document, since there is minimal info as to their performance in Falcon 4.0.

- NOTE: If you do NOT have 128MB of RAM or more, I cannot predict how much stuttering you will get in Falcon 4.0 while in views or campaign missions. My experience with 64MB is that you will get stuttering in views and campaign, even on a high-end system.

- NOTE: I have high standards for acceptable framerate. Your standards may be higher or lower than mine. What is 'smooth' to you, may not be 'smooth' to me or vice versa. My standards would be a CONSISTENT 25-30 FPS or higher, with minimal slowdown in high graphics or high AI situations, such as the campaign. You may feel that the human eye cannot tell the difference beyond 30 fps. If so, you are wrong.

Here is my best estimate:

* Pentium 166 and slower - Time to upgrade or enjoy only simple missions, at low detail. Pausing and stuttering will be very prevalent.

(Buying Falcon 4.0 with this level system may be questionable, in my opinion.)

* Pentium 200-266 - Should run Falcon well in lower resolutions (640x480)and lower detail, in *Non-Campaign modes*. Stuttering may make it not smooth in campaign or furball situations, but it can be helped somewhat by 128MB of RAM. Falcon has *very* adjustable graphics settings, so you should be able to find a setting that suits you and looks nice.

(Buy it, but be willing to settle for somewhat degraded performance at times.)

* Pentium II 266-350 - Will run Falcon *very* well in medium-ish detail modes, at 800x600. It will be smooth in views and the campaign by having 128MB of RAM. By following the instructions here, you should have minimal stuttering.

(Buy it immediately.)

* Pentium II faster than 350 - Rock and Roll. Use the instructions here, be sure to have 128MB of RAM or more and enjoy full, or near-full detail in Single or Campaign play.

(You've already bought it, right?)

* AMD systems, I haven't a clue, so I won't comment. Fast is good. More memory (128MB is good).

*Note the Pentium II estimates should apply, fairly closely, to similar speed Celerons as well. If they are overclocked they should scream. Keep it cool though, Falcon is very intensive. (Time to remove the cover?) Now to the tuning..


1) You MUST have a good 3D Video card to run Falcon. Voodoo (3DFX) and Riva TNT chipset cards are very good ones. Buy one before reading further. 'Nuf said.

2) You MUST have the latest drivers for your video card(s) and soundcard. You can get them on the manufacturer's websites. 'Nuf said.

* RAM:

(If you have 128MB of RAM, or more,you can skip this section and move to the next one)

1) Falcon LOVES memory. It eats it for breakfast, particularly in the complex campaign missions and when changing views.

1a) If your system has less than 128MB of RAM, your Falcon *is* going to stutter, particularly when changing views or in the Campaign . You can observe your Falcon's appetite, by watching your hard drive light blinking wildly while in a furball, external views, Shift ~ views, or in the Campaign missions. It is having to load stuff from the hard drive, since it can't store it in the current amount of available memory, on your system.

- Additional memory will satisfy your Falcon's hunger.

1b) If you don't have 128MB, you *will* suffer with a stuttering Falcon, in certain situations. If you already have a good video card (VoodooI, VoodooII or RivaTNT), 128MB is the next upgrade to consider. You will not be happy without it.

1c) Resistance is futile. Bill Gates has already won and you know it.

* WINDOWS SWAPFILE (Virtual Memory):

(If you are CERTAIN that you have a *fixed-length* swapfile of 200MB or more, then you can skip this section. Otherwise read on...)

Windows uses a part of your hard drive to save portions of programs while they are running. It is known as the swapfile or virtual memory. Windows copies info back and forth from this area to memory if a program is large and uses more than the available RAM on your system. Falcon is BIG and needs a lot of space for this function and the space needs to be set up in a certain way.

Microprose recommends that you have 200MB or more space for this swapfile and to let Windows (Bill Gates) manage it for you.

Charlie don't surf, and Bill doesn't fly Falcons, so we have to modify Microprose's instructions a little.. :)

Sorry Bill and Microprose ..

We are going to temporarily disable virtual memory and defragment the hard drive that contains it. We will then re-enable the virtual memory and set it for maximum performance. Here goes:

1) Click My Computer | Control Panel | System | Performance Virtual Memory.

2) Highlight 'Disable Virtual Memory' and notice in the 'Hard disk' box which drive your swapfile is located on. It may be greyed out if Windows is managing it, as it does if you haven't changed it, but you should be able to see it.

It is most likely C:.

3) Bill Gates will now warn you that you are breaking the rules. Don't listen to him and continue forward in the process, clicking apply, O.K. or whatever and allow it to shutdown and restart your system.

NOTE: If for any reason, your system keeps reverting back to windows control of your virtual memory, when you tell it to disable virtual memory it may be because you have not got enough real memory. This can occur on 32MB or 48MB systems, and may occur on others as well. In those cases, let Windows manage your virtual memory while you defragment your hard drive. *Then* follow the instructions to set the minimum and maximum limits of virtual memory.

4) Go to: Windows Start Button | Programs | Accessories | System Tools Disk Defragmenter .

5) Defragment your swapfile's hard drive (most likely it is C:). In Win95, Bill Gates will give you a percentage of your hard drive that is fragmented. Bill makes it seem that if it is only 5% fragmented, it is not a big deal. Bill is wrong.

Defragment your hard drive, regardless of your personal bias regarding Bill.

5b)It takes a long time, in some cases, to do the defragment, but it is necessary. Relax and begin reading the 550 page manual or step outside into the sunshine or snowstorm, depending on your hemispheric orientation.

Click to continue . . .


6) VERY IMPORTANT!! After the defragmentation of C: is finished:

- Click My Computer | Control Panel | System | Performance Virtual Memory. Un-check the 'disable virtual memory'.

- Click the selection for 'Let me specify my own memory settings' and select in the 'Hard Disk' requestor the drive that you wish to use. It should be the one that was used before. (the one you just defragmented, probably C:) Set the minimum size to 200MB and the maximum size to 200MB.

If you have the space to spare, set it higher. Mine is set to 250MB for both numbers. Click O.K. Bill Gates will make more idle threats, but continue forward and allow your system to shutdown and reboot.

7) What you have just done will make Falcon, other games and even Windows itself run much better.


Fragmentation of the Falcon 4 files is a MAJOR problem for all stuttering Falcons. You MUST *install* your Falcon correctly or he/she will be unhappy and he/she will make *you* unhappy.

We are going to remove Falcon's files, if it is installed, defragment and then reinstall Falcon, thereby causing all of Falcon's files to be located very close together on the hard drive.


Some of you may say, "Hey, I have already defragmented my hard drive after I installed Falcon. That is good enough." It is *not* good enough, if you want to maximize performance, which is the purpose of this guide.

Defragmenting puts PIECES of FILES together.

It will NOT put the hundreds of files in Falcon 4, *close* to each other. They will still be located great distances apart and this causes slowdown, which causes stuttering.

- Yet another note: There are some versions of the Norton Utilities that will put files and folders together. If you use Norton, you may be able to accomplish the defragmentation in a faster way.

If you don't defragment before installing Falcon, during Install, your Falcon files will be shoved into whatever fragmented 'holes' they can find on your hard drive. The holes are left over from *deletions* of files, software, old games, old swapfile parts .. etc. etc. These holes are all over your hard drive if it is not defragmented first.

Install will scatter pieces of the Falcon files from one end of your hard drive to the other. (This is a major performance hit on newer, larger drives.)

If you defrag AFTER install, it will put the pieces of the individual files together, BUT it will not put the files *near* each other, causing the disk to have to work very hard (slow) to deliver those files to the program in real-time.

This causes stuttering and pausing, while the files are found and handed off to the Falcon 4 program.

We want to *minimize* the distance between the Falcon files, when it is installed, to reduce the time the Hard Drive takes to locate them.

Eventually, these files may still migrate apart during subsequent defrags, etc., but if they are close together in the beginning, they will tend to stay somoewhat close for a considerable time.

The only way to get these benefits is by following the procedure below. O.K? Here we go...

1) IF Falcon 4 is currently installed on your system, uninstall Falcon 4 using the Add/Remove programs function in the Windows control panel... Really, go ahead.

1a)I'm serious, *uninstall* it... :)

2) Now that it is no longer on your hard drive, go to: Windows Start Button | Programs | Accessories | System Tools Disk Defragmenter .

3) Defragment the drive that you wish to use for Falcon. Even if it is the same drive that you defragged in the earlier step, *do it again*, since now you have removed the Falcon 4 files from your system. It will should take less time, this time.

Defragmenting, in this way, will push all of your existing folders and files to the front of the hard drive, leaving empty space at the end. When we reinstall Falcon, the Falcon files will all be TOGETHER, instead of scattered hither and yon. This will give MUCH better performance.


Did you defragment your hard drive that is used for Falcon?

Now, reinstall Falcon4. Either option (typical or full) that you choose will allow Falcon4 to run without the CD in the drive. I am using the U.S. version, so this may change in other versions

The *only* difference between the 'typical' 320MB install and the 'full' 590MB install is that you won't see the movies if your Falcon CD is not in the drive. I am using the 'typical' install.


Press Control - Alt- Delete on your keyboard. This will bring up the Windows Task Manager. Use it to cancel ALL backgound applications (except Explorer and Systray) prior to starting Falcon or any other intensive game or sim.


You are done with the basic system tweaks. You have a good 3D Video card. You have closely followed the above steps to ensure that a minimum of disk thrashing will occur while running Falcon and you have begged, borrowed or stolen at least 128MB of RAM.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of 128MB and defragmenting your hard drive *prior* to install.

Most other major system performance improvements will be found in faster CPU's, better 3D cards, etc.

On pages 16-5 - 16-10 of the Falcon4 manual, you will find a discussion of the various graphics options and recommended settings for your system. Read it carefully! You can use these settings as a starting point in tailoring the graphics to your liking. While these settings seem correct for most situations, your mileage may vary, particularly in the Campaign. You may have to reduce some of them.

A few of the settings seem to have a large impact and you might want to adjust them first, when trying to improve performance on your system. For example:

- Terrain Texture adjusts the distance the graphics engine has to draw the textures on the terrain. As you can see, in Falcon, the horizon is FAR, FAR away. By reducing this setting, the horizon will remain that way, but the texturing will occur closer to you. It is a major performance improvement to reduce this setting, somewhat.

- Player Bubble - While I still am not sure about everything this one does, I would suggest reducing it drastically... :)

Ed. Note: If you have a PII 300 or better I recommend that you run the bubble at level 3 or more...

I will update this from time to time as other suggestions surface on the newgroup and boards, or I blindly stumble into something else. For now, these suggestions will make some major improvements for those that take the time to do them!!

Note: Gun-Slinger wrote a small batch file for getting Falcon 4.0 to be the ONLY thing running when Windows starts. Gives you much better frames per second. Download by clicking HERE.


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Last Updated November 12th, 1998

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