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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lag is a B*tch, and Then You Crash – Stareyes Galaxy Reporting

More often than not, in a social situation on Second Life© (SL), either you experience lag, or hear someone complain about it. Even in instant messages on SL, lag sometimes makes words get mangled and out of context, and sometimes what you say disappears completely.

What is lag and what causes it? How can you minimize lag? Stareyes Galaxy got on SL to find out.

Linden Lab (LL) maintains a web page for the “minimum requirements” to run Second Life, and looking at that page, both the hardware platform and the network connection have a profound effect on how you are able to utilize the capabilities of SL.

In order to experience Second Life in its full glory, a “gamer” computer is required. These can have multicore processors and 12 to 16 GB of Ram, and a similar amount on the graphics accelerator card as well. This capability allows the computer to fully render the mind-boggling detail to practically an infinite draw distance. I once heard an avatar boast of his USD 500 graphics card. He thought he was, of course, happily “lag-free”.

Some third-party viewers (TPVs) are designed to provide a compromised or non-existent graphics environment to allow for the basic instant message and chat capability. On these, lag is virtually nonexistent, connecting on a mobile phone over a WiFi network for instance.
Lag can make your avatar freeze, and as the viewer controls are graphically rendered, often trying to help the situation while logged on is ineffective. In some viewers, there is a “Lag Meter” under the Avatar tab. This can be accessed by opening the “Avatar Health” dialog there. While not an accurate way to determine the magnitude of lag, it can tell roughly where the possible lag problem lies.

Network:  Reading SL Wiki sources, it appears that at least 500 kb/s speeds are required. Most modern home connections exceed this, but sometimes the main connection resources are shared with other computers or other programs on your computer. Running SL on a laptop over WiFi also will slow down your connection speed.

Memory: The minimum requirement is 512 MB of RAM. This will cause a lot of cache swapping with your hard drive, so a larger amount is advisable. The more the better!
CPU and GPU: the minimum requirement here is quite modest, so even older home computers can run SL, even with Pentium 4 class CPUs. Depending on your viewer, you may benefit from going to faster CPUs with 64-bit operating systems.  Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) are sometimes integrated on your motherboard. These are quite often subpar with regard to modern gaming requirements. Follow the SL “recommended” configurations to upgrade to a dedicated graphics card. Simply by running SL with the viewer window minimized to a smaller but still manageable size will help, especially if you normally would use full screen on a high-resolution monitor.

Server: The servers that SL uses need to send out the data pertaining to the sim you are on, not only to you, but to all other users on the same sim, at the same time. If there are a lot of users, the sheer amount of the data will be slowed down by lowering the frame rate of rendering. In this way, the server will ensure that everyone on the sim gets an optimal user experience, with regard to what’s going on on that particular sim.

Avatar: We have come a long way from the original”Ruth” avatars to how we want to present ourselves today. With regard to avatars generating lag, one must assess the impact of each body part and wardrobe item. Every prim is an object to store on the sim, and to be rendered to all users. Every script as well will take up server resources. Hair and dress resize scripts, bling in jewelry, particles… all that will appear as an item to distribute to all users of a sim. Take a crowded event, and the effect is multiplied by the number of users in a power-law fashion. Particles are particularly annoying, as the script for these is only needed to initiate the effect, but the actual rendering is done on YOUR computer! Therefore, entering a social situation where a lot of avatars use particles will make every user experience lag in some way.

Symptom: “Swimming in treacle”: This is manifested by your inability to move, slowing down of the viewer frame rate and the user interface not accepting your mouse or typed input with acceptable latency. Walking around feels as if you are “swimming in treacle” and typing is the same way. Sometimes you cannot even mouse over a window and close it by clicking on the “X”. The reason for this is most likely at your end of the connection, and you should check with your computer’s “Task manager” if you have programs open that hog your resources.  The most common SL-related issue is that the viewer cache is too full, taking possession of your computer’s memory. Clearing cache should be done periodically, as the viewer loads textures in cache memory files that are in turn loaded to the run time memory. I once was able to regain motion by doing this, following the guidance from my viewer’s support pages. Other issues may relate to un-optimized “Preferences”. You may simply have set your graphics requirements too high, and lowering these, especially from the “Ultra” setting helps mitigate lag. If this is not enough, you should disable streaming music and media as well. Rendering distance is also a factor – in most social situations, why would you need to render objects that are farther than say, 128 meters?

Symptom: “I see grey people”: this is usually seen as you enter a sim with a large number of avatars or “sculpty” objects on it. These days, mesh clothing and other prim-laden wardrobe and accessory items need to be transmitted to your viewer from the sim server. You end up “seeing grey people” – as the avatars take a long time to render on your screen. The reason underlying this problem is your connection speed. The server will try its best to feed your viewer with the data you need to see that avatars and sim objects correctly, but it will take a finite amount of time to pass the data to you. The only real solution to this problem, if it occurs frequently, is to upgrade your connection. In your SL viewer, also setting the graphics preferences, cache size, and maximum bandwidth to coincide better with your actual capabilities will help.

So, to beat lag, next time how about you think what you can do to improve the situation, not only for yourself but for the avatars around you? Is it really necessary to be at the ready to resize your hair or skirt at any given moment? If not, make a copy of your resize attachment and edit it with the scripts until you are satisfied, then remove the script from the “contents” box in the “Edit” menu. Is all that sparkle really necessary in your jewelry? If not, go find similar items that have fewer scripts. If in doubt, examine your load on the sim and find the most likely culprit items that generate lag. Respect script limits where the sim owners warn about these. Empty your texture cache regularly, and use the best possible connections. Revert to text-based viewers such as Radegast, or use your mobile viewer if you cannot connect reliably on the graphics viewer of your PC.  If you still are in trouble with lag, avoid crowded sims, and those with lots of detailed texture.

The single thing that seems the simplest to do when you experience lag is to sit down. Movement, especially with avatar physics, is very intensive for the server-side computing. Once you ”sit” on something, your avatar gets locked on that prim, and the movement effect is greatly reduced.

Minimum and recommended system requirements for running Second Life:
SL wiki on lag:


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