What is Anti-Aliasing?

What is anti aliasing

Getting your in-game graphics settings right can sometimes be a little bit daunting, especially when they don’t clearly label what they do. We are going to make things a little bit easier for you in this article and breakdown the setting known as ‘anti-aliasing’.

You will have come across this setting in your options countless times on many games, but what does it do, how does it work, and why does it decrease performance?

So, What Is Anti-Aliasing?

Anti aliasing

Anti-aliasing aims to remove those jagged step-like edges from your game which we sometimes see occurring when playing in lower graphical settings. Unlike in the real world where we have rounded objects, the reason we get these jagged edges in the first place is down to the fact that everything we view on our monitor is in the form of pixels, which are, of course, square.

To combat this staircase effect we see on every slanted or round image, we use anti-aliasing. This setting reduces the aliasing effect on the images by essentially blending the colors at the edge, creating a smooth illusion. This blended effect does come at the cost of computing power and can often lower your FPS, especially if you have a lower-end build.

There are a few different types of anti-aliasing with varied performance impacts. This is why, on a lower end type of AA, you may sometimes notice that your game is a little bit blurry.

In the rest of the article, we are going to go into the different types of anti-aliasing out there, how they can impact your graphics, and which would suit your PC for a smoother experience.

The Different Types Of Anti-Aliasing

Although the end result is the same with the various anti-aliasing types, which one you pick is largely down to your system’s hardware. Let’s have a look at the different AA types and see how they work.

SSAA (Supersample Anti-Aliasing)

SSAA is an extremely efficient way of combatting the jagged effect and was the first available, but it is highly demanding. The way this type of anti-aliasing works is by making your GPU render a game in a higher resolution which it then downsamples. As mentioned, this is the best way, but it requires a high-end PC for it to work smoothly as it increases the pixel density and displays a much sharper image.

MSAA (Multi-Sampling Anti-Aliasing)

MSAA is one of the more common AA types out there which only smooths out polygons. This type of AA is more balanced compared to others as it cuts down on processing power and still produces a smooth effect. You can often find MSAA in games labeled as 2xMSAA, 4xMSAA, and 8XMSAA with the latter requiring more PC power.

CSAA (Coverage Sampling Anti-Aliasing)

CSAA was developed by Nvidia and features on their more modern cards. It is similar to EQAA, which we will cover next, but essentially yields similar results to MSAA. Despite the similarities, it achieves this at only a fraction of the performance cost.

EQAA (Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing)

EQAA was developed by AMD, and as mentioned above, it works in a similar way to MSAA; however, it won’t impact performance as much.

FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing)

FXAA is often at the lower end of the scale and is a perfect option for the low-end PC user. This less demanding type of AA blurs the edges of these jagged objects which can result in a smoother image; however, you will often find the image to be blurry in general.

TXAA (Temporal Anti-Aliasing)

TXAA uses slightly more processing power than FXAA but combines several different techniques together to produce smooth edges. Despite only working on newer graphics cards, it isn’t perfect, and blurriness can still be seen when using it.

What Type Of Anti-Aliasing Should You Pick

There are many different anti-aliasing types/techniques available, but you may only see one or two depending on which game you use them in. For less powerful PC’s FXAA is your best bet as it will smooth those jagged edges with the least amount of performance impact. It is worth noting though that FXAA does have a blurry effect, resulting in your game not looking quite right (better than jagged objects though).

At the other end of the scale, SSAA comes out on top. SSAA combats jagged objects very efficiently, but it does require a high-end PC to work smoothly without performance dips. SSAA really makes graphics look great as it forces a higher resolution picture and scales it down to fit your resolution.

A good middle ground, however, is MSAA. MSAA is the more common of the bunch and gives gamers with a mid-level PC a variety of options (2X, 4X, 8X). MSAA is a balance of SSAA and FXAA as it cuts down on performance impact yet still provides a smooth image.

Your resolution will also be a factor when it comes to anti-aliasing and which type you can use. Playing on small 1080p 21″ monitors you probably won’t notice aliasing. However, larger 1080p monitors could have very noticeable aliasing on the screen. When it comes to 4K gaming monitors, you probably won’t notice aliasing that much if at all (depending on how close to the screen you sit) and this is because of the higher pixel density.


Should I turn anti aliasing on or off?

There are benefits to both. If you’re starting out with a game and you want to see everything it has to offer, then turn on your anti aliasing.

What anti aliasing does is to smooth out the jagged edges of images. Jaggedness equals aliasing, so by turning your anti aliasing on, you get a smoother-looking game.

What you don’t get is a smoother feeling game, because turning your anti aliasing on means making your GPU do more calculations per frame to achieve the smoothing. That means you get fewer frames per second. When you’re deeper into a game, you might find you’re willing to sacrifice a little of the luscious visual landscape for faster playing speed.

So that’s the real question – do want to feast your eyes, or do you want to play faster? Anti aliasing on if you choose Option #1, anti aliasing off if you choose option #2.

Do I need anti aliasing at 1080p?

‘Need’ is a subjective judgment – some gamers will still feel the need for anti aliasing at 1080p, but many won’t. Your answer will ultimately depend on your own personal preference, but be aware that at 1080p, anti aliasing can lose you 30 frames per second or more, which is arguably more noticeable in the gameplay of many modern, graphic-hungry games than the smoothing effect of anti aliasing is.

It’s also likely to be important which games you’re playing. Everything from high-octane driving games to atmospheric multiplayer shoot ’em ups might well benefit more from the lighter demand on the GPU that turning anti aliasing off brings you than they would from pin-sharp graphic rendering.

In fact, the faster a game is designed to be played, the less necessary anti aliasing feels, compared to the price it exacts on your frame rate, especially at 1080p.

Is anti aliasing good for FPS?

No, very much the opposite. It’s the equivalent of playing tennis, but having to solve a quadratic equation before you’re allowed to hit the ball. Whatever game you’re playing, it will come with its default-smoothness of images. If you play it at that smoothness, it’s possible you might still get some jagged lines or slightly blocky edges, but that’s the way the game looks at the frame rate that optimizes the action.

If you turn your anti aliasing on, for every frame in the game, your GPU has to smooth out the lines and edges, to maximize the visual precision and perfection for you. The time it takes to do that has an impact on your frame rate, meaning your gameplay experience will be slower. It will look absolutely stunning, but play slower. So no, anti aliasing is not good for FPS, however kind it is to your eyes.

What is the use of anti aliasing in games?

Anti aliasing in games takes us away from the era of jagged, fuzzy lines and blocky polygons making up the background and the player characters in gaming. It smoothes out the graphics, giving a more realistic, rich, luscious look to the scenery and the characters.

If you play a game in low or medium mode, you’ll notice the jagged blockiness is still with you – that’s a function of not having the anti aliasing technology deployed.

There are various types of anti aliasing that game developers use, of which the most common is multisample anti aliasing. That smoothes out just the edges of polygons but leaves everything else on the rougher side. This is to strike a balance between acceptably smooth images and acceptably fast gameplay, as the smoother your images are, the more complex calculation the GPU needs to do – and the lower your rate of FPS is.

Why do pros turn off anti aliasing?

Pros turn off their anti aliasing because they want or need their FPS to be as high as possible. The truth is, the sumptuous graphics are great to get you hooked into a game, but by the time you’re playing as a pro, you’re not really thinking in terms of graphic translation of pixels into ‘reality’ anyway. You’re thinking in terms of killing the killable, completing the mission, advancing through the levels, or doing whatever else is necessary to make progress in the game.

That means you’re much less concerned about visual slickness than you are about FPS, which affects your gameplay experience and probably your progress.

So by turning off their anti aliasing, pros are getting the wildest, fastest, most raw gameplay experience they can, and they’re entirely unconcerned about the blockiness of polygons or the jaggedness of lines.