September 19 2019

What is Anti-Aliasing?

You’ve probably seen or heard of Anti Aliasing over the past few years, especially as the technology has gotten more and more advanced. While it originally started as one option, the tech has branched out into a few different types, making the whole issue slightly more complicated. As such, it can be hard to know what option you should pick when you’re setting up your graphical options.

What Does Anti-Aliasing Do?

As you may be aware, all displays use something called pixels, these tiny squares on the screen that can reproduce a specific color. If you add a few thousand of them together, you get yourself an image on the screen. The problem though, is that the objects in games or pictures can have jagged edges, not smooth or rounded ones like we’re used to in real life (What’s that, you ask? Who knows!?)

Anti-Aliasing tries to fix these jagged edges, or jaggies, by smoothing them out and making them less sharp. As such, it’s a super-important graphical option in most games, especially since it can help with immersion and making things look more realistic.

What are the Different Types of Anti-Aliasing?

SSAA – Known as Super-Sampling Anti-Aliasing, it was actually the first type of anti-aliasing that was introduced into the world and is one of the most common in non-gaming applications.

Anti-Aliasing ssaa

The way that it works is that it actually renders the game in a much higher resolution and then downsampled it into the display resolution, giving a much smoother image. It’s one of the best anti-aliasing techniques. But, the big problem is that it requires a massive amount of power to run, tying up a lot of your GPU resources. As such, it’s not as common in video games anymore and is used more for photo editing.

MSAA – Known as Multi-Sampling Anti-Aliasing, this is one of the most common anti-aliasing used in video games, as it’s an excellent middle ground between power usage and image quality. The way that it works is pretty smart:

Instead of sampling every individual pixel, it will instead sample groups of pixels that are next to each other and are similar. So essentially it samples one pixel but applies the anti-aliasing to the pixels around it, without testing them, thereby freeing up GPU resources. MSAA also comes in different groupings; x2, x4, and x8 (so groups of 2, groups of 4, or groups of 8).

Also, Nvidia and AMD have their own, more efficient versions of MSAA, called CSAA and EQAA. It’s kind of like how Adaptive Sync is the central technology, while Nvidia has G-Sync and AMD has FreeSync.

Anti-Aliasing crysis 3 msaa

FXAA – Known as Fast-Approximate Anti-Aliasing, it’s the least resource-hungry of all the anti-aliasing out there. What it does is just generally apply an overall blurriness to the image to even out and smooth hard edges. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, it tends to make the whole image kind of blurry and isn’t really great if you want crisp graphics.

 Which Anti Aliasing should you use?

If you’ve been following along so far, you’ve probably started to see a pattern as to which anti-aliasing is better for what setups, but as a quick guide, here’s the deal:

FXAA is suitable for low-end computers that don’t have a lot of GPU processing power. Gaming PCs for under $500 are probably the ones most suited for FXAA.

MSAA is great for mid-tier computers that can handle a little bit of extra GPU processing without feeling a pinch. Gaming PCs for under $1000 or so would probably handle MSAA really well.

SSAA is the super-high-end anti-aliasing and shouldn’t be attempted unless you have the best gear you can get. For this, you’ll want something of higher quality, like gaming PCs for under $1500 or simply the overall best gaming PC you can find.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the type of anti-aliasing you can go for mostly depends on what kind of gear you have. Even more so, a lot of this tends to be decided beforehand by the developer and probably ends up being whatever graphics card manufacturer they have a partnership with.

As such, you shouldn’t really worry about it too much, and focus more on getting the best PC for your budget. The overall rig strength will dictate the types of games you can play in terms of graphical fidelity.

All that being said, there is one thing I should point out. As resolutions get higher and higher, aliasing and jagged edges will start becoming less and less of a problem. High-end 4K screens already do a great job of avoiding jaggies, and it’s possible that we won’t even have anti-aliasing anymore once even higher resolutions become more common (such as 8k and 16k).


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Albert Bassili