SL for Nowt

Living a digital life with empty pockets

Hints & Tips: Creating a low-ARC look

UPDATE: Since I made this post, I’ve managed to get Mar’s ARC even lower. Click here to see how I did it.

Lag. Ugh – we all hate it. Ever been to an area chock-full of avatars (Clothing Fair? Sn@tch sale? Big gridwide treasure hunt?) and been completely bogged down so you can’t move? Well, there are many reasons for lag, from SL simply having a bad day, your connection not being up to scratch, your computer being rather old or having a less-than-stellar graphics card, or the amount of people around you, and what they’re wearing.

Let me introduce you to Avatar Rendering Cost, or ARC. This is a slightly controversial issue, since it is possible for people to harrass other avatars with a high ARC, but it can also be extremely useful. While it’s impossible for you to do anything about the high-ARC avatars around you, what you can do is put together a low-ARC look for yourself, so that you’re not the one causing problems for others.

See the numbers above Mar’s head in this pic?

On the left is her low-ARC look, which has an ARC of just 95. Sure, you can go much lower, but she looks nice, and she has prim hair and shoes. On the right, though, she has an enormous ARC (well into the red) of 7844. That’s all down to what she’s wearing, from hair and dress to shoes and jewellery.

Hop behind the cut to find out more.

ARC will tell you how much it ‘costs’ your computer to render any avatar. The setting is in the Advanced menu of your viewer (CTRL+ALT+D to toggle that menu on and off). Advanced > Rendering > Info Displays > Avatar Rendering Cost.

NOTE: Do be aware that turning on this setting will cause a slight performance hit to your computer, so if you try it in a busy area, you might find your viewer stuttering or behaving slowly.

Hint: Turn off avatar names (In the General tab of Edit > Preferences) in order to see the ARC values more easily. Try this at an infohub, where you’ll see a mixture of newbies and older avatars. The more simple the avatar’s look, the lower their ARC is likely to be. Higher ARCs will belong to those with ‘poufy’ dresses and hair, anyone wearing bling or other particles, prim-heavy avatars and the like.

Now head somewhere quiet, preferably a platform or skybox waaaay up in the air. Hop on a pose stand or find a static pose, and have a look at your ARC. How’s it looking? Want to see if you can get it lower? Let’s give it a go.

First of all, strip down to your skin. Put on a simple pair of pants (no prim parts) and a simple top (again, no prim parts). Any clothing items on what are called the ‘system layers’ (undershirt, shirt, jacket, underpants, pants, shoes and shoe bases) will cost you zero ARC points. Want to wear a nice skin? Sure you can; that’s zero ARC too.

So here’s Mar with no hair (you’ll see why in a minute) and wearing a nice skin by Stella di Roccia. She’s taken off everything else, so no facelights or prim lashes, ladies! Her pants and t-shirt are both dollarbies from Random Fashions, found at The Gnubie Store:

(Note: You can’t get lower than a score of one. A zero ARC avatar is impossible. One is the basic avatar score, without anything extra added.)

OK, so already that’s a nice look (apart from the bald thing!) and costs just 1 ARC. But I don’t fancy walking around barefoot, so I’m going to try on some shoes. First, some simple little flats by 50Flats:

Those are about as low as I’m probably going to get, and an ARC of 71. That’s still good. Let’s try on some primmier shoes:

202 ARC. Quite a few prims in those shoes, so that’s not too bad, but I think the flats are still the way to go.

As you go through your shoes, you might be surprised at the results. Those boots you love may have a lower ARC than your favourite ‘simple’ pumps. This is why it’s good to have a dig through inventory to see what you can find.

OK. Deep breath.


Stop screaming ;) Yes, it’s your hair that’s shoving your ARC into the red like that. Is it flexi? That’s 8 ARC points per prim. Most likely it has alpha (partially-transparent) textures. That’s 4 ARC points per individual face of each prim. And there’s 5 ARC points for each unique texture used.

From the left, we start with low-prim, non-flexi, non-alpha hair. And we move to the right, with a typical high-prim, flexi, alpha hairstyle (which yes, I know I didn’t adjust at the front!) –

Now imagine 30 female avatars, all with that last hairstyle, at the formal dance you’re attending. They all look stunning, but nobody can move!

I’ve settled on the 25 ARC ballerina hair, second from left above. Together with the flats, that now gives me an ARC of 95:

Here’s Mar’s final less-than-1oo ARC look. I’m calling it her “Saturday morning, schlepping around the house with hair pulled back in a bun” look ;)

So who would you rather be in a busy place with?

My challenge to you: put together a low-ARC avatar (try to get under 100!) and use it next time you know the area you’re visiting will be busy.


February 28, 2009 - Posted by | ARC - Avatar Rendering Cost, hints and tips, low-lag avatars, second life


  1. Oh, wow! I stumbled here through… well, I’m not entirely certain how I got here, but, boy, am I ever happy that I did! I run a mediocre connection with an elderly laptop and… *twitch* SL can be Hell for me at the best of times, but, gads! The problems I have when I encounter The Poofery! I mean, it’s all gorgeous and all, but is it really necessary to look like the love-child of Cinderella and Linda Evangelista in the midst of a busy hunt? Plus, I can’t even load these high-ARC avs half the time, so they just hobble around my (jerky) viewer as nebulous, gray blobs.


    This ought to be required reading for *anyone* in SL, old or new. Thank you so much for writing it!

    Comment by Marlowe | March 4, 2009 | Reply

  2. This is excellent advice that I wish more people would take. On recent hunts I’ve been astonished at the number of avatars with ARCs in the thousands. I tried calling out a few times ‘You know how it’s really laggy? It will ease up a lot if you take off some of your prim attachments.’ Nobody did a thing. My ARC of 16 and I felt very virtuous, but still very damn lagged!

    Comment by Jane Primrose | March 4, 2009 | Reply

  3. @Marlowe: Do I ever know what you mean. I’ve tried to use SL on an old laptop when my desktop conked out, and it was like a snail crawling through molasses. I gave up on the busy areas!

    One thing you can do (but it’s time-consuming) is to mute the worst offenders, which means your viewer won’t have to render them. During hunts, you tend to bump into the same people time and again, so for those with 2K+ ARCs muting is an option, but not the best one. There are some hints and tips to reduce lag, and it’s something I need to look into doing a post about. In the meantime, have you tried the Cool Viewer third-party viewer? Compiled by Boy Lane, the earlier iterations are designed for lower-powered computers and laptops, and might be of help to you. More info here:

    @Jane: Thank you! I wish more people would think about lower-lag and low-ARC avatars during hunts, but there will always be those that need to look gorgeous, no matter what, and who don’t realise it’s possible to look gorgeous without having an ARC in the multi-thousands. One of the biggest problems on the Twisted hunt was the amount of people wearing the fluffy kitsune tail. Those things often give a high ARC score.

    Comment by Mar | March 4, 2009 | Reply

  4. […] PLEASE remember that this is going to be busy. Wear a low-lag or low-ARC avatar (a guide to putting together the latter can be found here). […]

    Pingback by Boing! Boing! Start hoppin’! « SL for Nowt | March 27, 2009 | Reply

  5. ARC is a sham. It is an excuse for ARC-cops to browbeat other people who have “high ARC” avatars into changing how they look, or worse, giving them an excuse to outright ban them from sims, RP games, events, what have you. “Rendering cost” is a glib term for the processing power OF YOUR OWN COMPUTER to paint the avatars the simulator is presenting to you. This is what the SL support page says about ARC:

    “Using a point score, the Avatar Rendering Cost shows how much each avatar affects *the rendering performance of the viewer*. The point score is shown over an avatar’s head in green, yellow or red, depending on how costly an avatar is for a graphics card to render.”

    The emphasized part is actually a link on the page, which sends you to a tutorial on *viewer* performance stats.

    ARC is entirely a VIEWER-side phenomenon, and has ZERO to do with the sim, or other people. It has everything to do with YOUR SUB-PAR MACHINE.

    If lowering your ARC helps you on a low-end machine you MUST make do with, FINE. Enjoy. I am all joy to hear that your Second Life has been enhanced by this wonderful process!

    But your inability to afford, acquire, maintain, fix, repair, or otherwise gain access to a machine on the minimum or recommended hardware list from the SL website does NOT give you the right or authority to ask, tell, harass, or bother any other resident in ANY WAY about their ARC score, attachments, clothing, or prims. Ever.

    Get this clear. *ARC does NOT cause sim lag.* AT ALL. It is VIEWER-SIDE. ONLY. That means only YOU may be perceiving it. The scores you see are only necessarily meaningful to you. Someone else with a more powerful machine, video card, and/or network connection *probably will* have an entirely different experience from yours, even though the same avatars are nearby.

    Comment by Demosthenes Locke | May 9, 2009 | Reply

  6. Thank you for your input, Demosthenes.

    Comment by Mar | May 10, 2009 | Reply

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