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Diablo III Graphics Settings and Image Quality

This is a laptop-focused article, and for good reason. [Spoiler alert: most desktops with a discrete GPU will be fine running the game; if you have a desktop built within the past five years with a DX9 graphics card, particularly if you purchased at least a midrange (~$150) card with your PC, then it’s very likely you can run Diablo III at 1080p with moderate to high details.] Earlier this year, we created a new set of standards for our mobile gaming tests. Running games at absolute minimum detail settings can often produce playable frame rates, but if the result looks like something from 2005 rather than 2012 in the process (StarCraft II, I’m talking about you!), it may not be an enjoyable experience. We decided to ditch our previous “Low” settings and instead settled on moderate, high, and maximum detail in the games we test, which we’ve labeled Value, Mainstream, and Enthusiast to avoid name space conflicts. Our standard procedure is to test at 1366x768 for Value, 1600x900 for Mainstream, and 1920x1080 for Enthusiast, and we’ll continue that here.

Other than resolution, there really aren’t all that many dials to fiddle with in Diablo III, and many of the dials don’t dramatically affect performance. One of the biggest impacts on frame rate will come from the Shadow Quality setting, which has Off/Low/Med/High available. Clutter Density also has Off/Low/Med/High settings, though it doesn’t appear to impact performance nearly as much as Shadow Quality; the remaining settings are all limited to either Low or High, along with Anti-Aliasing (On/Off) and Low FX (On/Off—enable for a moderate increase in frame rates at the cost of effects quality). An interesting side note is that where many games take a pretty serious hit in performance when enabling antialiasing—particularly on lower end graphics hardware—that does not seem to be the case with Diablo III; even at 1920x1080 on integrated graphics hardware, we only saw about a 5-10% drop in frame rates with antialiasing enabled.

In order to differentiate our settings, we selected the following configurations. Our Value setting has everything set to Low, no antialiasing, and Low FX enabled. (You can still gain a few more FPS if you turn off Shadow Quality and Clutter Density, but we’ve skipped that as the lack of character shadows make for a rather drab appearance.) For Mainstream, we switch most of the settings to High (the maximum), turn off Low FX, but put Shadow Quality and Clutter Density at Medium; antialiasing remains disabled. Our Enthusiast configuration has everything set to High (the maximum available), with antialiasing enabled. Or if you prefer, we grabbed screenshots of our settings (at 1600x900 for the captures, though the actual tested resolutions are as indicated):

So what does the game end up looking like at the various settings? We grabbed screenshots at our three detail settings and at 1600x900 resolution (so you can cycle between them and they’re all the same size), using Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA graphics hardware. You can see all of the images in the following gallery, and we’ll discuss image quality below.

As far as image quality comparisons between the three graphics vendors are concerned, there’s not much to discuss. Diablo III isn’t a graphical tour de force, and in our experience at least all three vendors produce similar/identical image quality. For that matter, even comparisons between our Value, Mainstream, and Enthusiast settings suggest the end results are largely the same. The big factor that’s immediately noticeable is the quality of shadows under characters/creatures. Low Shadow Quality gives a blobby shadow, Medium results in a more detailed shadow, and High gives the most accurate shadow. We’ve also included a couple shots at the end with High settings but with Shadow Quality at Low/Off; we’ll discuss what that does for performance later.

We also snagged a few more shots (using just one set of hardware, in this case an NVIDIA GT 630M), including one location showing the spell effects. The latter gives a better indication of how the “Low FX” option does, as the spell blast is missing some detail. If you’re not toting hardware that’s capable of handling maxed out settings, our first recommendation would be to turn down the shadow quality. The High setting looks nicer, sure, but in the heat of battle you’re unlikely to notice the detailed shadows. The other settings often have very little impact on performance, so unless you’re really running on low-end hardware, in most cases the only other item that will have a significant impact on performance is the target resolution. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; on to the benchmark results.

Taking on the Dark Lord, Mobile Style Diablo III Mobile Performance Compared
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  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Problem is, to test on Hell I have to play through all of Normal, then all of Nightmare. I know people who have already done that, sure, but I only got the game two days ago and I have a family and a life outside of playing games. Hence the disclaimer at the beginning. I'll update the text to mention slowdowns on later areas. Reply
  • kmmatney - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Can you use someone else's save file? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Not that I know of; everything is stored on Blizzard's servers. The only way to access your characters is to login to Battle.net. Reply
  • Herald85 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    If you want, you can use my account to test. You'll need to sign a contract I receive that MSI laptop if you abuse my account.

    Seriously though, I wouldn't mind you using my account (the greater good and all that). Only problem I see is I'm playing on Europe servers so the lag might spoil testing.
    Reply
  • shank15217 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    There is a basic reason why the game runs so well in Act 1 Normal.. play through Act 3 Hell then come back and redo your review. Only the 650M has a chance of playable frame rates in those levels and we haven't even covered multi-player. My 7870 OC to 1100 Mhz has some slowdowns in those levels under some high stress scenarios and basically the game becomes an absolute nut-fest in later difficulties. People will want to play through the later difficulties, its part of the game's progression. Now I get that its hard to benchmark through the randomness but you can make subjective comparisons or do several run throughs. I can say with absolute certainty, none of the apus have a chance in playable frame rates in scenarios where it will matter. D3 is a very unforgiving game, it can take a split second to die, smooth frame rates in non-normal difficulties is essential. Reply
  • dingetje - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    +1 on that ! Reply
  • snakefist - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    agreed, act1 is much less demanding

    did the test included multiplayer? game staggers when more than one player is in game on some configurations, while it's totally smooth in single player...

    also, memory usage tends to increase greatly in later acts, may hurt performance if memory is shared....
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Tell you what, guys: email me your account login and password and don't play the game for a day, and give me instructions on a good stressful area to play on Hell difficulty, and then I can test that area. Otherwise, I simply don't have the 40+ hours needed to get to that point in the game in less than a week.

    And in case it's not clear, I'm mostly joking here. I've got several items I'm working on reviewing that are going to be higher priority than revisiting Diablo III performance in later acts. Perhaps this summer I'll have a chance to go back, but by then it won't really matter that much. So I'd suggest taking these figures as a way of getting relative performance from the various GPUs/IGPs, and then extrapolate from there. If you need to play on Hell difficulty on a laptop with maximum details enabled, you're probably going to want at least a GK107 dGPU (or perhaps Southern Islands).
    Reply
  • dingetje - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    lol ;) Reply
  • snakefist - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    hehe, but it's not that hard - you don't even have to be on higher level difficulties - its only ACT 1 OF NORMAL, which is more like a tutorial and considerably less populated (and task manager is claiming ~300mb ram, which increases up to 1gb later, still on normal)

    all the things mentioned later, like having freezing monsters or duplicates or 100+ creeps on screen are happening on nightmare also, and even on late normal, so it shouldn't be that kind of bother...

    on account topic user/password, use freejack/demise001xp, that's mine :)

    (joking of course, but you could give me YOUR user/password and authenticate it with one of those mobile apps while on chat, and i could level you up pretty fast, playing since diablo1. being on normal, you don't have much to lose, i'll even leave you some nice gear to start nightmare with - seriously, talking about few hours job)

    and all is in good-faith, since i don't play d3 on laptop anyway :)
    Reply

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