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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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  • DanNeely - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    All joking about account sharing not withstanding, would AT buying a new D3 account for testing and letting a volunteer (not me) level it up for late game/hell testing be a viable option? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    We do have a couple people playing the game, so at some point we'll be able to test later levels. Give me a chance to: A) have a holiday (today), B) write a few other articles, C) enjoy the game without more benchmarking of it (which totally kills the fun!). Probably in a week or so I can come back with results from Act II or later.

    Unless you can talk Anand into your idea? ;-)
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    My diplomacy skills are of the Europe 1914 level; the odds of my being able to sweet talk someone I don't know well into anything are slim to none.

    Better results in a week or so isn't that bad a delay. I'm just mildly frustrated since I've had a few people ask what sort of hardware they needed to play the game; and it seems that all the numbers I can find are from very early in the game and thus non-representative of what's really needed.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I'm hoping that Windows 8 Metro games bring a stable platform and for once I'm glad that at we'll at least have HD4000 as a base platform. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I'm wondering how the HD 4000 compares to the GPUs in ARM SoCs as that will be the actual low mark if slower. Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I'm curious about that as well, SoC GPUs like the SGX 543MP4 are getting pretty complex and Intel themselves used to use integrated PowerVR GPUs in their chipsets. Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    The GMA 3600 is based on the PowerVR SGX545. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    And the Windows drivers for it are crap right now. I'm just saying.... Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Actually Metro/WinRT won't be used for gaming, If you want a restricted environment there already is XNA so. Games will be too difficult and too less of an incentive or anything to gain to port to the WinRT framework. Or Windows Runtime as they call it. Game developers will never target Metro/WinRT if they don't have to and they don't on x86 machines, desktop is there, you can still build for Windows 7 etc where most users are and so on. Won't happen that much here until next gen consoles either. Plus macs have gotten a whole lot better in the department and plenty of game engines are available now. Taking those kind of engines and porting to C++/WinRT isn't something taken lightly it probably won't actually be possible without a rewrite which defeats the purpose. The performance wouldn't be good. The sandbox is probably too restrictive. It also means in practice it is a more restrictive environment then the mobile sandboxed OS's, several mobile OS's run Firefox for example. WinRT never will. WinRT never will run even IE. Reply
  • oopyseohs - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Did I miss the part where you talk about using an external monitor, or how else were you able to run all of these GPUs at all three resolutions? I'm not saying the data isn't important, as it could be relevant to different notebooks that use the same or similar hardware just with higher-res screens.

    Also, I've played this game on an old desktop with with GTX 285 @ 1080p and everything turned up. While that is fairly smooth and playable, I still get quite a few moments of "stuttering" in Hell difficulty. I also play on basically the same Acer book with the GT 540M, and even at the lowest possible graphics settings and resolution in normal mode, it's hard for me to characterize that performance as anything other than horrible in comparison to the desktop.
    Reply

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