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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 - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    Yes, all of the higher than 1366x768 results were done on an external LCD where required (which was the case for Llano, Trinity, VAIO C, TimelineX, and Vostro; the other laptops had 1080p displays, except for quad-core SNB which has a 1600x900 LCD and I didn't run the 1080p tests). Reply
  • PolarisOrbit - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Good review for what it is, but I think it could have been a little more complete with some additional information:

    1) Use Act 3 Bastion's Keep for the "intensive" case instead of Act 1 Old Town. I think this would be better representative of the game's peak demand. (probably just a run through of the signal fires quest since it's easy to get to)

    2) Include a brief section on how much of an impact additional players put on the game. I find it can actually be quite significant. This doesn't have to be full-depth review just a quick.

    Overall, I'm using an A8-3500M + 6750M crossfire (overclocked to 2.2GHz) @1366x768 and my framerates during battles (ie. when it counts) average about 1/2 to 1/3 what the reviewer posts because the game gets much more intensive than Act 1, and having a party also slows it down significantly compared to solo.

    Just some ideas to expand the review if you want =)
    Reply
  • drkrieger - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Hey folks, I've got an older Asus G71Gx which has a Nvidia GTX260M, I can play it on medium/low at about 40 fps @ 1920x1200.

    Hope this gives some idea of older mobile graphics stack up.
    Reply
  • waldojim42 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I have been testing this out on my W520 for the sake of seeing what I can do to play diablo and maintain decent battery life.

    For what it is worth, turning off shadows, and playing @ 1366x768 on the HD 3000 results in roughly 28fps - more than enough to play the game through the first difficulty anyhow. I have been using this for some time now with 4 players in game. When running @ 1080P, it dips down into the low 20's, and occasionally is a problem in act 3 so I wouldn't suggest it.

    Point is though, that anyone that has a notebook with SB and no video card CAN still play this game, even if it isn't ideal.
    Reply
  • Zoolookuk - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Given this is a cross platform game, it would have been interesting to provide Mac results with similar hardware. I play using a GT330m and i7 dual core, and it runs pretty well. I'd like to see how it stacks up to the latest AMD chips and HD3000 on a Mac. Reply
  • egtx - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Yes I am interested in Mac results as well. Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Provided the testing is done on a dual booting Apple machine, D3 under Windows will always run better. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Anecdotally, Brian and Anand have both commented that Diablo 3 on a MacBook Pro under OS X runs like crap. I'm not sure if they're running on latest generation MBP13 or something else, though, so that's about all I can pass along. Reply
  • ananduser - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    Was there any doubt? OSX is severely lacking in the graphical driver support. Apple never gave a rat's rear about this crucial aspect of gaming support. They are always late with drivers and with the latest OpenGL spec. Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    The recommendations / minimum requirements on Macs are discrete graphics with good drivers though. I.e. no nvidia 7300 / 7600, ATi X1600 / X1900 etc. Starting point is 8600 GT. Obviously no integrated Intel graphics is enough there. OpenGL3.2 or OpenGL 2.1 with extensions should be fine for game developers and the drivers handle it, nVidia and AMD can put in performance improvements if they have the feedback. They could even launch their own "game edition" card for the Mac Pro with their own drivers outside of Apples distribution channel. Nvidia releases drivers on there site from time to time. That said both the game engine port and drivers are a bit less optimized then their Windows and Direct3D counterpart. They [drivers] are quiet robust and well working but might not be that fast. It's mainly a problem for the developers today though as most macs has somewhat decent graphics with maintained drivers and have pretty good driver support and support pretty much all the features you need any way.

    The OS is very dependent on OGL so the support it self is decent and fairly up to to date even if it is not OpenGL 4.2/3.3 yet. Latest OpenGL 4.2 is not even supported by much of any hardware that Apples uses either so. R700, R600, GF 8M, GF 9M and the desktop versions does not support more then OpenGL 3.3 any way which it self is a backport of as much as possible. 3.2 is a decent level there. Apple always support the whole API in the software renderer too so they have no joy hunting the latest features, though the vendors can use any extensions they wish to add those features, all the supported gpus supports the API too. Intel drivers on Windows do not have OpenGL 4.1/4.2 drivers. It's a lot better driver support then for say Intel graphics on Linux and in some regards even on Windows. Intel drivers on Windows don't support OpenGL 3.2 yet.
    Reply

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