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

    And funny enough, after additional investigation, the issue isn't throttling on the Acer but rather a higher clock on the GT 630M compared to the GT 540M. NVIDIA's updated specs page for the 630M lists 800MHz as the clock, but oddly their control panel is only reporting 475MHz on the ASUS. According to GPU-Z's Sensors tab, however, it really is running an ~800MHz core clock (1600MHz shaders), which accounts for the higher performance compared to the 672MHz GT 540M. I've updated the text in the article to explain this. Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Suddenly those fancy expensive ultrabooks(Apple or otherwise) seem like extremely poor deals for tech enthusiasts. Then again they were always aimed at bloggers. Reply
  • DanNeely - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    ... and enthusiasts who want an ultra portable that's a PC not a fondleslab, and which is faster than an atom. Reply
  • ananduser - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    No offense, enthusiasts(in the real sense of the word) are always more extreme than your average MBA wielding blogger. If they wanted something light they would spare no expense and would have gone with a VaioZ, or some crazy Japanese Fujitsu that is lithium made, or a moded Sony UX. PC hardware enthusiasm has nothing to do with Apple commodities that try to be as "safe" as possible. Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Suddenly? They were never marketed as gaming rigs, most don't even have dGPUs and Diablo 3 isn't even one of the 5 most demanding games this year. I dunno what you're getting at, ultrabooks are still great for the propose they're meant for. Can you get just as much done with an uglier/thicker/heavier $700 laptop? Sure, you might even get a dedicated GPU to go along with it... They're serving entirely different markets tho. Reply
  • ananduser - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Which is why I mentioned tech enthusiasts in my original comment. There's nothing that I dispute from your enumeration. Reply
  • futurepastnow - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Or, perhaps I should say, a concern. You increase the detail setting and the resolution together.

    What about 1366x768 at high detail? Or 1920x1080 at low detail?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I have to stick to a subset of the possible resolution/detail settings or I'd be testing a single game 24/7 for a week. I've already spent probably 20 hours benchmarking Diablo III, and let me tell you: running the same three minute sequence at least a dozen times per laptop gets to be mighty damn tedious. I did run tests at some other settings, which I commented on I believe, but here's a bit more detail.

    For example, on the N56VM, 1080p with all settings maxed but Shadow Quality set to Low results in performance of 20.1 FPS/18.5 FPS for our test sequences -- so that one setting boosted performance by over 50% compared to having all settings at High/Max. What's more, I also tested at max detail 1080p but with Shadow Quality set to Off, and the scores are 27.1/24.8 -- another 35% improvement over Low shadows. Everything else combined (e.g. 1080p but all other settings at low) only accounts for probably 20%. I could test that as well if you really want, but I have other things to do right now.
    Reply
  • futurepastnow - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I'm mostly thinking that a large majority of laptops sold, even now, have 1366x768 displays. It looks like all of the non-Intel laptops handle playable framerates with low detail at that resolution, so I'm curious how that performance falls as the detail goes up.

    In particular, can Llano and Trinity handle high detail at 1366x768? They are (or will be) sold in budget laptops that won't get high-res screens.

    However, I understand the time constraints your working under. Thanks for the comparison, anyway.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I agree with this. I understand time constraints, but honestly, the paradigm that's being followed here (and with a lot of reviews) is simply not representative of real-world usage. It's not the case that people play with low details at low resolutions and high details at high resolutions. *Especially* when you're dealing with laptops. Generally, you're going to have the resolution at the display's native resolution, and going to work with the settings from there.

    In any case, the article is still appreciated, and it's possible, at least, to make an educated guess at how the game will run at various resolutions and settings based on the presented info. Definitely going to grab myself a nice Trinity-powered laptop soon as one meeting my desired specs comes out.

    Also, yet again we see that HD4000 does not match Llano, let alone exceed it, as I've seen some people spreading around.
    Reply

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