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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

    This is the whole purpose of having three different settings, discussing what settings we selected and why, etc. Consider the Value setting a "near-best-case" result while still looking decent; in this case, the only thing you can really do to further improve frame rates is to turn off shadows and/or lower the resolution further. If you look at our Mainstream results, you can see what happens as you start to turn up the dials, and the same goes for Enthusiast. I've discussed in the article exactly how much the various elements impact performance, going so far as to include additional results at "Enthusiast 1080p" but with Shadow Quality on Low/Off.

    If someone can't get at least a decent idea of where to start in terms of settings and what to expect from their laptop hardware with the information in this article, I'm not sure what I could do to help the situation. Hold their hand and walk through each and every specific setting? Because that tends to come off sounding very condescending if I write that way, and I think most people who care enough to read our articles are much smarter than that.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Fair enough, I understand that. However, I'm not suggesting you write in a hand-holding, condescending manner. Just having three bars on the graph for each resolution (one bar for value, mainstream, and enthusiast settings) would be fine. I understand the time constraints, though, as I said. That would be the ideal, however. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, June 02, 2012 - link

    You won't have to worry about that soon for nVidia chipped laptops as nVidia is rolling out that automatic best game play settings in their drivers.
    That's going to be a wonderful thing for the majority of gamers and laptop users who don't have a clue on game settings - I hope it helps increase the user base so computer games overall gain strength.

    Amd needs to follow suit quickly, to help all of us with a larger user base, instead of being stupid and lame on the driver side as usual. Of course, I'm scowling at the idea amd could possibly man up in that area.
    Reply
  • gamoniac - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Even though HD4000 is barely playable, I am still impressed by how far Intel has come along. HD4000 is right on the heel of HD6620G, which I didn't expect to happen just 1.5 years ago. Reply
  • geogerf - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Where's the Alienware laptop comparisons...? I have a M17X R3 6900M and D3 is pretty smooth (sorry didn't download FRAPs yet), but I'd like to see some official numbers.

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • erple2 - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    Just as soon as that Alienware laptop comes down in price to sub $700 prices, it'll show up on this comparo!

    Oh, it's not that much in retail? I guess that your Alienware doesn't qualify as a "mainstream" laptop, like these other ones.
    Reply
  • geogerf - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Sorry, I don't get your sarcasm.. where does it say in the article that these are only sub $700 laptops tested?

    I'd think Alienware would fit under a "Enthusiast" machine, being gamer oriented and all...
    Reply
  • Alchemist07 - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    I think the ASUS laptop is $1300 or so (was reviewed recently iirc) Reply
  • designerfx - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    higher levels get substantially more performance impacting.

    I'm using a HD 6970 at 1920x1200 with 6 gigs of ram and and an i7 920 and by hell difficulty I've encountered packs of mobs that have brought my machine to it's knees (sub 15FPS).

    Blizzard really needs to work on whatever they did poorly with for othis game.
    Reply
  • Zingam - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Shut the F up and lower that resolution! Reply

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