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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  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, June 02, 2012 - link

    Thanks for that bit of info, ignore the fanboy, and continue your observations please - as we have already been told in the last card reviews by so many users here they have 1900X1200 monitors and they are by no means rare and "all real enthusiasts" have sought them.

    So the information you have there is very valuable to all the amd fans that own their 1900X1200 here that only lost to the new nVidia flagship by 9% at that resolution instead of 14% overall loss at 1920X1080, which anand doesn't show.

    Please ignore the sniping, cursing rude person and continue the observations as that one surprised me.
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    "What that means is cutting edge technologies like DirectX 11 aren’t part of the game plan; in fact, just like StarCraft II and World of WarCraft, DirectX 10 isn’t in the picture either. Diablo III is a DirectX 9 title, and there should be plenty of GPUs that can handle the game at low to moderate detail settings."

    WoW got a major graphics upgrade for the expansion pack Cataclysm, and it is now one of the few DX11 capable MMOGs released. You're overall point is valid in that Blizzard makes games so that people with lower priced systems can play them, but a bit out-of-date when it comes to WoW.

    ;)
    Reply
  • iwod - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Anyone old enough would have remember those article about Mobile Graphics, How they sucks, how every year we were suppose to get 50 - 100% performance improvement. How Quake 3 didn't work, we could only play SimCity 2000.

    And by todays standard, Diablo 3 isn't even ground breaking in terms of Graphics. And yet, most of these laptop dont even play the game at acceptable frame rate ( 30fps ), ( And we are already excluding ANY of the ACT 3 / 4 loads in the game )

    And we even have Retina Display resolution coming. We are talking about 2 - 4x Pixel Density.

    I really do hope Haswell will provide 3x the performance of Top HD4000 numbers. This way we could push and ensure that everytime i select a discrete graphics in Notebook, i am guarantee to get at least decent graphics performance numbers.
    Reply
  • Zingam - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Ever heard about heat and battery life. Laptops are not for games! They actually do run games good when they are 5+ years older than the laptop itself. :)

    So play old games and be happy and they are mostly better than the current breed of graphic intensive crap.
    Reply
  • Zingam - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    BTW That's the reason why consoles are better than PCs for gaming. You invest once and it guarantees you (unless it is XBOX 360 and rings red of death) that you will be able to play all available games until you have it. For the price of a console you cannot even buy a good graphics card. Reply
  • iwod - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Yes, but Diablo 3 is exactly like a game 3 - 5 years older then my current laptop ( 6 months old ) with 6630M.

    We have Laptop as Desktop Replacement. But most of those dont even run the game well.

    And exactly like you said consoles are MUCH better for gaming. Which leads me to think we are getting less efficient in extracting performance out of GPU.
    Reply
  • Computex - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    I would use it for school since I can afford something like this on my own......... Reply
  • amanstay - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    i wanna play D3 with laptop, what suitable laptop and what is the requirements that i need? pls help me.. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    What's your intended resolution and what level of detail are you willing to run at? If you're okay with 1366x768 and Low Shadow Quality, you should be able to play through at least Normal and Nightmare difficulty on any Llano, Trinity, or possibly (if you're tolerant) HD 4000 laptop. If you want higher quality settings or a higher resolution, you'll want probably something with at least a GT 630M level GPU.

    Best bang for the buck right now, I'd go with the Acer AS4830TG: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results....

    It's a bit larger (and should therefor run a bit cooler/better) than the 3830TG used in the benchmarks for this article. At a price of $600, I don't see Trinity A10 surpassing it any time soon, though I do suspect the number of 4830TG units currently available is all that's left, so they might go out of stock in the next month or so.
    Reply
  • Dark_Archonis - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    First thing is first, Acers are horrible laptops.

    Secondly, many gamers now are on laptops, not by choice, but some by necessity. There are quite a few gamers that are, in fact, space-limited and simply don't have the space for a full desktop setup. I am actually one of those at the moment. I will have more space in the future, where I will then get a desktop, but I don't have enough space right now. That is why a laptop is ideal for me. Secondly, a laptop has almost everything integrated and makes it easy to be mobile; speakers, trackpad, keyboard, screen are all in one unit. You can't be lugging around a desktop everywhere. If you're going to a friend's house or visiting somewhere, a laptop allows you to game on the go.

    Lastly, laptops are all about cooling. An Acer that's throttling is not going to cut it. The Act 1 benchmarks are not realistic. In Act 3 or 4 with tons of mobs on screen, that will stress both the CPU and GPU a lot more. A properly cooled and properly designed laptop should be hitting max turbo speeds almost always, and should not be throttling at all. Properly cooled the laptop should be running at minimum on base clocks when hooked to the A/C adapter. If you're gaming on the battery, than that's a bad idea. Gaming should be done hooked up the adapter when possible.

    With an i5 or i7 hitting max turbo clocks, combined with a 540M or 630M Geforce, D3 should run smoothly at medium/high settings even in Act 3 or 4. If your laptop is throttling, then of course that's a different story. So in the end, it is possible to game pretty well on a laptop, as long as the laptop has strong cooling.
    Reply

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