World of Warcraft Video Options

There is a surprising number of options for adjusting image quality in World of Warcraft:

There are a handful of "shader effects" that will run on both DX8 and DX9 hardware (and are basically indiscernible between the two classes of hardware), most of which provide minor changes in image quality.  There is one exception, the Full-Screen Glow Effect shader, which we found to be a bit over the top.  This shader, in particular, makes WoW look a lot like a Playstation 2 game as you can see from the screenshots below.

Mouse over the image below to see Full-Screen Glow enabled.

We opted not to test with the Full-Screen Glow Effect enabled. 

Graphics performance in WoW is primarily limited by three settings: Resolution, Terrain Distance and Anisotropic Filtering.  Not too surprising is the fact that these three settings are also responsible for the greatest impacts on overall image quality. 

Any gamer is familiar with how resolution impacts image quality, so we won't go into much discussion there.  Terrain distance can have a pretty big impact. Here, we have three different settings for terrain distance: the slider at the lowest setting, the 50% setting and the highest setting:

Lowest Terrain Distance

50% Terrain Distance

Maximum Terrain Distance

The difference between the 50% and highest settings are much less pronounced; thus, if you're unhappy with performance, this is one sacrifice that you can make that's pretty reasonable. 

By now, you should be familiar with what anisotropic filtering does (if not, take a look at any major GPU launch and our review of it for a quick primer) and its usefulness in WoW is extremely well pronounced in areas where there's water.

Mouse over the image below to see the Anisotropic Filtering slider set to its maximum value.

The newer cards take a much lower performance hit from maxing out the anisotropic filtering slider and they end up looking better too. 

We wanted to be able to directly compare all GPUs, so we maxed out all of the sliders and options (with the exception of the Glow effect and V-Sync).  The screenshot above of the Video Options screen is actually the settings that we used for benchmark (varying only resolution). 

Index ATI vs. NVIDIA Image Quality


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  • Conspiracy - Thursday, March 31, 2005 - link

    I'm running an Intel 2.8GHz 800FSB overclocked to 3.4 and 1GB of memory. I also have a Geforce 6800GT Ultra. Nice setup and can play any game at max rez w/o issues. Even WOW is quite nice. However I did have a lot of issues with disk swapping, mainly in big cities like Orgrimar. I fixed it by setting up a Raid 0 config. I rarely, if ever, get any disk swapping issues. This is a pretty huge key factor with performance IMO. Reply
  • drdavis - Thursday, March 31, 2005 - link

    It was great to see the comparison to the Mac as I am a Mac user playing WoW (PowerMac G5 dual 2Ghz with ATI 9800 Pro) as well. I agree with the assessment that the bottleneck is most likely the OpenGL driver. I am curious, it would be nice if a comparison could be made to the PowerMac running an Nvidia 6800 instead of the ATI card. I have been told that ATI never was one for screaming OpenGL performance and Nvidia usually did a better job with OpenGL drivers.
  • eastvillager - Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - link

    The only WoW performance issues I have are on Blizzards side of the connection, lol. Reply
  • eastvillager - Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - link

  • Pinnacle - Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - link

    While I commend the intention of doing a performance review on game that are not first person shooters, I think you have missed the point. Yes your enjoyment of warcraft is going to depend on your hardware, but GPU probably has a secondary role to CPU, memory, internet connection speed, LAN speed and probably a host of other items.
    What I would like to know is something concrete about how much data is moved about while playing the game, and what you guys think the WoW servers should/could be running on to implement the game. Sorry if I sound too critical - I think The Anand Team does a great job!
  • Brunnis - Saturday, March 26, 2005 - link

    Hey, Anand, did you ever get around to checking that AthlonXP 3200+ system of yours? Every test that you do with that system shows it being EXTREMELY slow. I've never seen an AthlonXP 3200+ doing this bad on any other site... Some results that you've published with that system have even been proven wrong. Most notably the 263kB/s WinRAR result (normal is 380-400kB/s).

    Just as the results from some of your previous reviews, this one shows the AthlonXP to be clock-to-clock as fast as a Prescott CPU. This is just as rediculous now as it was in your old tests.

    Are you really SURE that everything is okay with that AthlonXP system? I'm still not convinced.
  • jiulemoigt - Saturday, March 26, 2005 - link

    Ok I'm confused there is a built in frame counter in wow so benchies should be cake. Oh and approacing the action house isn't video cards probs it's lag from too many people. The numbers are not right I have a AMD64 3200+ that gets more frames than the graph when set back down to the right clock speed, and the FX-55 when paired with a 6800gt is signifactly faster than the graph what did you use to get the frames per sec? Reply
  • Mizuchi - Friday, March 25, 2005 - link

    Wouldn't more memory help with disk swapping? Reply
  • mdk30 - Friday, March 25, 2005 - link

    "We found a maximum of 3% variation between runs as long as there was no disk swapping that occurred during the benchmark (more on that later)."

    Did I miss the follow-up to this comment about disk swapping? I just went back through the article again and still can't find anything. I've had annoying stuttering problems with WoW when my drive is working hard, so I was just wondering if there was anything that I could do to minimize that effect.
  • Mizuchi - Friday, March 25, 2005 - link

    Holy crap. I ran the game with default settings, like use high quality textures and shaders and the game looks sooo much better. Guess that's the difference with a DX9 card. I will play on my laptop now, I think. :)

    Cancelling that order on the Dell. Keeping the RAM. I'm going to find a video card deal and get in... so much more enjoyable with better visuals. Choppy frames is still a problem, but I might get over it.

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