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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  • digit - Thursday, March 24, 2005 - link

    did you check the motherboard specs on that computer?
    when i was looking at them to get one for my girlfreind the motherboard didnt have an agp or pci-x slot for an addon video card.
    i could be wrong though...
  • g33k - Thursday, March 24, 2005 - link

    Typo on pg 4. "Thankfully from a performance perspective, the Radeon 9800 Pro behaves very similarly to the X700 Pro (a big slower, but nothing huge)" Reply
  • ppi - Thursday, March 24, 2005 - link

    Thanks for the article, I would however have one comment.

    The test itself does not show it, but in practice the game is quite CPU dependant, especially in areas where it counts - when the game gets crowded.

    My resoning behind this is that when I'm increasing or decreasing resolution by one step, performance difference is always minimal in any realistic scenario.

    I'm not sure how to test this, though. Maybe if you could stuff a full raid (40 ppl) in some corner of the game. I'm quite sure CPU dependancy would then be MUCH more pronounced.
  • Hans Maulwurf - Thursday, March 24, 2005 - link

    "I'm all about getting a lot of bang for the buck and here's what kind of system I chose to get"
    -Well, you shouldn´t buy a Dell.

    Anand, great review. I had to build a PC for EQ2 some time ago and couldn´t find any benchmarks. This WoW benches would have helped. Thank you!

    What I don´t understand is why Blizzard offers no benchmark for WoW. It would be very usefull. I thinks your benches are like the flyby UT-bench (though it´s not your fault - anything else is impossible for you), but a botmatch-like bench would be more interisting. I guess Blizzard could build a good benmark level with ease.

    Oh, one more question. Why don´t you write anythink about the command rate (1T or 2T) you used - it´s quite important! And if I remember correctly a tRas of 10 is not optimal for NF4 boards. I think its 7 or so. Possibly there are similar problems with the P4-setup.
  • segagenesis - Thursday, March 24, 2005 - link

    I almost thought that was a downgrade until I read you plan on adding memory/video. Not too bad a deal but I almost feel compelled to ask "why?" when its not significantly different than your previous system. Im still using the same XP 2400+ for ages yet get a consistent 30+ fps just about everywhere (discounting large towns where it will drop to 15, but still... what kind of computer does good in Ironforge when there are 50 chars on screen?). No jittering at all.
  • Mizuchi - Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - link

    Great article. This was exactly what I had been wanting to know, but it came 1 day too late, as I've already ordered a system without any recommendations.

    I am on a two year old 2500+ XP Barton with 512 MB PC2700, 80GB 7200RPM 8MB Cache, Radeon 9700 Pro system. General gaming away from many players is smooth, but going through the Crossroads, Origrammar, Ironforge, and flying on a gryphon/wyvern would be terribly choppy. I would guesstimate where I would run by holding down the movement keys during lag and then wait a second for an update and continue until I did what I had to.

    It is also a pain to alt+tab out to use Thottbot, which is why I so rarely use it... (I end up being the one of the newbs to beg in /1 (general chat) for hints).

    Along with the new system I've bought, I ordered extra RAM (2x512 Cosair Value Select $93 shipped from in order to multi-task better. And plan on looking up a good priced 6600 GT card.

    I'm all about getting a lot of bang for the buck and here's what kind of system I chose to get:

    Dimension 4700
    Pentium® 4 Processor 530 with HT Technology (3.00GHz, 800 FSB), Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition Qty: 1
    Unit Price: $739.00
    Processor Pentium® 4 Processor 530 with HT Technology (3.00GHz, 800 FSB)

    Memory 256MB DDR2 SDRAM at 400MHz (1x256M)

    Keyboard Dell Quietkey® Keyboard

    Monitor FREE! 17 inch Ultrasharp™ 1704FPT Digital Flat Panel

    Video Cards Integrated Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 900

    Internal Hard Drives 80GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)

    Floppy Drive and Memory Keys No Floppy Drive Included

    Operating System Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition

    Mouse Dell 2-button scroll mouse

    Network Interface Integrated Intel® PRO 10/100 Ethernet

    Modem No Modem Requested

    Document Management Adobe® Acrobat® Reader 6.0

    CD or DVD Drives -- Read, Write and Store Data Single Drive: 48x CD-RW Drive 48CDRW

    Sound Card Integrated 5.1 Channel Audio

    Speakers No Speaker Option

    Productivity Software Pre-Installed WordPerfect®, Powerful Word Processing

    Security Software Pre-Installed No Security Subscription

    Digital Music Dell Jukebox - easy-to-use music player and CD burning software

    Digital Photography Paint Shop™ Pro® Trial plus Photo Album™ Starter Edition

    Limited Warranty, Services and Support Options 1 Year On-site Basic Plan

    Onsite System Setup No Onsite System Setup

    Internet Access Services No ISP requested

    Mail- In Rebate $150 Mail In Rebate

    Miscellaneous Dimension 4700

    Financial Software QuickBooks® Simple Start Special Edition (limited to 50 contacts)

    Purchase Intent Purchase is not intended for resale.

    Save $50 on select Dimension™ 4700 desktops through Dell Small Business.
    Expires on 2005-03-24 06:30:00 - $50.00

    Belkin SurgeMaster 7-Outlet Qty: 1
    Unit Price: $17.00

    You save 50% on Belkin surge protectors from Dell Small Business!
    Expires on 2005-03-24 23:59:59 - $8.50

    Free 720 Color Printer (Value $49.00)
    Free Dell Color Printer 720 Qty: 1
    Unit Price: $0.00
    Dell Color Printer 720 Free Dell Color Printer 720

    Hardware Support Services 1Yr Ltd. Warranty- Advance Exchange


    Small Business customers receive FREE 3-5 day Shipping on select all Software and Peripheral items priced $50 or higher!
    Expires on 2007-12-31 06:30:00 - $5.50

    Sub-Total $697.50
    Shipping Discount -$5.50

    Shipping $0.00

    Estimated Tax $41.85
    Total $739.35

    Dell just had a good deal going, considering the $150 MIR ($600 cost). It's like getting the monitor for $300, processor $200, HD $50, Mobo $50 and everything else free (Windows XP Home, Printer, Memory, CD-RW drive, KB/M, software, and Dell's support).
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - link

    Just a quick FYI: Level of Detail (LOD) has nothing to do with the textures. LOD is a ploygon scaling algorithm, so as you get closer to an object more polygons will be added to make it look more realistic. Done properly, it should be hard to spot. Unfortunately, doing LOD properly is very difficult.

    With the high-end GPUs, polygon performance generally isn't enough of a problem to make enabling LOD necessary. Lower end CPUs and GPUs can benefit, of course. In the past, I've seen LOD have less than a 10% performance impact, so I'm happier leaving it enabled in most games. (Not that most games actually expose LOD as a tweakable setting....)
  • ViRGE - Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - link

    I wholeheartedly agree with the Mac statements after playing it on a Mac myself. I have a 12" PowerBook Rev. A(867mhz G4, GF4 MX420, 640MB RAM, etc), and the performance I get out of WoW while on the road is abysmal(single digit frame rates when more than a handful of characters are on the screen). Just for comparison's sake, I loaded up WoW on a somewhat similar PC(AXP 2100+, GF2MX original, 768MB DDR, etc), and there's simply no comparison between the two; just eyeballing the FPS has the PC at well over 2x the performance. I even managed to isolate the CPUs in all of this, with the PowerBook almost never hitting 100% CPU utilization in this test(it hovered around 80% or so), meaning the PowerBook should have the edge over the PC, but as I stated before it was losing badly.

    I have a feeling a lot of this has to do with the fact that the Mac version is using an OpenGL renderer while the PC is using DirectX, but still 50% is insane. It beats not having WoW at all, but there's still some sort of large bottleneck in there, and I'm fairly sure it's all related to the graphics subsystems.
  • civilgeek - Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - link

    I too would like to see a review like this for Everquest II. I don't play WOW and have not seen its graphics first hand but from the looks of the cards\resolutions that are being used in this review... Everquest is putting a lot more stress on the cards. I know that every video card I have seen thus far will crawl to a halt with the graphics turned up to Extreme Quality at 1280x1024. It would be very interesting to see where the bottle necks are and what card would do the best in this scenario. Reply
  • gotsmack - Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - link

    When measuring fps, could you also show the most common lowest fps achieved?

    I want to see what the lowest will be, if I upgrade my hardware.

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