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


View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 01, 2012 - link

    Anand commented to me the other day that "Windows HD 4000 results are faster than MBP15 with dGPU results", if that's anything to go by. Reply
  • Patflute - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    ... Reply
  • DanNeely - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Some people are severely space limited; others are casual gamers and don't play enough to justify having two computers. As a very mass market game; DIII will be selling a huge number of copies to people in the latter group. Reply
  • kyuu - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Many people have both laptops and desktops, and regardless of the desktop obviously being superior for gaming, they'd still like to be able to game a bit on their laptop when they're out and about and don't have access to their desktop.

    Then, there are people who don't have the space for a desktop, or simply prefer the freedom of being able to move around their home but would still like to play games.

    The question is, why do other people's usage models bother you so much? You don't care about the gaming ability of laptops. Fine. Don't pay attention to articles about it. Meanwhile, there are plenty of others, such as myself, who are highly interested.
  • frozentundra123456 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I am confused about the GT540M vs the GT630M. Isnt the GT630m just a re-badged GT540m with higher clocks? Or is it the new G-force architecture? I believe only the 640M and above have the new architecture. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    The GT 630M is technically a straight up rebadge of GT 540M. However, the GT 630M in the ASUS N56VM that we have shows clocks that are quite a bit lower than other GT 540M GPUs. Strangely, those lowered clocks don't appear to matter much in Diablo III, so either NVIDIA's control panel (and GPU-Z) are reporting incorrect information, or the shader cores aren't as demanding as you might expect. Reply
  • frozentundra123456 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    You did say the acer was running hot. Maybe the cpu/gpu was throttling due to temps. Or maybe the quad core in the Acer made a difference (not likely?). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Correct. The Acer is definitely not hitting Turbo speeds, let along the base 2.3GHz clock. So the combination of faster CPU + slower GPU works out in favor of the N56VM in this instance. I really wish I had a good way to test the N56VM with the fully clocked GT 540M, though. Reply
  • Arcquist - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Google 'ThrottleStop'. Many of the Acer Aspire users that experience throttling problems in games use it to prevent the under-clocking. Note it will get hot though and you might want to raise the back of the laptop off the desk with a binder or something to improve airflow (intake). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, May 27, 2012 - link

    Funny enough, I actually reran tests with ThrottleStop already and it just didn't seem to help. I'm not sure what's going on, but even with TS enabled and set to a 20x (or 21, 22, 23, Turbo) multiplier, the system still seems to just plug along at the 800-1500MHz range during testing. I've done everything I know of to make it run faster, and it just doesn't seem to matter. But this particular laptop has always been a bit quirky; I might try looking for a new BIOS again just to see if anything has changed, but I doubt it. Reply

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