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 - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    You'll note that with further investigation into the performance, it does not appear that the Acer is throttling. It simply isn't hitting max turbo during testing because the game doesn't require it. The performance of the much faster CPU in the N56VM is never more than 20% faster than the Acer, and that accounts for the GPU clock speed difference.

    As for later acts, give us a bit of time and we'll return to the benchmarks with results from late in the game. We have some other stuff that's higher priority, but we are aware of the fact that the Act I numbers are not fully representative of Diablo III performance. It will probably be a couple weeks, though.
  • tacosRcool - Monday, May 28, 2012 - link

    Pretty decent review, I wish more cards could be tested tho Reply
  • slagar - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    "... is making plenty of news, and we managed to get a copy for testing purposes."

    Nice try, Jarred ;)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    Hey, it pays to work in the industry. One of our hardware contacts managed to get me a code -- actually had to buy a box, open it up, photograph the key, and email that to me. Hahahaha... Something about the address on my Battle.net account not matching the billing address for the CC, so that was just easier than trying to figure it out. Thank goodness for that as well, as there's no way my wife (with a newborn) would be letting me buy Diablo III. Reply
  • justsomedude84 - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Well, just to give some perspective on the low end laptops, I try and play D3 on a HD3200 & 2ghz dual core AMD, and its pretty horrible most of the time. I even have it set to 800x600! and get about 10-20fps... Im looking for a better, but inexpensive upgrade. I have a q6600 & HD4870 desktop that runs the game pretty well with all setting low or off at the highest resolution and it looks great and runs ok. Im wanting to get a laptop with a 6750M... Reply
  • justsomedude84 - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    BTW, Iv managed to get to Hell act 1 all myself... lol. (mostly on my desktop, but have to do most of my gaming at work) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 1, 2012 - link

    HD 3200 is sadly very old by today's standards; it's actually not much better than Intel's Arrandale HD Graphics (original Core i3/i5 dual-core laptops). HD 3200 was fine when it came out in early 2008, but then AMD didn't release a significant update (just similarly clocked HD 4200/4250/4290) until the launch of Llano last June. That's over three years without a real improvement in IGP performance, which is pretty much an eternity for GPUs. Reply

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