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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  • biegstvo - Tuesday, July 8, 2008 - link

    CPU seems to make a difference. I only have a 1.8 Ghz, and it's slow, but I'm not sure how much that has to do with the fact that it's a Celeron, with it's cut down cache, etc. If I got a 1.8Ghz P4, or even 2.* Ghz, would that help a lot?
    (I realize socket 478 is old, but I still have [cheap] room ahead of me even in this outdated format.)
  • edeus - Monday, October 31, 2005 - link

    It would be good to know if there was raid on this test machine - as CPU tests may have been skewed because of it. Reply
  • shady28 - Saturday, January 7, 2006 - link

    This article should be updated in some way. With the advent of battlegrounds, the biggest performance hits come in battlegrounds where there are 30-40 vs 30-40 other players. The front lines can easily have 60 people PvPing, plus a dozen or more NPCs thrashing around.

    I can say unequivocably that a Radeon 9600Pro is incapable of dealing effectively with this. I seriously doubt anything below a 9800XT can give you even moderately good framerates in those circumstances. I'd also like to see something showing any differences in 512MB cards vs 256MB vs 128MB in games like WoW and EQ2, since those games have tons of textures and constantly have to reload new textures as you move around in-game (both for the landscape, and textures on other players representing their armor and weapons as they come into visual range).
  • xinc - Friday, May 6, 2005 - link

    To poster 50.
    Yes, when ram comes into question, it would be more beneficial, to have at least 1gb of ram to avoid lag issues.

    Graphical quality wise, my laptop sucks for detail, and frame rates are mediocre at best (I use default settings for details etc), however with 1gb of ram, I am lag free when passing by the auction houses in Orgrimmar, and Iron Forge.

    Thanks to Anand & Co. for performing these tests... at least it gives us as the general public an idea of how to spec a "WOW gamebox"

    Now my question to anyone reading these comments, and who would know more about performance... would you choose either a Geforce 6600GT or a Geforce 6800? (not GT just 6800)
    it's about a $80 premium for the 6800 where I live in Canada. Thanks for any help.
  • Solanio - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    I'm running it on a Mac with all settings set to max, highest refresh and all shaders on and I'm noticing hardly any lag*. But I haven't been able to compare it to a PC yet.

    People even complain about lag in open channel when I'm not suffering any. - But again, what seems 'normal' to me might seem slow to others. I'll know better when I'm able to compare.

    I have a G5 dual 2GHz with 2 G RAM and the 6800 Ultra DLL NVIDIA card connecting via DSL.

    I do have to say though that visually the game is beautiful and I'm really enjoying it.

    *(The only time I notice lag is when I log on at peak times, there's sometimes an initial second of jump and then now and then rarely when entering an area like Goldshire, when there are a bunch of characters and I've been off somewhere else, like Westfall - but that is rare and it only happens for a moment and then everything is smooth).
  • bluebob950 - Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - link

    what model 6600gt did you use in your test? Reply
  • Anemone - Monday, April 11, 2005 - link

    2gb for the more intense raids helps noticeably on the Intel side of things.

  • matbe - Tuesday, April 5, 2005 - link

    Great article! It's hard to test mmorpg performance but you succeeded. Must be a first, at least with such reliable tests! Again Anandtech impresses me. Would love to see a test of the more graphics intensive EverQuest2 too! Reply
  • DPOverLord - Monday, April 4, 2005 - link

    Ram wise does this mean if we plan on building a computer it makes more sense to buy the ram now then later? Reply
  • drdavis - Friday, April 1, 2005 - link

    OK, followup to the Mac post. I was looking through the Mac support forum on the WoW community site. The FPS rate drop is a known issue that was introduced and a fix is in the works. So, hopefully Blizzard will have it soon!


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