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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  • mepenete - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Thank you so much for this article. I'm looking to buy a new sub $500 laptop and was looking at the AMD A8 processors... and then the A10's got announced.

    Regardless, I was curious of how they would stack up. Really helpful seeing how midrange equipment stacks. Looks like I'm gonna pick up an A10 laptop.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Hopefully prices come down a bit; right now the only A10-4600M laptops I can find are going for over $700. They're decent chips overall, but I'm not convinced they're better than a dual-core Sandy Bridge with GT 540M. The Acer I used is clearly not the best representative of that market, as the 13.3" chassis is quite thin and just can't cool the CPU+GPU well enough to avoid throttling; pretty much any 15.6" chassis should do better.
  • frozentundra123456 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    It seemed to me that the Llano laptops were marketed the same way. The A8 seemed to always be considerably more expensive than the A6 model, when the chips could not be that much different in cost. However, the A8 was usually better equipped with more ram.
  • JKnows - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    Pretty cool from A10-4600M to providing the same performance as Sandy Bridge with GT 540M for half energy consumption. Is it two weeks after Trinity's launch? Too bad still not possible to find these laptops.
  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, June 2, 2012 - link

    Right and the price is not going to be nice, so later in here a GT540 optimus laptop is recommended with a link by the author. $599 MC, $679 egg.

    So long gone is the hope the A10 comes in a cheap $350 or $400 walmart special like the (low end) brazos.

    If amd is going to charge high prices for their cheapo chip, the rest of the laptop had better be awesome not some plastic creaking crud - and the screen had better be good.

    I think what we'll see instead is junky cheap builds that cost a lot.
  • QuantumPion - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    I got the Acer laptop with the core i5 and GT540M at newegg for $499 last year. That or a similar model would probably be a better bet.
  • CeriseCogburn - Saturday, June 2, 2012 - link

    Well that was a find, still hard to get at that price.
  • narlzac85 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    For people planning to play into Hell or Inferno difficulties. Be aware that elite monster packs will have 3 magical abilities on Hell and 4 on Inferno. You could also run into two or more packs of monsters at once, so you could be looking at 6, 8 or more magical effects. Also, some of the monster abilities cause them to replicate. I've definitely seen 30 or more monsters at once with the entire screen covered with fire, poison and lightning.

    I don't play on a laptop or use an IGP, but I assume this could have negative impact on performance. Normal mode and even Nightmare mode would probably not be too bad though.
  • cjb110 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I guess this is where the Low FX setting will be most useful then.

    Certainly a play through on normal doesn't seem to really get worse near the end...on average the mob size is slightly bigger, but that's about it.

    Co-op would be another interesting test, that's probably the most demanding that the graphics would get.
  • Herald85 - Saturday, May 26, 2012 - link

    I'm in Nightmare Act 4 and in the Keep (Tristram equivalent, the homebase) I get over 100fps. Taking on average mobs outside the Arreat Gate drops fps to 80. And that's on a 6950 , 1900x1200 everything maxed.

    On my laptop with a 8600m GT I could play fine in Normal until I got to Act4. I can still play but it's annoyingly choppy when there are lots of mobs. The 8600m GT is mentioned as supported 'Low' on the Bliz site.

    I would LOVE to see a review done on Hell.

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