Articles: Graphics

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Instantaneous Performance and Image Quality

One of many appeals of an MMORPG title is that it usually treats even the most basic hardware with respect. In order to appeal to as many potential customers as possible and not to scare them away with outrageous gaming rig specifications, companies try to make their gaming engines as simple as possible. This gets even more complicated since the average life expectancy of an MMORPG application is two, three or even four times longer than that of an average FPS title, for example.

Given the fact that World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is based on a somewhat outdated game engine written back in early 2000s, we did not expect it to present such a challenge as it did in the tests above. Yes, it might be representative only of the RPG genre, but you hardly expect such low fps rate on the cutting edge graphics cards of 2010s from a game launched in 2004. Luckily game engine programmers implemented very diverse graphics setup menu which offers a lot of fine-tune options: 

Now let’s check how well the game scales in terms of graphics settings and how different quality profiles may affect the frame rate and image quality. We will take a few screenshots using two popular cards: an AMD Radeon HD 6950 and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti. While both of them are quite affordable, they deliver high performance in most of today’s games and are, in fact, the most desirable purchase these days.

Besides the traditional picture quality comparison and investigation of preset profile effects, we are also going to check how gaming performance depends on the CPU clock frequency as we compare similar test runs on systems built around Intel Core i7-920 and Core i7-975 Extreme Edition processors.

The test sequence includes an outdoor scene, a run through forest and sea shore, as well as a short fight with a few boards using magic spells. It should cover most situations the gamer may experience during the actual gameplay. Just like before, we measure the frame rate using Fraps version 3.4.2. We also use this utility to capture screenshots for image quality comparisons.


Although I am personally not a really big fan of the game, I must conclude that Blizzard truly managed to create one of the nicest-looking virtual reality worlds you will ever see. The operating frequency of your central processor unit makes no significant difference in Ultra quality mode with enabled FSAA 4x. Apart from some minor differences both graphics cards perform exactly the same despite the frequency differences.


Trade off full-scene antialiasing and in return you are getting a healthy 25% performance increase. Changing your CPU will also makes more sense in this mode, as extra 600+ MHz in our case resulted in a 10% higher average fps numbers. Surely you can live without FSAA when possible raid party wipe is at stake.


In the High preset quality mode you do not necessarily turn everything off. In fact, you slightly lower the quality settings. In the end you will enjoy 150+ frame rates, so you will hardly be able to pin the blame for every loss or death on your underperforming gaming rig. If only server ping and bandwidth latency were just as simple to change! Different CPU models will make a difference in this preset, but overall you are going to gain mere 5% of performance.

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