WoW Performance Guide For Macs - Legion

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The World of Warcraft Performance Guide For Macs - Legion - Updated 07/20/2016

Introduction

The Burning Legion has once again launched an invasion campaign upon Azeroth, and it’s up to us to save the world!… Again. How many times have we done this? I’ve lost track. Nevertheless, the burden falls on us and we must do our part to protect those weaker than ourselves. And to do that, we need to make sure that our tools and equipment are up to the task.

I started this guide way back in 2006 back when the Burning Crusade first threatened Azeroth. For over 10 years I’ve maintained it and tried to keep it relevant to both the players and ever changing state of the game, and I hope I’ve served all of you well. With the new expansion comes a new revision of the guide, and I hope you find it more useful than ever.

Current Conditions of an Evolving Game

I’ll level with you, things are not great right now for Mac users hoping to play World of Warcraft. Legion is a much larger step up in graphic fidelity than we’ve seen in past jumps from expansion to expansion, and that combined with the fact that Apple hasn’t updated either of it’s desktop or laptop lines with strong hardware offerings much at all in the last couple years (thanks to manufacturing delays on the parts of hardware vendors like Intel, AMD, and nVidia across the board) means that we’re in for a bit of a rough ride.

I typically like to set 60fps as the standard for playable gameplay. But Apple loves to pair very high resolution “4k and 5k Retina” screens with integrated and mobile graphics chipsets, and AMD’s offerings, which is what Apple’s been sticking with lately, are particularly weak compared to nVidia’s current offerings. Long story short, Apple simply isn’t giving us the hardware needed to play games at the screen’s native resolution. If you’re dead set on playing WoW on your Mac, it won’t be at max settings, period.

At this time, I genuinely cannot recommend any Mac model that will play the game respectably at max settings and at native resolutions.

As a long time Mac user myself, it pains me to have to concede that point. But Apple has finally forced my hand. To play the game at 60fps at 4k or 5k, you need a graphics card close to an nVidia GTX 1070, and Apple’s graphics offerings aren’t anywhere near that. Thus, to play WoW at a reasonable frame rate, we must lower the in-game resolution to something closer to 1920x1080 or 2560x1440. At these resolutions, 60fps gaming is much more attainable.

On a brighter note though, Legion brings with it the first major change in graphical rendering that we’ve seen since the game’s launch. I’ll try to spare you from as much technical jargon as I can, but OpenGL is the graphics rendering API that all games on Mac OS X have used since the beginning. But Apple introduced a brand new API called “Metal” a few years ago, and WoW’s Legion expansion marks one of, if not the first, major games to adopt it. OpenGL is out, Metal is in.

In short, Metal takes away a lot of the cruft and middleware between the game and the computer hardware itself. The game has much more direct access to your hardware, and theoretically should perform much better on existing hardware than it would have on OpenGL. In practice, we’re seeing only minor gains, but that should improve as more game developers get used to using Metal. Behind the scenes, the major paradigm shift is the transfer of the burden from the graphics drivers developers to game developers. With Metal, it’ll be up to the game developers to squeeze performance out of their games. Going forward, we won’t be as reliant on updated graphics drivers to provide that function anymore.

For those of you on Macs too old to support Metal, Blizzard is still offering OpenGL 3.2 as a setting in Legion, but preliminary tests on the PTR are showing it to be progressively slower than in the past due to Legion’s new graphics and Apple’s continuing neglect of supporting OpenGL.

Current End Game 25-Man Raid Minimum System Requirements:

Mac OS X 10.11.5
3.2 GHz Intel Core i5 or higher
16GB of System Memory
AMD Radeon 370X or Intel Iris Pro 6200 or better

Expect an average of 30fps on similar machines at minimum settings.

Note that this is the estimated minimum requirements for a 25-man raid in Legion, and not the minimum requirements listed on the box, which was balanced around solo-play. Raids have noticeably higher requirements than questing around the Barrens by yourself.

Limiting the in-game frame rate to 30 or 60fps will help keep your Mac cool and prevent overheating. The MacBooks and Macbook Pros especially tend to run a little bit hot being in that nice tiny form factor. To limit the frame rate, type in the following into the standard WoW chat box while playing the game.

/console maxfps 60

"60" being the value of whatever number you want to cap it at.

My Expectations

From this point on, this guide will assume the following:

1. You have at LEAST 8GB of RAM in your computer, 16GB is preferred.

2. You have all of the latest updates for your version of OS X.

3. Your hardware meets the system requirements to run World of Warcraft: Legion.

4. You haven’t turned into The Incredible Hulk and smashed your computer to smithereens.

The Settings

A Precursory Note

As mentioned above, Legion represents the largest graphical leap from one expansion to the next that WoW has ever received. There are now three whole settings above what we knew as “Ultra” in WoD, and the draw distance, one of the heaviest single settings for performance, is now 3 times what it was. On the overall “Graphics Quality” meter on the main graphics options menu, “7” was Ultra in WoD. So if you want to keep the same performance going forward into Legion, set it to 7. Not 10.

Also of note in what is probably the best news in this whole guide, users with Macs new enough to run the Metal API finally have MSAA back! YAY!

The Settings: Explained

World of Warcraft: Legion brought a lot of changes to the UI and graphics options in the game, so let's go over them... One at a time.

Graphics > Display

Display Mode:

This lets you choose between running the game within a window on the desktop, or to run the game at fullscreen. Windowed (Fullscreen) lets some of OS X's systemwide functions, like Mission Control's Expose features or keyboard shortcuts to remain active without WoW's keybindings superseding them. Though there’s been a longstanding bug with Windowed (Fullscreen) that can seriously affect performance on most Macs.

Setting it to true "Fullscreen" may drastically increase performance, depending on the bug.

Resolution:

Resolution has one of the highest impacts on game performance. Lowering the resolution will drastically improve the performance of the game's frame rate and lessen the load on your GPU, but it will look noticeably more pixelated, blocky, and blurry.

However, one of our resident MVP's on the Mac Forums, Tiapriestess, has provided Retina Mac users a way to scale the game down to resolutions the Mac's GPU can more easily handle without the UI HUD icons scaling with it:

http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/8873728013

The resolution setting lets you lower the game's resolution to a fraction of your screen's native resolution, which is usually the highest shown option. Note that recent version of WoW have limited the list of options to mirror the actual aspect ratio of your display. So if you have a 1980x1080p screen which has an aspect ratio of 16:9, all of the optional resolutions will be of the same aspect ratio. You can use Tia's advice in the above link to bypass this restriction.

Refresh Rate:

Sets the game to match your display's refresh rate, the rate at which the computer's monitor can refresh the images on the display. In most cases, at least on Macs, this will be locked at 60Hz. Note that for most intents and purposes, 60Hz can directly be interpreted as 60fps, so unless you make a point to go out and buy an external monitor capable of 120Hz+, you're literally wasting power if the game's running at higher than 60fps. As the screen itself can't display anything higher than its max refresh rate. So if you're getting 80fps in your game on a 60Hz monitor, you're not seeing that extra 20fps. The screen is incapable of displaying it fast enough, regardless of how fast the rest of your computer is.

Monitor:

Let's you select which monitor WoW is defaulted to display on, in the event that you have multiple monitors set up.

Anti-Aliasing:

As the in-game tool-tip says, it is a graphics filter used to smooth out jagged edges. In general, the severity of visible jagged edges changes drastically depending on the game and the graphics engine used to display it.

The different types of AA listed are shown in order from the least taxing/worst quality to the most taxing/best quality, from top to bottom. Describing each type of AA goes beyond the scope of this guide, but suffice it to say, MSAA is generally the best compromise between quality and performance.

FXAA is a sort of lens filter that overlays the entire screen after the game has already been rendered, and acts as a post-render effect, blurring everything including the UI elements like action bars. MSAA is added during the rendering of each frame, and only smooths out the edges of textures. SSAA is an extremely taxing method of AA that renders the AA at a much higher resolution, then downscales it to match your game’s current resolution. It’s by far the best type of AA, but it kills most graphics cards. For more info on the types of AA, go here:

http://pcgamingwiki.com/wiki/Glossary:Anti-aliasing_(AA)

Moderate to High performance impact. Use MSAA for best balance.

Vertical Sync:

Vertical Sync aims to reduce the amount of "screen tearing" that occurs when the game's frame rate drops out of sync with the monitor's refresh rate. The result is a more fluid image at all times. The trade off is that it does this by limiting the game's frame rate to a multiple fraction of the screen's refresh rate. So if you have a 60Hz monitor, and the game's running at 60fps, but drops below 60fps for whatever reason, V-Sync will instantly drop the game's frame rate down to 30fps to avoid screen tearing, as opposed to 59fps. This can sometimes throw players off if they're not expecting the sudden drop and jitteriness in motion animation.

Use whatever your eyes are most comfortable looking at.

Graphics > Textures

Texture Resolution:

Changes the sharpness of the in-game textures like flooring, player armor, NPC skins, etc etc. Setting this higher doesn't require much more raw processing power from your GPU, but it does require more video memory, or VRAM. So if two video cards had 256MB of VRAM, and another had 4GB of VRAM, but the video cards were otherwise completely identical, the 4GB card would be able to load much higher resolution textures with zero performance loss because it can simply hold more in it’s memory. Think of VRAM as your video card’’s stamina. Trying to load textures on a card that doesn't have the VRAM for it will force the card to keep switching out textures in order to display them, and will generally cause the game to stutter as you move and pan the camera as it tries to load the textures it needs.

Performance based directly on the amount of video memory your video card has.

Texture Filtering:

A filter used to enhance the sharpness of textures, as opposed to just the edges. Lowering this will increase performance, but very few modern GPUs have trouble with 16x TF anymore.

Minimal performance impact.

Projected Textures:

This enables the projection of certain textures, like spell effects, onto the game's terrain and other object surfaces. Turning this off can drastically improve performance, especially on mobile GPUs where pipeline bandwidth (The GPU's ability to process multiple instructions to and from the CPU at once) is limited.

Moderate to high performance impact.

Graphics > Environment

View Distance:

Increases and decreases the point at which distant objects change from being flat decals to rendered, textured objects. This has a profound impact on game performance, especially in newer zones from more recent expansions, where the game's textures are much higher resolution than older zones. This uses both raw GPU power and VRAM. The higher the setting, the more the GPU has to render at once.

High to extreme performance impact.

Environmental Detail:

Essentially View Distance for grass. Changes the distance at which grass and other minor ground objects, like pebbles, are rendered. AMD video cards are less affected by this setting than nVidia cards are. nVidia cards have a harder time with it.

Minimal to Moderate performance impact, depending on video card.

Ground Clutter:

Changes the density of ground clutter, like grass and pebbles. The higher the setting, the denser the grass. Like Environmental Detail, nVidia cards have a harder time with it than AMD cards.

Mild to Moderate performance impact.

Graphics > Effects

Note: Some of the following effects may be disabled completely on some lower end graphics hardware.

Shadow Quality:

Changes the amount of shadows rendered in the game, as well as how many layers of shadows are allowed to stack on one another. This can have a dramatic affect on performance. And in fact, Shadows has been bugged in WoW for years. High and Ultra shadows are a LOT more demanding than they should be. I personally recommend keeping Shadows to "good" on all but the highest end systems.

High performance impact.

Liquid Detail:

Changes the water effects in the game. Low uses the old water maps from Classic WoW, while Fair and higher use the new liquid maps from Cataclysm onwards. Again, High and Ultra have a pretty large impact on game performance, especially on lower end cards. I'd keep this on "Good" unless you have a higher end Mac.

Moderate to High performance impact.

Sunshafts:

Changes the sun's ability to shine down on objects. Again, this setting is currently bugged, and requires a lot more power to run than it really should. Keep this on "Good" or lower.

Moderate to High performance impact.

Particle Density:

Changes the density of spells and effects. For example, on Low, a Mage's Blizzard spell might drop 20 icicles. But on Ultra, the same spell will drop 100. This setting has the most impact in raids where lots of players are casting many spells at once. If you're in a raid and suddenly need to lower your settings, this is a good one to start with.

Moderate to High performance impact, depending on situation.

SSAO:

SSAO, or Screen-Space Ambient Occlusion is an algorithm that approximates ambient lighting. Most noticeable indoors. Higher settings add more ambient lights, and render existing ones more accurately. As with Sunshafts, SSAO is somewhat bugged, and requires more power than it should.

Moderate to High performance impact.

Depth Effects

Controls the depth of certain particle effects

Moderate performance impact.

Lighting Quality

Changes how accurate lighting effects are rendered, and the quality of the effect.

Moderate performance impact.

Outline Mode

Adds colored outlines around NPCs and players alike based on faction reputation.

Moderate performance impact.

Advanced

The advanced tab in the system setting menu has one setting that absolutely needs to be addressed.

Render Scale

Also known as DSR or super sampling, render scaling is basically the “internal resolution” of the game. Setting this to 200% will literally render the game at 200% of the game’s current resolution, and then downscale it to match. Gamers with extremely high end gaming rigs like to crank this up as a form of AA to help smooth out textures and generally make the game look better, but this has by far the single biggest impact on the performance of the game. If you’re on a 4k iMac and set this to 200%, you’re essentially running the game at 8k resolution. So unless you’ve somehow modified your mac to have industrial grade GPUs, leave this at 100%. You can even decrease below 100% it if you want a little more performance out of the game at the cost of graphical fidelity.

Extreme performance impact.

Epilogue

Well there we have it folks. The complete updated guide for World of Warcraft: Legion. I hope you all had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. See you in the invasion!

3-B. Past Changes

- 07/20/16: Major rewrite for Legion.
- 10/23/14: Total revamp for WoD in light of new Retina Macs.
- 10/17/13: Changed the format of the guide completely.
- 03/21/12: Added Late 2011 Mac Models, updated to represent 64-bit performance.
- 04/22/11: Added Late 2010 Macbook Air, notes on integrated graphics.
- 12/14/10: Updated for Cataclysm, lowering some settings to accommodate slow performance.
- 10/14/10: Revamped settings for new graphics interface. Removed older Mac Models.
- 04/28/10: Added newest Mac models, revamped settings to uniform 60fps across all models.
- 02/12/10: Revised, condensed, and corrected small typos.
- 12/01/09: Added Snow Leopard and newest Mac models. Removed PowerPC Macs.
- 04/21/09: Updated settings to match the new scheme in patch 3.1.
- 03/13/09: Added early 2009 Mac models.
- 11/20/08: Updated new information after Wrath of The Lich King launched.
- 10/08/08: Complete & utter overhaul in preparation for WoTLK.
- 03/30/08: Updated findings for patch 2.4.
- 02/13/08: Added details concerning the OS X 10.5.2 Leopard Graphics Update.
- 02/07/08: Included PowerPC G4, G5, and newest Core 2 models.
Just adding the existing performance guide to the new forums. Hope people find it useful.
Stickied. Again. ;)
Ooo! Thank you!
I strongly suggest you add Mac Pros to this list including the standard video cards and the upgraded cards if at all possible. (I game on an '09 Mac Pro myself).
As I mentioned in the old forums, I didn’t add them originally because at the time I made the first iteration of this guide, the “Video Card Upgrade” sticky already had the Mac Pros covered. However that thread soon fell to neglect and disrepair. So I was going to add the Mac Pros to this thread a revision or two ago.

But my working situation changed, and I don’t have access to any Mac Pros anymore. I can only add the models I can personally test. The moment I get my hands on multiple Mac Pros to test the variances between them, I’ll do so.
I'm assuming this guide is for when 10.6.5 is actually released, seeing as unless I've been under my rock for too long, it's still in pre-release starus (latest dev seed came in about 10 hours ago).
Can you put the Model Identifiers back in please it's easier to find your Model.
I appreciate your efforts. I too will be looking forward to the Mac Pro updates. Just bought a 2.8 Quad core with the upgraded HD 5870 card. Only 6GB RAM atm, not sure if anymore would help.
Very helpful! My 2008 Macbook is running 50 fps now. Much obliged.
I appreciate your efforts. I too will be looking forward to the Mac Pro updates. Just bought a 2.8 Quad core with the upgraded HD 5870 card. Only 6GB RAM atm, not sure if anymore would help.


I'd kill to know why there are plenty enough 5870s out there for BTOs, but not one single kit available for sale retail for the rest of us Mac Pro owners wanting to upgrade.
I appreciate your efforts. I too will be looking forward to the Mac Pro updates. Just bought a 2.8 Quad core with the upgraded HD 5870 card. Only 6GB RAM atm, not sure if anymore would help.

I'd kill to know why there are plenty enough 5870s out there for BTOs, but not one single kit available for sale retail for the rest of us Mac Pro owners wanting to upgrade.


actually, the apple store has FINALLY started selling them in last couple days (at least they are taking orders now). however they still have no available ship time. but it's a step up. Maybe they were waiting for 10.6.5 all this time before selling kit? BTO they kind of had to ship with crappy drivers, cause it'd be dumb to not offer them card then make them upgrade 2 months after buying a new mac. But for everyone else maybe they just wanted to wait for 10.6.5 so the card wouldn't suck so bad for us?

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC743ZM/A?mco=MTY3ODQ5OTY
I have a iMac (Core 2 Duo 2.8 Ghz), 4 GB memory, and a ATI Radeon 2600 video card with 256 MB Vram.

Should I follow the "Core 2 Duo iMac with ATI 4670 Graphics Card" guide?

Also, if I want to set my view distance to high, what should I lower to compensate?

Thanks!
Sadly the ATI x2600 Apple used in it™s iMacs was severely underclocked, and performed WORSE than the x1600 card at just about every test I threw at it. I removed the model completely from the list when I couldn't get it past 15fps in any kind of party or city situation after 4.0.

Follow the GT130 set if you want to, but know that the 2600 won't perform well no matter how low you set the settings. The GT320 integrated solution actually does almost twice as good.
Sadly the ATI x2600 Apple used in it’s iMacs was severely underclocked, and performed WORSE than the x1600 card at just about every test I threw at it. I removed the model completely from the list when I couldn’t get it past 15fps in any kind of party or city situation after 4.0.


Ugh. Fantastic. :-( Well thank you for the info.

I suppose there is not much I can do except hope that 10.6.5 will fix this a bit.

Or get a new machine.
Greetings.

While your efforts here are appreciated and laudable, I must point out that your information- at least as it pertains to the system specs of my own computer- are frankly WRONG.

On a late 2009 iMac i7 (ATI 4850), the sunshaft/water settings you list drastically reduce performance.

Raising the water effects level above fair reduces the frame rate to 15fps, regardless of any other setting.
Turning on sunshafts AT ALL reduces the frame rate to 15fps, regardless of any other setting.

This is on a computer with 4gb of RAM, the above-mentioned processor/graphics setup, and running the fresh and new 10.6.5. This is with GLL.

I'm not sure what is going on now, but it is very frustrating to have a machine running at ULTRA settings in 3.3.x now reduced to "good" settings with bad water and no sunshafts.

I'm not sure what is going on now, but it is very frustrating to have a machine running at ULTRA settings in 3.3.x now reduced to "good" settings with bad water and no sunshafts.


Because what was Ultra in 3.3.x is probably somewhere between Good and High in the scale of 4.0.x. Every expansion Blizzard ups the graphic quality but they don't add 'Super Ultra' or anything to the end of the scale, instead they recalibrate it. The new Ultra is designed for the very latest and most powerful gaming machines.
I'm not sure what is going on now, but it is very frustrating to have a machine running at ULTRA settings in 3.3.x now reduced to "good" settings with bad water and no sunshafts.


you're complaining that your ultra settings from before match your current settings? ultra in 3.3.5 was old water, no sunshafts, so running 4.x at those settings is still your old ultra, but with a new name. nothing more. just like ultra view is equal to high view now, fair ground clutter, and fair or good object view distance (not sure which)...settings have a new names but your 3.3.5 fps shouldn't be any different than 4.x fps at the actual equivilent settings. if you think the new ultra is same as old ultra you are very incorrect

that said, 4.x still has some stutter bugs, which isn't so much related to fps but in loading, but it makes fps tank as a side effect (they climb back up once stuff is loaded)...this happens regardless of settings but naturally gets worse the more loaded at a time (such as view distance)...THAT i hope the devs address. but the majority basis of your complaint is that you don't like that your setting doesn't say "ultra" anymore, even though nothings changed visual wise from what you had going on in 3.3.5
Fine. All of that said, the water and sunshafts issue is unresolved, as is the fact that the graphics listing in the ORIGINAL POST in this thread is incorrect, at least for my machine.

Sunshafts at anything other than "off" and water at anything above "fair" dumps fps to 15. The guide here says I should be at "good" and "low". It is incorrect.
yes that much is true strict. they take way more performance than they really should. i use sunshafts off and water fair on my system cause i know they subtrack about 30fps. I also see a lot of bad stutter in certain areas, worst being strand of the ancients.

however, i still get 62fps everywhere but dalaran with my settings just as i did in 3.3.5 cause they are compariable to 3.3.5, not ultra across the board, when not stuttering from the bad loading bugs in 4.x

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