Hello fellow WoW players! Welcome to Warlords of Draenor and the World of Warcraft Performance Guide for Macs! Here we are entering the tenth year and the fifth expansion of the game since its original release in November of 2004.
Before we move on though, I'd like to take just a moment to stop and reflect on What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been (http://www.wowhead.com/achievement=2144).
Back in 2004, Apple was still releasing iMacs and Powerbooks using the IBM PowerPC G4 CPU and Geforce 4MX video card. Intel CPUs on a Mac were completely unheard of at the time. Blizzard's Mac team had to spend a whole lot of time and effort to get the game to run as well as it did on the Mac's big brother, Windows-based Intel PCs. I won't get into the nitty gritty specs of things, but needless to say, computer hardware has come a long way since then.
Current Conditions of an Evolving Game
With each new expansion, Blizzard has upped the ante. Each new release has come with better and better graphics. And as such, the minimum system requirements have increased ten fold in the last few years. This is made doubly true with Apple's release of "Retina Display" Macs. I'll get into much more detail further into this guide, but to put it bluntly, Apple has all but pushed game developers like Blizzard into a corner. As beautiful as those big Retina Displays are, they're something of an Achilles heel to game developers and gamers alike.
You see, Apple loves to pair those big beautiful "Retina Displays" with relatively underpowered graphics cards designed for much weaker systems. These GPUs can run basic applications like web browsers and photo editors well enough at the native resolutions the display is capable of, but they simply can't handle modern games at anywhere close to these resolutions.
Because of these factors, among other things, this year marks something of a regression in Mac performance. For the last few years, Mac hardware has steadily been catching up to Windows PC hardware in terms of performance for the cost. But this drastic upgrade in screen resolution and quality without upgrading the graphics power to match it means that gamers that buy any "Retina Display" equipped Macs will need to spend quite a bit of extra money to have similar performance of their PC playing peers.
It's a big blow to Mac gamers, and we've all felt its sting.
Things To Know Before Changing Any Settings
As of October 16th 2014, Apple has released Mac OS X (roman numeral ten) 10.10 Yosemite. Yosemite adds a whole sleuth of new technologies and drivers under the hood that greatly benefit OpenGL and gaming in general above it's predecessors. The system requirements are the same as they were with every version of OS X back to 10.7 Lion. So if you've bought a Mac at any point after 2007, chances are it'll run Yosemite. Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite is also a free upgrade to anyone running Mac OS 10.6 or later. Apple's operating systems also have the distinct reputation of actually running better on older hardware than the previous version you may already be running, so barring some niche cases, there's very little reason your Mac shouldn't be running on Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite right now. As such for the sake of this guide, I'm going to assume you've upgraded to at LEAST OS X 10.9 Mavericks. You can check to see what version you're running by clicking on the Apple icon in the top left corner of your desktop, and then clicking the "About This Mac" option on the drop-down list.
In short, if your system doesn't meet the requirements for Yosemite, it doesn't meet the system requirements for Warlords of Draenor, and will not be covered here in this guide.
Current End Game 25-Man Raid Minimum System Requirements:
Mac OS X 10.9.5
2.7 GHz Intel Core i5 or higher
8GB of System Memory
ATI Radeon 6750M or nVidia GeForce GT660M with 512MB of VRAM 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 WoD, and not the minimum requirements listed on the box, which was balanced around solo-play. Raids have noticably 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.
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: Warlords of Draenor.
4. You haven't messed with the Sun in any way, triggering crippling solar flares, coronal mass ejections, or time travel.
A Precursory Note
WoW Patch 6.0, AKA Warlords of Draenor, added significant changes and updates to WoW's graphics engine. Most notably, WoW now uses what's called "deferred rendering" to display those 3D graphics. Technical jargon aside, it means that all those lovely textures and world geometry can now be rendered in the order the developers see fit and with much less object counts in the GPU buffer's pipeline that are filtered through lighting and shading effects more quickly. Basically, with enough effort from the developers, the game's lighting/shading effects will look much better with a minimal impact on performance compared to the old in-line rendering method.
The drawback to this is that most implementations of antialiasing, the filter in the game that tries to filter and smooth out jagged edges of textures, are simply incompatible. As a result Blizzard has removed MSAA, or Multi-Sampling Antialiasing, the version of AA they've used from the very beginning, out of WoW completely. We're now left with CMAA on Windows, and FXAA on the Mac. Neither of these new AA methods are anywhere near as good as SMAA was, but it's the price we pay for better shading. FXAA is more of an overlay that blurs the entire screen, including your UI HUD icons, in order to hide those jagged texture edges. Between you and me, I'd rather just keep AA turned off now.
The good news is that WoW isn't nearly as CPU-bound as it once was. WoW will generally make much better use of your GPU so your CPU isn't just idling waiting for things to do, limiting your framerate.
With all that said, it should be noted that the game will run ever-so-slightly worse now than it did last expansion on existing hardware. This is because Blizzard has changed the default levels of WoW's graphics settings to meet what newer hardware is capable of. Whatever settings you had, expect to set them a setting lower now. What was "medium" last expansion will be "low" this expansion. More information can be found here:
The Retina Scan
As stated in the introduction of this guide, Apple's new fondness for extremely high resolution "Retina" displays without the GPU power to back them up also means there will be a huge performance disparity between Macs with high resolution Retina displays, and the Macs without. A Mac without it will run games a whole lot better at the screen's native resolution than a Mac with a Retina Display.
The reason for this is simple. The Retina Macs are trying to render a LOT more pixels at a time. For example, the newest iMac has a screen resolution of 5120x2880 pixels. Otherwise known in the industry as "5k resolution." The average non-retina Mac displays are something closer to 1920x1080. The non-retina GPUs are literally doing 1/5th the work of their Retina counterparts.
Also keep in mind that almost ALL of Apple's products use either Intel's Iris Pro integrated graphics, or in the case of a dedicated GPU at all, the mobile version of the card's namesake. The ONLY Apple product that uses the full desktop version of a graphics card is the Mac Pro which uses the AMD FirePro series, and those are workstation cards not intended for gaming. So what about that nice new "5k" iMac with the R9-M295X? Yeah. That "M" means it's the mobile version, and is only a fraction as powerful as the desktop card of the same name. Not even full-on gaming rigs with multiples of the fastest gaming cards on the market in SLI or Crossfire can run games at 5120x2880 "5k" at very playable framerates. So don't expect you shiny new iMac with it's single integrated or mobile GPU to do it.
However, in light of all that, 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:
The Settings: Explained
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor 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
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.
Setting it to true "Fullscreen" may increase performance.
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.
Resolution has one of the highest impacts on game performance. Lowering the resolution will drastically improve the performance of the game's framerate and lessen the load on your GPU, but it will look noticeably more pixelated, blocky, and blurry.
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.
Let's you select which monitor WoW is defaulted to display on, in the event that you have multiple monitors set up.
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. In WoW, jagged edges are much more noticeable on Direct X than OpenGL, so this setting is generally more important to Windows users than to Mac users, which run the game on OpenGL.
With that said, FXAA, or "Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing", is the replacement to the now-incompatible Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing WoW used until Warlords of Draenor. It uses much less system resources, and smooths out all pixels on the screen rather than just the edges of textures. But as stated in the introductory section of the settings, it tends to blur out everything.
Use at your personal preference.
Vertical Sync aims to reduce the amount of "screen tearing" that occurs when the game's framerate 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 framerate 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 framerate 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
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 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 2GB of VRAM, but the video cards were otherwise completely identical, the 2GB card would be able to load much higher resolution textures with zero performance loss. 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.
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.
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 performance impact.
Graphics > Environment
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 performance impact.
Essentially View Distance for grass. Changes the distance at which grass and other minor ground objects, like pebbles, are rendered. ATI/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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
This is a brand new graphics option for Warlords of Draenor. As far as I know, it changes the amount of refraction in water. So mountains and other above-water objects are mirrored off water surfaces.
Well there we have it folks. The complete updated guide for World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor! I hope you all had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. See you on Draenor!
3-B. Past Changes
- 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.