WoW Performance Guide For Macs - Patch 7.3

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The World of Warcraft Performance Guide For Macs - Legion - Updated 9/06/2017

Introduction

Hello everyone and welcome to my WoW Performance Guide For Macs! It's not often that such drastic changes occur within the lifespan of a single expansion that this guide needs a rewrite, but here we are. So In the hopes of trying to update the needed information and trim the fat, I'm going to condense the guide. Hopefully making it easier to read.

Patch 7.3 brought a lot of changes to WoW under the hood. OpenGL has officially been killed off on any Mac that can support Apple's Metal API in preparation for macOS High Sierra, which is due out in just a few weeks. As a point of conjecture, I kind of doubt the next expansion will run on anything other than Metal. So if you're running an older Mac that doesn't support Metal, I'd start thinking about buying a new Mac in the next few months. You have been warned.

On the plus side, things aren't so dire as they were a year ago, generally speaking. Apple has refreshed the iMac and Macbook Pro lines with much faster AMD Polaris-based GPUs while completely eliminating Intel integrated solutions from it's 15" MBP lineup, and has announced future plans for an AMD Vega-based iMac Pro, as well as a brand new modular Mac Pro to bolster it's waning Pro market. The Polaris-based Radeon Pro 400 and 500 GPUs in the current lineup and the upcoming Vega GPU in the iMac Pro are leaps and bounds more powerful than any Mac prior to 2016. Things are definitely looking up for pro users and Mac gamers alike.

Now I want to be clear here, any Mac with a Retina Display still isn't likely to play WoW very well at the screen's native resolution, but these new Polaris and Vega-based Macs can play WoW pretty respectably at reasonable settings. As long as you keep expectations within the realm of sanity, gaming on a Mac is probably better these days than most people think.

The Settings: A Precursor

If you only read part of this guide, this is the part you should probably read.

The term "Retina Display" is just Apple's marketing term for putting very high resolution monitors in their Macs. The problem is that Apple pairs those displays with relatively weak graphics cards or "GPUs", which is what renders all the pretty graphics on the screen. With Retina Displays now standard on virtually all Macs made within the last several years, I need to point out the most crucial thing of this entire guide.

Not a single Mac on the market has a GPU powerful enough to play games at native resolutions.

The 15" Macbook Pro has a 2880x1880 resolution display, and the 27" iMac has a 5120x2880 "5k" resolution display.

Neither of these Macs have GPUs anywhere near powerful enough to play games at these resolutions. Even a GTX 1080 Ti, the world's fastest video card, struggles to play games at "5k", and the GPUs in these Macs aren't even close to that. The only GPU that could come close is the Vega GPU in the upcoming iMac Pro. But that Mac is rumored to have an 8k display. So even that iMac Pro will have to deal with the same problems as the rest of Apple's current lineup. Worse still, the baseline 21" iMac, the 13" MBP, and the standard Macbook all use Intel integrated graphics instead of dedicated GPUs. So playing games at reasonable resolutions like 1920x1080 "1080p" is difficult even at modest settings. Let alone at the much higher "Retina Display" resolutions.

In layman's terms, if the graphics listing has "Intel" in the name, it sucks. It's an integrated graphics solution bolted onto the CPU, and is NOT a dedicated graphics card. Intel doesn't even make dedicated GPUs. So if it has Intel on it, just assume it's barely capable of minimum settings. WoW will run, but not well and it'll look like garbage.

The only real way around the "Retina Problem" as I've dubbed it, is to do one of two things. Either lower the game's resolution, or lower the Render Scaling to something under 100%.

Let's use my Late 2016 Macbook Pro as an example:

Sample Settings Taken From A Late 2016 Macbook Pro as Mid Ranged Baseline

Graphics > Display

Display Mode: Fullscreen

Resolution: 2880x1800(Wide)

Refresh Rate: 60.0Hz

Monitor: Color LCD

Anti-Aliasing: Custom

Vertical Sync: Disabled

Graphics > Textures

Texture Resolution: High

Texture Filtering: 16x Anisotropic

Projected Textures: Enabled

Graphics > Environment

View Distance: 5

Environmental Detail: 5

Ground Clutter: 5

Graphics > Effects

Shadow Quality: Good

Liquid Detail: Good

Sunshafts: Disabled

Particle Density: Good

SSAO: Disabled

Depth Effects: Good

Lighting Quality: High

Outline Mode: Disabled

_____________

Advanced > Advanced

MSAA: None

Multisample Alpha-Test:Disabled

Post-Process AA: None

Resample Quality: Bilinear

Graphics API: Metal

Physics Interactions: Player Only

Max Foreground FPS: 60

Max Background FPS: 10

Show New Character Models: Yes

Render Scale: 75%


As you can see, I've generally kept my settings on the modest side for my Macbook Pro. Though I've disabled some of the more demanding settings like Sunshafts and SSAO. Another thing you might have noticed is that despite my above warning that Macs can't run the game at the native resolution, I've kept my resolution as such at 2880x1880. This is because I've lowered my Render Scaling to 75%. It's explained in greater detail below, but render scaling essentially renders the game at X% of whatever your current resolution is, then scales it up or down to match. 75% of 2880x1800 is 2160x1350. So the game is actually being rendered at 2160x1350, and then scaling up to look like 2880x1800. That's why the Anti-Aliasing is set to "custom". The Render Scale uses it automatically as part of the scaling process when scaling anything above or below 100%.

Depending on my tastes, I could probably lower the Render Scale to something like 50%, which would essentially be like rendering the game at 1440x900, and then raise some of the other settings like view distance or spell density. Ultimately it's up to you to fiddle with the settings and decide what you're most comfortable with.

The Settings: Explained

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.

Setting it to true "Fullscreen" may increase performance.

Resolution:

Resolution has one of the highest impacts on game performance. This combined with Render Scale is where the vast majority of your game's performance will be affected. 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.

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 1980x1080 screen which has an aspect ratio of 16:9, all of the optional resolutions will be of the same 16:9 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: (Note: This setting is flat out broken in Legion.)

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 then drops below 60fps for whatever reason, V-Sync will instantly drop the game's frame rate down to a multiple of 60fps, such as 30fps as opposed to 59fps, to avoid tearing. 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

- 09/06/17: Rewrite for major changes in patch 7.3
- 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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