Building the Best PC for Dota 2

Last updated: February 2017

Dota 2 is popular free-to-play game by Valve. Its fanbase is huge, with an average of 500,000 players online at any one time (and nearly 14 million unique players monthly), and growing. The game has team-oriented gameplay, a large number of uniques heroes, and exciting tournaments with ludicrous USD$24 million prize pools. Dota 2 has something to offer to most gamers, from those who prefer strategy and tactics, to those who like aggressive twitchy action, and even those who enjoy agriculture.

We will take a look at Dota 2's settings and the impact that has on the game. If you just want to know what to buy without all the in-depth analysis, you can skip to the conclusion.

Dota 2's gameplay is deep, requiring practice and skill. But what about the hardware requirements to play the game? Fortunately, the Source game engine that drives Dota 2 is quite easy on hardware, so most decent PCs should be able to handle the game well, even at high resolutions and settings. Let us take a look at what Logical Increments tier you should build to play Dota 2.

What to Buy

At logicalincrements.com, we recommend hardware for PC builds. These PC builds cover a wide range of budgets that are sorted into tiers, starting with the Destitute and Poor tiers, to the Superb or Excellent tiers, and even Extremist and Monstrous tiers. How good are these tiers in Dota 2? We take a look at what hardware to buy in order to play Dota 2 at a good framerate. To save you from scrolling all the way down, we put the results first. This is the expected performance of the Logical Increments tiers in Dota 2:

Tier 1600x900 1920x1080 2560x1440 3840x2160*
Destitute ($170) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Poor ($225) Borderline Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Minimum ($310) Smooth Playable Borderline Unplayable
Entry ($375) Very Smooth Very Smooth Smooth Borderline
Modest ($410) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Borderline
Fair ($450) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Smooth Playable
Good ($530) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth
Very Good ($630) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth
Great ($750) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth
Superb ($840) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth
Excellent ($1070) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth
Outstanding ($1240) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth
Exceptional ($1670) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth
Enthusiast ($2100) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth
Extremist ($3600) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth
Monstrous ($4,500+) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth
Explanation
Below 20 FPS Unplayable Jerky animation, "lag" and "stutter".
20-30 FPS Borderline Ok for some, too "laggy" for others. AKA "Cinematic".
30-45 FPS Playable Acceptable to most people. Not very good though!
45-60 FPS Smooth Fluid animation, no "lag".
60-90 FPS Very Smooth Very smooth is very smooth to almost everyone.
Above 90 FPS Silky Smooth Criminally smooth. For hardcore and professional players.

What About Dota 2 Reborn?

The Dota 2 Reborn update uses the new Source 2 engine. This update makes the game look a bit better, and is a bit more optimized than the older engine. There are currently very few available benchmarks that compare the performance of Reborn vs the original Dota 2. From the benchmarks that can be found (such as this), it can be seen that Reborn's performance is roughly the same, or slightly better on average.

Those who are worried about the switch from the original Dota 2 to Dota 2 Reborn can rest assured that you get better visuals and slightly better overall performance on the same hardware.

A Note About Frame Rate (FPS)

Frames per second (FPS) measures the number of images your computer can produce every second. Higher frame rates mean that your screen will show more images per second, which means that you will see a smoother animation. Lower frame rates cause a game to appear to stutter, which is generally not enjoyable for the player.

A comparison of 50, 25, and 12.5 FPS.

For the purposes of our PC build guides, we recommend computers that will achieve 60 FPS in your game of choice. Some gamers are satisfied with frame rates as low as 30, but that depends largely on the gamer and the game.

For more information and animations explaining frame rate, please check out our Frame Rate page.

Higher Resolution for Better Gaming


A comparison of several common resolutions.

Resolution refers to the number of pixels on a screen. High resolution means more pixels and generally more space and detail, while low resolution means fewer pixels, and often less space. If you are using a typical (not high-end) laptop or an old screen, you likely have a low resolution. When comparing screens with a similar aspect ratio, it is always better to get a higher resolution screen. Higher resolution will always looks better, as you have more real estate and a sharper picture. The image below shows the difference in real estate between common resolutions.

For more information on resolutions, check our Screen Resolution page.


Your teammates will need your approval and encouragement. Help them to win, comfort them when losing, be a pillar of strength, and always uphold good values.

Dota 2 Game Settings

Dota 2 has 4 preset settings, ranging from Fastest (Lowest graphical requirements) to Best Looking which looks the best but requires more graphical power. Dota 2 also has several settings that can be adjusted and even turned off.

For a start, let us take a look at the game with all settings on, and compare it to the lowest possible settings. Drag the cursor on the bottom left of any "comparison" image to compare the different settings.

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having all the settings on and off.

By comparing the game on maximum and minimum settings, it is easy to tell what a huge impact settings have on the game. With all settings set to low, the game looks like a 90's title, with low quality textures and bad graphics. With all the settings on, the game looks quite good, particularly the flora.

In this segment, we explore the various graphical settings available in Dota 2, and check the effects that these settings have, both graphically and in terms of the performance penalty.

Anti-aliasing

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having anti-aliasing on and off.

To explain it very simply: Aliasing is what causes "jaggies". In the image above, you can clearly see the jagged edges of the buildings, with AA off. The smaller vines on the buildings look very pixellated too. With AA on, all the jagged lines are smoothed. and the vines look much better.

Framerate effect: AA has a medium impact on FPS (~10-13%).

Specular (and light blooms)

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having specular lighting on and off.

Specular lighting lets object react properly to light sources, making things a bit brighter and more shiny, particularly in the centre of the screen. Light blooms gives a faint glow or halo around objects, as shown below.

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having light blooms on and off.

If you prefer, you can turn light blooms off, as the effect is quite subtle. We recommend keeping specular lighting on though.

Framerate effect: Specular lighting has a medium impact on FPS (~10%). Light bloom has a negligible impact on FPS.

High water quality

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having high water quality on and off.

Even with High Water Quality set to off, Dota 2 water still looks ok. With with High Water Quality on, water becomes properly transparent, showing just how shallow the river is (half a foot deep! it is an elongated puddle, not a river). Water also becomes properly reflective, and quite pretty. We recommend keeping this setting on, if possible.

Framerate effect: High water quality has a high impact on FPS (~15%), but only when the camera is viewing the river.

Atmospheric fog

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having atmospheric fog on and off.

A very subtle effect, where there is a proper fog in areas where you have no vision. You will not be spending much time inspecting areas where you have no vision, and the effect is quite difficult to discern, even when you are actively looking for it. If you took a long look at the image above, and still cannot see the difference: Take a look at the trees in top right. With atmospheric fog on, those trees are slightly more “lost in the fog”.

Framerate effect: Atmospheric fog has a medium impact on FPS (~6-8%).

Animate portrait

Makes your portrait animated. Has a low impact on FPS (~5%).

Additive light pass

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having additive light pass on and off.

What is additive light pass? It is a method for adding lighting to the scene over multiple passes. You can read more about it here. How does it affect the way the game looks? In the image comparison above, you can see that Storm and the creeps look a bit brighter and more highlighted with Light Pass on. For everything else in the scene, additive light pass makes a barely noticeable difference.

Framerate effect: Additive light pass has a variable impact on FPS, depending on what is showing on screen. It can be anywhere from ~0-10%.

World lighting

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having world lighting on and off.

Some objects in the world have their own source of lighting. Turning World Lighting on makes these objects light up, as seen in the tower in the image above. Take note of how the Ancient in the upper left lights up, as well as the tower on the right.

Framerate effect: World lighting has a variable impact on FPS, depending on what is showing on screen. It can be anywhere from ~5-15%.

Ambient occlusion

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare having ambient occlusion on and off.

Ambient occlusion affects how objects reaction to ambient light (as opposed to point sources of light). With ambient occlusion set to off, the effect of shadows is lessened. With ambient occlusion on, shadows are a bit darker, and the parts of a building that are in the shade are more realistically lit.

Framerate effect: Ambient occlusion has a high impact on FPS (~12-15%).

Ambient creatures

Puts a few critters on the screen. In the image above, we have three butterflies, two birds, and a squirrel. Depending on where you are on the map, you may also see fish, snakes, frogs, dragonflies, and more. This setting makes the world feel more alive, but it can prove to be distracting.

Framerate effect: Ambient creatures have a low impact on FPS (~5%).

Vsync

Vertical synchronization. This setting ensures that a frame has been fully displayed, before sending a new frame to the screen. The main purpose of Vsync is to prevent screen tearing, which occurs when the game sends more frames than your screen can handle. If you experience screen tearing, then set Vsync to on.

Game screen render quality

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare render quality at 100% and 40%.

Set to the lowest possible rendering setting (40%), the game looks like it was rendered at a very low resolution, then enlarged, giving a very blurred, highly-pixellated effect.

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare render quality at 100% and 70%.

At 70% render quality, the image looks much better, though there is still a slight blurring. 100% render quality is the sharpest, and we recommend you use that setting. Please note that the HUD is not affected by the render quality settings, and is always sharp and in focus.

Framerate effect: Render quality has a very high impact on FPS (20% if you set the slider to "70% quality", and up to 50% if you slide it to the lowest setting). Since this is a slider, you can tweak it to set how much of an impact you want it to have on your game's looks and framerate.

Shadow quality

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare shadows on ultra and off.

Shadow quality has a major impact on how the game looks. High shadows is drastically different from low shadows, with shadows for units, buildings, trees and foliage, and even critters. If you set shadows to low, Dota 2 looks quite bland instead of dazzling, as nothing casts a long shadow.

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare shadows on high and medium.

Medium shadows means having cloud shadows on, and it is not really much of a big difference over low shadows.

Framerate effect: Medium shadow quality has a medium impact on FPS (~8%), but high shadow quality has a high impact, changing FPS by 15-20%.

Texture quality

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare texture quality on high and low.

In the image comparison above, the differences between texture settings should be obvious. The texture of the buildings, grass, and flowers are all blurred and smudgey when on low settings, but sharp and good looking on high settings.

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Drag the cursor on the bottom left to compare texture quality on high and medium.

Medium textures are much better than low textures, though still a bit blurred and pixellated. High texture is recommended, as it is the sharpest and clearest one.

Framerate effect: Texture quality has a medium impact on FPS (~8%-12%).

Settings Conclusion

With all the settings switched on, Dota 2 is a beautiful game. Unfortunately, these settings do take a toll on hardware, particularly water quality, ambient occlusion, and shadow quality.

If you check the Tomshardware Dota 2 Performance article, you will notice that with a 6670 at 1920x1080, you get an average of 90 FPS on all low settings, and an average of 30 FPS on all high settings.

That is a 200% difference in framerate, just by changing the settings. If you cannot get a good framerate, try lowering your settings, particularly settings with very subtle effects, such as bloom, fog and additive light pass.


What in heaven's name is this?

Choosing the Best Settings for Dota 2

If your computer can give a steady 60 FPS with all settings on, we recommend that you keep the settings on. If you are getting below 60 FPS, you can try lowering some of the game settings. Unfortunately, lowering multiple settings will not have a cumulative effect on framerate: If a setting give 10% improvement, and another gives 10%, lowering both will not give 20%, but between 10-12%.

To improve your framerate, try the following steps, ordered by how they affect the game's visuals.

Improve FPS (slightly) with little to no impact on visuals

  • Set Atmospheric Fog to off.
  • Set World Lighting to off.
  • Set Ambient Creatures to off.

These three settings have have a very minimal effect on your Dota 2 experience, and turning them off will help improve FPS by 5%-10%.

Improve FPS (by a large amount) with a moderate impact on visuals

In addition to the above steps:

  • Set Specular to off.
  • Set High Quality Water to off.

The 45%-50% FPS improvement is large, but comes at a cost, as there is a difference between having these settings on or off. Dota 2 still looks good, even without high quality water, but it looks better if the setting is on.

Last resort

If all the above fail to give you your desired framerate, try the following drastic measures:

  • Set Shadow Quality to medium (additional 10-15% improvement in FPS)
  • Set Render Quality to 80% (additional 10-15% improvement in FPS)

If you follow all the above steps, you can improve your FPS by a total of 60%-70%. Lowering your settings beyond this point results in visuals that are quite messy. Scroll a little further to compare Dota 2 on low and on medium settings. You will see that Dota 2 is still quite nice on medium, but at its lowest settings, the blurry, pixellated, low-texture look of Dota 2 is not enjoyable.


Dota 2 has great flora and fauna, but only when playing on high detail.

Dota 2 CPU and RAM Requirements

The minimum RAM for Dota 2 is 2GB, while the recommended is 4GB. We definitely recommend that you have 4GB of RAM or more, as Dota 2 can easily use up 1GB by itself, which means that you will have little RAM left if you only have 2GB total.

As with all games using the Source engine, the CPU does affect frame rate, as shown by the benchmarks on Tom's Hardware Dota 2 Performance article.


Older CPUs, and very low-end CPUs, will be a bottleneck. If you want to get the full potential of your graphics card, then you need to have a decent dual-core CPU at least. Modern CPUs such as the G4560 should be fine.

If you have recently upgraded your graphics card but did not get as much of an improvement in FPS as you expected, check to see if your CPU is bottlenecking your performance. While this is true of Dota 2, it is also true of many CPU-bound games, particularly in the RTS genre. It is also one of the reasons that we always suggest having a balanced gaming PC, as that prevents bottlenecks to performance, no matter what game you play.

A strange game: The donkey flies, but the bird stays grounded.

Logical Increments Tiers and How They Fare

Destitute tier

With a very weak CPU, and a weak integrated GPU too, this tier is not suitable for playing Dota 2, at any setting or resolution. Expect an unplayable 10-15 FPS from the Destitute tier.

Poor tier

With a better CPU than Destitute, and a significantly more powerful iGPU, you can expect either a borderline 20-30 FPS on higher settings, or a playable 30-40 FPS with reduced settings or reduced resolution.

Minimum tier

A dedicated graphics card helps a lot. At low settings, this tier can give very smooth 60+ FPS. Do not expected too much from a PC that costs ~$310 though: If you choose to crank up the settings to high, the FPS will drop to borderline 25-30 FPS.

Entry tier

The Entry tier features mid-tier graphics cards, as opposed to the low-end ones in the Minimum tier. The performance jump is quite large, and it means that this tier can very smooth 60+ FPS, even on high settings and 1920x1080. If you are on a 1080p screen, we recommend this tier (or higher) for Dota 2. If you are on a 2560x1440 screen, then this tier will still manage a playable ~40-45 FPS.

Modest and Fair tiers

These tiers should be able to provide a smooth ~45-50 FPS at 2560x1440.

Good tier

The Good tier only costs ~$530 total. This tier should be able to get a very smooth 60+ FPS in Dota 2 at 2560x1440, at high settings. At the 4K resolution, we expect that the Good tier will give a playable ~40 FPS.

Very Good and Great tiers

Even though these tiers are not very expensive, they should still give a smooth ~50-55 FPS on 4K.

Superb tier

The powerful graphics card options in this tier should have no problem giving you very smooth 60+ FPS at the 4K resolution.


Those dangerous accessories are not acceptable. This is a major general accident just waiting to happen.

Conclusion

Dota 2 is quite easy on the hardware, particularly at 1920x1080 and below:

  • If you are playing on 1080p, then you can max out the game if you buy the Entry tier PC (~$390).
  • If you are playing at 2560x1440, then we suggest the Good tier (~$490), or higher.
  • If you want to play Dota 2 on the 4K resolution, then we expect that the Superb tier (~$750) is what you truly need.

You can find the hardware that we recommend for these tiers in the main website, logicalincrements.com.

And that is all that there is to it. We hope that this article has been useful to you, and we look forward to your feedback in the comments section below. Till then, we hope that all your hits land, even when uphill against a PA with butterfly, and we also hope that all your games are good games!

About Us

The Falcon: I have been playing DotA since its RoC days (before it went to TFT). Sadly, casual long-term experience does not mean high skill, and I am now stuck in the ~3000 MMR trench. I enjoy feeding playing support, particularly CM, Lich, and WD.

Sloth: A player who doesn't give up, even when all his allies pick carries.

Logical Increments helps more than a million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.

Acknowledgements

We want to thank the people who helped in shaping this article with their feedback. If we missed your name, please let us know!

  • Kix
  • Natan
  • Desann
  • prabhu
  • N7
  • Fire525
  • Kura (A dedicated Ogre Magi player with a spectacular MMR of 508)
  • Ninja3047

Sources

  1. Source used for making the table of contents
  2. Source used for making the image comparison slider
  3. Tomshardware benchmark
  4. Techspot benchmark
  5. Notebookcheck benchmark
  6. Dota 2 dev survey
  7. Hardware Heaven iGPU benchmark
  8. Hardware Heaven GTX 980 review
  9. Hardware Heaven GTX 750 Ti review
  10. Dota2Walls: Faceless Rex wallpaper