Building the Best PC for World of Warcraft
Last updated: September 2015
World of Warcraft (WoW) is a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG developed by Blizzard Entertainment. Originally released in 2004, the game remains one of the most popular PC games of all time, still played by millions of people each month. Even now, Blizzard regularly updates the game with new expansions packs, often improving the visuals to keep the game looking relatively modern.
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 WoW? We take a look at what hardware to buy in order to play WoW at a good framerate.
Note: These benchmarks are up-to-date through the Mists of Pandaria expansion. We have not yet found reliable benchmarks for Warlords of Draenor. If you have found some, please notify us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Fair ($450)||Very Smooth||Smooth||Borderline||Unplayable|
|Good ($490)||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Playable||Borderline|
|Very Good ($530)||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth||Playable||Borderline|
|Great ($630)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Smooth||Playable|
|Superb ($750)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Smooth||Playable|
|Excellent ($1000)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth||Smooth|
|Outstanding ($1100)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth|
|Exceptional ($1400)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth|
|Enthusiast ($1600)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth|
|Extremist ($2500)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth|
|Monstrous ($3,500+)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth|
|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.|
*Please note that some of the WoW benchmarks at the 4K resolution are extrapolated.
The silky smooth rating for 4K resolution is purely academic, as there are no consumer screens available that can display more than 60 FPS on 4K resolution (as of mid 2015). Your PC may be able to produce 120/144 FPS, but the screen will only display 60 of these frames if you have a 4K screen. There are 144Hz screens available, but in the 1080p and 1440p resolutions.
How Demanding is WoW to Run?
World of Warcraft launched in 2004 years ago and is based on the Warcraft III engine, which was released in 2002. It is quite an easy game to run, even with modest hardware. However, the game has received many updates with its expansions, including a move to DirectX 11. Maxing out WoW still requires a moderately respectable machine, especially at high resolutions.
What About the Warlords of Draenor Expansion?
Warlords of Draenor adds new areas with significantly higher graphical eye candy. You will need a more powerful computer to play this expansion with the same settings, compared to what we list in our tiers above. Unfortunately, there are not enough reliable WoD benchmarks available, so this guide uses the benchmarks from the Mists of Pandaria expansion. We are hoping to be able to update this guide with fresh benchmarks after the Legion expansion, expected to release in late 2016.
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.
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
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.
World of Warcraft Game Settings
Playing WoW on Low settings is not enjoyable. Since projected textures are turned off, it might not even be playable. The viewing distance is low, and the textures are horrible. With all settings as low as possible, WoW looks down-right ugly.
Fair quality is slightly better, with richer textures, and expanded vision range. Projected textures are still turned off though and we do not recommend playing on fair unless you turn them on. Playing on Fair is lowest setting that you should go for, and only on the weakest of weak machines.
The Good setting is our recommended minimum for any user building a new PC with $300 or more. The game looks nice enough to get you playing, with better shadows, better water effects and higher vision range, but it won't win any beauty pageants.
The High setting is how WoW is meant to be played. Several settings are maxed out and the depth of Azeroth full-scale world really shines. If your PC cannot handle playing on Ultra, turning the settings down to High is not going to visually hurt your game much, but it can give you a framerate boost.
Ultra quality is the best WoW setting preset, with every option cranked up. The nice thing is that even on Ultra, a $600 PC will pump out 60+ FPS at 1080p resolution.
World of Warcraft CPU and RAM Requirements
WoW's performance depends mostly on your graphics card. In the vast majority of games, the GPU is the most important part of the gaming PC.
However, the CPU, and sometimes the RAM, can affect gameplay as well. Before we look at the the tiers as a whole, we take a look at RAM and CPU.
WoW CPU Requirements
From Intel: Nearly any modern dual-core will handle WoW just fine. We can recommend the G1840, G3240, G3258, or even the i3-4170. The current best CPU for WoW is the Intel i5-6500. After that, it will be difficult to achieve additional performance from a CPU, even at 4K resolution. Once you have a powerful enough CPU, your graphics card will dictate your FPS.
From AMD: Nearly any of AMD's cheap quad-cores, such as the X4 860K will work fine. Anything at or above an FX-6300 is capable of getting 90+ FPS on Ultra quality when coupled with a good graphics card.
WoW RAM Requirements
According to WoW's official system requirements, 2GB is minimum, and 4GB is recommended. Many people still run WoW with just 1GB. Since the minimum amount of RAM we recommend is 2GB anyway, RAM is not an issue on any tier. 4GB or 8GB make no difference to WoW. Any speed of modern RAM will work, whether DDR3 or DDR4.
Logical Increments Tiers and How They Fare
Even at a very low resolution, such at 1024x768, your frame rate will probably be around 20 FPS on Ultra settings with the Destitute or Poor tier. Your best option is to turn the settings down to Good and play at a low resolution to try and achieve a playable 30 FPS.
Compared to the Destitute and Poor tiers, the graphical performance is much higher with Minimum. You can play at Good quality with ~40 FPS at 1080p resolution.
Entry is also a major jump in graphical power over Minimum. You should be able to get 60 FPS on the Good setting at 1080p. We recommend playing on High quality instead. With High quality at 1080p, you should get about 40 FPS, which is respectable. If you insist on playing on Ultra quality, then drop your resolution.
The Modest tier is the first tier in which we recommend the Ultra quality setting at lower resolutions. At 1080p resolution, the Modest tier should get a frame rate of about 50 FPS on High quality, or 40 FPS on Ultra quality. Depending on your preference, you may opt for the smoother gameplay or the nicer visuals.
The Fair tier should be able to get relatively smooth frame rates at 1080p on Ultra. Dropping the resolution or graphical quality setting should push you above 60 FPS.
The Good tier uses very powerful hardware for the price. It will get around 60 FPS at 1080p on Ultra settings, and is still very playable at higher resolutions.
At Very Good and above, you will get 60+ FPS at 1080p, and playable FPS at higher resolutions.
Once you reach the Excellent tier, you should be able to achieve 60+ FPS at 4K resolution. What more could you ask for?
World of Warcraft is not a graphically demanding game, so you can max it out pretty easily on most common resolutions spending around $450 on your PC. The following tier recommendations are for achieving 60 FPS at the desired resolution:
At 1600x900, we recommend the Fair tier.
At 1080p, we recommend the Good tier.
At 1440p, we recommend the Great tier.
At 4K, we recommend the Excellent tier.
The Falcon: I played vanilla (and a little BC) in my university days. After leaving uni, I had no internet connection at home for roughly 4 years, so I missed out. Once I got internet, I got a new account, and played for a month or two. Unfortunately, with 400-500 ping, frequent disconnects, and limited data quota, I have given up until I can afford a better connection. On my current account, I play a blood elf shadow priest and a gnome frost mage on Caelstrasz. I hope to get a better connection soon, so I can try MoP, maybe.
Orion: I watched one of my roommates drop out of university from playing too much WoW, so I avoided it after that because I knew I would get addicted. Does that make me a coward? Maybe. I finally installed it to take some screenshots, and we'll see what happens now. ;)
Logical Increments helps more than a million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.
- For understanding how FPS can impact the "smoothness" of your gameplay, this short but informative article is very good.
- Techpowerup has excellent, in-depth and comprehensive articles. The following Techpowerup’s articles gave us most of the data that we needed:
- HD 7750 Review
- GT 250 Review
- For a thorough investigation of WoW settings, as well as good testing of WoW’s performance, Tom’s Hardware has several great articles:
- WoW DX11 Performance
- i7-3820QM Review
- A8-3850 Review
- Anandtech’s articles are a really good source of information, particularly CPU performance:
- Ivy Bridge Review: i7-3770K
- Vishera Review: FX-8350
- For general information regarding World of Warcraft:
- Wikipedia WoW article
- Steam’s hardware survey is very helpful to find out what hardware typical gamers have.
- We want thank user Gierkej from /r/WoW for letting us use their images.
- We want to thank user Katmonster from /r/WoW for letting us use this image.