Building the Best PC for World of Warcraft
Last updated: October 2016. Updates includes Legion benchmarks and settings.
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. Despite the fact that it is over a decade old, Blizzard regularly updates the game with new expansions packs, often improving the visuals to keep the game looking relatively modern. With the new Legion expansion, the game gets a fresh new coat of paint, and it looks better than ever!
We will take a look at how well different PC tiers play World of Warcraft at various resolutions, then review the game's settings and the impact that they have on the game. If you just want to know what to buy without all the in-depth analysis, you can skip to the conclusion.
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.
|Very Good ($630)||Smooth||Smooth||Playable||Borderline|
|Superb ($840)||Very Smooth||Smooth||Playable||Borderline|
|Excellent ($1070)||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Smooth||Borderline|
|Outstanding ($1240)||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Playable|
|Exceptional ($1650)||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Playable|
|Enthusiast ($2100)||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Very Smooth||Smooth|
|Extremist ($3600)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth|
|Monstrous ($4300+)||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Silky Smooth||Very Smooth|
|Below 20 FPS||Unplayable||Jerky animation, "lag" and "stutter".|
|20-40 FPS||Borderline||Ok for some, too "laggy" for others. AKA "Cinematic".|
|40-60 FPS||Playable||Acceptable to most people. Not very good though!|
|60-90 FPS||Smooth||Fluid animation, no "lag".|
|90-120 FPS||Very Smooth||Very smooth is very smooth to everyone.|
|Above 120 FPS||Silky Smooth||Criminally smooth. For hardcore and professional players.|
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not be intimidated by how difficult World of Warcraft is to run, based on the above table. The benchmarks are taken at the highest graphical settings, which can crush any PC. Instead of running World of Warcraft at maximum, you can choose to go for optimized settings, where visuals are nearly identical to maximum settings, but performance is doubled. You can read more about which game settings affect performance the most, or just skip the in-depth analysis and head to the Choosing the Best Settings for World of Warcraft section.
How Demanding is WoW to Run?
World of Warcraft launched in 2004 and is based on the Warcraft III engine, which was released in 2002. On low settings, it is quite an easy game to run, even with modest hardware. However, maxing out WoW still requires a moderately respectable machine, especially at high resolutions. Starting with the Warlords of Draenor expansion, Blizzard has made the new areas much prettier, with more foliage, more detailed environments, and higher polygon character models, and this is turned up to 11 in the new Legion expansion. This means that a computer that runs the game nicely in Azeroth and Outland may experience a serious performance dip once you head over to the Broken Isles.
If you are comparing your hardware to the benchmarks and wondering why you are getting less FPS, check the date the benchmarks were taken. WoW:Legion is quite a different beast from WoW:BC!
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 above shows the difference in real estate between common resolutions.
For more information on resolutions, check our Screen Resolution page.
World of Warcraft Hardware Requirements
Before we discuss how various PC components and settings influence WoW’s performance, let’s take a look at the game’s Minimum and Recommended specifications, according to Blizzard:
Minimum System Requirements:
- GPU: NVIDIA GT 440 or AMD HD 5670
- CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 or AMD Phenom II X3 720
- Memory: 2GB RAM
Recommended System Specifications:
The first thing to note about the Minimum Requirements is that pretty much any functional modern PC will meet them. Even the extremely cheap $150 Destitute tier will let you play WoW, but at the lowest settings and resolution. Even then, do not expect to get more than 20-30 FPS, if your system only meets the minimum requirements.
The Recommended System Specifications set by Blizzard are somewhat misleading when it comes to the GPU. The recommended GPUs are good, but you can only expect to get up to 40-45 FPS, probably lower on average. We recommend a beefier graphics card for 60FPS, especially if you are doing most of your adventuring in the newer areas! For those who are playing on 1440p or 4K resolutions, you will need significantly more graphical power than a 750 Ti.
Recommended CPUs for World of Warcraft
WoW's performance depends a lot on your graphics card, but it is also quite CPU intensive, particularly with settings such as viewing distance, or when you are in a major city or raid. High single-threaded performance has the biggest impact on CPU performance in WoW, and Intel's latest CPUs have much better single-threaded performance than their AMD counterparts. That said, decent AMD CPUs can still get 80+ FPS when paired with the right card.
From Intel: Nearly any modern dual-core will handle WoW just fine. We can recommend the G3900 or G4400 for budget builds, and the i3-6100 for mid-tier builds. The current best CPU for WoW is the Intel i5-6500, if you do not overclock. For overclockers, the best CPU would be the Intel i5-6600K, which is also the best CPU for gaming in general. Beyond that, it will be difficult to achieve additional performance from a more powerful CPU, even at 4K resolution. World of Warcraft does not make much use of multiple cores, so an overclocked 6600K will give better performance than a 6-core or 8-core CPU that cannot be clocked as high. 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 80+ FPS on Ultra quality when coupled with a powerful enough graphics card.
Recommended GPUs for World of Warcraft
The graphics card you pick depends a lot on what resolution you are playing. A low-tier 750 Ti or RX460 would be fine for 900p, but you should consider a GTX 960 or R9 380 for 1080p. If you are on the 1440p resolution, you will want the RX 480 or GTX 1060. The glorious 4K resolution needs some serious power to drive it, and a pricey GTX 1070 is in order.
The above recommendations are for people playing WoW on very high (near max) settings. Reducing your graphical settings can have a major impact on FPS, allowing you to play at a higher resolution with weaker hardware. Likewise, turning up the settings from very high to full max will cripple your performance, even on good hardware. Read our recommendations for Choosing the Best Settings for World of Warcraft, discussed further below.
Recommended RAM for World of Warcraft
According to WoW's official system requirements, the minimum amount of RAM for WoW: Legion is 2GB, while at least 4GB is recommended. 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.
World of Warcraft Game Settings
Even though vanilla World of Warcraft was released in 2004, a lot of work has been done to improve its graphics and graphical options over time. The two latest expansions, Warlords of Draenor and Legion, look quite beautiful. In order to make WoW look good on good PCs, and still playable on low-end machines, the graphical settings options are quite wide in scope. There are more than 20 different settings to play around with, and that is not including the advanced stuff! We will not be looking at all of those settings, but will instead look at which settings affect looks and performance the most.
World of Warcraft: Legion has nothing less than 20 different graphical options.
Not all settings will impact the visuals of World of Warcraft the same way. The game is roughly divided into two parts: Enclosed areas and open areas. Dungeons, indoor settings, jungles, large cities such as Silvermoon, Undercity, Stormwind, Ironforge, and Dalaran are all good examples of enclosed areas, since you can only see so much of the environment at a time. More open areas are zones with deserts and plains, such as Tanaris, Durotar, Mulgore and Nagrand(s). In these open areas, there are significantly less view-blocking structures or high walls, and you can easily see for miles around. Standing on a big hill in an open area will typically let you see all the way to the edge of the zone.
Enclosed areas are more affected by settings like ground clutter, texture resolutions, and liquid detail. Compare the before and after shots below by moving the slider in the image below. Note in particular the amount of foliage on the right, and the quality of the both the lighting and the foliage on the left (below the dragon).
Open areas are significantly affected by viewing distance and environment detail. More the slider in the image below to see just how greatly viewing distance can affect the visuals of the game in open areas. Note how the texture quality is reduced to splotches of colour, how many small trees and objects get removed, and how everything beyond the river disappears into the fog.
So if you are trying to compare two settings to see the difference, make sure you are comparing them in an appropriate environment. Checking the difference in Water Quality will not be very helpful, unless you are standing in an area with water!
Now let us take a look at some specific settings, and how they affect the World of Warcraft's visuals and performance.
Resolution is simply the number of pixels on your screen, or the number of pixels that the game is producing. The higher the resolution, the smoother and sharper the game's visuals will be, especially objects that are curved or at an angle. Lower resolution will result in a more pixellated image, even with all other settings staying the same. In the image above, move the slider to check out the differences in the Blood Elf's hair on the right, and the yellow flowers on the left, to see just much better it looks in higher resolution.
Resolution has one of the biggest impacts on performance in the game. A PC that can handle the game fine at 720p may struggle at 1440p, since it will be driving 4 times the number of pixels. A major change in resolution can have a drastic change on performance, butchering FPS to a quarter of its value (if you increase resolution all the way up), or doubling it by lowering resolution.
Resolution effect: Resolution has a major impact on FPS (25-100%).
In-game objects have curves, or lines that are at an angle. Your screen's pixels are square, and are arranged in a square pattern. Curves and angled lines will not fit perfectly into square pixels, and thus you get "jaggies". Anti-aliasing refers to various techniques used to reduce (or remove) the "jaggies" effect on in-game objects. In the image above, move the slider to see the jaggies on the plants on the wall, as well as the curves of the bridges.
World of Warcraft: Legion has a wide assortment of different anti-aliasing techniques, and explaining them fully is outside the scope of this article. EyesOfTheBeast hosts a wonderful, detailed article that shows the different anti-aliasing settings and effects. In short:
- None: Full jaggies.
- FXAA: Reduces jaggies, slightly blurs the image. Tiny performance penalty.
- CMAA: Reduces jaggies a bit less than FXAA, but has a sharper image. Tiny performance penalty.
- MSAA: Reduces jaggies a bit better than CMAA. Moderate performance penalty.
- SSAA: Reduces jaggies almost completely. Huge performance penalty.
Anti-aliasing effect: Anti-aliasing has a variable impact on FPS. CMAA and FXAA affect FPS a little ( a negligible ~5%), 2x, 4x, and 8x MSAA affects FPS in a moderate-to-major manner (15-33%), and SSAA reduces FPS dramatically (33-66%).
Texture resolution refers to the resolution of in-game model textures. High means that the textures are sharper! The effect can be quite subtle if you do not know what to look for, so in the image above, move the slider and pay attention to the details and scratches on the two large pillars in the centre and on the right. Since texture resolution has such a low impact on FPS, unless you are running WoW on a potato, set texture resolution to high!
Texture Resolution effect: Texture resolution has a negligible impact on FPS (1-3%).
When you lower view distance, World of Warcraft will add a "fog" effect on objects that are further away. These objects are rendered with lower quality, or you might just see the outline in the fog. If an object is far away enough, it is not rendered at all. View distance is a bit more CPU-bound, so a weaker CPU may require you to lower view distance. It is also context dependant, as it has a much bigger effect in open areas.
View Distance effect: View distance has a variable impact on FPS (0-20%), depending on the current view.
Environment detail refers to in-game objects that only exist to make World of Warcraft look pretty. In the image above, you will need to look quite closely to see that some small rocks and bushes disappear, that braziers on the road also disappear, and many of the trees in the distance disappear. These objects do not affect your gameplay, but they serve to make WoW look more alive and less bland.
Environment Detail effect: Environment detail has a moderate impact on FPS (10-15%).
As can be seen in the image above, ground clutter is how much grass and pebbles WoW puts near to the player. Some people prefer to see the game in its full splendour (particularly since the Broken Isles have a LOT of beautiful grounds), but you can gain a moderate FPS boost if you turn this setting low.
Ground Clutter effect: Ground clutter has a moderate impact on FPS (10-15%).
As is the case in most games, shadows can be the biggest FPS killer in World of Warcraft. Putting Shadow Quality all the way up to Ultra High is an easy way to lose up to a third of your framerate, even with a good PC. The good news is that sub-ultra-high shadow quality settings are actually fine. Take a look above at the images above, and you can see the difference between Low and High quite clearly, especially on the stairs and the sitting ogre.
When comparing High, Ultra, and Ultra High, the difference in Shadow Quality is not really that big. Ultra High shadow quality will have a major impact on your FPS, but Ultra and High will not, so stick to those.
Shadow Quality effect: Shadow Quality has a major impact on FPS (10-30%).
Low and Fair water quality are both quite bad. Low makes the water surface look like a sheet of ice, while Fair makes water look like clear jello. Neither setting looks good. Since the Good liquid detail setting (shown below) has a negligible performance impact, we highly recommend for Good instead of Fair or Low.
On the other hand, both Good and Ultra water look quite good! Ultra liquid detail allows for proper water reflections, making it the best. Unfortunately, Ultra setting is quite expensive, so set your Liquid Detail to Good for the best framerate.
Liquid Detail effect: Liquid detail has a variable impact on FPS. Good and Fair have a negligible impact on FPS, while Ultra can reduce FPS moderately (up to 15%), depending on how much water is in the scene.
Particles can refer to smoke, fire flames, or spell effects. We tested the impact on performance while solo questing, and found it to be negligible. In dungeons and raids, where dozens of spells are being cast at any one time, the effect of particle density can be higher.
Particle Density effect: Particle density has a negligible or no impact on FPS (during questing). It was not tested in raids.
Screen space ambient occlusion, is the very fancy way of saying "better lighting and shadows near angled surfaces". From the images above, you can see how SSAO can make the scene look a lot better, with more realistic shading near all the edges of the building, and under the branches of the trees. The visual difference between High and Ultra is quite small, and might not even be noticeable. But the performance impact of Ultra SSAO is very heavy! We recommend setting SSAO to High or Low.
SSAO effect: The Low SSAO setting has a small impact on FPS (5%), while High and Ultra SSAO has a major impact on FPS (15-25%).
The Lighting Quality setting changes how light sources affect the surrounding environment. It makes World of Warcraft look much better when it is set to high, and the performance penalty is practically nil.
Lighting Quality effect: Lighting quality has a negligible or no impact on FPS.
Graphics Quality (slider):
The old presets of World of Warcraft (Low, Fair, Good, High, and Ultra) have been removed, in favour of a sliding scale that goes from 1-10. As a rough guide:
- Graphics Quality 1-3: Equal to the Low/Fair of old. Game looks rather ugly in this range, but the framerates are highest.
- Graphics Quality 4-6: Significant performance drop per increase in Graphics Quality in this range. Game looks decent.
- Graphics Quality 7/8: Game visuals are good, and the graphics look modern. Major performance loss.
- Graphics Quality 9/10: World of Warcraft looks gorgeous in this range, especially the newest areas! Largest performance penalty.
Graphics Quality effect: Graphics quality has a major impact on FPS (up to 200% difference between 1 and 10).
Choosing the Best Settings for World of Warcraft
Armed with all the knowledge we have learned from the above settings comparisons and how they affect framerate, we can make some good recommendations on which settings to change for improved performance.
If your computer can give a steady 60 FPS with all settings set to maximum, we recommend that you keep the settings on maximum. 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 10-15%.
Improve FPS with little to no impact on visuals:
- Reduce Shadow Quality to High.
- Reduce AA to MSAA x4.
These two settings have have a very minimal effect on your World of Warcraft experience, and turning them down will help improve FPS by as much as 25%-40%.
Improve FPS with a small impact on visuals:
After applying the above, you can follow the following steps to further improve your FPS:
- Set AA to CMAA or FXAA.
- Reduce Liquid Detail to High.
- Reduce SSAO to High.
- Reduce View distance to 7-8.
- Reduce Environment Detail to 7-8.
- Reduce Ground Clutter to 7-8.
You can gain an additional 25%-50% FPS (effectively doubling your framerates in extreme cases), but this comes at a cost, as there is a visual difference when changing these settings. That said, the visual difference is quite small, and World of Warcraft will still look very good, so the performance improvement is easily worth it.
- Reduce your resolution below the native resolution of your screen.
- Reduce Graphics Quality to the 4-6 range.
The last resort options are quite easy to implement, thanks to the slider preset. Unfortunately, they will have a large, negative effect on visuals. If you are still getting unplayable framerates with the Graphics Quality set to 4 and lowered resolution, then it is time to consider upgrading your computer. Luckily, we know of a guide to help with that (you are reading it right now!)
Other Factors Affecting Performance:
There are other non-graphical factors that affect performance in World of Warcraft. If you have implemented the above settings and you are still getting low performance, try these potential solutions.
- Disable Death Knight voice: Settings -> Sounds -> Death Knight Voices. Some people have reported a decent performance increase from disabling DK voice.
- Disable Reverb: Settings -> Sounds -> Enable Reverb. Some people have reported a decent performance increase from disabling Reverb.
- Disable heavy Addons: Some addons can bring on a serious performance penalty, especially on weaker systems. Try replacing Recount with Skada.
- Running heavy external programs: Since WoW is CPU intensive, running programs that are CPU heavy will affect performance. Streaming, game capture, downloading, anti-virus scanning are all CPU heavy, and will affect performance.
- Throttled hardware: If your CPU or GPU heatsinks are very dirty, your PC might throttle them to prevent overheating. Make sure to keep your PC internals clean, to prevent thermal throttling.
- Low-end hardware: Using optimized settings and fixing the above issues will help, but there is a limit to what hardware can do. A very weak CPU/GPU can only go so far.
- Slow internet: If you are using wireless, try switching to wired to reduce lag. If the connection is still slow (with high ping), there is not much you can do, aside from getting faster net.
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 high settings with the Destitute or Poor tier. Your best option is to turn the settings down and play at a low resolution to try and achieve a playable 30 FPS.
The Minimum tier has a discrete graphics card, and the graphical performance is much higher. World of Warcraft will be borderline playable at the 1080p resolution, but you will get smoother gameplay if you turn settings down.
The Modest and Fair tiers meet Blizzard's Recommended hardware, and make World of Warcraft perfectly playable at 1080p resolution.
Decent framerates in 1080p (easily more than 60 if optimum settings), and 60+ FPS in 900p.
These tiers can play World of Warcraft on very high to max settings on 1080p. They will do well in 1440p, too.
The Outstanding tier and above are meant for 1440p gaming. In fact, you should be able to achieve playable FPS at 4K resolution at max settings, or smooth framerates if you turn down a couple of settings!
At low settings, World of Warcraft is not a graphically demanding game, so you can play it pretty easily on most common resolutions by spending around $400-450 on your PC. The following tier recommendations are for achieving 60 FPS at the desired resolution:
- At 900p, we recommend the Good tier.
- At 1080p, we recommend the Very Good tier.
- At 1440p, we recommend the Excellent tier. The cheaper Great/Superb tiers can handle 1440p just fine, but you will need to optimize your settings!
- At 4K, we recommend the Outstanding tier.
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, helping you understand what good hardware to buy for World of Warcraft, how the settings affect the visuals, and which settings you can lower for the optimum balance of looks and performance.
If you have any suggestions, criticism, or feedback, please let us know in the comments section below. Till then, we hope that all your hits crit, that the hunters in your group remember to turn off pet taunt, and that all your loot rolls Titanforged!
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, and the internet that I did get later typically had 400-500 ping, so I gave up. I missed WotLK, Cata, and most of MoP. After getting a better connection, I now play a blood elf shadow priest and a gnome frost mage on Caelstrasz.
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.
- Hardware Unboxed WoW Legion Benchmarks
- PCGamesHardware WoW Legion Benchmarks
- EyesOfTheBeast Anti-aliasing article
- 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.
- We want to thank user Stormmonk from Nagrand for the helpful feedback.