World of Warcraft has had tremendous staying power since first arriving in 2004. The game has taken over the massively multiplayer online game market with more than 11 million monthly subscribers, and it has had two expansion packs. The newest installment, Wrath of the Lich King, gives you the entire continent of Northrend to continue questing for loot and glory. Much of World of Warcraft's charm comes from fantastic artwork that doesn't rely on technical muscle, but Wrath of the Lich King comes with a few graphical upgrades that can challenge systems if you choose to enable them. Modest PC systems will still be able to run the game without a problem, but players running near the game's minimum specifications should consider swapping in a better video card and more memory.
We tested Wrath of the Lich King using the flight path between Dalaran and Ebon Watch. We took the average of three runs using FRAPs and a 65-second run time. We ran a separate in-town Dalaran test for our CPU evaluation, where we ran around the city square for 65 seconds.
Even a game as old as World of Warcraft has a few settings you can tweak to improve performance. Keep an eye on draw distances and shadows to squeeze out a few more frames.
Modern GPUs won't have any problems running Wrath of the Lich King. We tested 20 cards from the past and present to help you decide how much is enough.
Newer CPUs improve performance for Wrath of the Lich King, but you can probably survive Northrend without a processor upgrade. We tested the game using our Core 2, Phenom, Athlon 64, and Pentium 4 processors.
We tested the game with 1GB, 2GB, and 3GB of RAM. Our minimum spec test machine with only 512MB of RAM ran World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King smoothly after we lowered the graphics settings, but we recommend going up to at least 1GB.
The required system specifications for World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King are amazingly low: Pentium 4 1.3GHz CPU, a GeForce 6200 class GPU, and 512MB of RAM with Windows XP. We didn't even have hardware that old left in our offices. The closest we could get was a Pentium 4 1.6GHz CPU, a GeForce 6800, and Windows XP with 512MB of RAM. Surprisingly, the game ran well on the minimum spec system after we dropped the resolution and quality settings, but walking around Dalaran was still difficult, with frame rates regularly dipping into the single digits. Blizzard's recommended system specs are an ATI Radeon X1600 or GeForce 7600 GT GPU, paired with a Pentium D or Athlon X2-class CPU. We built our recommended system with an Athlon FX-60 and a GeForce 7600 GT. After seeing how well the minimum spec system held up, it's no real surprise that the game ran just fine on the recommended specification system. Our Intel QX9770 high-end system could probably run this game with a hammer put through three of its four CPU cores.
High-End System: Intel Core2 QX9770, eVGA 780i, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 280 GTX, Nvidia Forceware 180.48.
Recommended System: Athlon FX-60, Asus A8RMVP, 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 7600 GT, Nvidia ForceWare 180.48.
Minimum System: Intel Pentium 4 1.6GHz, Asus P4C800, 512MB Corsair XMS Memory, Seagate 160GB 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2. Graphics Card: GeForce 6800, Nvidia Forceware 180.48.
If you don't have the budget room to upgrade your computer, you can look at tweaking a few settings to improve performance. Quite a bit has changed on the settings page since our last visit to the game in The Burning Crusade.
Players with decent video cards similar to our GeForce 8800 GT test card will be able to increase screen resolutions up to 2560x1600 before seeing a performance hit. The view distance setting is by far the biggest performance sap. Lowering the view-distance settings will hurt image quality, but you'll get a nice performance increase. After that, disable shadows and environmental details for added boosts. You can also easily give up ground clutter radius for a few extra frames.
System Setup: Intel Core 2 QX9770, eVGA 680i, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 8800 GT, Nvidia ForceWare 180.48.
More Graphics Comparisons
Terrain Clutter Density
World of Warcraft wasn't particularly taxing on the GPU when the game first came out, and that hasn't changed much in the most recent expansion. Pretty much any GPU made in the last two years will run the game very well even when pushed to very high resolutions with maximum quality. Older cards, such as the GeForce 6800, will run fine if you sacrifice image-quality settings. The cluster of results at the top of the graph look suspiciously like a V-Sync cap, but we double checked to make sure that V-Sync was disabled. It looks like the Intel QX9770 processor becomes the bottleneck when you get to the GeForce GTX 260 and Radeon HD 4870 level and above.
System Setup: Intel Core2 QX9770, eVGA 680i SLI, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Cards: GeForce 280 GTX, GeForce 260 GTX 192, GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB, GeForce 9600 GT 256MB, GeForce 8800 GT 512MB, GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB, GeForce 7900 GS 256MB, GeForce 7600 GT 256MB, Radeon HD 4870 X2, Radeon HD 4870, Radeon HD 4850, Radeon HD 4670, Radeon HD 3870 512MB, Radeon HD 3850 512MB, Radeon HD 2900 XT 512MB, Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256MB, Radeon X1950 Pro 256MB. Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare 180.48, beta ATI Catalyst 8.11.
CPUThe floating city of Dalaran, with its high population count, served as the perfect CPU benchmark area. The most taxing part of any massively multiplayer game is usually the city. Our frame rates halved whenever we entered Dalaran. The game was still more than playable even with our lowly Pentium 4. Adding additional cores didn't seem to help, but faster clock speeds improved performance.
System Setup: Intel Core 2 QX9770, Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, Intel Core2 E6320, Intel Pentium 4 3.8GHz, AMD Phenom X4 9600, AMD Phenom X3 8750, eVGA 680I, Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 9800 GTX, Nvidia ForceWare 180.48
World of Warcraft requires 1GB of RAM with Windows Vista, and the game runs well at the recommended spec. Adding an additional gigabyte of RAM on top of that didn't do anything for performance or load times. The game halted repeatedly when we tried dropping the memory down to 512MB, but we'd never recommend trying to run Windows Vista with only 512MB of memory.
System Setup: Intel Core 2 QX9770, eVGA 680i SLI, 3GB Corsair XMS Memory (2GBx2), 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GBx2), 1GB Corsair XMS Memory (512MBx2), 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Card: GeForce 9800 GTX, Nvidia ForceWare 180.48.