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Benchmarking World of Warcraft on integrated graphics

Integrated graphics aren't the best but quite often when on a budget or on the go it's the only thing we can use. Let see how does mobile and desktop integrated graphics perform in WoW BfA and Classic. Which picks are better if you have to rely on iGPU?

Integrated graphics

In the past years Intel was offering integrated graphics in their desktop and mobile processors. AMD also had APUs but due to their low CPU performance were less popular among laptop designs. With transition from Ivy Bridget to Haswell, Broadwell and Skylake Intel iGPU improved. However due to production capacity shortage and/or due to problems with 10nm a lot of newer budget Intel offerings ended up with cut down iGPU and simpler CPU cores. Aside of that the full HD 600 series iGPU didn't really got that much better since Skylake so most laptops with Intel low power chips ended up using Nvidia MX150, MX250 and not MX350 dGPU.

On the AMD side we got desktop APUs based on Zen design - Athlon 200GE, then Ryzen APUs like R3 2200G. AMD did make it first steps into laptops with Ryzen 2000 and 3000 mobile series - those offer more performance than matching Intel iGPU, sometimes even compete with MX150/250. However their battery life or general performance isn't top class. With the Zen 2 design in the form of mobile 4000 series chips we are seeing big improvements to power consumption as well as iGPU and CPU performance.

In second half of 2020 and early 2021 we can expect subsequent mobile 10nm generations from Intel based on the much improved Xe graphics family. Current first 10nm chips do have improved iGPU (SKUs with G7 suffix), but lack clock speeds on the CPU part and don't go past 4 cores. This is expected to improve with the subsequent Intel releases. 14nm chips are still expected to use MX350/450 Nvidia chips or suffer from poor iGPU.

AMD is expected to release desktop APUs based on Zen 2 design as well as 5000 series mobile chips much later on (like in early 2021) based on Zen 3 design and Navi GPU architecture. By early 2021 we can have a major uplift in the performance of CPU+GPU integrated chips.

All of that new tech will end up in new, and not so cheap products. What about older generations and what we have now? What about budget offers? Is there a way to play WoW on the cheap and on the go?

WoW requirements

World of Warcraft BfA will take advantage of a high performance 4-core CPU with some performance uplift for 6-cores when in new zones (1080p, mode 7). On lower resolution and/or lower settings there will be lower GPU load and to some extent lower CPU utilization. However in low power low frequency CPUs with integrated graphics the game will bounce between CPU and iGPU limitations.

Low power Broadwell CPU will be under nearly full load when playing WoW on low settings

Low power Broadwell CPU will be under nearly full load when playing WoW on low settings

Used previous generations versus new Pentium and Celeron chips

On the used market you can find a used laptop with a Intel Core Haswell or Broadwell CPU for cheap. Similarly priced will be new thin and slick budget devices with Pentium or Celeron dual or quad core CPUs. Even though Intel iGPU improved over the generations most of the current low-end of Intel offers have cut down and/or downclocked iGPU making it that it may perform worse than full versions of previous generations. Also those Pentiums or Celerons may not have same design as Core-i series of CPUs meaning their CPU performance even as quad core may be low. On top of that the performance may differ between different laptops with same parts as the vendor can configure the TDP of the device making it perform much below what's expected. That’s what happens in BMAX Y11 which has N4100 that performs below average for that chip.

Due to that it's very important than when picking a low cost laptop to check review (like on notebookcheck.net) as well as check iGPU of specific chip on that site - based on clocks, size it will perform differently. Notebookcheck has a really solid database for this.

HP ProBook 430 G2

HP ProBook 430 G2 with no battery and many marks for $75

Also RAM matter a lot for iGPU performance. Single channel (1 DIMM) will limit the performance versus dual channel (2 or 4 DIMMS). Aside of that you need at least ~8GB to not be RAM limited while playing and using Windows.

Old used laptops will have no warranty, likely used up battery and likely some markings or damages on them (but likely some replacement batteries and cheaper DDR3 RAM should be available). Do note also that DX12 in WoW requires Skylake or newer. Haswell/Broadwell will have to use DX11 mode (do not use DX11 legacy). Older than Haswell devices should likely be avoided due to age and possible compatibility issues.

Benchmarks

I've used a set of Intel based laptops as wells as fanless Pentium J5005 mini ITX system followed by AMD Athlon and Ryzen APUs. Tests were done on 1280x720 resolution mode 1 by default. WoW Classic 1.13.4.33920 and BfA 8.3.0.33941.

Device CPU GPU RAM
MSI GP70 2OD (2013) i7-4700MQ
4C/8T 2400 - 3400 MHz
Intel HD Graphics 4600
20 EU
2 x 8 GB 1600MHz
HP ProBook 430 G2 (2015) i3-5010U
2C/4T 2100 MHz
Intel HD Graphics 5500
23 EU
1 x 4 GB and 2 x 4 GB 1600MHz
Asrock J5005-ITX (2017) Pentium J5005
4C/4T 1500 - 2800 MHz
UHD 605
18 EU
2 x 4 GB 2133 MHz DDR4
BMAX Y11 (2017) Celeron N4100
4C/4T 1100 - 2400 MHz
UHD Graphics 600
12 EU
4 x 2 GB 2133 MHz LPDDR4
Asrock AB350M-HDV (2018) Athlon 200GE
2C/4T
3200 MHz
Vega 3 2 x 8 GB 2666 MHz DDR4
Asrock AB350M-HDV (2018) Ryzen 3 2200G Vega 8 2 x 8 GB 2666 MHz DDR4

Synthetic results

Superposition benchmark
3DMark Night Raid benchmark

Battle for Azeroth results

We start with The Great Seal in Dazar'alor that mixes high CPU and GPU load.

Dazar'alor benchmark

We can see that i3-5010U on single 4GB stick of RAM struggles, but improves a lot when dual channel 8GB is used - both due to more RAM and to dual channel mode. Aside of BMAX Y11 limiting N4100 performance (which isn't high to begin with) all tested devices managed to handle the test scenario on at least acceptable level.

Next we move to Stonard which for an old zone is in general GPU limited. He we can see how performance scales with increasing GPU power. For fluid gameplay we need at least Pentium J5005 or old i7-4700MQ level of performance.

Stonard benchmark
Dazar'alor mixes CPU and GPU load where as Stonard is GPU limited

Dazar'alor mixes CPU and GPU load where as Stonard is GPU limited

Kazaraz combat scenario emulates CPU-bound combat you will get in raids and M+.

Karazan combat
Karazan combat

Here you can see how desktop CPUs vastly outperform low frequency and old generation processors. Also Ryzen 3 2200G performance doesn't really scale up with addition of dedicated graphics. If you add an actual raid it will look like so:

Ryzen 3 2200G benchmark

We get similar numbers to the Karazan test. There is less mobs but more players. The average FPS is higher while 1% and 0.1% low are similar - and those parameters will affect if you perceive the gameplay as fluid or not. Average FPS in such random raid scenarios will depend where you point your camera and what happens in your field of view (it's hard to make it repeatable and consistent).

BMAX Y11 with limited N4100 performance is almost constantly GPU limited, even in Karazan

"BMAX Y11 with limited N4100 performance is almost constantly GPU limited, even in Karazan

We end up the benchmarks with Dalaran that does require some assets loading and rendering as we fly above the main street in circles.

Dalaran benchmark

Here Athlon and Haswel i7 barely make it while all low power iGPUs struggle to handle it.

WoW Classic

WoW Classic has lower requirements than retail version, mostly due to much simpler flow of the game (lower CPU load) as well as simpler and smaller assets. The ultrabook Broadwell CPU barely but manages to run Classic on mode 4. I used Orgrimar widefield view with usual activity but without any raid groups present.

WoW classic benchmark
WoW classic benchmark

Desktop APUs handle it easily, while in terms of mobile you just need a good non-crippled chip – the minimal acceptable requirements seems to be only slightly lower than for retail.

Laptop dedicated graphics

You can see on previous charts that even GT 1030 is faster than integrated graphics. Based on GT 1030 the MX150 and MX250 were made - but depending on clocks and memory used the performance may be lower so double-check reviews and benchmarks of given model. If you don't need an ultra-thin laptop a used Haswell/Broadwell or even Skylake laptops could be found cheap that also have a Maxwell (900-series) Nvidia GPU or at a decent price - Pascal 1050, 1050 Ti. Those will be much better and you won't struggle to pass 20 FPS on 1% lows and alike. Although do note that old CPUs won't be the king of performance and with subsequent expansions they will perform less and less.

Some laptops support external GPUs - modern ones via Thunderbolt 3 which isn't cheap but there are options to connect GPU via NVMe M.2, mPCIe or ExpressCard slot. Some models may not be compatible and you can find more info on eGPU forums. Older high end business laptops like Dell Precision (Ivy Bridge, Haswell) have ExpressCard slots or also mPCIe while having really solid build quality (if in good condition after all these years). Newer ones may have M.2 but the first ones often had M-key SATA SSD slots that aren't NVMe and can't support any eGPU.

M.2 eGPU requires an NVMe slot

M.2 eGPU requires an NVMe slot which in older laptops may not be present

What's the minimal pick for WoW integrated and mobile graphics?

If you are buying new and want good quality - a laptop with 14nm high clock Intel CPU + Nvidia MX250/350 or better then 10nm G7 variant of a Core i7/i5 with iGPU only. At the time of writing laptops with U-series AMD CPUs are being announced (some launching) and those likes Ryzen 7 4700U and 4800U are very strong on the CPU and iGPU side (although the GPU performance is still around MX250/350 level).

High performance Ryzen 4700H, 4800H/HS, 4900H/HS and Intel 9000 and 10000 series 6+ cores CPUs can be found in gaming laptops with dedicated GPU for much more demanding gaming at a higher price, That your high end WoW gaming laptop that is way way above any iGPU.

We will see newer Intel CPUs with better iGPU (Xe) later in 2020 and from both companies early 2021 - although this isn't anything solid yet in terms of dates and actual performance. Nvidia is saying to get amped for their announcements in May - next gen Ampere graphics cards, which will be desktop only on launch and in laptops much later on (but who knows...). If Shadowlands will include ray tracing you may wait for Ampere (and Navi 2?) as it's very likely that DXR performance will be much higher on the new hardware where as now RTX 2070 Super looks like the minimum to get.

Cinebench R15 benchmarks

Cinebench R15 benchmarks - R3 2200G versus upcoming and latest mobile processors

3DMark Sky Diver - tested CPUs versus upcoming and latest mobile processors

3DMark Sky Diver - tested CPUs versus upcoming and latest mobile processors

If you are on a super budget or want to farm Murlocks on your holidays on some basic and cheap device I would not recommend any new Atom/Pentium/Celeron type of device. Cut down UHD 600 and cut down CPU will struggle. Older Haswell/Broadwell/Skylake bigger CPUs will perform much better (but likely will not have any decent battery life). Budget and new could be 3000-series Ryzen laptops - definitely not as good as 4000 series but cheaper and more widely available (Huawei MateBooks are getting really good reviews - with AMD and Intel/MX250 chips). Check reviews of what you can find on sale.

You will need also at least 8GB of RAM. Older machines will use DDR3 or low power DDR3L that is old and cheap - if you can you can try to optimize by using higher frequency if supported and lower latency. SSD will also be in order - SATA or mSATA depending on model - those will also be cheaper than current high performance NVMe drives.

Upcoming 8 inch GPD Win Max with i5-1035G7

Upcoming 8 inch GPD Win Max with i5-1035G7 could be a decent WoW console at a premium

What's the minimal pick for WoW integrated and low cost GPU on desktop?

Here we have AMD APU dominance. There are pre-built nettops and small form factor PCs, like ASRock Deskmini A300 that can use existing APUs that even in the form of R3 2200G are very capable, yet soon we may get Zen 2 based APUs with much better performance (nothing is yet known at the time of writing). Depending on the country you live in such APU solution could be much cheaper than a cheap Ryzen/Intel CPU + dedicated GPU like RX 460/560, 470/570 and up. But if there is a large local stock of such used GPUs then it will be better picking one and pairing with a decent quad core modern Intel or AMD CPU (like the announced R3 3300X). Ryzen 1600 AF is an option as well (but WoW likes CPU so the next ones and 3300X likely be better), Ryzen 5 3600 is the gold spot for gaming while in some regions you may get R5 3500X at a much lower price with nearly identical gaming performance (lacks SMT).

If you are limited to older office and similar hardware then there are office HP, Lenovo and alike nettops with Intel CPUs with their iGPUs. If you find one fitted with Core i7 or i5 with full iGPU on good clocks from Haswell or newer family it may be a super bugdget option like the tested Haswell laptop (but do note it shows limitations in some benchmarks). Some nettops may have older AMD chips, like A10, A12 of various generations. Check noteboocheck for their performance numbers. GPU will be better but CPU lower than of Intel of similar age. Lower variants (A4, A6, A8) may be to weak.

Among NUC nettops you can look for Hades Canyon boxes, but they won't be cheap and thus questionable if worth buying. Their Kaby Lake-G chips combine Intel quad core CPU and AMD Polaris GPU with HBM memory. There are some Chinese very small form factors PCs built with GTX 1050 or 1650 but that also won't be cheap so shop with care and look for third party reviews.

Summary

Complexity of modern World of Warcraft mechanics made it hard to run on basic CPU/iGPU hardware (as well as struggle with any larger scale PvP and PvE content). Modern hardware can handle it but that's a premium and people don't replace their laptops or phones that easily (how many cracked screen phones have you seen recently in use?). AMD APU desktop is somewhat a minimum while when you really want to have whatever laptop then either new 600-800+ EUR/USD devices or looking through used second hand laptops with full uncut iGPU to then be on the edge of playable experience or better yet - with older generation of Nvidia GPU and quad core Intel CPU.

You can check my previous benchmarks linked below as well as keep an eye on upcoming Mac OS and Linux WoW related videos.

RkBlog

Games, 26 April 2020, Piotr Maliński

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