World of Warcraft performace on macOS Big Sur and Apple M1
Apple has released a new version of the macOS operating system - Big Sur - as well as new hardware - Mac Mini and laptops powered by Apple M1 ARM silicon. Let's take a look at how well it can run World of Warcraft.
macOS 11 Big Sur brings the usual changes and improvements to the operating system. I've dusted out my old Mac Mini from late 2014 running Intel Core i5-4260U with only 4GB of RAM. The CPU has an Intel HD Graphics 5000 which in terms of performance is below UHD 630 listed as minimal requirements. Let see if it can run WoW at all.
On the previous macOS version at mode 1 1080p (very low settings) this old Mac Mini was able to pull up to 34 FPS average in Dazar'alor offering somewhat playable experience. Surprisingly it didn't really stutter - you can check the original review. On Shadowlands Beta I tested it at 1080p mode 1 in few zones:
- Ardenweald: 24,4 AVG FPS
- Bastion: 29,8 AVG FPS
- Oribos : 11,5 AVG FPS (out of RAM)
In both open zones the FPS was as it was before, however Oribos was close to unplayable with long lag/stutter periods - the system and the game needed more than 4GB of RAM and thus macOS resolved to swap files (which are way slower than actual RAM). To play WoW you really need 8GB of RAM and for best experience and device longevity - 16GB. In some devices, many of Apple, you can't replace or add more RAM. The chips are soldered down and you can decide only at the time of purchase.
Users did report some crashes on Big Sur but some hot fixes prior to launch seems to have fixed some if not most/all problems.
Apple M1 ARM SoC has a much more efficient iGPU and CPU cores than ancient i5-4260U. Initially WoW was running through Rosetta but Blizzard was quick to provide a native version. I can't test M1 myself right now but from what M1 users are posting on YouTube the M1 is achieving performance between RX460 (and RX470 mining version) and GTX 1050 Ti - looking at Dazar'alor FPS (looks like above RX460 and below 1050 Ti).
In terms or raid/combat performance it also looks good. The performance cores provide stable ~60 FPS average, with drops to 30 FPS when lots of particle effects are in the field of view - you can try altering graphical settings in the game to limit this effect - Blizzard did add option to control the density of such effects - although it can affect how mechanics look. If that doesn't help then potentially it could also be related to memory bandwidth (less likely but that's the advantage dGPUs have over any iGPU, even those with unified memory).
In a battleground the framerate is good until you get into a big PvP fight - then the FPS seems to drop to 30 average FPS or bit below. There isn't much particle effects so it could be just a CPU limit or server crying in agony.
As Macbooks have a high resolution high DPI screens you can also try changing the render scale to run the game at slightly lower resolution to increase performance without introducing pixelated/low quality assets.
If you want to play WoW (and other games) on the new M1 powered Apple device I would recommend going for the 16GB version - you can't change it later while that extra RAM will come in handy when you will be running some additional apps, addons or a game that just uses more RAM.
M1 did crash the native version on some classes/actions but it seems to be patched now (or mostly patched).
If you have a M1 device you can help with the benchmarks by providing some numbers for specific scenarios described in the article below:
In short try testing at 1080p mode 7 without any FPS limits in such places:
- Karazan TBC raid (pulling mobs as showed on the video)
- Doing laps around Legion Dalaran
- Static view at Bastion and Ardenweald (first flight path)
- Looking down on the Dazar'alor harbor from the back of The Great Seal
You can enable FPS counter in WoW with Command + R. As far as I know there is no tool to record an average not to mention 1%/0.1% lows or frametimes. Just do few screenshots with the FPS counter and check if the game is responsive if animations (like camera rotations) are smooth.