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World of Warcraft Shadowlands Beta CPU benchmarks

CPU is an essential part in World of Warcraft performance. The game is mostly CPU bound and relies hard on the CPU during combat and other activities with multiple actors.

CPU and WoW

WoW needs a fast CPU to handle the game state. The more stuff is going on around you the more game state data is generated. In combat, especially with multiple actors the CPU performance becomes the hard limiting factor (if you don't have a really weak GPU).

The game for majority of it performance needs a modern 4 core CPU. If you have more cores it will spread some load (mostly draw calls?) to other cores but the performance won't pretty much scale up beyond 4-cores due to one of the cores being main and seeing a full load. This is why high frequency high IPC CPU is important. With the upcoming Zen 3 CPUs (5000 series) we may see some nice uplift in performance.

Even though the game won't scale well above 4 cores you are likely to be running multiple addons or other apps alongside the game - then you need more cores to handle the game and the apps without performance penalty. At 4-core configuration the game itself can be close to generating 100% all core load - little to no room for other apps.

Old and new CPUs can have similar results in content that don't really push them, while they will start to differentiate harder in extreme combat/mass actor or mass spell type of situations.

In scenes with fine-detailed graphics (lots of draw calls) multi-core performance, parallelism can be the key aspect. In mass combat, mass simultaneous spells - single core performance will hold you back.

Combat performance

In the combat benchmark we see two strongest CPUs (9400F and 3500X) to be on the top. Threadripper 1920X with 12 cores and quad channel memory is Zen/Zen+ arch and is limited by that single core performance.

Ryzen 3 2200G, Athlon 200GE are lower tier parts and run on lower frequencies where as FX-8320 even at high frequency may suffer due to low IPC. Yet all of them still pass this benchmark giving fluid/playable experience.

Ardenweald CPU benchmark
Ardenweald CPU benchmark

Ardenweald is GPU limited zone and the GTX 1070 used in the benchmark is at 100% load, yet we do see some FPS scaling. This isn't a combat test so even the FX CPU can push more frames. The 2C/4T Athlon 200GE is struggling likely with draw calls here. Strongest CPUs perform much better giving enough parallelism needed to render heavy Ardenweald frames at a faster rate. If you have a 60Hz display you should be running the game with 60 FPS limit so that so the system isn't flooded with rendering excess frames (and to help even out the % low performance, reduce temperatures and noise levels if lucky). If you want a 144Hz panel to shine you will need top of the line CPU and GPU, plus good OC on the RAM – and there will be content where the FPS drops below that anyway.

Bastion CPU benchmark
Bastion CPU benchmark

In Bastion I got CPU bound results (in the Vega 64 / TR1920X Radeon GPU Profiler data) and here we have slightly higher FPS. Dual core Athlon is still closing the listing.

Even in an open world WoW can generate a lot of load on a 6-core CPU

Even in an open world WoW can generate a lot of load on a 6-core CPU

Core count performance scaling

WoW Combat CPU core scaling
WoW Combat CPU core scaling

Combat is for the most part single-core limited here and 1080p sees little performance drop when going 2C. 4K however does have a big dip in FPS at 2C configuration. This could be due to amount of draw calls being higher at higher resolution or some specifics to the location.

WoW Bastion CPU core scaling
WoW Bastion CPU core scaling

Bastion at 4K seems to not really scale with cores (maybe a GPU bottleneck at that resolution) while there is a dip at 2C for 1080p.

WoW Ardenweald CPU core scaling

Ardenweald shows some scaling at 6C, which could be attributed to rendering those much more detailed and demanding frames - however the drop is small across 6C-2C range.

i5-9400F running in dual-core mode sometimes hit hard 100% load on all cores

i5-9400F running in dual-core mode sometimes hit hard 100% load on all cores limiting performance

Recommendations

If you want the best possible performance in the game you will have to go for the best Intel or AMD CPUs. As you need for the most part 4-cores it doesn't have to be the most expensive parts with 10, 12, 14 or 16 cores. In case of Intel you have all the current Skylake generations to choose from, unlocked K-parts should be really good. From AMD side you have Zen 2 (3000 series) but Zen 3 (5000 series) is launching really soon and changes made to the cores should really help WoW performance. Aside of that, especially for Ryzen - you need a good set of RAM sticks with good frequency and latency which can shift the performance by 10-20% vs base 2133 MHz JEDEC DDR4. 6-8 Cores should be your optimal target.

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World of Warcraft Shadowlands Beta benchmarks, 12 October 2020, Piotr Maliński

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