So finally, after about a year of waffling back and forth between various upgrades, I bought a new video card last week. I was going to go all out, I didn’t really have a budget per se, but I settled on a 1GB Radeon HD 6870 (upgrade from a 512 8800GT), which didn’t actually cost that much. WoW runs at a consistently smooth rate, in combat, instancing, flying, etc. The only performance drop that I have noticed is while navigating through the Stormwind Trade District or really any area with a huge concentration of players. Other than lowering the shading options, I don’t think there’s a whole lot I can do about that.
Heat, noise level and of course, performance were the main upgrade factors. My old card could run WoW at almost maxed out settings, but it would chug and heat the card up to around 77 °C at 80% fan speed (85 °C at 100% speed during the summer). That’s fine, it’s within operating range of the card but whenever the fan ramps up to 60% speed+ it makes an awful whirring sound (tiny ass single slot cooler fan).
The stock fan on the new card is almost completely silent so long as it stays below 50% speed. Luckily, I haven’t seen it go much over 30%, even after stress testing it at 100% GPU usage in Futuremark several times. It stays relatively cool too: 62 °C while playing WoW, low 70’s at 100% usage. I probably care more about the noise level of my computer than I should, but it’s a pet peeve. I specifically built this machine keeping that factor in mind. It was irritating that the one and only part that made any sort of noise was my video card.
I know that there was a small graphical difference between DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 in the Cataclysm beta, but I don’t think there is now. Aside from a small performance boost, everything else looks the same at max settings. I took quite a few comparison screenshots over the weekend, specifically focusing on water and lighting. I was going to post them, but since I really couldn’t see a difference I don’t see a point. However, here are a couple of screenshots of WoW with maxed out settings. It’s worth noting that I run the game at 1920×1080 windowed with vsync enabled.