Is DSL fast enough to play WOW?
March 11, 2008 11:11 AM   Subscribe

My son is having terrible problems playing WOW. He gets framerates of about 1-2fps, which is ridiculous. Help me diagnose the problem.

My son is having terrible problems with performance in WOW. I have no experience with Windows computers, so I have no real way to approach a diagnosis. It's a big problem for him, as his guild makes fun of him and laughs at the fact that he's often fighting monsters who are already dead. (I don't know epsilon about WOW, so I just take his word for it.) It's always been slower than he would like, but the last few months have been a disaster. I thought it was slow servers, or maybe latency between the Eastern US (MA) and his guild, which is in the Western Part of the the US (CA) but that's just a guess.

I have a tiny home network with three computers - four if you count the linksys router, and five if you count the Nintendo Wii. The Wii is not often on the net, though. The router is connected to the internet through 1.5/384 DSL from Speakeasy. The router is a linksys running the White Russian release of Open WRT. I have one slow linux computer, one really slow linux computer and one slowish XP computer, which is the one I'm interested in.

I have several conjectures. First, I think it's possible that 1.5/386 DSL is just too slow to run WOW. I may have to upgrade to a faster internet service. Second, I think it's possible that the computer he's using is running a bunch of services which are not needed, and which are causing it to be slow. I don't know the windows equivalent of "ps -aux". I don't even know the windows equivalent of xterm, but I presume there is one. Third, I think it's possible, but unlikely, that excessive network traffic caused by spam (see below) is saturating the connection and killing his performance. Fourth, it's possible, but I think unlikely, that the router is slow.

The really slow linux computer has a web server and a mail server. The mail server seems to get a lot of spam, which is properly thrown away. (I periodically check various testing websites to see if it's an open relay, and I seem to have it configured properly.) The problem does not go away or even improve when I disable the mail server, though, so I don't think this is the problem. It's always possible that the internet connection is still overmatched with spam, even though there is no server to read the messages. Maybe the best test would be to just block the SMTP port temporarily.

The slow linux computer doesn't actually use the net much, except for reading blogs. I sometimes download music from emusic, which causes him no end of grief, but I expect that. The problem happens even when I'm not doing anything, or if the computer is powered off and unplugged.

I don't really have a fancy firewall on the router. I just created iptables commands to forward ports and do NAT from the router to the other computers. I have not done any capacity testing on the router, but it's a very recent LinkSys router - the one with 32Mb of RAM - so I don't suspect its speed at all. Maybe I should reinstall LinkSys' firmware and see if that clears up the problem.

So, those are my conjectures. Maybe someone else has a better suggestion, or can tell me more about Windows.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of video/graphics card do you have? And how much memory is on that card?
posted by mds35 at 11:16 AM on March 11, 2008

Framerate has nothing to do with your itnernet connection and everything to do with the CPU and Videocard in the computer. What are they? You need a 3d accelerated video card to run wow. So if its anything intel then you need to spring for an nvidia or ati card. Also I believe the minimum amont of ram needed is 512.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2008

Along the line of mds35, I would think that the most likely fault is the computer with WoW on it.
posted by mmascolino at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2008

>don't know the windows equivalent of "ps -aux". I don't even know the windows equivalent of xterm, but I presume there is one

ps = Task manager = Control- Shift- Esc

xterm = Start > Run > type 'cmd' and enter
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2008

A slow frame rate will not usually be related to networking problems. In fact, you can unplug the network cable and it may continue to render its best guess of the world-state at 60fps.
posted by teki at 11:31 AM on March 11, 2008

Is he raiding? There are fairly low hardware minimums for regular instance/world environments if the in-game graphics settings are tuned down (look at those first). For raids, however, I ended up ditching two computers, two gfx cards, getting cable internet, and building a state of the art rig before I stopped being frustrated with raid performance. (This was back in 40-man raids, but even smaller raids are demanding)
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:37 AM on March 11, 2008

If his computer has less than two gigabytes of RAM, add more RAM.

If his computer already has two gig of RAM, then look at a better gfx card.
posted by aramaic at 11:45 AM on March 11, 2008

WoW is not demanding on computer hardware. I play it on a 3 year old computer at 1920x1200 with all effects turned up and still get 15-30 fps. It also consumes very little bandwidth, about 2kbytes/second.

You describe two different possible problems. The first is the FPS is very low. The first thing you should do to address this is be sure that there are no other background programs running at 100% while WoW is running. Then try running WoW with no Addons enabled; some Addons screw up FPS. If you still have trouble start tinkering with the video settings and run with sound turned off entirely. Last resort, upgrade your video driver.

The second problem is network lag; you mentioned your son fighting monsters that are already dead. WoW will report your network latency; in the default UI you just mouse over the little lag indicator on the bottom bar. In the US playing on a US realm you should expect latency around 200ms. If it's over 500ms it gets hard to play and something is wrong with your network. My first guess would be BitTorrent or some other heavy network user.

I use the FuBar_PerformanceFu addon to get detailed data on performance in game.
posted by Nelson at 11:46 AM on March 11, 2008

Indeed. Your system should ideally be at or above these system specs:
P4 2.0
3D accelerated video card (AGP or other)

That's basically the setup I'm running (vid card is a Radeon 9800 Pro). I posted this question a few weeks ago specifically because I was getting crappy framerates and got sick of it. I upgraded my RAM and video card and my framerates have improved dramatically.

If you're running it off an onboard video card, it's time to upgrade. If you're at less than 1GB RAM, time to upgrade.

A few other things:
  • Definitely check out MSConfig and clean up the startup area- pare it back to the bare minimum that will run the machine. When running WoW, don't run anything but WoW-related programs- wow.exe and a low-memory music player or Ventrilo if those are being used.
  • If the hard drive for the comp in question hasn't been defragged recently, defrag it.
  • Check his video settings in WoW- crank them all down as far as they'll go
  • Take a look at what mods he's running. If he recently installed a mod pack or something similar you have to go through and de-select anything that won't be used. Excessive modding can tank your system, especially if you're running heavy hitters like Auctioneer, Recount (or other damage meter), etc.
  • If he uses mods, consider steering him towards using Ace2 mods. Ace2 is a mod development framework that pre-loads several libraries and makes them available to Ace2 mods. The idea is that if all your mods are built off a preloaded set of libraries, it makes it more memory efficient. You can find an Ace2 mod that will do pretty much anything you've ever wanted a mod to do.
WoW is designed to be very connection-minimal, so your network speed probably isn't your problem. Downloading music on the same network causes huge problems, but my roommate runs a BitTorrent client (for, ahem, legal documents) that has a customizable and schedule-based bandwidth cap, which works great for that.

On our (cable) network, at any given time, we may be running the following:
1) BitTorrent client capped at 40k U/D
2) 2-3 people playing WoW, 2 of whom are in a 25-man raid
3) 2 people connected to a Ventrilo server
4) 4th person browsing the web

Even with all that going on, our latencies are usually an acceptable, and on my comp described above I now get 17-20 FPS with a reasonable level of graphical detail.

Defrag the PC, crank down your graphics settings in WoW, and pare back the mods first. If that doesn't work, upgrade the PC. If that doesn't work, then look at your network.
posted by baphomet at 11:52 AM on March 11, 2008

You describe two different possible problems. The first is the FPS is very low. The first thing you should do to address this is be sure that there are no other background programs running at 100% while WoW is running. Then try running WoW with no Addons enabled; some Addons screw up FPS. If you still have trouble start tinkering with the video settings and run with sound turned off entirely. Last resort, upgrade your video driver.

This is exactly what I was going to suggest. WoW isn't resource intensive the way Bioshock or Crysis is, but if his machine is truly ancient, it might have some problems. But other applications (either outside of WoW are in) would be my first suspect.
posted by Nelsormensch at 11:54 AM on March 11, 2008

"an acceptable 200 or so" at the bottom there.
posted by baphomet at 11:54 AM on March 11, 2008

In the video settings of the game, turn down the "Terrain Distance" setting all the way down. That setting has the greatest impact on performance on low end hardware. You can experiment with increasing the draw distance, but work your way up from the bottom.

You don't mention anything about the hardware configuration at all, and that has *everything* to do with framerate problems. You mention a lot about the network configuration, and that has *nothing* to do with graphics issues. Your concern here is with the graphics and geometry subsystem on the client, not with the ability of the game to transfer a handful of state packets across the network.

"...1.5/384 DSL from Speakeasy"

What I've seen is that the Speakeasy network can reach most of the Blizzard datacenters with 30-60ms round trip times. Unless your pipe is saturated by other applications or systems, network latency isn't going to be the issue. Chances are if you've got a system delivering 1-2 frames per second performance, you're talking about such a fantastically slow and out of date piece of machinery that it simply can't run the game playably. Does the system meet the published hardware requirements?
posted by majick at 11:56 AM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: I have 2Gb of memory, but the video card is the crappy built-in graphics card that came with the machine. I last worked on Windows in the Windows 95 era, and found installing hardware such a nightmare that I ran screaming from the Windows world, and only work on Unix machines. But I'll try to acquire and install a new graphics card and see if it helps.

He tried to install his own realm a few weeks back. (That may be the wrong terminology.) He decided it was not interesting enough to have godlike powers in a world with no actual people, and I was not willing to invest enough time to figure out how to connect his world to the larger internet (not to mention that I'm not completely sanguine about that.) He may have configured mysql or apache to start up automatically on boot, though, and that may be causing some problems with him. As I say, I'm pretty feeble when it comes to Windows administration.

Does anyone have a recommendation for an inexpensive but sufficiently fast video card? I used to write 3d drivers for ATI, years ago during the Windows 95/98 years, and so I have a soft spot for ATI. Also, nVidia drove my next employer, 3Dfx, out of business, so I have a small lingering dislike of nVidia, but I'm willing to look over these. As Abe Vigoda said in the Godfather movie, "It was only business." (I was never really a graphics programmer. I just did it as a lark, and I found that it was not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. But that's a matter of personal taste, and I would not want to dictate it to anyone.)

Thanks for all the responses.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 12:06 PM on March 11, 2008

This will play WoW and lots of other games. 56 dollars.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2008

Its also worth mentioning that if your computer is old enough it will require a card with an AGP socket. The one I linked to its PCIe.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:35 PM on March 11, 2008

Even "new" video cards from nVidia or ATI may not help your framerate. Do some research before you buy any-old-card. For instance, my friend "upgraded" to an nVidia 7300 and it performs horribly in WoW. Fairly new card, but is simply not meant for gaming. He would have done better with an nVidia 6800 for instance, because even though it was a "last gen" card in perspective to his 7300, but would perform so much better for games.

I have a nVidia GeForce 8800GT on a PCIe bus and I play WoW at maxed out video settings and get >60fps 99% of the time.
posted by nickerbocker at 12:46 PM on March 11, 2008

There may be a background program eating up system resources, but it's probably that integrated graphics chip that's causing the problem, especially if it's an S3, SiS, or VIA chip rather than Intel, Nvidia, or ATI.

Avoid any card that shares system RAM (termed a "Hypermemory" card from ATI, or "TurboCache" from Nvidia), look for 256MB of video ram, and nothing less than a 128-bit memory interface. If you are set on an ATI card (which I think is fine; the last two video cards I purchased used ATI chipsets), the HD 2600 Pro model should get respectable frame rates, and it's cheap at $62 ($42 if you factor in the mail-in rebate). Bear in mind that is a PCI Express card. If you have an older computer with an AGP slot instead of PCI Express, then you'll pay a bit more for that model card, or you can drop down to an X1650 Pro for around $65. There are much cheaper AGP options than that; I played WoW for a year or so on an older 9600 Pro model like this and averaged around 35 to 40 fps (at 1024x768 with no AA, and with most of the graphics settings on medium), and never dropped below 15 fps. But models like the 9600 are a bit "dated" now, and don't support a lot of the current set of graphics features (new shader models and such).
posted by XcentricOrbit at 1:37 PM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks. These are all great answers. When I was doing graphics programming, older computers had PCI slots, and only the newest ones had AGP slots. Plus ca change, eh?
(Sorry, can't type a cedilla on this keyboard.)
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 2:24 PM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, the reason I want the price to be relatively low is that he can't afford much, and I'm not paying for it. I pay the WOW fee, but I don't want to pay anything more, because I've got the "World's Worst Dad" reputation to consider.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 2:27 PM on March 11, 2008

When cable goes down, I play 3 machines over a free dialup connection that rarely gets over 32kb, so your DSL is not the issue.

If the machine played WOW ok before, and doesn't now, I'd be doing the standard spyware, windows indexing service, etc checks.
posted by nomisxid at 4:32 PM on March 11, 2008

Lots of things could be the issue. I'm thinking....overheating.
Overheating of the chip will cause it to automatically degrade in performance. The chip will do the same thing.

Before I bought a new stick or ram or anything else, I'd turn down graphics settings a little, try that. Then, open it up and pull off the heatsink and clean it w/ canned air. Then take alcohol and a cotton swab to the top of the chip, clean it off, and then put more thermal compound on it. Reseat the heatsink and reapply.

Clean all the vents, maybe add a fan or two.

WOW doesn't really require a bawls system, but it will choke a hot one.
posted by TomMelee at 5:48 PM on March 11, 2008

vilcxjo: Modern games use the massive CPU and graphics power now available to interpolate and predict the motion of characters and objects between and while waiting for server update packets. If the problem were your connection, you'd notice things like the character 'rubberbanding' backwards a half-step in a continuous stutter (while standing and turning in place would be smooth as silk), or being attacked by invisible enemies, or being hit by enemies standing across the room from you who didn't visibly move to attack you - all signs that the server isn't fully communicating object updates. At no point in any game I can think of written in the last eight years would poor network performance actually cause a slowdown in framerate, as rendering threads are completely separate from network input.

Modern PC CPUs have largely outpaced the processing requirements of most games, and nothing requires over 2GB in order to run at the highest possible settings.

As others have indicated, what you need is a new video card. You need to find out whether the motherboard of the XP machine has a AGP or PCIe (PCI express) slot for graphics, and then slot in a new graphics card. This is simple enough that my grandmother could do it - and I had her do it just to prove to herself that she could. I understand your reservations about nVidia under the circumstances, but they really are the gold standard for driver quality and general compatibility.

After mail-in rebate, you can get an 8600GT with 256MB onboard RAM for $60

If you have a PCI express slot on your motherboard, this is what your son should get. It'll be reasonably future-proof through Blizzard's upcoming expansion pack (each major content addition to the world gets a slightly higher polycount to keep track with the improving hardware of the average consumer).

If you have an AGP slot, this would probably be the way to go. nVidia simply doesn't maintain a competitive price/performance ratio for AGP cards.
posted by Ryvar at 10:25 PM on March 11, 2008

I pay the WOW fee, but I don't want to pay anything more, because I've got the "World's Worst Dad" reputation to consider.

Oh, and dude, the fact that you're here trying to figure out how to help your son get his game working speaks for itself.
posted by Ryvar at 10:27 PM on March 11, 2008

He tried to install his own realm a few weeks back.

Then your son might have a much worse problem; some sort of spyware / keylogger / malware / virus fountain. There's no legitimate way for a player to run a private realm server. Your son probably got the software online from some shady source. Not the end of the world, except that WoW accounts are valuable targets for online thieves who piggyback malware onto security exploits and downloads. Downloads like private realms.

Based on that new information, I'd say the first thing you need to do is a full malware scan and cleanup. And change any important passwords that were used from that computer, particularly the WoW account.
posted by Nelson at 1:33 PM on March 12, 2008

That's a pretty remote possibility, Nelson, but it is a possibility.
posted by Ryvar at 4:24 PM on March 12, 2008

onboard graphics cards are known for being spotty.
First, reinstall the graphic drivers. If no go, try a different graphics card.
tigerdirect has a huge variety that are moderately priced.

Have a friend that's into computers take a look at your set up, log into the game with your son, and play around with the graphics options.

There's too many variables to really handle some tech support things via a forum type of setup like metafilter. The site's good, but there's no substitution for sitting down with a computer and troubleshooting it directly.

It is likely that your son will be able to fix the problem on his own, or by calling a computer savvy friend. Sometimes, problems are learning opportunities.
posted by wow_accounts at 4:02 AM on March 31, 2008

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