Edit: This is an example of a long thread, there are many of those on the forums, many players with the exact same problem (hard disk thrashing). If you look at the specs you can notice there isn’t a pattern (nVidia, ATI, doesn’t matter). So it’s really a generalized behavior that more or less affects everyone (depending on drive speed and video memory bandwidth). I had a slight improvement after I lifted the Windows page file from 2Gb to 3. Slight.
When I wrote my impressions on the game I was running the client on a brand new, near-top the line machine, and said the performance wasn’t that amazing, with some FPS slowdown in crowded RvR.
Today I mirrored the client to my old PC and I was surprised to see that the framerate is about the same (!) while the PC is four years old. I have about 30 fps, 20 in the quest hubs with lots of NPCs around. Obviously the more characters, the lower the framerate, but it’s playable.
What instead makes it *completely* unplayable is the constant hard disk thrashing. If I stand still I have smooth FPS, as soon I start to move in a direction the hard disk begins loading heavily.
Since the problem is weird (I expected lower fps, but not this caching problem) I started to research it a bit. I have 1.6GB free on this XP install, and the client uses between 1 and 1.2Gb of memory. My videocard has 512Mb. On standard settings the client only uses 256Mb, in all cases. This is also related to a bug (known by Mythic) as it seems that the client doesn’t detect the correct amount of video memory.
In any case they added that slider on the options. Moving the slider basically “overrides” the amount of video memory the client is going to use. From my experiments I noticed that at the higher setting it was using up to 400-430Mb of video memory.
The problem is that this does very little to reduce the heavy stuttering as you move around. That slider does NOT load an higher number of textures (so reducing the need of constant loading), it simply loads higher res ones (so you don’t see anymore blurry textures around you). So it doesn’t increase the number of textures, it increases their quality. This means that, no matter the slider position or other settings on that window, the hard disk thrashing is still there, almost unaffected.
On the new PC I also noticed this thrashing, but it was noticeable in heavy populated zones. And that PC had 4Gb of memory and a very fast HD too, so the problem was minimized. This just to say that I don’t think it’s hardware related, but a problem in the architecture of the client and the way the memory is managed. I remember when I was in Mourning’s beta (yeah, the vaporware game) and they didn’t have implemented yet some kind of threading system that would have prevented the loading from the HD to freeze the client. The result was that every time you changed direction the client would freeze for one second to load a different animation.
This thrashing problem feels somewhat similar. It’s like the loading from the hard disk thrashed the whole system and makes the game unplayable, while the *constant* need to free/load video memory makes it all worse.
As I said even at the highest setting the client doesn’t use all the video memory available. Usually you have that texture thrashing when the video memory is filled and so loading new textures requires to free some space. Warhammer client does this CONTINUOUSLY. Every step you move in a direction it starts swapping old textures out and loading new ones, even if you have free memory. Sometimes you don’t even need to move, turn south and it loads those textures, turn north and it is already swapping things out and back in. It’s insane.
This to say that I doubt you can find a “magic fix”. This seems entirely a client issue that only Mythic can investigate and figure out. On a very fast computer the problem is much reduced and so not ruining the gameplay, while on older machines it becomes really annoying. But it was there in both cases for me.
One thing I noticed is how much the client performance affects my “bias” to the game. When I was having these problems I logged out with a sour taste and the experience soured me even toward completely different elements. So, beware, sometimes the overall opinion and positiveness toward a game can be heavily influenced by a couple of things that do not work well. Like a chain effect.