Modern Warfare 3 is a new bar for the franchise, at least in terms of visual quality. The highly scalable PC release can accommodate low-end systems, but if you’re looking to get the most mileage out of a midrange gaming PC, you’ll need the best settings for Modern Warfare 3.
I’ve been putting the game through its paces for about a week, testing the various options in the graphics menu, as well as its slew of upscaling options. Here’s everything you need to know about Modern Warfare 3‘s performance on PC.
Like previous Call of Duty releases, Modern Warfare 3 is absolutely stuffed with graphics settings. Even if you’re used to adjusting a graphics menu to get the best performance, Modern Warfare’s options are absolutely dizzying. After our testing, though, here are the best settings for Modern Warfare 3 that I settled on:
- Render Resolution: 100
- Dynamic Resolution: Off
- Upscaling: DLSS on RTX, XeSS otherwise
- VRAM Scale Target: 80
- Variable Rate Shading: Off with DLSS/XeSS, On otherwise
- Texture Resolution: Normal
- Texture Filter Anisotropic: Normal
- Depth of Field: On
- Detail Quality Level: Normal
- Particle Resolution: Low
- Bullet Impacts: On
- Persistent Effects: Off
- Shader Quality: Medium
- On-Demand Texture Streaming: On
- Local Texture Streaming Quality: Normal
- Shadow Quality: Low
- Screen Space Shadows: Low
- Ambient Occlusion: Statis objects (GTAO)
- Screen Space Reflections: Normal
- Static Reflection Quality: Low
- Tessellation: Near
- Terrain Memory: Medium
- Volumetric Quality: Low
- Deferred Physics Quality: Low
- Weather Grid Volumes: Normal
- Water Quality: Wave Wetness
We’re making most of the cuts to shadows and reflections. That’s not because they provide the best overall performance improvement — that goes to texture resolution, and I’ll dig into why in the benchmarks below — but because they don’t degrade the image quality as much. Even with the highest texture preset, there are some rough edges in Modern Warfare 3, and turning down the texture quality lower than what I have here is a sacrifice to image quality that’s just too big.
For performance, my optimized settings ended up just slightly faster than the Balanced preset, all while pushing a solid number of the settings higher. The benchmarks below don’t include any form of upscaling, but Modern Warfare 3 supports just about everything: DLSS, FSR 2, FSR 1, NIS, XeSS, and even its own built-in dynamic resolution.
My recommended settings center around using DLSS for RTX GPUs and XeSS for everything else. As I’ll dig into later, XeSS has more stability than FSR 2, though FSR 2 is a bit sharper. The built-in dynamic resolution is best if the other upscaling tools won’t work with your GPU, but I don’t recommend it otherwise. For the vast majority of players, you’ll want to stick with DLSS or XeSS.
As expected from a Call of Duty release, Modern Warfare 3 is highly scalable. You’ll need a modern midrange rig to run the game at its recommended settings, but if you’re using an older system, you can still play the game without issues, much unlike the recent Alan Wake 2.
|Minimum (MP Only)||Minimum||Recommended||4K Ultra|
|CPU||Intel Core i3-6100 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200||Intel Core i5-6600 or AMD Ryzen 5 1400||Intel Core i7-6700K or AMD Ryzen 5 1600X||Intel Core i7-8700K or AMD Ryzen 7 2700X|
|Storage||79GB SSD||149GB SSD||149GB SSD||149GB SSD|
|Asset Cache||Up to 32GB||Up to 32GB||Up to 32GB||Up to 64GB|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 960 / GTX 1650 or AMD RX 470||Nvidia GTX 960 / GTX 1650 or AMD RX 470||Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti / RTX 3060 or AMD RX 6600 XT||Nvidia RTX 3080 / RTX 4070 or AMD RX 6800 XT|
There are some interesting notes here, though. If you’re just interested in multiplayer, you can get by with a much weaker CPU. The multiplayer only calls for a dual-core Intel chip, while you’ll need at least a quad-core for the campaign and extra modes. In addition, you have the option to only install the multiplayer, massively reducing the install size.
But you’ll need to account for more storage space than just the install size. Like previous Call of Duty releases, there’s a real-time asset cache that can consume up to 64GB (you can set how much it consumes in the graphics menu). This takes up space on your hard drive, streaming in assets while you play. It’s a setting you should keep on, but note you’ll need some spare space on your hard drive to take advantage of it.
For GPUs, you’ll need at least an RTX 3080, or even the recent RTX 4070, to play at 4K with the Extreme graphics preset. From my testing, the biggest reason for that isn’t raw GPU power but VRAM. As I’ll dig into shortly, Modern Warfare 3 is very demanding on your VRAM at higher settings, and that’s only exaggerated at a high resolution like 4K.
You can play Modern Warfare 3 with 8GB of VRAM, but you’ll want more if you plan to run the game at a higher resolution with the highest texture setting. The Extreme preset can consume as much as 7GB of VRAM at 1080p, and upwards of 9GB at 4K. For context, bumping down the texture quality one notch brings down the VRAM requirements to around 4GB and 6GB for 1080p and 4K, respectively.
Testing with the RTX 2060 Super, which has 8GB of VRAM, there were some concerning drops at the higher graphics modes. VRAM didn’t always come into play, particularly in areas where you’re indoors or in enclosed outdoor sections. But when the VRAM was stressed, such as in the cinematic opening mission, I saw my frame rate cut in half at 4K.
You can set a VRAM target in Modern Warfare 3, but this doesn’t seem to improve performance. From what I can see, this limit is mainly for if you’re doing other things on your PC simultaneously while playing, forcing the game to share VRAM with other applications.
If you’re running a GPU with 8GB of VRAM, you can still play Modern Warfare 3. You’ll probably need to bump down the texture quality, though, as demanding areas on the VRAM can have a massive impact on performance.
I focused my Modern Warfare 3 benchmarks on the RTX 2060 Super. Its performance sits between the minimum and recommended system requirements, and it’s a good representation of a popular mainstream GPUs from a few years ago. The good news is that it was great at 1080p and even held up at 1440p. Those hoping for 4K, though, will need something a little more powerful.
Even at the Basic graphics preset, I was just barely managing over 30 fps at 4K with the RTX 2060 Super. Thankfully, 60 fps was achievable at 1440p with this graphics preset, though with occasional dips into the mid-50s. At 1080p, I had no issues sitting comfortably above 60 fps, even at the demanding Extreme graphics mode.
Note that these benchmarks were run without any upscaling. Although upscaling shows diminishing returns at 1080p, it can still massively improve performance at 1440p, and even more so at 4K. You could easily crack 60 fps at 1440p with the RTX 2060 Super with some upscaling assistance, and perhaps get close to 4K if you dialed back some graphics settings.
I tested three presets in Modern Warfare 3, but the game includes five. There’s an Ultra mode just below Extreme, as well as a Minimum mode below Basic. The Minimum mode is reserved for the weakest systems, as its main draw is reducing the render resolution to 50%. The Basic mode already bumps down most of the settings to their lowest value.
Modern Warfare 3 supports just about every flavor of image reconstruction you could want, almost to a fault. Some of the options are redundant, which can make navigating the upscaling tab a bit confusing. Here are all of the options in the game:
- DLSS 2.x
- FSR 2.x
- FSR 1
- FidelityFX CAS
- In-game dynamic resolution
For most people, we’re only focused on the top three: Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling, AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution 2, and Intel’s XeSS. FSR 1 supports some older GPUs, but it doesn’t look as good, and NIS (Nvidia Image Scaling) is in a similar situation. CAS actually has a performance hit and it’s meant as a sharpening pass at native resolution. Similarly, Nvidia’s Deep Learning Anti-Aliasing (DLAA) is an option for RTX owners running at native resolution.
If you’re not hitting the performance you want, DLSS is your best option. As you can see in the chart below, DLSS, FSR 2, and XeSS all hover around the same level of performance with their Balanced preset, but DLSS is the overall winner by a few frames.
More importantly, DLSS looks the best by far. It actually appears better than native resolution thanks to its built-in TAA, so I’d recommend turning on DLAA, even if you’re already running at native resolution on an RTX GPU. XeSS and FSR 2 are on mostly even footing, but I recommend most players stick with XeSS between the two.
Similar to FSR 2, you can use XeSS on most GPUs. It looks about the same as FSR 2 in a static image, but FSR 2 shows much more shimmering in motion. This isn’t a big problem on the Quality or Balanced presets, but it can become distracting in Performance mode. XeSS maintains image stability much better, and it provides a similar level of image quality and performance.
As for FSR 1, NIS, and the in-game dynamic resolution, you should avoid them if you can. It’s good to have these options for legacy support, but they aren’t useful for the majority of PC gamers. They provide a solid performance improvement but don’t look very good. If you have a relatively modern GPU — something from the last six or seven years — stick with DLSS, FSR 2, or XeSS.