When the boss says "I need you overseas next week," replying "but I've got a raid!" isn't really an option. I've just completed a two-week whirlwind trip, and I've discovered that with some mild preparation, it's quite easy to get in your regular WoW time. Dailies, raiding, pet battles PvP; whatever your choice of fun, don't let geography keep you down.
Choose your weapon
"Honey, why can't you take my old laptop on your trip?" "Because it only gets 10 FPS in Val...erm, because I want one that can Skype with you well without any slowdowns!"
First, you're going to need a machine to play on. If buying a new laptop isn't an option, it's not the end of the world; WoW can run on some positively ancient hardware, if you're comfortable with playing on lower graphics-quality settings. After installing it on a few laptops during my last trip overseas, I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that any dual-core system should be able to at least run the game well enough to login, chat, and browse the Auction House. (In chronological terms, that means any system since about 2010 or so, and some higher-end 2008-2009 systems.) Of course, if you want to do anything more vigorous than posting auctions and talking in guild chat, you'll want a better hunk of plastic. Raiding and battlegrounds, in particular, will heavily tax your system, so try it out on your machine BEFORE you go. Trust me; learning Alysrazor tornadoes was challenging by itself, learning them while playing as a healer moving at 5 FPS was even worse.
If you're buying a new machine for your trip, you've got a few things to consider. First, you'll want to determine what resolution you want to play at; most budget laptops have a max resolution of 1366x768 (or a slightly enhanced 720p) while most higher-quality laptops go up to 1920x1080 (1080p). Running in higher resolutions will of course look nicer, but you'll need a more powerful system to keep the same framerate, and you'll also likely need to tweak UI settings to be able to read everything. I highly recommend shelling out extra for the nicer resolution if you plan to use the machine for anything other than WoW and movies, but that's a personal budgetary choice. Incidentally, that brings me to another point; if you use a pre-compiled custom UI, many do not scale down well to laptop displays, so don't expect it to just work out of the box. (For more on this, see some of Olivia's excellent Reader UI columns, where she discusses laptop vs. desktop UI's.)
Once you've settled on a desired resolution, the next step is looking at CPU's and graphics cards. CPU's are easy; AMD makes some good chips, but your best best is going to be an Intel Core-series chip. Any of those will run WoW just fine; don't feel obligated to step up to the quad-core unless you really want to, as you'll get a much bigger boost from looking at a graphics card. Most budget machines will come without a separate graphics card, instead using the built-in graphics processing present in moden CPU's. This works, but you'll likely need to set your graphics to low to reach a playable framerate. For those looking to raid in 25-mans, run large battlegrounds, or just wanting a higher quality experience, you'll want a computer with a separate, or discrete, graphics card. Unfortunately, categorizing the vast array of graphics cards available is beyond the scope of this column, so visit a site such as notebookcheck.net to see some benchmarks. Finally, if you can afford the extra cost, running WoW off a solid-state drive (SSD) will cut loading times dramatically, and is highly-recommended.
Now you're playing with power
Now that you've got your machine, let's hit the essentials. First, power. Let's face it; they've done a lot with modern battery technology, but 3D games still batter down charge levels quick. For anything other than the briefest of sessions, you're going to want a power connection. Thankfully, most laptops are dual-voltage today, so you won't have to worry about lugging a bulky transformer around; make sure, however, you have the proper plug adapter for the region you're visiting.
After you've got some juice, you'll need a good Internet connection. This is not necessarily the connection with the most bandwidth; WoW is actually pretty light on the bandwidth requirements (excepting patch downloads), so you'll have a much better experience with a bandwidth-capped but stable connection vs. one that's uncapped but unstable. You may need to resort to some technical wizardry as well, depending on your location. For the latter half of my trip, I was in a location with no easily-accessible commercial Internet; luckily, I was able to buy a SIM card from the local cellular company, slot that in my phone to get 3G data service, and then tether the phone to my laptop to provide it a connection.
Of course, latency is a big problem; my typical 50ms connection at home was closer to 500ms from the Middle East, with spikes of up to 1500ms. Ouch. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help this. Personally, I chose to use a proxy server service, which reduced my ping times to 250-300ms and smoothed out the lag spikes considerably.Before you ask, yes, these type of services are completely legal and do not violate the Blizzard TOS. Blizzard doesn't care how your data packets get to their servers. (for more, see this blue post). Of course, with any thid-party services such as this, caveat emptor; look for favorable reviews before setting forth.
Accessorize your look
Last, but definitely not least, don't forget your accessories. Most importantly, get an authenticator! It seems logical to forego one when traveling, but I found that Blizzard's automated security is very aggressive at policing connections (especially if you're switching around your connection path by using different proxy servers). I was forced to reset my password 2-3 times a week until I went back to my authenticator; after that, no issues whatsoever with password resets.
Other than the authenticator, you'll definitely want a good headset, and a good mouse. If it's going to be a long trip, taking an extra mouse with you isn't a bad idea. Having a mouse break and trying to complete dailies with a trackpad is equivalent to Sisyphus attempting to complete his labors during an ice storm. (No, I have no personal experience, why do you ask?).
Overall, playing on the road definitely takes some prior planning. However, there's something empowering about being able to sit in the middle of the desert and keep up my hobbies from home. It also has a way of spurring your fellow raiders to greater heights when you beat them on DPS while in said desert...but I go on too long. If you have any experience or tips about playing while traveling, share them in the comments!
Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.
Filed under: Hardware