StarCraft II GPU Performance Comparison

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: July 18, 2010
Product Name: StarCraft II
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NOTE: We now have an OFFICIAL RESPONSE from ATI regarding anti aliasing support for StarCraft II.

Released all the way back in 1998, the original StarCraft is still known as one of the premier real time strategy games on the market. The fact that you can still go down to your local video games store and pick up a copy of the StarCraft Battle Chest is a testament not only to its staying power but Blizzard’s ability to make a game which is fun to play yet easily accessible to a large cross section of the market. Even for a game of its time, StarCraft’s graphics were hardly cutting edge but they were good enough to get the job done without any glaring underachievement. Much like the game itself, the graphics just worked.

Now, more than a decade later, the long wait for the Starcraft sequel is almost over. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty will be released on July 27th for both Windows and OSX platforms after a somewhat lengthy multiplayer beta. It will come packing not only a robust multiplayer experience but also a lengthy single player campaign as well to go hand in hand with a massively customizable experience. Throughout the beta, we have seen some quick glimpses of people’s first forays into modding the game and even at this early, pre-release date, the results look impressive to say the least.

Even though Blizzard is aiming to make StarCraft 2 accessible to as broad a gaming market as possible, the game engine actually has the ability to render some great looking scenes. Luckily for people with slightly older graphics cards and processors, the minimum system requirements on Mac (8600GT or higher needed) and PC (6600GT or ATI 9800 Pro needed) systems is quite lax. In terms of processors, you will need a 2.6Ghz P4 or equivalent if you are running a Windows OS or any Intel processor if you are using a Mac.

While the minimum system requirements are understandably low by modern standards, the so called “recommended” configurations hint at some serious pixel pushing even though StarCraft II only uses the DX9 API for the time being. Blizzard has stated that in order to get what they consider a acceptable gaming experience a minimum of an 8800 GTX or HD 3870 should be installed in a PC. On the Mac side, a 9600 GT or higher is recommended.

With the graphics card industry in its current state, there is no shortage of choices when it comes to buying something to play games like StarCraft II. However, with all of the choices out there, we can expect that some products will be more suited to playing this game than others but there are factors other than framerates that should also factor into a decision. We all want a solution which can bring an optimal combination of performance and frugality in terms of pricing and power consumption. But does such a product exist?

In this article we will be looking at ten modern GPUs from ATI’s HD 5000-series and NVIDIA’s GTX 400 series which range in price from $500 to a mere $135 USD in order to determine which cards offer the best performance. Performance per dollar and performance per watt will also be looked at in order to give you enough information to make an educated purchase. Expect a follow-up article from us in the coming weeks where we expand the tests to include past GPUs as well.


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