Starcraft II: On the Cheap

We'll tell you how to get Starcraft II running well without stealing all your pennies.

by

Starcraft II runs well on a lot of computers, but performance really depends on a few key factors. We'll go over the basic points in this article to help you figure out what you might need to upgrade to get the game to run optimally.

We tested the game with a saved game that had over 170 Marines marching to and fro across a map. This proved to be much more intensive than many decent sized battles. While you might not see such a scenario play out in a single player mission too often, it's more than likely to occur when you have a 4v4 online, where each player can output hundreds of units apiece.

CPUs

The bare minimum CPU required to run the game is a 2.6GHz Pentium 4, and like other games before it, that's like saying all you need is a pair of legs to run a marathon. We found quicker Core 2 CPUs to be more than adequate to play the game, with only the occasional slowdown when under heavy load. Quad core CPUs didn't help out all, which means that brute MHz is key. Switching up to the Core i7, we found that Starcraft stretches its legs if given the room. But as we mentioned, the number of cores doesn't matter; you can easily get a quick Core i5 or Core i3 as a substitute with minimal performance degradation. Our AMD Phenom test bed was acting up; thus, we have no performance numbers for it, but the same basic trend should hold there as well. If you have an AMD platform, opt for brute speed over more cores.

Takeaway:

• Single core Pentium 4s do not hack it.
• A dual core CPU is enough.
• Opt for brute MHz instead of more cores.

We recommend stopping at the $125 Core i3 540. It'll get you running briskly without coming close to breaking the bank. For extra juice, jump up to a Core i5 with Turbo Boost.

System Setup:
Intel Core i7-870, Intel Core i3-530, Intel Core i7 965, Intel DX58S0, Intel DP55KG, 4 and 6GB DDR3, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 64-bit. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 10.7, Forceware 258.96.

Video Cards

Starcraft II doesn't need much of a GPU to run well, but it does have a bare minimum threshold you need to get over. Midrange GeForce 8 series cards and equivalent Radeon HD 2000 series should get you going with medium-quality settings at moderate resolutions. For ultra-quality settings and a resolution of 1680x0150 and higher, a minor upgrade is in order. Our GeForce 9800 GTX+ took us all the way up to 1920x1200 with ultra-quality settings. It's currently a $135 video card. Alternatively, you can grab the Radeon HD 5770 for marginally more money. After that, you better have a powerful CPU to push the video card if you want to see gains.

Takeaway:

• Upgrade from old cards--Radeon 9000, X1xx, HD 2000 series/GeForce 6, 7 and 8 series.

Spend no more than $150 to get ultra-quality settings and resolutions as high as 1920x1200. A GeForce 9800 GTX+ or Radeon HD 5770 will be more than enough to run the game.

System Setup:
Intel i7-870, Intel DP55KG, 4GB DDR3, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 64-bit. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 10.7, Forceware 258.96.

Settings

Unless you have old hardware you can probably move the settings on up to high or ultra and walk away. The performance gap between ultra and high is quite large, dropping down a notch is worth it for the extra frames.

Graphic Presets

Ultra High Medium Low

System Setup:
Intel i7-870, Intel DP55KG, 4GB DDR3, 750GB Seagate 7200.11 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows 7 64-bit. Graphics Card: GeForce 9800 GTX+, Forceware 258.96.

Monitors

It's rare for us to mention monitors in an upgrade guide, but with Starcraft II, visible screen space is important. It is easier to respond to what you can see onscreen. We went through all the various resolution types to determine which aspect ratio provided the most viewable onscreen area. The screenshots are arranged in order from most viewable area to least. The basic trend we found was this: The wider the screen, the better.

You don't need to run out and buy a monitor with a wider aspect ratio to take advantage of wider resolutions. A simple change to the graphics settings, in the driver's control panel and game settings, should allow you to run lower but wider resolutions. If you're not averse to stretched images, you don't even have to bother changing the driver settings.

16:9 16:10 4:3 5:4

The table below summarizes some of the more popular screen resolutions and their corresponding aspect ratios.

Aspect Ratio Resolutions
16:9 1280x720 1360x768 1600x900 1920x1080
16:10 1280x800 1440x900 1680x1050 1920x1200
4:3 1024x768 1280x960 1600x1200  
5:4 1280x1024      

Takeaway:

• Wider monitors give you more visible screen real estate.
• Grab a 16:9 aspect ratio monitor to get the widest possible screen natively.
• Or stick with your existing monitor and use 16:9 resolutions with black bars.

The Big Picture

A small system capable of playing Starcraft II at high resolutions and maximum settings will cost less than $600. If you're upgrading from existing parts, the outlay will be even less than that amount.

Full System:

• Intel Core i3 540 - $125
• Socket 1156 Motherboard - $90
• Radeon HD 5770 - $150 or GeForce 9800 GTX+ - $135
• 4GB DDR3 RAM - $85
• 500GB Hard Drive - $50
• Case + Power Supply - $50

Total - $550

Discussion

240 comments
wolverine_97
wolverine_97

kind of bias since no AMD cpus were tested

the_punkface
the_punkface

so does this mean it wont work on everyday pcs, like windows and macs?

RockmasteR-_-
RockmasteR-_-

@Yomama51 4 gigs DD3 = 85$ (as written above) ;)

IRoxxorUrSoxxor
IRoxxorUrSoxxor

Way to include tower, PSU, disc drive etc. I know it wont send you sky rocketing upwards, but \$550 the cost of upgrading from existing parts, even assuming some of these prices (which, honestly, have to be like weekend deals from some store in Oregon or something). Also @ Wavey57 lolno. Maybe it runs at a smooth 30 FPS during the first two minutes of the game, when there are zero units onscreen, but that rig is not up to the task.

Yomama51
Yomama51

Where the heck do they get 4 gigs of DDR3 for 50 bucks?

Phantom_--
Phantom_--

I'm sure there's already a dozen posts like this... but I'm running Vista (yeah shoot me) with an intel dual core 2.80Ghz processor, 2 GB of RAM, and a NVIDIA GeForce 7300 LE GPU. Already have Starcraft II beta on here, it's playable on lowest settings. Would I be able to play on higher settings with more RAM and an upgraded GPU, or do I just need to start over from scratch? If you reply or send me a message I'll love you forever :)

poopinpat
poopinpat

i really found this article helpful. It has inspired me to get rid of my old gaming laptop in favor of a similar rig described in this article. Gamespot estimated that you could build that rig for $550, but after ordering all the parts my bill is about $700 (im candian so the parts were a little more expensive due to the exchange). I would love to know where they get a case/powersupply for $50 though, they must be junk at that price and i needed a PS that can support an upgrade to crossfired 5770's (XFX). i spent $100 on the two items and my case is used and the PS was a bundle deal with the gfx card. It's my first time building a computer from its components and im realizing now how much of a sucker i was buying from best buy/futureshop...buy online, way cheaper and better selection.

Fayt1986
Fayt1986

amd woulda been nice to compare...... oh well mine will run it fine ^^

apsalar
apsalar

@Teka, Intel hasn't aways been ahead. Intel really picked up with multi core systems + better management + good quality for price products in the last 5 or so years. While AMD had to deal with financial woes and ATI(even more financial problems). Yet now it seems things are getting interesting again with AMD getting good quality products out promptly as well as ATI with 5000 series cards. CUDA is great but OpenCL probably is worthwhile competitor (and available for both ATI + NVIDIA cards). Time will tell what will happen. Hopefully interesting times are coming in ahead :D. btw I am no fanboy. I have i7 920 + SLI XFX NVIDIA 8800GS XXX.

bonereaper69
bonereaper69

Ive got a AMD dual core 2.6ghz cpu, 2gb ddr 2 memory, HIS ICE-Q 4670 1gb ddr3 (AGP) gpu. And i can run the game with all the gpu settings on high, at 1024@768, which blows i thinks its a compatibility problem, crank it up to my naieve monitor resolution at 1400@900 and then it starts to shudder.

Teka
Teka

(O.o)???

Teka
Teka

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

key1001
key1001

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

MachShot
MachShot

@Wavey57 Are you sure man? I've a Core i3 (2.6ghz), 2GB RAM, Radeon HD 4650 (1GB memory), resolution 1024x768, and it can't even run proper at default "HIGH" settings.

Teka
Teka

To the people who is a fanatic of amd: the only thing you see on amd's fellas is his good price, and no the cpu quality and performance; one thing for you "gamers": INTEL, ALWAYS, ALWAYS HAS THE LEAD, INTEL LEAD THE WAY.... To the people who is a crazy fanatic of ATI : NVIDIA RULES, almost every game in this planet is are made with CUDA, please....

Wavey57
Wavey57

I'm running SC2 on a core2duo (2.2Mhz) and nvidia 9600GT Sonic(512mb), 2 Gb ram....and it runs great at ultra (rez 1280-1024 :D that's what my screen suports- it's a 19")

XxShadow69xX
XxShadow69xX

@Edmor_t they said their AMD rigs were having issues, so they didn't get a chance to run the comparison tests with them

Kelteel
Kelteel

I am curious as to how my dual processor 3.8GHz Extreme Gamer with 4GB Ram installed will handle the game .... so far it hasn't had any problem with any game .... either SP or LOTRO MMO.

Edmor_t
Edmor_t

Why AMD CPUs don't show up in the tests! I'd like to see the same tests with Athlon and Phenom.

mighty-tassedar
mighty-tassedar

So always Get extreme gamers it shall take high temperature and last long

mighty-tassedar
mighty-tassedar

My GPU is ATI 3850 CPU is core to quad Q6600 mother board is MSI P45 d3 Platinum and my soundcard is Asus Xonar D2X the temperature is GPU 69C CBU 55C the game is running high detail but the anti alysing is shut off So i well wait for the next gen CPU But i need now a new GPU ati 5870 from asus

MW2GhoST
MW2GhoST

i need a new cpu so bad, im still runnin on a core 2 duo with 2.2GHz lol

acasero44
acasero44

This article fails at all levels. it clearly shows bias towards Intle which is the more expensive brand when you can get better performance with a smaller price tag with AMD. and THAT is a FACT people

uberjannie
uberjannie

The performance gain is most visual when you go from 1 to 2 cores and from 2 to 3 cores. There are no point in going more than 3 cores if you are a gamer. Just check out reviews on Toms Hardware, they always get to the same conclusion.

nyranasaurus
nyranasaurus

for people that go on about how useless this article is, This information is important especially to people that only play console games and want to try thier hands at PC Gaming, that dont know too much. So this article is important for many reasons. If you have been gaming on pc for years then you wouldnt need to know this stuff if you do the research. BUT THERES MANY people that have no idea about this information , but want to get into the awesome power of pc gaming. Nothing misleading in this title at all. Artivles lieke this give us all some very useful information. My rig is 4 years old, a Intel Core 2 duo 2.66Ghz, a 8800 GTS 512mb card 3GB ram of DDR2 runs Call of duty modern Warfare 2 on MAX and Crysis at 45FPS on high at 1024 x 1280 and running windows xp. Runs starcraft with no probs at all. Thsi system would be pretty cheap now even if you swapped the 8800 GTS card for a Ati 5770 HD you would get even BETTER performance and play the latest games easy. You dont need an expensive rig to play anything out today accept Bad company 2 requires a bit of beef a 5770HD or higher to run properly.

rohitmitra5752
rohitmitra5752

I have an AMD Athlon X2 7750 (2.7 GHz & 2 MB L3 Cache), and an MSI n9800GT T2D1G-OC Graphics Card (1GB 9800 GT). My native screen resolution is 1680X1050. So, around what FPS should I be expecting?

lordrem93
lordrem93

this post is very misleading in the discription... Starcraft II: on the cheap

mrtodd1010
mrtodd1010

AMD Athlon(tm) 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 5200+ (2 CPUs), ~2.6GHz Dual GeForce 8800 GT SLI Enabled1523 MB 1440 x 900 (32 bit) (60Hz) Monitor. These are my specs on an Alienware Aurora thats almost 3 years old and I can play it with everything on ultra. I've never upgraded anything on my system and I'm not having any problems. I would love to upgrade everything on my system but I'm too broke. Any Ideas for good upgrades at a lower price?

Sylak_fairlee
Sylak_fairlee

I got 4 gb on 1066 ddr2, a phenom X 4 965 at 3.8ghz. and a 9800gtx+ 770mhz. and the game in realling smooth in 1680X1050. my faithful 9800gtx+ run most on the game i play really well, G92 Gpu are maybe old but still holding well!

Hellspawn_1581
Hellspawn_1581

ViperAnaf "here is my trick ro play on everything on high and keep the terrain textures more sharp in the Variables.txt file in the "Starcraft II" folder in you "Document" folder find this TerrainTextureSize=(what ever you use) and change it to TerrainTextureSize=1024" I'll try this trick in a second!!!! In the meantime, i'll give my report on performance: C2D E7400 2.8GHZ OC'ed to 3.2GHZ, 3GB RAM DDR2 800MHZ, Geforce 9500GT GDDR3 512mb Running the game at 1440x900 (my native is 1600x900, but the cutscenes are a bit laggy at that res), everything on high, VERY SMOOTH =) Oh and @Kulcan and everyone else who wants to know the pricings and *sigh* scams, the price of Starcraft 2 (full version, unlimited acces) is of 300$ Argentinian pesos in my case (dollar=3.80$ approx).....it's a pain, it's REALLY expensive, as expensive as buying a 5.1 channel sound system.

GabrielOnuris
GabrielOnuris

@diegocancun I can actually agree with you in some points, it's extremely odd to buy a game like you are indeed renting it for 6 months. We received that version of SC2 here in Brazil too. That's a marketing trick from Blizzard, though I didn't like it so much, but anyone who doesn't agree with it should simply inform themselves and NOT buy it, as I didn't. In my opinion, if a developer wanna please an emerging market, it shouldn't make it spend more money to play a game after 6 months, when in the developed countries the players are either buying for a fair price and playing forever. Now about the article: It's good to know quad-cores isn't that great as expected to play this game; thank god when I bought my computer I really opted for brute MHz instead of more cores. It was a clever point to remember, Gamespot!!

bo40
bo40

i have a 980a amd board a 1055t six core processor 4 gigs 1150 memmory with cpu and memmory liquid cooled and 2 msi gts 250 i gig twinfrozers in sli with a 1100 watt psu and win 7 ultimate feeding a 40 inch monitor on 1950x1080 enhanced with a 1000 watt surround sound system do you think i can play starcraft 2

peterfaj
peterfaj

Does Star Craft 2 force 16:9 resolution? Does it force black bars or stretch the image if the resolution is not 16:9?

clshades2
clshades2

This game runs fine with an ati 4670 which is around 100 bux and the 8800gt or gts will run this game fine as well. You won't beable to max out the settings but you will beable to play the game. Like they said MHZ is everything so you'll need to be running C2D (highly overlockable) or phenom's (black editions would be better) Once you break the 3ghz barrier you really allow this game to open up and spread its legs like they said. Shockingly this game runs on 512mb cards.

Roncad64
Roncad64

Is this an ONLINE game are can you play it off line by your self.???? Thanks, Roncad64

IBEX333
IBEX333

When I see the title "STARCRAFT II ON THE CHEAP" I cant help but think they gonna tell me where to get Starcraft II for 20 bucks...

jurassic1024
jurassic1024

A 9800GTX+ comparison is closer to what most of you currently have. 80%+ of all desktop GPU sales come from low to midrange cards. Not the beasts that are first released like the GTX 470/480 and 5850/5870.

dracosummoner
dracosummoner

@diegocancun: @redstar: @Joe_Zombie Let me see if I can help make sense of this, if I may. To those who aren't aware, according to Gamasutra ( http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/28433/Blizzard_Reveals_StarCraft_II_Subscription_Option_For_Emerging_Markets.php ), there ~is~ a deal in certain countries to where people actually do have to pay a subscription fee to play Starcraft II after six months or so, at least in a sense. You can either pay full price for the game up front ($60, like in the U.S.), or you can pay $30 or so and then pay a subscription fee after the first six months. Yes, I know it sounds awkward, but diegocancun's not high. That's simply the way it works in certain "developing" countries, according to the linked article, where I'm guessing he or she lives. ---------------------------------------------- Now enough about that. Hopefully, God willing, I can get a new PC soon (I'd like to do some advanced 3D modeling besides just gaming, so I'm aiming for fairly high hardware requirements), so I'm looking forward to being able to blast this game through the roof. :-P

SarjuS
SarjuS

@Joshgt2 I'm perfectly aware that both the 480 GTX and 5870 cost considerably more than the 9800GTX. Note that I only included those two flagship single GPU cards, and not any of the other mid to high end GPUs. The whole point of their inclusion was to demonstrate that it's not worth pouring your money into the GPU even if you have it sitting around.

destinys_martyr
destinys_martyr

Rocano. The correct answer would be that more cores won't increase speed. The only way more cores mean more speed is if the program is written to run parallel threads on multiple cores (very few programs out now utilize this) so you're really never reaping the benefit from having a higher numbered core processor. For now and for a good time in the future more MHz will always mean faster performance.

rocano
rocano

i know quad core isnt that helpful for this but would it rly hurt to have a quad core i mean if anything i would call that epic win Core i7-965 @ 3.20GHz quad awsomeness

oblivion-cool
oblivion-cool

Im playing the game on High and it looks great, I would put it on Ultra but it gets a little laggy. Im happy with high:) anything lower and I wouldnt even play the game, lol.

Kulcan
Kulcan

@Joe_Zombie - @RedStar Actually there are localizations with subscriptions plans ( Latin America , Mexico , Argentina , Chile , etc) You pay for example, $300 MXN ( about $23 USD) for a version that will give players six months of free access to the single and multiplayer modes. After that players can choose to continue to play in 30 and 60 day increments. Specific pricing for those options I don't know exactly. Players in those countries will still have an option to purchase StarCraft II and get unlimited free single and multiplayer access for a price comparable to the US's $59.99 price tag. I repeat this is only for Latin America , Russia , Asia and others locations.

JustClient
JustClient

Ultra - super cool, High - almost the same, Medium - very good though missing light effects, Low - wow what a downgrade, nobody should play on that.

nimbulan2000
nimbulan2000

Buying a case and power supply together for $50 is just asking for trouble. I would also highly recommend against a super cheap motherboard and get one with a high quality P55 chipset for only $30 or so more.

pudgexd
pudgexd

I love how you dont need a really powerful computer to run SC2 on Ultra.

rahl247
rahl247

word o advice stay away from amd

plm3d_basic
plm3d_basic

They need to test Eyefinity or Nvidia's version since RTS games are the perfect games for that type of use and is also advantageous to players as well.

Joshgt2
Joshgt2

Wow... I hope GameSpot knows that there are AMD processors out there and that the 9800 GTX is NOT comparable to the HD 5870. This is truly a piece of stupidity right here. And plus, you can get a better combo of hardware from AMD for a much cheaper price! The Nvidia 470 is the only thing that can be compared to the 5870, just an FYI.

Fayt1986
Fayt1986

im currently in the the market for a new pc and need some help with the psu. amd 3.6ghz x6 core 8gig 1600mhz ddr3 ram ati 1gig hd5770 asus pro motherboard around 4 case fans surround speakers what ammount of wattage should i get for this rig?????? i was gunna get a 700watt psu but i would really like comments if this is fine or that i may need a more powerfull psu to run it.