Starcraft II: On the Cheap

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

239 Comments

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

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rkrause

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Edited By rkrause

It would have been nice to compare some AMD cpu's also.

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SDSkarface

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Edited By SDSkarface

Wow i commend gamespot for this article! IGN did one similar to this except it was a thinly veiled ad for prebuilt PCs from companies such as Ibuypower,Alienware and Apple! (snicker)

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detectivepbert

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Edited By detectivepbert

I think this is a good article. Am in the market for a new (non-gaming) PC but preferably will get one that can play SC2.

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killa32130

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Edited By killa32130

@Torrasque3132 Eh, Amd are maybe 5-10% slower then intel but they're alot cheaper and thus giving you a bigger bang for you buck.

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killa32130

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Edited By killa32130

@alemania4 I don't think ultra, but maybe high settings at decent fps (30-50ish). Even if you cannot play at high, medium looks very good and almost the same as high excluding some small visual effects (flame effects are not as bright ect).

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Asarath100

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Edited By Asarath100

i have a quad core prosserer and a radeon hd 5500 and 3gb of ram wil that be suffiicant

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spmfd02

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Edited By spmfd02

I would just like to point out to everyone complaining about others talking about monthly payments for the game. YES it makes sense, they pay the whole $60 just in a payment plan instead of all together. L2 read

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Joe_Zombie

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Edited By Joe_Zombie

@diegocancun Are you high? There is no monthly payment. Non. It's just like any other NON - mmo out there. oh, and it's a beaut on a i7 870, 8 gig ram, gtx 275 system running at 1920 x 1080

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Joe_Zombie

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Edited By Joe_Zombie

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

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alemania4

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Edited By alemania4

can any one tell me if i can play starcraf 2 with high settings or ultra high setting on a AMD athlon x3 2.7ghz, 4 gb ram ddr3 and a video card ATI Sapphire HD 4670 1GB DDR3 in a resolution of 1280 1024?

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twocinc

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Edited By twocinc

@Redstar In some locales (South America for instance) you do have to pay by month (though you can buy a permanent subscription for the same cost as the US box.) http://www.joystiq.com/2010/05/07/starcraft-2-offering-subscription-plans-in-latin-america-asia-a/

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illuminatirexx

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Edited By illuminatirexx

misleading article title......

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ps3jamesm

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Edited By ps3jamesm

I'm so glad this game worked for my Compaq Presario CQ60-215DX Notbook PC with a AMD Athlon x2 ( I may not be able to have the setting on high to be able to enjoy the improved graphics but at least I'm able to have my graphic settings on med.) ^_^...besides all that StarCraft 2 was worth the money I spent and I plan to enjoy this game for years to come.

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Josh-Fu

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Edited By Josh-Fu

The reason why rhe game is more CPU demanding(and on raw Mhz) Is because Blizzard usually designs their games traditionally. Especially with star craft here. There is a little bit of zoom, but thats it. The view is isometric, the player cant shift the view or rotate, nor is there any draw distance to consider. I run a Quad 2.4 with an 8800 GT with 4 gigs of DDR2 and I play on HIgh and it dosent miss a beat even when it gets crazy. Dont go switching your processors for one game, It depends on the type of game to answer the question if it will be harder on your GPU/CPU. Valve is the same way actually Half-Life only uses one core. That being said, Blizzard has been known to update their games SC,D2, WoW to take advantage of user demographics. I would expect Starcraft 2 to actually be running better on Duo/Quad cores in the future. Now go buy the game because its awesome.

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Echorai

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Edited By Echorai

Heh. I thought the article was on trying to get SC2 at a cheap price

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zorlak316

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Edited By zorlak316

im running ULTRA setting on 3.2athlon X2,4gb, 1600x900 on 8800gt, and win7 ultimate with no hung-ups..jitters occur when i push the sound channel to the highest..

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RedStar

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Edited By RedStar

Why do people think you have to pay per month for this game? I'm sick of reading that crap. Only WoW has that. God.

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Lord_luke

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Edited By Lord_luke

Useless article...

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diegocancun

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Edited By diegocancun

I'm not saying the game is not worth playing, its just that the game is not worth paying that much with the things it includes. But this is only my opinion.

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diegocancun

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Edited By diegocancun

I don't like blizzard making you pay every month just to play the game... O_o Don't they have enough with Wow? I bought the game for (what would be) $20 (dollars/usa) in my country and it came with a 6 month package. So then I would have to pay $10 every month after that just to play a month or pay $60/70 (I think) for infinite time, if not more. Blizzard is just playing with us. -.- Can't they just make it a normal game, everything included? And most importantly, a reasonable price? The game is just not worth paying $60-70

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Artas1984

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Edited By Artas1984

Can somebody explain this BS... How can Core i3 with low 256 kB L2 cache/per core perform better than Q9650 with 3 Mb L2 cache/per core This test false.. If you can explain please write me PM.

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dr_jashugan

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Edited By dr_jashugan

:lol: And I thought this was about getting a cheap copy of the game :lol: Man, $60 is too much. I'll wait for a price drop.

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ViperAnaf

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Edited By 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 so it will keep the OTHER textures on high but will change ONLY the terrain resolution to ultra I assume that the game gets lagi because it changes all of the resolution in the game to ultra even those you cant really notice like Infantry and structures but the the terrain doesnt need that much memory between high and ultra...

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Bikouchu35

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Edited By Bikouchu35

Seems to be more geared more cpu than gpu, I get nasty fps down to five during big battle play, but I peak at 70fps on ultra and 100fps on high. With q6700 and gtx 460, maybe I gotta wait for new drivers for this card.

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Slymerz

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Edited By Slymerz

Wish i could run StarCraft 2 on my PS3 :)

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deactivated-5857b4a04988e

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Hmmm, there seems to be a huge difference between Low and Medium, but I seriously can't tell the difference between High and Ultra (sure, the terrain is a little blurry on High, but still). The difference between Medium and Ultra seems to neglible too. Anyone know why that there's that much of a difference between low and the other settings?

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mhh91

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Edited By mhh91

@Torrasque3132 the article says "On the Cheap", and clearly Intel CPUs aren't cheap why would I get a core2duo when I can get a better phenom II?

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Torrasque3132

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Edited By Torrasque3132

@mhh91 well .. yeah. Who the hell uses AMD's for high end gaming ? FAIL :))))

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mhh91

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Edited By mhh91

Intel CPUs only? FAIL

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schawnneo

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Edited By schawnneo

Fix the damn bug in MW2 Activision!!!

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Liliroots

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Edited By Liliroots

no no they are more about the quality of the gameplay not just on how it looks like some games it looks awesome and the game runs smoothly thats a lot more than some games offer plus, they want this game to be available to the casual gamers too I really think their graphical design for SC2 is great very eye-catching and superb visuals, theres a nice balance between looking sophisticated and taking a bite out of someones wallet

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Saerain

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Edited By Saerain

I don't get it. StarCraft II isn't something anyone or their grandmother should have to upgrade for. Blizzard games do not push technical envelopes. They're much more about scaling down than scaling up.

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warbinger

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Edited By warbinger

Runs perfectly at ultra settings on my 3 year old machine :P AMD 6600+ Dual core 3.1 ghz, Nvidia 9800GT 1gb DDR3 on-board RAM, 8gb DDR2 RAM,

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Toysoldier34

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Edited By Toysoldier34

Or you could spend $100 on a GPU and another 30-40 on fans and overclock it. That's what I did and my 9500GT out proforms all stock cards under $200 easy. A little more heat but it maxes out games with the best of em. Just overclock guys, don't over do it but a little can go a long ways. I bumped my Windows Score up 1.1 and .8 for the two graphics scores. Which would cost a lot to do with new hardware. I recommend Rivatuner.

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steverams

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Edited By steverams

it's a little choppy on my 486 dx win95 laptop... :-)

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deadlois

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Edited By deadlois

It runs decent enough to play on low settings on my work laptop. Toshiba Tecra, 2.4 Ghz Core 2 duo, 2 GB ram and Intel GMA 4500HD. Only a lil slowdown if there are a like 20 carriers or something like that on screen :P

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MagicTestacle

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Edited By MagicTestacle

The game runs perfectly on my 4 years old machine. (2.13 core dou, 8600gts, 3 gb ram). I'm even using 1900x1200... Of course I take it down to high quality because 40 units firing at once makes it a bit sluggish, but who cares? It's looking good...

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bigstingman

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Edited By bigstingman

9800 GTX...where do you guys live. Under a rock? Get a 480 already.

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MaxBlaze

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Edited By MaxBlaze

My specs: 2.33Ghz Core2Duo, 8800GTX, 4GB DDR2 RAM. Run everything at "Ultra" at 1680x1050. StarCraft II runs at completely playable framerates. I believe the lowest it's dropped is 40FPS.

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twocinc

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Edited By twocinc

I run the game on a 6-year old AMD64 3500+ with a 7600GT PCI Express 256MB video card and 2GB of system RAM. Way way way below recommended specs, and even below required specs. It runs fine and looks fine even though I have to turn down settings. One of the things Blizzard is very very good at (among many) is making scalable games.

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dravencore

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Edited By dravencore

I have AMD X2 4800, 9600GT, 3GB RAM, 500GB SATA HD. and taht is way below spec from above, but the game runs very well on my "cheap" machine. in fact I got Ultra setting for the default. altough i playing it on high setting, couse i don't want my com work to hard. BTW is an RTS games, is the gameplay that really matter not the visual.

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Goyoshi12

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Edited By Goyoshi12

I must not be a big fan of PC gaming that I thought I was. I have no idea what they are saying to me but just go out and get these systems or so. However, I think I can figure it out but other wise...no...all I can get is that this stuff gives my computer the graphics engine it needs to run Starcraft 2.

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Rickiej

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Edited By Rickiej

Why is there even a feature for this? Starcraft 2 is a perfectly programmed game, the engine doesn't require much resources from your hardware. If you do have problems playing this game on normal settings, you can get a rig at around for 650-700€ Which should run the game at atleast High(at bare minimum!). My rig is now about 3 years old and I can run everything at Ultra settings. It was state of the art back then though.

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MachShot

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Edited By MachShot

"On the cheap" is relative. To me (and many of you), "on the cheap" is a ~2.75 Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, and Radeon HD 3xxx. They did their best to express what is cheap in their minds. Actually, a Core i3/i5, 4GB RAM, and Radeon 5670 (not even a 5870) would still be under $600 (give or take $100), even with labor included from a custom-built site.

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simo_tmm

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Edited By simo_tmm

I did not get this article. A friend of mine ran the beta on 2.4 pentium 4, 1gb ram, radeon 9600pro, a PC you may probably stumble upon on a slum street. This is what I call running on the cheap.

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gix47

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Edited By gix47

and thats why they sold of 1.5million units worldwide

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genocide_devil

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Edited By genocide_devil

Hey, I know it graphics quality would not really make a difference in gameplay but I just thought that people might want to know what they are missing if they are playing on the Low settings. These are just eye candy though. It will not affect gameplay. Screenshot comparison @ http://comparescreenshots.slicx.com/comparison/71980

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jubeCRash

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Edited By jubeCRash

This is so funny to read how all the mainly console gamers are discussing computer components and upgrading etc :D:D .. they sound so nooby xD and unsure, and of course noticeable are the veteran long time pc gamers who know their hardware.

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thartist

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Edited By thartist

IF the article was supposed to be about "On the cheap", it should have been with High and Medium (not Ultra) settings, shouldn't it?. Besides, Ultra takes a big hit for barely distinguishable difference. Also, it's only been tested with Intel processors and a $500+ 480GTX makes little point (except for noting that it oddly performs below the much cheaper 5870). But well... it's useful anyway if you scrap the title :D

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gabrielkipp

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Edited By gabrielkipp

$550??! thats cheap for a gaming pc

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