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

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Exia2004

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Edited By Exia2004

@ Citydel rofl dude

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F3l1P3

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Edited By F3l1P3

I run the game on my macbook pro 13" (Nvidia 9400M GT (256MB) GPU, 4GB DDR3. aasdfshdgliadf I would like to upgrade the GPU; can i upgrade the GPU on this machines? D: i only know i can upgrade the ram :/ but i know 4gb it's ok

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1_Mango_1

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Edited By 1_Mango_1

One Spelling error. There is no such thing as an 1165 socket motherboard, it's 1156 socket. And You will probably want to drop the i3 540 and get the 530 and spend the saved money on a better powersupply.

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johneese

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Edited By johneese

i run sc with a pentium 4.... :(

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Citydel

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Edited By Citydel

Boo. Misleading Title. I want to know how I can buy Starcraft II for $5 by filling out online surveys.

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apsalar

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Edited By apsalar

@zector45 lol very funny. Great setup. @Intellijosh personally I would switch to Windows 7. It should improve things.

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DarkCypher0x0

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Edited By DarkCypher0x0

Kinda new at computers Gamespot? Why oh why would you skimp on a quality PSU? I pray to god nobody ever does that, you could ruin a whole build with a weak/cheap PSU that you were misguided into buying. Rosewill CHALLENGER Mid-Tower Case: 40$ Gigabyte GA-H55M S2H LGA 1156: 90$ Intel Core i3-530 Clarkdale @ 2.9 Ghz: 109$ 4GB G-Skill Ripjaw DDR3 1600: 98$ MSI 250GTS 1GB 256-bit DDR3: 135$ Corsair 550W 80+ E: 80$ Seagate Barracuda 250GB HDD: 45$ Total = 597$ Better build, for 47$ more, and no risk of bricking a 550$ PC with a cheap PSU.

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J0nGalt

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Edited By J0nGalt

I run it (during single player campaign) on all Ultra with resolution at 1900x1600 and with the following setup: Windows 7-64 all bells and whistles settings. Amd 2 core 2.6ghz 64-bit 4gig of ddr ram Nvidia gtx 260 w/996mb of ram (not OCd or anything) 1.5tb SATA seagate (7200) When I am in Multiplayer I usually drop most settings to "high" just to be safe.

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IpwnGandalf

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Edited By IpwnGandalf

AMD+ Nvidia = cheap and efficient computer Nvidia Geforce 9800 GT AMD Phenom X2 2.9 Ghz 4 Gb Ram Can run the game on high settings with no lag, on ultra with a small amount of scrolling lag.

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Swiftstrike5

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Edited By Swiftstrike5

They only allocated $50 for case and power supply? $600 total would be more reasonable or get a cheaper HDD and a better PSU.

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Sukharevskaya

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Edited By Sukharevskaya

it kinda stinks but i always come back and buy awesome games like these a few yrs after they come out--that way i can get them as a battlechest or other discount, and it'll run on the new computer i eventually get

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SarjuS

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Edited By SarjuS

@whiteagle18 We tried, but the testbed just kept acting wonky. Likely a motherboard gone bad.

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zector45

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Edited By zector45

Highest FPS: 123 Average FPS: 60 (depending on activity on screen) Lowest FPS: 31 All FPS are rough estimates during real world gameplay All settings set to ULTRA with anti-aliasing @ x4 and anisotropic filtering @ x16 SYSTEM: AMD PhenomX4 955 @ 3.8Ghz Asus Crosshair III mobo 8GB DDR3 1066 Corsair XMS TWO Sapphire Radeon 5850 crossfireX Corsair Nova 64GB SSD Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB HDD Coolermaster HAF 922 case Take that Nvidia and Intel! AMD & ATI 4 LIFE!

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guitarist1980

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Edited By guitarist1980

Oh btw way Gamespot, just wanna let you know that the Phenom II X4 and X6 series handle SC very well. Just thought I would throw that out there seeing that there a fraction of the cost compared to an Intel system.

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Konviktion

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Edited By Konviktion

Why even bother spending money on a new CPU to run it on Ultra details when I can run it on Medium using a AMD Athlon 64 3500+ ?...The game's strongest points are the gameplay and the story anyway...

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simonsolidsnake

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Edited By simonsolidsnake

I have no problem running SC2 on ultra with 3gb DDR2 800 A Q6600 @1.80ghz (thats right 1.80ghz I had to underclock, long story) and a ATI 4850 512mb.

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Hammstray

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Edited By Hammstray

I don't understand...

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whiteagle18

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Edited By whiteagle18

Thanks Gamespot for not testing AMD Cpu's :-(

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Kastigador

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Edited By Kastigador

DragonAge07... From your link even... "Ultra detail adds a number of subtle shader and lighting improvements, but the most notable differences are shadow transparencies (notice the colored shadows cast by the crystals), even nicer shadow edges, and more details, such as foliage." It just depends on how perfect you want things to look. I want all the Bells and Whistles personally and this will likely trigger a mobo/cpu/memory upgrade for me.

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s4dn3s5

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Edited By s4dn3s5

I got a Core Duo E6750@3Ghz with a Geforce 260GTX... I play with high/ultra settings without problems, even if 4vs4 games with mass carriers results in some minor frame drops

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apsalar

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Edited By apsalar

@alexmarin99 lol what an overkill hehe. (can you lend me the 6core??) I have an i7 920 + XFX 8800gs in SLI not worried for running the game at all hehe, hopefully my laptop will be able to run it too. very interesting to see how well the game scales down, increasing the game's potential market share. Thought I wonder if having a Solid State Drive would help things....

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DragonAge07

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Edited By DragonAge07

There is no difference between high and ultra settings in the game !!! Check here !! http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/blizzard-entertainment-starcraft-ii-benchmark,2611-2.html

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Lunabits

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Edited By Lunabits

i prefer run the game at medium with 4x AA over a choppy High setting

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rock_solid

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Edited By rock_solid

send me a message if you know the difference between post-processing low and medium. it says mediums turns on halos but i see no difference.

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demonic_85

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Edited By demonic_85

666shan666, there is no need to test crossfire or SLI setups because a single mid range card will crush it.

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laptop12

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Edited By laptop12

i dont know but my laptop gtx 260M is still albe to maxed out this game, dont really lag through

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Fayt1986

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Edited By Fayt1986

just got a amd phenom x6 2.8/3.2 ghz ati hd5770 8gig ram looking forward to playing this maxed out when it arrives.

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666shan666

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Edited By 666shan666

good review, interesting. though no crossfire or 5970?

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TheJamin

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Edited By TheJamin

@alexmarin99 lol! mate, with that powerplant you could probably run about 5 copies of the game at the same time with no problems at all. Nice spec.

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TheJamin

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Edited By TheJamin

Nice one gamespot no mention of SLI or crossfire support?

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TheJamin

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Edited By TheJamin

something is very wrong if a 9800GTX is doing almost as well as a GTX480 and 5870. less then 10 frames in it.

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Edited By webby1

With Intel i7 920 @3.85ghz ATI 5870 4GB DDR3 RAM Win7 64x Ultimate 1920x1080 Never really drops below 60fps, apart from when I loaded up level editor and put on over 1200 enemies but still got around 20-40fps lol.

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MacenKrace

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Edited By MacenKrace

Atlong XP 2800+, Nvidia 7600GT, 2Gb Ram DDR400, 5000rpm Western Digital 500Gb ATA HDD. All settings low, no problems so far. Plays great, no screen tearing as well on Bnet.

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stantheman12345

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Edited By stantheman12345

running medium low mainly low on lighting since i hate bloom and shadows intel 6300 duel core 1.86ghz 2g ram ati x1300 game runs great and looks better than most rts

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fzd88

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Edited By fzd88

i7 980 dual nvidia 295GTX running in Quad SLI 12Gigs ram 15,000rpm raptor Harddrive running SCII @ 2560x1600 win7 64, ultimate everything set on ultra or maxed out average fps around 85, but whenever i scroll the screen w/ the arrow keys, there are very noticable lag spikes (and it's not screen tearing...the fps will actually drop down to the 50s, jump to 80, back to 50, etc). It might be a vSync thing, will look into later today. Otherwise tho, the game is running butter smooth...

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Edited By niantzer

amd phenom II X4 965 3.4 Ghz , asus radeon HD 5770, windows 7 64bit, 1920x1080, maxed all settings except shader at high (I found no different between shader ultra & high but lot framerate gains), all run smoothly at average 60fps.

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Tree06

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Edited By Tree06

A lot of my friends have been talking about this game. I don't know if I would spend that much to upgrade my pc to play it though. If I had the money, I might consider it.

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Edited By heliconius

amd phenom II X4 965 3.4 Ghz , sapphire radeon HD 5770 , playing on windows 7 32bit, maxed all settings at 1600x1200 res, no issues so far, just awesomeness.. even passed through that protoss level in which you need to kill1500 zergs and fight until the last protoss falls with no problems, I suppose that level was more intense than the test save at times.. (sorry if that is a spoiler for you)

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pictoriontz

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Edited By pictoriontz

100$ cpu and 150$ gpu on 1920x1080 and it runs on everything ultra smoothly , you don't need an "it's OVER 9000" core cpu

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Edited By Yavamya

@Intellijosh. I might consider upgrading to Windows 7 64-Bit. I find that vista tends to have some problems running games no matter what the developer says, you would think they would have it figured out by now, but whatever. Thats just my 2 cents, hope it helps.

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Edited By gandalf_storm

@reaversrevenge. nice setup there, LOL @ 1.2mhz CPU

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Edited By Ntalikeris666

Well, I have to disagree with the Gamespot's conclusion. I have a Intel Pentium IV, 3,4 GHZ, 4 GB or ram, and an ATI 5770 1 GB, and i play the game in something like 24 FPS min, and 40 FPS max. I was surprised with the results of a "poor" for our time, pentium IV.

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Ntalikeris666

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Edited By Ntalikeris666

Well, I have to disagree with the Gamespot's conclusion. I have a Intel Pentium IV, 3,4 GHZ, 4 GB or ram, and an ATI 5770 1 GB, and i play the game in something like 24 FPS min, and 40 FPS max. I was surprised with the results of a "poor" for our time, pentium IV.

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chechak7

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Edited By chechak7

i have GeForce 9800 GTX+, 1920x1200, Ultra Quality with Q9550

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ReaversRevenge

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Edited By ReaversRevenge

@sportwarrior move to the UK its only like £30 ish. altho thats close to $60 :/

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ReaversRevenge

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Edited By ReaversRevenge

windows 98 Nvidia GF 3 GFX card 50G hard drive 1.2Mhz single processer mouse with a middle wheel keyboard one speaker

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raduionut_2008

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Edited By raduionut_2008

amd athlon X2 5200 2.7 Ghz, Nvidia Geforce GT 220 1 GB DDR3, 3 GB DDR 2 (800mhz) windows XP SP3 runs great on ultra with 25 FPS, on 1280 x 1024.

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Zephyxx

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Edited By Zephyxx

hmmm... i have a 2 year old alienware m17x with Intel Corde Duo @ 2.4 ghz with 2 nvidia 260 gtx sli cards. i can run everything on ultra besides post processing and shaders. should i be able to though?? thanks for your help.

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RajHoOT

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Edited By RajHoOT

@ Intelljosh I think it's with StarCraft intself, not your rig. I've had problems like randomly turning off SLI because of random units slowdown. It may need a patch coming.

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Intellijosh

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Edited By Intellijosh

@supy_axel: my rig is: E8500 dual core @3.89, 4gb ram, 9800 gx2 on vista x64. i run 1280x1024 res ultra and bog out at times of a lot of units and activity on the map. if you run so smooth, how come im bogging down on moments of intensity? No hate, just asking

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