What Kind of Machine Will Run StarCraft II? We Find Out!

Alan Fackler

StarCraft II’s only been out for a day, and while everyone else in the tech world is still buried in the long campaign or the cut-throat multiplayer, our thoughts are already turning to the game’s ramifications on the hardware world. Blizzard is famous for their commitment to making games that work on a wide range of systems, and we wanted to see to what extent that’s true with StarCraft II.

Toward that end, we’ve installed the game on 4 different systems. A top-of-the-line gaming machine, a more-realistic aging gaming PC, a non-gaming laptop, and a netbook. Hit the break to find out how the game ran on each system. The results are surprising!

The Rig: Predator

We wanted to take a look at StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty running near its full potential (our Dream Machine is a little bit of overkill, and we'd like to keep this within more of a consumer-friendly range), so we tapped Acer's 2010 Predator computer as our testing system of choice. And for good reason.  Sporting an Intel i7 930 clocked at 2.8 GHz, 12 GB of DDR3 RAM, and a single GTX-470, we figured it would have more than enough power to deliver some high performance numbers.

That being said, StarCraft performed quite admirably, typically hovering between 75 and 100 FPS at 2560x1600.  We did witness minor slow down, but not for the usual reasons--tons of enemies hitting the screen with hardly any slowdown. Some of the levels in the single-player campaign feature pretty detailed and particle-rich environments, but the lowest dip we saw was still 42 FPS, and this was in very rare instances.  The Predator handled multiple enemies and strands of AI—we set the difficulty to brutal for benchmarking purposes--without a hitch. We waged some pretty epically crowded battles in the challenge mode that ran stably at around 100 FPS. No surprise here.

It's a pleasure to report that StarCraft 2 isn't simply a good lucking RTS. It's a good looking game, period. It's smooth, responsive, colorful, and the particle effects and in-game movies are all top notch. And the FMV cutscenes are probably making people at Square squirm a little.  We'll be touching more on quality as we have more time to play it.

The Rig: The Aging Beast

This computer is something a lot of our readers might have—a capable gaming PC with some parts that are a little less than top of the line. The machine we tried it out on is running a 2.67GHz quad-core Core i5 with a GTX 295 and 4 GB of RAM. In other words, it’s definitely no dream machine, but it’s got a lot of life left in it. How does StarCraft play? Amazing. With all settings maxed out at 1900 X 1200 this computer still plays Starcraft with an average 70 fps. Even in intense battles with lots of units, the game rarely dips below 60 fps. This computer’s more than enough to get the most out of StarCraft 2.

The Rig: The IT Special

StarCraft II has already proven itself to play fantastically on dedicated gaming hardware, but we wanted to see how it runs on a machine that’s not originally designed to play games. For that, we used an IT-issued Dell Latitude E6400 notebook. This 2-year-old laptop’s all business—a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo proc and a respectable 4GB of memory, saddled by integrated graphics.

How does StarCraft play?

Well, alright. Sort of. If you turn all the graphics all the way down (and we mean all the way) the game is actually thoroughly playable. We saw an average of 40fps at the laptop’s native 1440 X 900 resolution, staying above 30fps even in the heat of battle. The game doesn’t look very pretty with the settings this low, but it’ll still get you your StarCraft II fix during your lunch break at work.

The Rig: The Little Guy

Watching StarCraft hum along at 42FPS on Alex Castle’s two year-old business laptop struck a strange note of curiosity in all of us, mostly because it was clear that Blizzard has made a real effort to make sure that gamers with varying degrees of computerized sophistication can own and enjoy the experience.

We could have tested progressively slower and slower laptops to see just how little power could be used to run the game smoothly, but opted instead to test the worst of the worst, the slowest of the slow.  We decided to test StarCraft 2 on a netbook.

The verdict?  Ehhhh...

We installed SC2 on a Samsung N210, running an Intel Atom N280 with a gig of RAM.  We didn’t have high hopes, but were hoping at least to achieve a playable, albeit bad looking version of the game.  Unfortunately we did not achieve the “playable” part of the game, even with the settings dumped to their lowest capacities.  Granted, the little guy was able to load a map, complete with an entire squadron, and move them from place to place at (we’re guessing) around 5 FPS.  But the moment any sort of battle began, the slowdown became un-bearable.  This wasn’t necessarily a huge surprise, but showed us that even developers as talented as Blizzard can’t quite make everyone across the playing field happy.

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