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StarCraft 2 Benchmarked: Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 Review

The results are in: according to our very recent poll, 48% of the our readers have hardware concerns that might prevent them from fully enjoying StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty.

StarCraft 2 HardwarePoll Results - a Thousand Votes

For many, getting to play StarCraft 2 is as easy as going to the store, buying and installing the game; for others, who have fallen out of the race to maintain a modern computer, capable of playing new games, it may not be so simple. Now that StarCraft 2 is finally out, the time has come to get some new gear, and one of the main things to consider is the graphics card.

Nvidia has just released a new graphics card – the GeForce GTX 460 – targeted at those wishing to get a cost-efficient gaming system without breaking the bank, and we will review it here today. As well, we’re going to go over some more hardware and recommend the best parts for a system built to play StarCraft 2.

At $199 ($229 for the 1GB variant) and including a trial coupon for the game, this card is positioned to compete in the mid-range graphics card arena and provide exactly the right amount of GPU-juice for StarCraft 2. Can the card really live up to this claim? The guys at Nvidia have sent us a shiny new EVGA GeForce GTX 460 with 1GB of memory to test just that.

THE CARD

First of all, let’s go over the card’s story and specs. If technobabble isn’t your thing, skip right ahead to the results down the line.

The GTX 460 is Nvidia’s second Fermi (GF104 core) graphics card, released after the GeForce GTX 465 – a more expensive variant that was essentially a stripped down version of Nvidia’s higher-end GeForce GTX 480 card. Not priced competitively, it didn’t do so well in the market.

The 460 is everything the 465 should have been in the mid-range market: as a slightly updated design, it performs more efficiently per clock cycle; it also has a higher price/performance ratio than the rest of Nvidia’s GTX line. It is indeed priced very competitively, performing better than the equivalent AMD model – the Radeon 5830. Not only that, it also overclocks like a champ: enough to outperform much more expensive cards and go toe to toe with its older and more powerful brother, the GeForce GTX 470; but more on that later.

SPECIFICATIONS

 —————————— GTX 460 1GB GDDR5   |   GTX 460 768MB GDDR5—————————

Graphics Clock                             675                                 675

Processor Clock                          1300                               1300

Memory Clock                            1800                               1800

Texture Fill Rate (billion/sec)         37.8                                37.8

Memory Interface width             256 bit                            196 bit

Memory Bandwitdh (GB/sec)      115.2                               86.4

Maximum Power Draw                160W                              160W

Price                                           $229                               $199

TEST SYSTEMS

We tested 3 different cards in different price ranges, attempting to isolate GPU performance and determine the sweet spot for StarCraft 2 gaming. As well, two different CPUs were used to evaluate the impact of the CPU on performance.

System #1: Old/Mainstream

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 @ 3.6GHz
  • Motherboard: Asus P5B
  • Hard Disk: Intel X-25V SSD X 2 (RAID 0)
  • Memory: Kingston DDR2 800MHz 1GB X 4
  • Video Driver: Nvidia – 258.98 WHQL; ATI – Catalyst 10.7
  • Operating System: Windows 7 64 bit, freshly installed

System #2: New/High-End

  • CPU: Intel i7 860 @ 3.8 GHz
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD3
  • Hard Disk: Intel X-25M SSD
  • Memory: Kingston DDR3 1600 MHz 2GB X 2
  • Video Driver: Nvidia – 258.98 WHQL; ATI – Catalyst 10.7
  • Operating System: Windows 7 64 bit, freshly installed

THE TEST

Two different replays were used. The first is of a typical 15 minute 1v1 game on Kulas Ravine, testing normal gameplay conditions with two players only. The second is a 2v2 game, meant to test our systems in an environment with 200-food armies clashing.

We tested the GTX 460 under many conditions: 1680X1050 using the high graphics option preset and high texture levels; 1920X1200 using the ultra graphics preset and ultra texture levels; 1920X1200 ultra with 4xAA/8xAF; and 1920X1200 with 4xAA/8xAF – overclocked. We also tested the impact of the windowed fullscreen mode on performance.

As well, we compared the GTX 460 using 1920X1200 ultra against ATI’s low-range Radeon HD 5750 card and Nvidia’s high-range GTX 470 card.

You can download both replays here:

1v1 | 2v2

We measured the minimum, average and maximum frames per second (FPS) in each test. The more powerful a system is, the more frames it can churn out in a given time frame. In the 1v1 game, we started measuring at minute 5:00 in the game and stopped at the end. For the 2v2 game, recording started at minute 26:00 and lasted till the end once more. If you wish to replicate our test with your system, download Fraps, play the replay until the aforementioned time point, hit the Fraps benchmark hotkey while simultaneously unpausing the game (Hotkey “P”), and let it record on “Faster” speed until the of the replay.

RESULTS

We began by benchmarking the GTX 460 and quickly noticed that it’s highly CPU-bottlenecked when tested on the main benchmarking system with the relatively old C2D E6700 CPU, even with its high overclock speed. Therefore, to make future tests more GPU-dependent, all tests were conducted with “Physics” turned off and “Effects” turned to low, as both of these options rely mostly on the CPU.

To start things off, we compared the different cards to see how the GTX 460 holds up against them. We used the highest quality settings – without anti-aliasing (AA) or anisotropic filtering (AF), as the ATI drivers don’t support them in StarCraft 2 – to make sure the different graphics cards show their strength.

Since StarCraft 2 isn’t a particularly graphics-intensive game, it’s not entirely surprising to see the $229 GTX 460 performing almost as well as the much more expensive, $350 GTX 470. It’s also easy to see that our 2v2 test was heavily influenced by the CPU, as the different cards show very little difference between them in the minimum FPS measurement.

Next, we evaluated the GTX 460′s performance using different quality settings and added a test to determine the effect of fullscreen windowed mode as well.

While lowering the resolution and decreasing the quality clearly has an effect on speed, the GTX 460 is more than able to take on the high resolution and maximum graphics quality settings and allow for smooth play. Throwing anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering into the mix and further increasing image quality still allows an acceptable gaming experience, though the intensive 2v2 test brings the minimum FPS level below what we’d recommend for serious gameplay. For those of you who are playing on struggling systems, it is important to note that windowed fullscreen mode takes a significant toll on performance. While it makes quickly tabbing out of the game easy, it’s definitely not worth it if it means the game itself becomes less playable. (Extra note: using an SSD makes tabbing out and back in, in normal fullscreen mode, much faster!)

Next comes the overclock test. As we mentioned, the GTX 460 is an amazing overclocker. Using the EVGA Precision overclocking program, our card easily achieved a 21% increase in core clock and 18% increase in memory clock – and we were quite conservative about pushing it! Using GPUTool and HWmonitor to stress test and monitor the card, we quickly increased the speeds until finding a stable point.

And off we were again to test the card! We chose to compare the most intensive graphics settings, running the ultra quality with AA and AF benchmark.


The GTX 460 benefits very nicely from overclocking, though the system is still clearly bottlenecked by the CPU. The most amazing find in our overclocking test, though, is the fact that the GTX 460 is almost completely unfazed by the extra speeds! Temperatures and fan speed at maximum operation levels remain almost exactly the same as when operating at standard levels; a 2-3C degree change at most, and almost 30C degrees below the maximum operating temperature as stated by Nvidia. What this means is that this level of overclocking can be applied indefinitely, increasing the value of this incredible card even further.

Lastly, we tested the GTX 460 on a system with an extremely fast CPU – Intel’s recent i7 design, running at 3.8GHz. It doesn’t get much faster than that, and it showed in this benchmark.

As we suspected, the mainstream system with the relatively old CPU is indeed quite bottlenecked by it. When installed on the newer system, the GTX 460 shows just how held back it was before, and confirms that it is more than sufficient to handle anything StarCraft 2 can throw at it. To get more information about different CPUs and their effect on StarCraft 2 performance, check out Techspot’s excellent writeup on the subject.

At this point of our analysis, we can whole-heartedly confirm Nvidia’s claim: to play StarCraft 2 at the highest quality settings, one does not need more than Nvidia’s new ~$200 offering – the GTX 460. And not only StarCraft 2, mind you; other reviewers have already crowned the GTX 460 as the “$200 king”.

CONCLUSIONS

In order to get the best performing computer for StarCraft 2 without going overboard with the expenditure, one should get:

1) An Intel i5-760 processor – another $200 wonder. Since StarCraft 2 only utilizes two cores, quad core CPUs such as the one used in our faster test system are somewhat of an overkill for it and for most other games. The 750 is the current sweetspot for Intel CPUs – despite its four cores, its price/performance ratio is hard to beat even in a dual core limited game – and it can also be heavily overclocked, which leads us to

2) A nice CPU heatsink/fan combo. We recommend one of the following models for their high price/performance ratio, quiet idle noise levels, and relatively powerful cooling abilities. Our first test system is equipped with a Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B, as can be seen in the picture above. Our second test system sports a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus. The Xigmatek HDT-S1283 is a nice solution that’s cheaper.

3) An LGA 1156 board such as the one in our new test system or an Asus P7P55.

4) A good graphics card. It’s hard to not recommend the GTX 460 we reviewed here – it certainly does an amazing job and can handle everything StarCraft 2 can throw at it even at the maximum quality settings. At the $200-$250 price range, choosing the GeForce GTX 460 is a no-brainer.


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15 Comments to “StarCraft 2 Benchmarked: Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 Review”


  1. Matt — August 2, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

    The link for the Intel processor you gave is wrong. It points to the i5, quad core (which you explicitly stated was unnecessary!).

  2. Jason — August 2, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

    gt 9800 does everything that i want

    i can play campaign on ultra settings and normally play multiplayer on lowest settings since you gain an advantage since things are much easier to make out

    i would think even the gt 8800 would accomplish this task just as well. For the settings i play at, gt200 series is already overkill and going to gt400 is just stupid ridiculous

    but i guess the heater that is the gt400 is good if u value pretty pictures over gameplay

  3. Benjamin — August 2, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

    Your pie chart at top is off by a decimal place – you’ve got a nearly 500% response in a single category, which would technically require five entire pies, all next to each other. Which would be delicious.

  4. AnnihilatorX — August 3, 2010 @ 1:31 am

    Benjamin, its the number of votes next to %, doh…

  5. Omnigan — August 5, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    That’s a crazy graphics card. I haven’t gotten the game yet but I hope my card works.

    Find out more on Starcraft 2 here.

  6. arbi — August 6, 2010 @ 9:17 am

    I have very similar low FPS as in your tests with my GTX 460 along with my old Core 2 Duo CPU system. What I don’t understand, however, is that my CPU is running around 60% total usage when my FPS drops to really low levels. If the CPU is really the bottleneck, shouldn’t the CPU usage be near 100%?

  7. Starcraft II Clans — August 6, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

    Gforse 470 is bit of over kill for this game don’t you think ?
    I mean the game was clearly made for pc gamers to have fun.

    LOL

    but congrats on the great review of the cards.

    BTW see you online. :-)

  8. Spiral Architect — August 6, 2010 @ 7:19 pm

    Perhaps there are still some inefficiencies in the code. I was also wondering why my C2D system is so slow… it’s weird that a game with relatively low GPU requirements meant to allow a lot of people to play is so CPU dependent to the extent that processors older than a year put you in a huge disadvantage whenever you’re in a fight with more than a handful of units.

    At least if your GPU sucks you can tone down the settings.. !

  9. starcraft2guide — August 7, 2010 @ 11:56 am

    I agree the 460 is a bit over kill for a game like this you can easily run this game in pretty high settings with adequate fps with a midrange card from either ati or nvidia.

  10. ArtLukm — August 18, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

    Hey, nice review.
    I’m using a GTX470 with a Core2Quad Q9550 @4.1Ghz and absolutely have the feeling, that i’m CPU bottlenecked.

    It would be nice if i could replicate your tests with the linked replays, but you failed to provide one IMPORTANT information:

    What view did you chose inside the replay?
    I mean, this only makes sense if you pick out the 1:1 Cam-View of a certain player, elsewhat you will always scroll to different places during the replay on the map and there obtain uncomparable results.

  11. Creohan — December 9, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    … for those saying that X or Y graphic card is an “overkill” , or that u don’t need such good comp specs to enjoy SC2 , I recommend trying a 4v4 with all on ultra , and than you can talk about overkill ;)

  12. Skêne — June 12, 2011 @ 1:38 am

    Is it possible to add another GTX460? Can the Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B support that?

  13. Skêne — June 13, 2011 @ 1:19 am

    My mistake, i meant, can the motherboard handle two GTX460? And how many power does it need?

  14. Skêne — June 13, 2011 @ 1:55 am

    Or can this system suport two Radeon HD 6850 1GB using crossfire P7P55?

  15. alalover — June 9, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    Wtf is an overkill you damn noobs

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