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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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Today is July 28th, 2010.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is available for purchase around the globe. Battle.net 2.0 is live, and hundreds of thousands are enjoying war, in all its glory… and all its horror.

SC2Blog staff attended launch parties around the world, celebrating 3 years of following StarCraft 2’s development in the public eye, and picking up their own, pre-ordered copies. Those who have chosen to get Collector’s Editions have received one of the most beautiful gaming artifacts to have ever hit mass production.

StarCraft 2 Collector's Edition Box

The Collector’s Edition comes in a big, beautiful double “sliding door” package, giving it a unique and rugged look that is unlike any other. Due to its size and the distinct pseudo-metallic texture, the box immediately stands out in any store or gamer room.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty Collector’s Edition is packed with features, both tangible and digital.

  • The Art of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, a 176-page book featuring artwork from the game
  • An exclusive 2GB USB flash drive replica of Jim Raynor’s dog tag, which comes preloaded with the original StarCraft and the StarCraft: Brood War expansion set
  • A behind-the-scenes DVD containing over an hour of developer interviews, cinematics with director’s commentary, and more
  • The official StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty soundtrack CD, containing 14 epic tracks from the game along with exclusive bonus tracks
  • StarCraft comic book issue #0, a prequel to the comic series
  • World of Warcraft mini Thor in-game pet that can be applied to all World of Warcraft characters on a single Battle.net account
  • Exclusive Battle.net downloadable content, including special portraits for your Battle.net profile, decals to customize your units in-game, and a visually unique version of the terran Thor unit

StarCraft 2 CE Box Comes With this Cover

Everything inside the box is of the highest quality, including a functional dog tag 2 GB USB drive. Its rough feel is just what you’d expect from its looks, with a push-and-slide USB connector and a fitting neck chain to hang it on.

Starcraft 2 Collector's Editing 2GB USB Drive

The most important “show and tell” item is certainly the 176 page StarCraft 2 art book. For those who have followed SC2’s development, the pages will contain many familiar sketches and 3D renders of units and environments that have been introduced, scrapped or changed along the way.

Kerrigan In All Her Glory

The behind-the-scenes DVD and the full soundtrack CD has great value for true StarCraft fans, shedding light on StarCraft 2’s development – from its very inception to the delicate gameplay decisions made close to the release to the public. Considering the correlation between StarCraft and the professional Poker world, it wouldn’t be surprising to find the StarCraft 2 soundtrack playing on iPods during long tournament grinding sessions.

StarCraft 2 Soundtrack and Commentary

For those who won’t have many opportunities to brag about their recent purchase in the real world, one of the nicer perks is without a doubt a special set of Battle.net portraits that are available only to owners of the Collector’s Edition.

StarCraft 2 Collector's Edition Battle.net Portraits

With so much awesome in one package, the StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty Collector’s Edition has great sentimental value for those who have been following the StarCraft Universe since it was introduced, over 12 years ago. Even if this is the first StarCraft game you purchase, you will quite likely get to appreciate it as much as we do soon enough.

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infested-kerrigan.gif

Kerrigan. StarCraft’s infamous villain, and the most interesting character in the StarCraft universe and story. Today, we will continue reviewing her history and development, starting with her role as the ghost and up until her transformation into the Queen Bitch of the Universe!

kerrhigh1.jpg

In part one of the story, we’ve followed Kerrigan, from the time of her childhood until her full transformation into the Queen of Blades. Along the way, she had met Jim Raynor and has developed feelings for him while serving as Arcturus Mengsk’s second in command. While participating in his plan to destroy the confederacy, Mengsk leaves Kerrigan behind on Tarsonis, the confederacy capital planet, while it was being completely overrun by the Zerg swarms.
The Zerg Overmind, which had sensed Kerrigan’s mental powers, has taken her into his custody, evolving her and treating her as his prodigy.

The story continues when Tassadar arrives at Char to face Kerrigan, now infested to the core, and with control of her new abilities. Kerrigan decides to challenge Tassadar, feeling confident in her power.

Infested Kerrigan

Protoss commander, it was folly of you to come here. For I am Kerrigan, and I am Queen of the Zerg!

 

Tassadar

I know of you well, O Queen of the Zerg, for we have met before. I am Tassadar, of the Templar. I remember your selfless exploits, defending humanity from the Zerg. Unfortunate it is, to see that one who was once so honorable and full of life would succumb to the twisted wiles of the Overmind.

 

Infested Kerrigan

Do not presume to judge me, Templar. You’ll find my powers to be more than a match for yours. In fact, I sense that your vaunted power has diminished since last we met.

 

Tassadar

Mayhap, O Queen. Or is it only that I need not flaunt my power in such an infantile test of will?

 

Infested Kerrigan

Foolish Templar. Prepare your defenses! I will come for you soon.

When Kerrigan finally faced Tassadar, she realized her mistake – Tassadar’s figure was merely an illusion, created to distract her and her Zerg forces, while Zeratul, using his Dark Templar powers, permanently destroyed the Cerebrate Zasz.

Zeratul

Attacking the Cerebrate, Zeratul exposes his mind to the Zerg Overmind. The location of the Protoss homeworld, Aiur, was revealed to it. The Zerg Overmind decides to repay the Protoss for the death of the Cerebrate, and begins attacking the Protoss forces, annihilating them in masses, while advancing to Aiur…

The Protoss, who have lost the battle for Aiur and suffered heavy losses, fled to Shakuras, the Dark Templar homeworld, led by Tassadar. The Overmind, confident in his total victory, embeds himself into the crust of the planet. The Protoss regroup and reinforce themselves on Shakuras, aligning themselves with their old, Dark Templar brothers.

The final battle on Aiur ended with the Overmind’s destruction by Tassadar, who combined his energies with those of the Dark Templar in a final suicidal attack, crashing his Carrier into the Zerg supreme leader.

300px-tassadar-final-moment.png

A new Overmind began to form from several of the remaining Cerebrates, trying to take control over the scattered Zerg broods. Kerrigan decides that she is the one deserving of leadership, and begins a campaign to take control of all the Zerg.

Here end the events of StarCraft, and the Brood War begins.

starcraft_broodwar_logo.jpg

In the beginning of the expansion, the Protoss align themselves with Raynor, while Arcturus Mengsk consolidates his power and declared himself leader of the newly formed Terran Dominion.

In the mean time, the United Earth Directorate, which has been watching the struggle as it unfolds, decides to join the fray. Led by Admiral Gerard DuGalle, they plan to take control of the Zerg and unleash them on the Protoss, to ensure human supremacy.

DuGalle

The Aiur Protoss meet with Raszagal, Matriach of the Dark Templar. She tells them of an ancient Xel’Naga temple, which has the power to destroy the Zerg. To use the temple’s power, they must find two crystals: the Khalis and Uraj.

Kerrigan appears and offers her help to the Protoss. She claims that the destruction of the Overmind has freed her from his control. She tells them of the new Overmind and her fears that it will be able to control her once it has matured.

infestedkerrigan3.jpg

Raszagal
Now then, Kerrigan. Perhaps you had best explain yourself. What is this news you’ve come to give?

 

Infested Kerrigan
There is a new Overmind growing on Char.

 

Zeratul
What? Impossible! Why should we believe anything you have to say?

 

Infested Kerrigan
Because, Zeratul, I’m no longer the mindless murderess whom you fought on Char. The Overmind is dead. Whatever warped control it once had over me is gone. I know that this is a lot to take in all at once, but you’ve got to believe me! There’s more at stake here than-

 

Aldaris
She lies! She is infested to the core! I for one will not listen to any of this-

 

Raszagal
Silence, Judicator. Continue, Kerrigan.

 

Infested Kerrigan
Apparently, many of the renegade Cerebrates, commanded by Daggoth, have merged into a new Overmind. Fortunately, the creature is still in its infant stages. It can’t control the Swarm yet, but Daggoth and the others still have control over most of the Broods. The two Cerebrates you killed here were part of Daggoth’s forces.

 

Look, I don’t need to tell you all what might happen if that thing reaches maturity. I can guarantee you that should it awaken, it’ll take full control of me just like it did before. I don’t want that to happen, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want it to happen either.

 

Zeratul
Even if what you say is true, our priority is to save this world, not assault the new Overmind! We must find the crystals Uraj and Khalis before we are all vanquished.

 

Infested Kerrigan
Then I’ll help you with your search. If you can defeat the renegade Zerg gathered here, it’ll weaken the efforts of Daggoth and his ilk.

 

Raszagal
My children, you must put aside your fears and misgivings to accomplish what must be done. For the time being, Kerrigan will assist you in your endeavors. Though she has been your enemy, it is enough that we share the same agenda now. Allow her time enough to prove herself to you, and you may find her to be a valued ally. For now, you must focus on the task at hand. Search for the Uraj on the planet Braxis, and let nothing stop you from recovering it.

 

Artanis
We will do what you ask, Matriarch. But you cannot expect us to forgive Kerrigan’s crimes against our race! Executor, prepare our forces. We shall debark for the planet Braxis before the next moonrise.

Kerrigan helps her new allies find the crystals, giving the Protoss a powerful weapon against their Zerg enemies.

Upon returning to Shakuras, the allies find out that Aldaris is revolting against Raszagal. Aldaris feels betrayed by the Matriach for aligning herself with the evil Queen of Blades. He tries to tell Zeratul that he has discovered that the Matriach is harboring a dark secret, but Kerrigan kills him before he succeeds in doing so. Zeratul, enraged that Kerrigan has killed his old friend, demands that she leaves.

ZERATUL
Wretched creature! This was a Protoss matter; you had no right
to interfere! Begone from this world! You are no longer welcome
among us!

 

KERRIGAN
Fine. I’ve done what I came here to do. I’ve insured the
destruction of the renegade Cerebrates, and I used you to do it.
Have fun, mighty Protoss… We’ll be seeing each other again,
real soon…

Zeratul understands that Kerrigan has used them the entire time, but realizes that they had no choice. He also suspects that a dark influence has control over Raszagal, but she quickly reaffirms his faith in her. The Protoss continue to hold the temple against the invading Zerg forces, While Kerrigan runs off to continue her devious plans…

kerrigan.png

This is where part two of the story ends. In the next part, we’ll follow Kerrigan as she continues playing all sides against each other, see how she deals with the unexpected visit from the UED forces, and learn how she managed to destroy all her enemies and become the Queen Bitch of the Universe!

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This is going to be a rough time. StarCraft 2 has been announced, and we’ve all seen the preview movie… but now what? With no new information coming out, all that’s left is fan speculation and endless previews and guesses. Here are a few interesting articles that fit this description:

http://www.firingsquad.com/features/starcraft_2_preview/

“This may come as a surprise to some people, but this is StarCraft II. It’s not going to be Company of Heroes, it won’t be Age of Empires, and it certainly isn’t going to be Supreme Commander or Homeworld. Anyone expecting anything else except fundamental StarCraft gameplay is going to be sorely disappointed.”

FiringSquad’s Jakub tells it like it is, and offers a nice analysis of what makes StarCraft StarCraft.

Next up, two previews at IGN:

http://pc.ign.com/articles/790/790158p1.html

This preview summarizes a few panels with Blizzard developers, namely Rob Pardo, Chris Sigaty, Dustin Browder, Mike Morhaime, Paul Sams, Chris Metzen, and Jungwon Hahn. The guys answer a few burning questions about the game.

http://pc.ign.com/articles/790/790160p1.html

This preview deals with the new units featured on the preview video. Specifically: The Zerg Banelings, Terran Reaper, and the Protoss Colossus, Immortal, Phoenix, Stalker, Warp Ray, Phase Prism and of course, Mothership.

That’s it for now. We’re all starved for new information, but when will Blizzard deliver?

112568-1.jpg

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