Performance without FSAA
The game engine does not support full-scene anti-antialiasing out of the box and ATI and Nvidia essentially use special hacks to enable MSAA on a DirectX 9 rendered with MRTs and HDR. This is why we decided to separate benchmark results with and without antialiasing in two different chapters.
As a rule of thumb, a real time strategy video game is expected to run around at 30 frames per seconds (FPS) mark to provide comfortable gaming experience. All of the premium/high-end category participants passed the test with flying colors.
With constantly hitting the 100 fps limiter, ATI Radeon HD 5970 is way too powerful for the workload presented by StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. ATI Radeon HD 5870 also shows excellent results, but a closer look at it reveals that the game indeed has an appetite for graphics performance almost halving the fps rate in 2560x1600 resolution (compared to 1600x900).
Owners or potential buyers of Nvidia's solutions shouldn’t worry. The GeForce GTX 480 comes second only to a dual chip competitor from AMD. Even the more affordable Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 manages to keep up with ATI Radeon HD 5870, and with 49 fps in top resolution, you can be sure that expensive products on Fermi architecture can handle Blizzard's latest RTS across the board.
If you are choosing the best graphics card for StarCraft II among the high-end offerings, then it is almost clear that the top-of-the-range solutions may not be required for gameplay without FSAA. ATI Radeon HD 5870 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 should enable decent performance in virtually all the scenes. Moreover, both are cheaper, colder and smaller solutions than their bigger brothers.
Every single graphics card in the performance segment of the market manages to surpass the 30 fps level. The latest addition to Nvidia family, the GeForce GTX 460 1GB, starts out with an early lead, but struggles to secure its position in higher resolutions against more expensive ATI Radeon HD 5850, which is logical, considering the fact that the latter has higher "raw" performance.
Given that StarCraft II is a DirectX 9-based video game, it is no surprise that even a somewhat morally outdated GeForce GTX 275 manages to deliver more than respectable level of performance. The only issue is that under massive amounts of in-game fighting, this graphics card tends to run significantly slower in comparison to the competition.
The recommendations for this particular segment could not be simpler. Choose whatever your heart desires. If you are an ATI fan or an Nvidia adept, your pick won't keep you from achieving Battle.net glory: the GeForce GTX 460 1GB is a better bang for the buck and the Radeon HD 5850 simply offers higher firepower.
The mainstream graphics cards camp is greatly segmented, so, here we are including a number of graphics cards that do not exactly compete head to head against each other.
For mainstream graphics cards, the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty title may be a rather tough thing to render with all the eye-candy features enabled. Only the ATI Radeon HD 5700-series offer truly decent performance here, the rest are lagging behind. Even in the most intense scenarios Juniper-based ATI Radeon 5770/5750 graphics cards can output around 40-50 fps, which is more than enough for a smooth RTS gameplay experience.
Less expensive graphics cards do not seem to perform decently. ATI Radeon HD 5670 seems to be a better choice than Nvidia GeForce GT240, but the latter is hardly a bad choice for a sub-$99 graphics board. In any case, inexpensive graphics boards are begging for lower quality graphics settings in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty.