Build A StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm PC For Less Than $450

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StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty launched July 2010 and immediately became the fastest-selling real-time strategy game ever, such was the fervor for the long-awaited sequel. Shortly thereafter, developer Blizzard confirmed that the gripping story-based campaign would continue in Heart of the Swarm, a Zerg-focused expansion. Three years later and the Heart of the Swarm expansion is finally ready for primetime, having been confirmed for a March 12th worldwide release.

Putting players in control of a superpowered Kerrigan and her fearsome Zerg army, Heart of the Swarm keeps the campaign content fresh and exciting by introducing character and unit upgrades that strengthen Kerrigan and bolster the swarm itself, unlocking new tactical options. Missions see players battling gigantic armies, but also immense individual threats, such as ancient Zerg who refuse to swear fealty to the Queen of Blades.

Multiplayer introduces new units for each race, a host of new maps, and several innovative spectating tools, like the new ‘take command’ option, which allows players to jump into any saved replay, enabling them to change the course of a previous battle. Think an e-sports pro should have built a different unit at a key moment? Take command and see if you can do better. Furthermore, you can watch and cast replays together, with your friends, in real time. And for when you’re playing, there’s a new ‘recover game’ feature that saves multiplayer match progress every few minutes, allowing hard-fought battles to be resumed should an internet connection drop, or a PC crash.

Other multiplayer highlights include skill-based unranked matchmaking, protecting one’s precious ladder ranking; a levelling system that unlocks portraits, decals, dances, and unit skins; multiplayer grouping, allowing friends to go from match to match as one, quickly and easily; clan development, and the usual trimmings; private chat channels; and the ability to play on the multiplayer ladders of any region from the one client.

In the three years since Wings of Liberty Blizzard has also upgraded StarCraft II’s engine, adding “Extreme Physics” that make battles more dynamic and spectacular through the introduction of physics-based death animations, such as those that see marines tossed around like ragdolls by rampaging Ultralisks. Combined with Creep upgrades and other, less noticeable changes, Heart of the Swarm is a much more demanding game when all options are enabled and maxed out.

With that in mind we spun up the test benches, turned on the A-Team theme music, and cracked on with some 1920x1080, max setting benchmarking:


Performance testing by the NVIDIA QA Lab; benchmark results taken from an anti-aliased 1920x1080, Extreme detail level 4v4 multiplayer match.

 

As the data shows, Heart of the Swarm is a demanding beast when its new, mightily impressive engine is unleashed. In Wings of Liberty, a GeForce GTX 680 would break 120 frames per second without a sweat; in Heart of the Swarm it saw a result of ‘only’ 75 frames per second.

Looking to the other end of our chart, we see that the entry-level GeForce GT 640 struggles, achieving a result of just 24 frames per second. The GeForce GTX 650 scrapes by, meanwhile, bringing home a result of 31 frames per second. With no wiggle room for the most demanding moments, the GTX 650 is unsuitable for max setting Heart of the Swarm gameplay, though it could quite happily cope if settings were dialed down to Wings of Liberty levels.

At 45 frames per second, the GeForce GTX 650 Ti was the first card to bring home the flame-roasted, Zerg-flavored bacon, giving us a smooth, playable experience with plenty of headroom for the most explosive, graphically intensive single player and multiplayer moments. The GeForce GTX 650 Ti is, therefore, the ‘go to’ graphics card for PC gamers looking to get into Blizzard’s upcoming expansion with maximum image quality. Starting at just $119.99, the GTX 650 Ti is a highly affordable upgrade, and of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to just Heart of the Swarm forever more; the GTX 650 Ti performs admirably in other games, also:

Upgrading a GPU is a cinch nowadays, being a simple matter of ‘play and play’, but what if you need several new components, or even an entirely new system for Heart of the Swarm? Well, we’ve put together our recommendation for GTX 650 Ti system, which rings at an affordable $436. Designed to let you play the StarCraft II expansion at 1920x1080 with every single option cranked to max, at a minimum of 40 frames per second, our system marries components of a comparable cost and quality to achieve a perfect balance between price and performance.

Below, we outline each component in our system, explain why we’ve chosen them, and offer alternatives for those with a few extra dollars in their pocket.

Product Price
GPU PNY VCGGTX650T1XPB GeForce GTX 650 Ti $119.99
CPU Intel Core i3-2105 Dual-Core 3.1GHz $114.99
Motherboard ASRock B75M-DGS MicroATX Motherboard $52.99
RAM Kingston HyperX Blu Red Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) $43.99
Hard Drive Western Digital WD Blue WD5000AAKX 500GB $59.99
Case & Power Supply Rosewill R218-P-BK-450W MicroATX Mid Tower Computer Case $44.99
Total Price $436.94

GPU

For our budget build we’ve picked PNY’s custom-cooled 1GB GeForce GTX 650 Ti, which is just $119.99. Like other Kepler-based GTX 600 Series GPUs, the GTX 650 Ti can power three monitors simultaneously, and enhance your gaming experience with the latest Kepler tech, like Adaptive VSync, which eliminates stuttering and screen tearing.

In Newegg’s GTX 650 Ti section there are plenty of alternative choices, each featuring different cooling setups and card designs. Some come with software bundles, and others an extra gigabyte of video memory, which may come in handy if you enjoy using texture mods in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

CPU

The GTX 650 Ti is a great entry-level card, so we’ve paired it with the world’s favorite budget CPU, the $114.99 Intel i3-2105. Clocked at 3.1GHz, the i3-2105 is perfect for StarCraft II’s dual-core-optimized engine, and provides the perfect balance between price and performance. Also in the box is a heatsink and fan, and a sachet of thermal paste, eliminating the need for extra purchases.

If you’ve got budget to spare, an extra $15 will net you the i3-3220, which is .2GHz faster. Not a spectacular increase, we know, but the real improvement comes from the smaller design process (22nm to the i3-2105’s 32nm), which uses less power and generates less heat, allowing system fans to run at slower, quieter speeds.

Motherboard

Linking our components together is ASRock’s $52.99 B75M-DGS, a MicroATX motherboard with full support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps, ensuring you receive maximum performance from your USB devices and hard drive. Though lacking the amazing frills of premium-priced ATX motherboards, the B75M-DGS does support up to 16GB of RAM, has 5.1 on-board audio, Gigabit LAN, and the usual raft of LGA 1155 technologies.

RAM & Hard Drive

As we’ve said many a time before, the speed of entry-level DDR3 RAM is near-identical to that of costly top-end RAM, so we’ve picked the cheapest set on Newegg, Kingston’s $43.99 HyperX Blu Red KHX13C9B1RK2/8. RAM prices have risen slightly since our last look into system building, however, adding an extra $9 to the cost of a 2x4GB 8GB RAM set (a trend that is likely to continue if the comments of analysts are anything to go by).

Hard drive prices continue to fall following the calamitous flooding of 2011 that wiped out 90% of the world’s HDD manufacturing plants, though we’re still some way from the golden days of premium $69.99 1TB drives. As a comprise, we’ve chosen the mid-range Western Digital WD Blue WD5000AAKX 500GB HDD for our system, which is faster than a WD Green drive, but slower than a WD Black. At $59.99 it’s competitively priced for this day and age, but be aware that for another $20 you can upgrade to the 1TB version, which seems like a long-term no brainer to us.

Case & Power Supply

To save a fistful of dollars we’ve opted for an affordable case and power supply combo from Rosewill, Newegg’s in-house brand. For $44.99 you get a mid-size MicroATX tower case, a pre-installed 120mm system fan, and a 450 Watt power supply, which provides more than enough juice for the GTX 650 Ti and the system’s other components (we recommend a 400 Watt power supply for a ‘typical’ GTX 650 Ti system).

The black case is constructed from steel (unlike many cases of a similar price that are predominantly plastic), there are front USB and audio ports, numerous drive bays and expansion slots, and a side air duct for an extra system fan, should it be needed.

If the R218-P-BK doesn’t float your boat, consider purchasing a case and power supply separately. Affordable case options include the Rosewill FBM-01 and NZXT Source 210, and for a power supply we’d look to the bargain $29.99 Thermaltake TR2 W0070 430 Watt unit. Our opinion? If you’re going to stuff the system under a desk or unit there’s little sense spending more than is necessary. The R218-P-BK does the job, and as Rosewill is Newegg’s brand you’re guaranteed to get immediate and excellent customer service if something should go wrong.

All in, our system costs a very reasonable $436, without comprising on quality, warranties, or any other facet. It handles Heart of the Swarm with ease, and gives gamers good frame rates in today’s other top titles, like World of Warcraft, Battlefield 3, and Assassin’s Creed III. If you’re looking for something faster, give our GeForce GTX 660 builds a shot, or alternatively, spec out your own system using Newegg’s customer reviews as a guide to component quality.

Optional Extras

If you've got extra cash to splash, or simply want new peripherals, Razer has got you covered with a range of officially-licensed StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm accessories that may help improve your performance on the battlefield.

Razer Spectre Mouse

A good mouse is an essential component of any RTS gamer's arsenal, so it's no surprise that Razer's Spectre StarCraft II mouse ticks all the boxes by sporting a 5600 DPI 3.5G laser sensor with a 1000Hz Ultrapolling/1ms response time, bindable side buttons, and adjustable force settings, allowing users to define their optimal mouse click speeds. It's also got a multicolor LED lighting system that provides realtime Actions Per Minute feedback, letting you know how well you're doing with the micro and macro in multiplayer.

Razer Marauder Keyboard

A good keyboard able to withstand a hammering every single match from all the hot and heavy hotkey action is equally important to any StarCraft II player. Razer's Marauder keyboard is designed to the same standard as their other eSports, tournament-ready 'boards, ensuring continued reliability, while the elevated keys allow for rapid command inputs, which may improve your performance. For advanced users there's on-the-fly macro recording, allowing more to be done with a simple button press, and the APM lighting system provides instant feedback about your key-pressing prowess.

Razer Banshee Headphones

Positional audio isn't a necessity in StarCraft II, but you still want your headset to be comfy several hours into an all-night multiplayer marathon. Having been designed for such sessions, Razer's Banshee headset is of course comfy, and on the software side there's a configuration utility for equalizer, pitch and volume customization, ensuring the audio is as pleasant as the earcups.

We hope this article has been of some help for those of you looking for a system upgrade, and we look forward to meeting you on the field of battle sometime soon.

For a limited time, GeForce GTX graphics cards are bundled with in-game currency and items for three of the most popular free-to-play games: Hawken, Planetside 2, and World of Tanks. At the time of publication, PNY’s $119.99 VCGGTX650T1XPB GeForce GTX 650 Ti is included in this offer.

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