If you haven’t checked out my wicked-awesome StarCraft II Performance Review, you definitely should, and where the hell have you been?  The game is out now so you might already have it in your system, but now you should be even more interested in my results and the news we have for you tonight. 

One of the big keys to the SCII article linked above was the issue surrounding AA (anti-aliasing): Blizzard didn’t feel the need to include it (and why the hell not is beyond me) but NVIDIA enabled it in their driver using a brute force method that, by the company’s own admission, was less efficient than it could be with developer assistance.

 AMD on StarCraft II: Anti-aliasing will come when performance is better - Graphics Cards 5  AMD on StarCraft II: Anti-aliasing will come when performance is better - Graphics Cards 6
 1920×1200 1xAA
1920×1200 4xAA

Here is one example of AA at work in the StarCraft II game – surely you can see the advantages of having the ability to enable it on your system can provide, given appropriate GPU horse power. 

AMD on StarCraft II: Anti-aliasing will come when performance is better - Graphics Cards 7

Yes, on the GTX 460 for example, it does take a LOT of the performance away from the game in terms of raw frame rate.  But even the aging GTX 260 was able to eek out 38 FPS with AA turned up to 4x in our testing. 

When I wrote the original article I said this:

While I was excited to learn that NVIDIA  had been working on a way to get AA working with StarCraft II even if the developer didn’t take the time to implement one, I was disappointed to basically see no response from AMD and its driver team when I asked about the possibility of seeing it for users of ATI cards as well.

Anti-aliasing is another bonus for NVIDIA card users who pick up SC2 on launch day as it is something that only they will have unless ATI’s driver team really gets on the ball and can integrate support in the next week or so. 

It would appear ATI took some of that to heart, but unfortunately, as we sit here on launch night, ATI users are still going to be without AA support in StarCraft II for some time longer.  I got this official note from AMD tonight:

As you know, AMD constantly strives to deliver great gaming experiences for our customers and the upcoming launch of Starcraft II is no exception.  Blizzard’s focus on incredible game play for all, means that gamers using ATI Radeon products can enjoy smooth HD gameplay and industry leading image quality with our current generation of ATI Radeon products as well as many of our past generation cards. 

Yes, this is the case; we proved it in our performance review from last week.  I also find it interesting that AMD credited Blizzard’s goal of “game play for all” rather than AMD’s own hardware or software.  Honesty is great, but not enough marketing/PR people read this note I guess.

In discussions during the development of StarCraft II, Blizzard indicated that they would not initially include options to set levels of in-game anti-aliasing (“AA”). This meant that support for AA within StarCraft II would only be made possible by including it in the driver, an approach that could significantly impact performance.

Yes, it definitely does have an impact on the NVIDIA card performance as we mentioned in our performance article.

Some third party reviews of the Starcraft II beta echo our concerns that AA can cause gameplay impairment.  In these reviews, the third parties found that 4x AA led to a reduction in fps rendering at lower screen resolutions, which only became more noticeable at larger resolutions.

Again, also very true.  They may be referring to our very piece.  But I think the word “concerns” might be inappropriate.  We have “concerns” about a great many things in life but what I had about AA in StarCraft II were “discoveries” that allowed me to recommend options to our users based on their hardware and our performance results. 

After evaluating our options, our engineering team opted not to provide AA support for StarCraft II within the Catalyst Control Center, even though the competition has included AA support in their driver at launch.

Hrrm.  So AMD says it is not a technical limit but rather a deliberate decision made based on weighing options.

We are committed to making AA perform at an acceptable level before we release it to our customers.  We will continue to work with Blizzard on this matter and hope to offer our customers an acceptable AA solution at a later date.

AMD is basically telling us that enabling AA in the control panel didn’t live up to their standards in terms of performance; fair enough I guess but wouldn’t it be more fair for the user (and the press) to decide if it met “standards”?   If I have a Radeon HD 5870 in my system (and I do) and I want to run at 1920×1080 at 4xAA with half the performance (still about 50 FPS) then I would consider that an “acceptable level” for me.  So either AMD is being really picky here or there performance drops were going to be more noticeable than NVIDIA’s.

AMD on StarCraft II: Anti-aliasing will come when performance is better - Graphics Cards 8

Here is my theory: if AMD’s cards had their performance cut in half with the enabling of anti-aliasing then ATI’s options would have looked even further behind the NVIDIA cards available today.  From a marketing stand point I can see it being more beneficial to wait and integrate the feature later rather than implement it now and have another “loss” on the record books going into the game’s official launch.  It’s disappointing for all of those gamers with ATI cards that might want to TRY to enable AA and see if they like the experience, but for now all we can do is wait.

Happy gaming and good luck getting to work on time!!

UPDATE 8/2/10 – AMD has released the Catalyst 10.7 beta driver that enables AA support.  Check out our updated performance results for more information!