One of the latest and popular game titles from Blizzard Entertainment is StarCraft 2, which was released about two months ago. As with many modern games, this title has some advanced graphics that may at times be demanding on video cards, which in turn causes them to heat up. Heat generation is the nature of anything that demands processing power, but with StarCraft a couple of people have reported the game causing their hardware to overheat and fail.
Recently we were contacted by a MacFixIt reader and StarCraft player "Ricardo" who mentioned that the game ran only a couple of times on his 2008 iMac (GeForce 8800) before the computer crashed in-game and now starts up to a checker pattern on the screen.
"My iMac Intel has just completely stopped working after playing a couple of SC2 sessions. Worse, it has fried my Nvidia 8800 GPU to the point where my computer can't even boot up anymore...unfortunately I cannot even boot from the restore DVD, as it got stuck in the iMac's DVD drive following this "meltdown"...whenever I try to start up the computer, it gives the usual "bong" sound but just stops there with a "plaid" or "chess"-like screen--I've even tried to reset the SMC, but the fans go at full speed and nothing else happens (so I have to turn it off again). Simply put, there is no possibility of booting with other devices, using FW target disk mode, or testing the hardware."
Though it is possible existing hardware faults could be the root of the problem, there is also the possibility the game itself may contribute to the issue. At its release, there were a few reports of overheating during gameplay, which Blizzard admitted could happen based on how the game handles the game's menu screens. Initially the game did not have a frame rate cap enabled, which meant the system would try to render all scenes as fast as possible, resulting in simpler graphics such as menus being redrawn rapidly and resulting in GPU heat generation.
To reduce the heat generation, Blizzard recommended people edit the "variables.txt" file for the program and add the following lines:
This should keep the frame rates limited, and not only prevent situations that can cause overheating, but should also keep the overall heat generation down, which may be beneficial for laptop owners. Several software patches to the game have been released in the past couple of months, which may have addressed this issue (though there is no mention of this in the information released with the patches), so be sure to update to the latest version before playing.
This problem has been acknowledged by Blizzard, but its prevalence is fairly low and is likely from a combination of faults in the hardware along with glitches in the game. When playing advanced games, people should expect their computers to get hot, but most system components have a "throttle-back" feature that reduces the speed of various components when they get too hot. In extreme conditions some systems may freeze when overheated but should usually be fine when restarted; however, there is always the possibility (however remote it may be) that these throttling features could not work properly and sustained high heat will result in broken hardware if there are no checks or limits in the software being run.
If you suspect overheating for any task that requires a lot of processing power, be sure to check with the software developers for any fixes that include software updates, configuration changes, or even firmware updates to your system. In Macs, the SMC is what controls the ventilation features, so you might consider resetting that on your system if your system seems to run exceptionally hot.
Finally, though systems may seem to run hot, sometimes the heat being generated is perfectly normal. Try installing a program like Temperature Monitor, which is a free utility that will read the various thermocouple sensors in your system. The key components to monitor are the CPUs (processors), the GPUs (video card), and the hard drive, though others will give you a full view of how heat is being distributed and managed in your computer. There are several databases of component temperatures, so you can compare your measurements to those of other similar computers to see if you are within the expected range for your system.