Can Your Mid-Range PC Handle Skyrim?

Can Your Mid-Range PC Handle Skyrim?

Everywhere you look, it’s Skyrim. On Steam, Bethesda’s RPG dominates the active player numbers, recently clocking in at 210,000 users and sitting around 270,000 as I write this. If you’ve yet to join this growing army of screaming, barrel-wielding adventure-mongers because you fear your PC isn’t up to the task, yet refuse to go down the console path, then you might find the answer to your quandary here.

Tom’s Hardware has put a range of gaming setups through Skyrim‘s rendering engine and it turns out the game isn’t as torturous as the trailers would have you believe. Even so, some pieces of hardware performed better than others.

Through all of the benchmarks, AMD’s Radeon chips handled Skyrim the best, clocking 80-100fps between the mid and high-end at medium graphics settings, while NVIDIA’s GTX 550 Ti managed 70fps using the same configuration. Given the result were all above 60fps, there’s no need for concern as they’re all extremely playable frame rates.

In the budget and mid-range segments, however, it’s all about the Radeon 6850 and 5770 — the latter remaining surprisingly competitive despite retailing at $130 or so and being two years old, an eternity in graphics hardware terms. At higher detail levels, the 5770 gave a performance of 73fps at its best, with 64fps being its lowest score. The 550 Ti, unfortunately, topped out at 60fps.

Again, hardly shameful results for NVIDIA. What it shows is that you don’t need a beastly system to run Skyrim, though it doesn’t hurt to have something slightly above the mid-range.

It would have been nice to see some figures for the 560 Ti, which currently occupies the enthusiast sweet spot for price versus performance if NVIDIA is your favourite flavour of GPU vendor. It also happens to be my current graphics card.

On the CPU front, Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors top the benchmarks, with AMD’s Phenoms handing in noticeably slower results. This difference was mostly prevalent at “ultra” detail, so no one should be bagging on AMD just yet. What was more surprising is that Skyrim does not appear to be optimised for anything greater than dual-core. Tri and quad-core chips are nowhere near as rare as they once were, and will very much be the norm for gaming PCs within a year or so.

If you’ve picked up Skyrim for PC, how’s your rig handling the workload? I doubt it’ll drive anyone to upgrade like Morrowind did — I think NVIDIA must have sold out of Ti4200s when that one hit — but I’m sure a few of you are eyeing off a new graphics card, CPU or even just more RAM now that the game has landed.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: PC Performance, Benchmarked [Tom’s Hardware]


  • Don’t get me wrong-I love a good pc game, but damn trying to get games running sweet on a pc can be a chore. Unless of course money is no problem for you and you can upgrade all the major components every couple of years.

    • I’ve found my thirst for optimisation has waned over the years… probably because I have less time to stuff around with configuration files. Or even the in-game settings, which usually require restarting the game.

      It’s still my preferred platform, simply because the option is there. And my mouse. I love my mouse.

      • PC’s my preferred platform too, but there’s something nice about putting a disc into a console and not having to worry if it’ll work or not. (Assuming the games not buggy, of course. :D) I’m pleased to say my PC can run Skyrim with everything maxed out, except for shadows. A thing of beauty. 😀

        • Unless the Blu-ray laser in your PS3 dies, which is exactly what happened to me twice in an eight-month period.

          At least I can have a crack at fixing my PC, and if I do need to replace something, I might be able to do it without spending megabucks.

          I admit this is an extreme case… I think I’m just venting frustration over my belligerent fat PS3, which I am once again waiting to arrive back from repair. 🙂

      • Ditto, I’m over the hardware rat race, overclocking, and configs now. Though having said that, I fear my trusty old 8800GT won’t be up for the task so I just ordered a GTX570. It should extend the life of my PC for another few years before I get roped into buying a new one

    • With the current crop of CPU’s the only thing that really needs to be upgraded every few years is the video card.
      If games are made to work on consoles than ported to PC I’m pretty sure an i5 2500k or i7 2600k, will be able to handle games for years to come.

    • I don’t understand why anyone needs a computer to run a game at anything over 60fps.. Considering the human eye can only see things at 60fps, anything extra seems pointless even mentioning.

      • Thats a complete myth. Its completely possible to see 100+ – 200fps.

        Seeing framewise is simply not the way how the eye\brain system works. It works with a continuous flow of light\information. (Similar to the effects of cameras’ flashlights (“red eyes”): flashing is simply not the way how we see)

        Theres a lot of information like that piece you can find by googling but this whole ‘lord we can only see 60fps!’ thing is complete bollocks.

        • Well, considering virtually every LCD display people use for gaming tops out at 60Hz refresh rate at high resolutions, I’d say anybody who thinks they are seeing more than 60 frames per second is deluding themselves. You can’t see more than 60 frames per second when your display has is physically limited to 60 updates per second.

  • You don’t have to resort to purchasing the newest range of graphic cards to play the latest games. You can hunt for a used high end graphic card from the previous gen, which could run most newer games at a decent framerate and at a cheaper price

  • I was going to try it on an old 6000+ dual core and 9600gt. By the sound of it that’s comparable with the PS3’s performance but by the time modders have fixed the game I’ll have saved enough for a substantial upgrade anyway.

  • Hey Logan, it’s been a long time since I read an article of yours. Probably the last one was your farewell in Atomic. God, how old was that.

    Back on topic and I’m doing quite well with my system which includes the Phenom II X4 940 and as well as my Radeon 6850. Though I suspect I’ll have to replace something soon again given how my desktop loves spitting up heat and errors at random intervals.

  • Core I7, HD radeon 6850 right here. my preformance lows is my old HDD drive I took over from my previous computer but the loading screens aren’t a problem on 5400 rpm drives. I haven’t checked the frame rate but I have had a smooth jouney with exception of the Assault on Whiterun, the game started flashing and then it crashed. It may of been a bug or something I hope.

    Overall Skyrim looks nice but I feel if PC exclusive it would of looks much nicer, contained more people and stuff. But hey thats what MODs are there for, hopefully the guys over on the GTA4 graphics modders spread there love to skyrim.

    • Grab an SSD you’ll <3 the difference in load times ^_^

      if by GTA graphics mods you mean the ENB crew in a small way they already have 😛 not enhancement yet just 'fixes' but I'm sure we can look forward to more (just remember those mods for GTAIV raised it's required specs massively)

  • I have a new PC with the 560 ti and it’s going great. Defaults to “ultra high quality” and I haven’t had any lag or anything. Just did a quick fps check and it’s running happily at 60fps. Haven’t tested fps during more gpu intense scenarios but I’ve been lag free so far.

  • I have a Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz CPU and a GTX 460 videocard and am running Skyrim beautifully on Medium settings.

    For a laugh I cranked it up to Ultra High and it actually wasn’t as bad as expected! It was pretty smooth when there wasn’t anything going on but as soon as a few enemies popped in there was some slowdown.

    So I went back to medium and increased the draw distance a little and it’s fine.

  • Ahh awesome was hoping someone would do an article about this soon ^_^

    kinda wish it wasn’t Tom’s though 🙁 I used to read them tons years back then they’re quality plummetted and started seeming extremely bias…switched to anandtech as a primary source. That being said for all I know they may well have improved since then ^_^

    • Yeah, Tom’s can be hit and miss. But benchmarks are benchmarks. Some tests involving RAM amounts (2GB, 4GB and 8GB would cover most) and a few more cards (such as the 560 Ti I mentioned) would have been good.

      AnandTech is also my first stop for tech reviews, along with TechReport. I don’t mind bit-tech either.

      • agreed for benchmarks are benchmarks sept when I stopped reading toms it was because I assume the editor had recieved a lobotomy or similar. Quite a few hardware reviews with the wrong charts up (ie it would be talking about one lot of settings and the charts would be something else entirely) and some rather interesting choices of setups and type of tests (or avoiding certain tests) to give rather unhelpful results. Reading this one seems they’ve changed somewhat thankfully 🙂 (though I’m curious why the CPU benchmark section has 3Ghz and 4Ghz tests for the 2500k when running it at stock speeds would be 3.3 with up to 3.6’d think the proper comparison would be stock speed to 4Ghz overclock..)

        Still a very helpful review I now know I should have a go at OC’ing my 2500K finally to get some extra FPS for Skyrim when my copy arrives (I haven’t had any reason to OC it yet, it’s exceptionally rare for that to be the limiting factor in FPS on ultra settings obviously)

  • If you custom build your PC from the start, with mid to high-tier gear, then all you need worrying about really is upgrading your video card every couple of years. I had an 11 (yes… eleven) year old AGP rig that could still play Crysis at low-medium. I only upgraded a couple of years back.

    So while that propriety $799 PC may look like a bargain – it isn’t. If you don’t know what parts to get to do a custom build then ask around some forums or your geek mates. Slap them if they recommend Alienware though… Even if you don’t think you can DIY a build yourself then pay the extra for the store to do it for you – most reputable PC parts stores will do it for you.

    P.S. Kotaku should do a DIY build your own PC story at least every 6 months. Or a dedicated page? The amount of times I’m asked what parts and where to get them is staggering for someone who no longer ‘builds’ PC for a living.

    • An 11 year old rig that could play crysis?Pics or it did’nt happen, the pc I had when crysis came out had major trouble and that had an amd fx55($1400) cpu and 2 Nvidia 7800gtx’s($900each).

    • Go to Google and do a search for ‘Whirlpool best bang for your buck’ all that you need to know will be there. It is a constantly updated wiki. It’s always my go to place when looking at building/upgrading my PC. They cover PC builds for every need and price range.

  • I have been running the game on Medium because it struggled to keep a consistent 60 FPS when I’m running around the countryside. The only Time I experience dips is in towns, drops down to 45 FPS sometimes.

    I’m running an Intel 2500K (no OC), 4GB of 2000 MHz Vengeance memory and an MSI GTX 560 Ti. Would upgrading memory give a significant performance boost, or should I just go straight to SLI?

    • Considering you have a 2500K and a GTX560, I’d bring your memory up to par and get another 4GB. Also since you have the K model, you should look into OC’ing your CPU. You could easily get it to 4GHz without breaking a sweat.

      • Would the 8 GB of memory and a decent overclock reflect a decent performance boost though? On that topic, my mate has a 4GB stick of Vengeance memory at 1600 MHz, while my memory is 2x2GB and 2000 MHz. If I bought it off him, would it be less effective (with the difference in latencies) compared to installing another 2×2 kit?

        • Well to be perfectly honest I’m surprised you can’t run it at a constant 60 on at least high with your setup. Your GPU and CPU are certainly up to the task and that leaves you with RAM and at the very least your CPU speed. Are you having similar issues with other new release games?

          As for the performance boost, personally I don’t run anything without at least 8Gb of RAM and with 64bit OS’s nowadays, there is no constant or major compatibility issues any more and the OC’ing of your CPU will always be handy. Are you running the stock CPU cooler?

          As for snagging your mate’s RAM, well that’s up to you. I’d advise against as mixing RAM can be all kinds of hassle.

          • Well, I’ve had a performance test of sorts with settings on high, and it turns out it does run at 60 FPS pretty much constantly. 😛

            I think I was turned off at first by the towns running sluggishly, but the 40-50 FPS is normal on medium and high.

            But now I’ve gone around a few places and engaged in combat with dragons and giants. the 60 frames still keeps up, so I’ll leave it on high for now.

            Currently I’m running a CoolerMaster Hyper 212+ instead of the stock cooler, with recently applied Arctic Sliver. Been having cool days, but the CPU temps vary from 29-41. My friend assures me this is normal, but I’m not so sure…

          • It’s all good dude, 29-41 are REALLY LOW temps. You should look really look into OC’ing if those are your temps.

    • I’m not sure you’ll see much/any benefit from upgrading to 8GB of RAM (at least inside Skyrim) most games from what I’m aware still can’t take advantage of over 4GB. Though there’s still other benefits to having more RAM and little downside given the stuff is dirt cheap atm

      however if you check out the CPU section of the linked review you won’t be hitting 60fps with a stock 2500k because of CPU limitation by the looks of it. Thankfully like others have pointed out it OC’s extremely easily even with a stock cooler (or you could grab a good budget cooler like a 212+) bump it up to 4Ghz or 4.3 or something and you should see a nice FPS boost

      other than that…small OC to your graphics card? or sacrifice a setting or too that you don’t mind losing but has a decent performance hit (what settings those are is kinda up too you…some people hate bloom, DOF don’t care about top level shadows etc)

      though having said this you did say medium settings which shouldn’t be as CPU limited…maybe have a poke around your system make sure nothing is left running when you start playing like a web browser or similar cause that’s when the RAM limitation will come into play (it’s extremely easy for chrome to eat 1-2gb of RAM and when you have 4 that leaves you with bugger all)

      oh crap final question. are you running a 64 bit OS? cause if your not that 4GB limit is being shared between your system RAM and graphics RAM and that can *kill* your performence so if your running a 32bit OS,…go buy Win7 x64 😛

  • I am running Skyrim on my a PC that i built a few years ago. i have only upgraded the CPU last year to a Q9650 and recently bought a ASUS GTX550 Ti. It sets itself to high graphics and runs beautifully, more than well enough to keep me entertained.

  • Runs beautifully for me. I know it’s not the greatest looking game but it still is a massive improvement from vanilla oblivion so I’m happy. Runs nice and smooth for me and I never have to wait more than a couple seconds in the waiting screens (on a 7200rpm drive)

  • Considering my laptop can’t even handle running Steam without issue or turn on some days I think I’m going to have to get it for 360. Think about all the mods I’ll miss out on! 🙁

      • It’s both really. My degree’s pretty (extremely) essay heavy so I need the flexibility of being able to take it with me but when it comes down to it, if I could afford a gaming desktop as well I would. I’d get someone to build it for me though, absolutely useless with technology. Probably why I left JB with a shite laptop.

        • Well, although not as portable as a regular laptop or as efficient with a battery you could look into a gaming laptop. I’ve got an Asus G73JW and you can grab one now for about $1100 on the bay. Only games I can’t run on full have been Metro 2033 and Crysis 2.

        • If budget was not an issue, you could probably get away with a MacBook Pro. Mine’s a 15″ i7 and hands games well – both the Mac and Windows versions.

          Despite what PC-elitests say, Windows installations on Macs are very sound and it is possible to install official drivers if you are impatient with Apple’s bootcamp turn over.

          Mind you, I have not tried Crysis 1 or 2 yet – I do not want to burn myself. The casing is used to draw heat from the components and is vented in the hinge for the monitor.

  • i had a really hard choice on deciding what platform to go on, either pc or ps3, but with the amounts of problems im having with configuration of files on my desktop (and lack of availability to access it at any time) i went with the ps3 version. Recently i had to choose ps3 over pc for BF3, because of connection and winsock problems im having with BFBC2 which i can’t seem to find a fix for. PC gaming is great when it runs flawlessly, but can be an absolute nightmare when things dont go right, and you spend a lot of your time for fixes to get you started.

  • Installed on my old PC with an 8800GTS, e6800 and 2GB RAM, ran it and it chose Low for the settings and it runs smooooooooth as a baby’s bottom.

  • I was surprised how well it ran on my computer. It’s like they put effort into optimising the game so that lower end users could still play it at an enjoyable rate! It makes up for the terrible consolified menu controls.

  • hmmmm, so it runs well on a 550 Ti, so it’s safe to assume that it’ll work well on a 560 Ti? as that is also the graphics card i’ve got at the moment (won it off this website :P)

    when i get it, i’ll tell you how good it runs 😛

  • The 5770 doesn’t cost $130 – it’s only $99 from MSY.

    They rebranded it a while ago as the 6770, so any 5770s will be overpriced old stock.

  • The defualt FSAA on ultra is set at 8X which is overkill and a real fps killer, at high rez 1080P and up any more than 4X really is’nt needed.I run on ultra with 2X FSAA becuase I can’t notice the diff.Get 45-60 fps on an old core2 quad @3.6Ghz with 2 gtx460’s in sli.

  • Interesting. My 2 year old system is giving Skyrim a kick in the pants on Ultra settings & 2048×1536 resolution. Never noticed frame lag. Skyrim must be quite CPU / RAM heavy since my i7 950 beats their i5 by a significant amount and that’s before you get onto having 6gb of ram using the i7’s fast RAM link over the test system’s 2gb.

    I’m guessing that’s thanks to the streaming. If you can pawn tasks off onto a modern CPU \ RAM if it’s not intended to be rendered then it helps. (streaming is the process of bringing in data for new sections of a world as you approach them, popular in big world environments).

    I am also not surprised AMD does better. Their cards are better for the dx 11 transition then the Nvidia’s. Overall they’re more powerful but their shaders for dx 11 tessellation are weaker meaning Nvidia would perform better on a true, modern PC exclusive title.

    As for the trailers and the ‘impressive graphics’. I’m disappointed but not enough to sour my gameplay experience. This game is 4-5 years behind what is possible on PC. Sure, the textures are huge, but the poly count is incredibly low and there is NO tessellation as I mentioned above which means bang for buck they’re rendering 1/4 what they could. Of course, they saved money on their art budget, but can you imagine what it would look like with say 8x the modelled detail in the terrain?

    As a game developer I’m especially disappointed in titles like this that COULD have the budget not even stressing a 2 year old machine like mine. I still remember fondly the height of the era of PC gaming when all the major breakthroughs currently being used in game graphics were developed and the few that have been used by select developers (eg. GSC world) that have been developed since could deliver dramatically better results then we’re seeing.

    I know self promotion like this is a bit camp but for comparisons sake here is the difference between non tesselated and tesselated at the same modern rendering cost (please excuse the lack of a reflection on the lower detail object);

    The final image represents the actual stored poly data used by both examples.

    Development costs for art would probably double the first time your studio acted on this change but the main reason no big Western developers are doing this is because if they act, then all the other studios will be pressured to do so by the consumers despite reduced costs as your artists adjust to the new technique.

  • I just built my first PC this year. An I5 2500k with a NVIDIA’s GTX 560 Ti. The people at Whilrpool forums were very helpful. I bought components from PC Casegear, MSY and Scorptech and built it in a massive gaming case called the Antec 1200 V3. One of the trickiest parts was putting on the Coolermaster cpu cooler. The part that took me the longest was tiding all the cables. It was an enjoyable experience, I would recommend having a go to people.

    As to running Skyrim, of course it runs very well. I really enjoy the lighting, sound and music design, as they provide agreat atsmosphere! Yeah Skyrim’s textures could be better, but I think the modders will fix that in the future. The game that has grafically wowed me the most so far has been Battlefield 3.

    Has any one applied this ENB Skyrim graphical fix?

  • While I have good hardware, I am always skeptical as variations in hardware models can make or break the performance of a game. These days, my rig is also considered Low-Mid range.

    My rig is (from memory, it’s been a while):
    * Intel Core 2 Quad (E6600)
    * 8 GB Cosair Value Select DDR 2 800(I did have Dominator 1600 but it died and they don’t make DDR 2 in that brand anymore).
    * nVidia Gefore GTS 450 1 GB.
    * 1 TB Western Digital Sata (I forget the speed) main drive.
    * Windows 7 Pro (64bit).

    I also have a 1 TB Raid 1 mirror for storing data (I’m paranoid when it comes to corruption).

    I would like to get the PC version (I have Morrowind and Oblivion on PC) but I’d like to see if others with similar hardware as me have had issues first.

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