The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Benchmark

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It may not be the most pre-ordered game, it may not be the game with the most sales but it is definitely the most anticipated game of the year and will probably be GOTY 2011. Bethesda did it again, they put a lot of work in Skyrim, they promised a lot and so far the game is delivering.

Back when the game was first announced Bethesda pointed out that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will look awesome. They created a new game engine called Creation Engine, among all it’s features, this engine is capable of drawing huge distances thus creating beautiful vistas. Another important feature is the foliage system which help trees, grass and vegetation look and feel more real.

Test Hardware | The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Intel Core i5-2500K (Sandy Bridge)

3.3 GHz, 6 MB L3 Cache, power-saving settings disabled, Turbo Boost disabled.

Motherboard MSI P67-C43-B3, Intel P67 Chipset
Memory 2 x 2 GB DDR3 1600MHZ
Hard Drive WD 500 GB SATA III
Graphics Card Sapphire HD6950 1 GB
Power Supply Corsair TX 650 W
System Software And Drivers
Operating Systems

Windows XP SP3 x32

Windows XP SP2 x64

Windows 7 SP1 x32

Windows 7 SP1 x64

Windows 8 DP x32

Windows 8 DP x64

DirectX DirectX 9
Graphics Driver AMD Catalyst 11.10 WHQL

Before taking a look at performance differences between operating systems please note that I used the maximum settings when I ran the game. Maximum settings does not mean Ultra but all the available settings were checked and maxed out. You’ll see later that running the game on Ultra will improve performance dramatically without loosing too much image quality. Also tests were done in a intense part of the game so you might see much higher frame rates (almost 20%) most of the time. And I am using the day one patch Bethesda released, though I’m pretty sure it only addresses some quests issues.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Operating Systems Benchmark

Windows XP users upgrade, Windows 8 users downgrade. The huge difference in performance between the three operating systems is astonishing. There’s a 37% difference between Windows XP, 8 and Windows 7. I tried different drivers with Windows XP trying to figure out what is the problem but couldn’t get a definite answer. Most probable cause is the game itself.

All CPU tests were done in Windows 7 x64. OC = 4.5 Ghz. vSync is Disabled.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim CPU Benchmark

Skyrim CPU Usage
1 Core
1 Core OC
2 Cores
2 Cores OC
3 Cores
3 Cores OC
4 Cores
4 Cores OC

Skyrim is not CPU dependent, with only 2 cores and a bit of OC you can supply all the required processor power to the game, this is good news for dual core users and bad news for quad/hexa core users. Remember that I ran all test on the maximum settings and not Ultra. Overclocking the processor does seem a reliable solution for older CPUs but with the current generation (Sandy Bridge) it may not give more than 1 or 2 extra frames so don’t bother. The same story goes for the graphics card, I overclocked the 6950 (840 & 1325 Mhz ) only to gain one frame per second.

As I told you earlier, here is a comparison between 5 different quality settings. Tests done in Windows 7 x64.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Image Quality Performance Comparison

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Image Quality Comparison
Click to Enlarge

Going for maxed out settings might be a bad idea as you will lose 33% performance while gaining almost no image quality.

Although I’ve seen a lot of optimization complaints on the official Skyrim forums, I can’t really agree with them. A decent overclocked dual core processor and a mainstream graphics card is all you need to run Skyrim at High/Ultra settings. Also, make sure you’re using the latest video, audio and chipset drivers so you will avoid most compatibility issues. Oh and if you’re still using Windows XP make sure you update.


After playing a lot of Skyrim I noticed that sometimes, especially in Dwemer Caverns, there are huge performance drops and stutter, the game becomes unplayable and FPS goes to below 5. While this happens the CPU at 100% usage and the GPU load goes to 30%. The reason behind this huge problem is that the shadows are “rendered” by the processor, a childish move from Bethesda. After lowering shadows detail to something lower than Ultra, the issue was gone completely, CPU usage was normal at about 40-50% while the GPU load went up to 99%. I advise those who have frame rate issues to lower shadows to anything lower than Ultra.

I do admit that I only encountered this problem two times and lasted under 30 seconds. But when doing a Thieves Guild mission in Irkngthand this issue blew out of proportion and got me really annoyed, throughout the mission I only got between 3 and 20 FPS.


I included Skyrim in the AMD Catalyst 11.10 vs 11.11 comparison. Things don’t look bright for future AMD drivers.


AMD just released a performance driver for a couple of games including Skyrim. They say this driver Improves performance 2-7% on single GPU configurations, I will look into it in the morning. You can get the driver from here: AMD Catalyst 11.11a Performance Driver.


If you’re using a 64-bit operating system with more than 3 GB of RAM installed and encounter frequent (every 5-15-30-60 minutes) crashes to desktop there is a solution. When Skyrim hits 2 GB of RAM usage it may crash. It seems Skyrim isn’t aware that your PC has RAM left for use. The fix I read about on the Internet implied the usage of a application that patched the .exe so that Skyrim became LAA (Large Address Aware) and could use whatever RAM was left free. Unfortunately Bethesda or Steam suddenly decided to put a check on the .exe that rendered this fix useless. The tool I mentioned is this: Large Address Awareness 2.0.4 which can be used with any game/application that hasn’t the Large Address Aware executable flag set so the entire 4GB Virtual Memory Address Space.

Fortunately there is another tool designed especially for Skyrim and some users confirmed that it is still working with the latest 1.2 update. The tool is called Skyrim4GB and you can get it from here or the official website.


AMD Catalyst Drivers Performance Comparison

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim AMD Catalyst Drivers Performance Comparison

Best choices at the moment would be 11.10 WHQL, 11.12 WHQL or AMD 8.94 19 Dec, these drivers exhibit the best performance with Skyrim. To download any of them browser our drivers section.

  • web

    nice job, all usefull info

  • David

    Can we get some benchmarks with older C2Q CPUs for those of us still running them. I still have a Q6600 @ 3GHz with 8GB of RAM and a 5970 with a moderate OC. Looks like I should be able to play at 1080p with Ultra settings but just wondering.

  • WillardQuine

    Excellent job. I wondering however if author really don’t see the difference between ultra and maxed settings. For me is huge, just look at pictures especially enlarged.

    • Johnny 3D

      The shadows and foliage look a bit more realistic but you also lose 30% performance for this. For people with older hardware maxing out would be a waste.

      Though I still play maxed out and reach 100 FPS in some parts of the games (in towns especially) but in some dungeons FPS gets much lower, about 30-40

  • Ran

    Results for Windows 7 are wrong. I have zero gain on W7 vs XP.

    • Johnny 3D

      I triple checked everything and got the same results…

      • Ran

        I’ve same fps on both os’es with Radeon HD 5770. Maybe your game’s graphic setting’s are different, some additional SkyrimPrefs.ini tweaks on XP? Game only use DX9 at max, so additional performance is not possible with W7, it’s unreal, you should know that.

        • VirusType2


          Windows7 is much better at multi threading.supporting dual multi-core processors, supporting multi GPU configurations, and now (more recently than your response) even supporting more ram in Skyrim.

  • Chance

    “Skyrim is not CPU dependent, with only 2 cores and a bit of OC you can supply all the required processor power to the game”.

    You need to look again at your own results. With 1 core you are getting 100% use, so we can happily agree cpu limited there. With 2 cores you are getting near enough 100% (95% in your table) use, still cpu limited. With three cores your table says 60% which is effectively the same as 2 cores (3×60=180 which if you divide by two cores would give you the same 95%).
    With four 4 cores you are saying 50% which again, is close enough to 2 cores and is actually still cpu limited because:

    A better conclusion is that skyrim simply cannot take advantage of more than 2 cores under any circumstances and with 2 cores you are heavily cpu dependent since you get full load (and why overclocking helps). Also if you look at the gpu useage on any recent graphics card it will hardly break a sweat. In conclusion this isn’t great news for David asking about a q2q, since two of those cores at 3ghz will chug at times but it is good news for him in that his 5970 can handle all the graphics the game can throw at him (except anything done by the cpu, discussion about possibly shadow calculations?).

    • Johnny 3D

      You’re right when you say that Skyrim can’t take advantage of more than 2 cores but Skyrim is not really CPU dependent. You can’t expect to play a 2011 title ( of this quality ) with just a single core CPU and have great performance.

      The balance between CPU and GPU requirements is pretty satisfying.

      • Chance

        Well, not really. It doesn’t use a gpu to it’s full extent at all and you are limited on a sb dual core at 3.3ghz.
        There is also clearly something wrong with those charts too since it shows an improvement with three cores vs dual cores, which you accept is impossible as it can’t take advantage of the third core.
        Also the contradiction. Three cores with 60% useage is actually marginally less than two cores at 95% cpu in use. Which returns us to the third chart on this page showing a clear improvement with three cores vs two cores. How was that achieved when there is simple no way for this game to use three cores as an advantage and your own chart shows less cpu use overall. It is clear that the testing methodology for these charts was flawed at best and hard to take at face value.

        Edit 1: I meant the second chart before. But also something about those charts (the maximum fps specifically) screams that the framerate was capped at 60fps (vsync?) which sort of negates their seriousness.

        Edit 2: As a final rant this is why I am annoyed:
        I am not expecting to play a 2011 title of this quality (which I don’t think is up to other titles to be honest) on a single core cpu but I do expect it to be able to take advantage of more than two cores. I appreciate parallelization is difficult but Bethesda’s own recommended specs for this game is a quad core which means either there is a huge bug in the game or that is just plain wrong.

        • Johnny 3D

          Just wanted to tell you that vSync is Disabled !

          • Chance

            In the second chart I would expect to see in order from best to worst in all three min/max/avg sections assuming (incorrectly probably, gpu?) no hard/gpu cap:
            Tied 1st place: 2, 3 and 4 cores overclocked
            Tied 2nd place: 2, 3 and 4 cores standard
            3rd place: 1 core overclocked
            4th place: 1 core
            The sections are out in places but if you look at the second chart specifically and 2 cores minimum fps of 24 and realise for whatever reason this should be tied with 3 and 4 cores with a minimum ~40 on the same chart this is what can be jarring ingame. (The lower average but same maximum suggest there was a sustained hit of low fps with your dual core test, which cannot be because of fewer cores so is either the testing method, or a skyrim quirk which would coincide with gameplay experience of framerate dips).
            Let me take a different approach. If we take 60fps as a MINIMUM I would say with any reasonably recent single graphics card the game is never even close to gpu limited. I would then say even with a sb cpu overclocked to 4.5ghz the game is cpu limited (in places). After this point it is a matter of where the acceptible minimum/deviation is to the individual user but it will be because of cpu limiting. Repeat the above again but now with 120fps capable sli rigs that will have the exact same cpu limiting and the same minimum fps and…

  • Ran
    Hmm, Ultra looks worser than high on this comparison gif. No anisotropic filtering at all. Something is really wrong here. Ah. I know what’s the problem is – ultra settings are bugged and not maxed out without 1.1 update. So probably same mess with w7 result.

  • Frank

    Hey, useful Test. Specially about Catalyst 11.10 und Windows 7 information.

    I compared “High” and “Maxed” Screenshots. “Maxed” looks amazing. how did you do? .ini Tuning? Driver Ambient Occlusion forcing?


    • Johnny 3D

      Maxed Out Settings = All Graphical settings were checked and all sliders were at max. No files were modified.

      • Ran

        Ultra already maxing out all settings/sliders.

        • Johnny 3D

          Nope, FXAA is not enabled on Ultra

          • Ran

            FXAA is a cheap AA and it’s blurring image quality, so obviously it should be disabled on max settings. And there’s no point as well to enable both MSAA abd FXAA.

  • rabbit33
  • Frank

    Hey thanks, ehm, how can I find this Article he is takling about earlier “As I told you earlier, here is a comparison between 5 different quality settings.”, above “Game Settings Comparsion”, third Graphic?

  • Johnny 3D

    Added chart comparing performance with Skyrim between a dozen AMD drivers.

  • Diceman

    “Skyrim is not cpu dependant”

    This review and its creator aren’t worth s**t.

    • Johnny 3D

      If a game can’t use more than 2 cores/threads doesn’t mean that it’s CPU dependent…it just means it’s poorly coded. The game does use a lot of CPU in some areas and was coded using some old instructions sets.

      • Diceman

        an application can be cpu bound/dependant without even fully using the cpu.

        Skyrim has 3 main threads with a bunch of worker threads spread over 2 and a half cores. the main thread consists of AI, physics, scripting and Graphics, the 2nd and 3rd are audio and file handling.

        The Main thread is bound to a core and taxes it completely, it is cpu bound in the sense that the Rendering thread is stunted by the other threads resulting in less graphical data passing through DirectX at any given time.

  • Pieman

    not sure what any of this means, but f yeah skyrim!

  • Geralt


    I don’t suppose you’ll update this now that the 1.4 beta patch is out? It contains some optimizations and the game runs significantly better:

  • Avaks

    Very nice info! Tanks a lot!

  • H8tank

    Since XP has such a low ram usage normally compared to win7, is there much of a difference running skyrim in WinXP 32bit with 2GB vs 4GB of RAM?

    • Nyarlathotep

      Yes, noticable. But it would prolly depend more upon the speed of the ram. And you should focus on your graphic’s and cpu first. Most importantly how much VRam do you have?

  • Barry Treggalles

    Core 2 Duo T5800 @ 2Ghz, 4GB RAM, 512MB NVIDIA GeForrce 9600M GT dedicated GPU. What are the best settings that I can run Skyrim at while still keeping a constant 30FPS?

    • Nyarlathotep

      Simply not gonna happen. At times, you will get enormous spikes with that kind of equippment. But generally speaking, you’d have to overclock your cpu, to get any decent kinds of fps, whatsoever, prolly up to at least 3ghz. At best you would then be able to keep that at 30 fps on low/medium settings in most things. I’d recommend shortening the distance at which you see things. That would improve perfomance drastically, especially considering your low Vram(g-card ram).

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