Tuning Skyrim on the PC Gamer Rig

Adam Oxford

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Rig

Another week, another chance to hunt down bargains for the PC Gamer Rig. Like the well loved broom that's had many new handles and quite a few heads over the years, the Rig is continually evolving to be the best value machine for under £1,000/£1,500 it possibly can be. No part is the same as it was this time last year: but its essence of Rigginess remains.

This week, as you might expect, it's been mostly playing Skyrim.

Here's the thing, without touching a single ini file or mod, the Rig runs Skyrim on Ultra settings (8xAA, 16xAF) without really straining. At its lowest, performance drops to around 30 frames per second, and usually maintains a steady 60 or so indoors.

Given the fact that mod site Skyrim Nexus was offline for a lot of yesterday due to overwhelming demand, you've probably already realised that there's a lot you can do to tweak performance further. Tom's already rounded up a list of the most popular hacks for Skyrim.ini and Skyrimprefs.ini (both found in your Documents>My Games>Skyrim folder), but here's the two things which I've found really make a difference on the Rig.

First of all, you must install the FXAA Post-Process Injector mod. If you only do one thing to Skyrim, do this – the game looks indescribably better as a result.

Second, overclock your CPU.

Forget about all those hacks and finely balancing one CVAR against another. Skyrim is a massively CPU limited game, which isn't especially well multithreaded. Bumping the maximum Turbo multiplier on our Core i5 2500K up from 38x to 45x on all four cores give you a 4.5GHz processor took that minimum framerate up closer to 40fps. That's a straight 33% increase for 30 seconds' work.

The best thing? Because only two cores are ever really in use, we did all of this on the stock cooler that's supplied with the chip. It's a good idea to invest in something a little more chilly, like the Arctic Freezer Pro 7, but not absolutely essential.

Bear in mind you do do this at your own risk, of course. Overclocking a CPU can result in shortening its lifespan and invalidating any warranties.

If your problem with Skyrim is at the other end of the scale – ie you're struggling with a lower end machine and want it to run faster – the best settings to change are the draw distances. I'm going to put up a post with some detailed benchmarks early next week, but so far testing with an AMD Mobily Radeon HD6750 has shown that anti-aliasing and the like doesn't make a huge amount of difference (and may not be working anyway), but dropping draw distances for characters and grass can add 10fps onto outdoor scenes.

But enough of the tuning talk. What's in the Rig this week?

What's in the Rig?

CPU

Intel Core i5 2500K

£159.67 / $209.99

An unlocked Sandy Bridge quad core, capable of all the top end features but hyperthreading.

Motherboard

Gigabyte Z68AP-D3

£84.98 / $119.99

An awesome Z68 board, comes with mSATA connectors for mini SSDs and Intel's caching technology.

RAM

Crucial Ballistic Sport

£45.59 / $53.99

Eight gigabytes of fast 1600MHz DDR3 for £50. Grab it quick, just in case it's a misprint.

3D Card

GeForce GTX 560Ti

£161.99 / $249.82

Curiously, prices for the 560Ti have gone up in the US this week, but down in the UK. Is old stock being cleared out for something new...?

Hard drive

Samsung Spinpoint F4 2TB

£38.09 / $119.99

Short supply of hard drives means you'll probably have to settle for a lot less storage than you're used to.

DVD drive

LG GH22NP21

£14.03 / $21.99

Fast DVD writers are pretty much generic these days, and there's no real argument for spending any more.

Case

BitFenix Shinobi

£59.99 / $64.99

Easy access to all components and not too noisy either, our favourite budget case looks better than others too.

Power supply

Cooler Master 80+

£57.98 / $112.00

A decent 650W PSU that's rated well for efficiency. The minimum you should try to get away with.

Mouse

Logitech G400

£24.98 / $39.99

Classic Logitech style in a brand new mouse, this 3600dpi mouse is comfortable and precise.

Keyboard

Microsoft SideWinder X4

£24.97 / $55.63

Backlighting, macros and anti-ghosting for £25? Yes please.

Monitor

LG IPS236V

£142.15 / $249.99

Some of you think that an IPS screen is no good for gaming because of low response times. You are wrong.

Headset

Corsair HS1A

£29.99 / $44.32

Being phased out for a newer model, so grab a bargain while they last.

Total: £844.41/$1342.69

£22.12 less/$84.80 more than last week .

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