The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Performance and IQ Review

The latest Elder Scrolls installment is here, taking us to the frozen province of Skyrim in search of Dragons! We've checked out performance and image quality in this wildly anticipated game with current generation graphics card solutions on the market today, and we're ready to show your our results. You may just be surprised at what you see!

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Evaluation Method

We evaluate what each video card configuration can supply us in terms of a playable gaming experience while supplying the best culmination of resolution and "eye candy" graphical settings. We focus on quality and immersion of the gameplay experience rather than how many frames per second the card can get in a canned benchmark or prerecorded timedemo situation that often do not represent real gameplay like you would experience at home. Then we will follow with apples-to-apples testing based on real gameplay as well.

Test System Setup

For our test system platform we are using an ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution motherboard with an Intel Core i7 920 overclocked to 3.6GHz, and 6GB of Corsair DDR3-1600. For the power supply, we will be using a CoolerMaster Real Power Pro 1250W.

We use the 3.6GHz overclocked quad-core processor in an attempt to keep from putting our evaluation into a position of being CPU limited. We make every effort to not use CPU limited games for video card evaluations, but the 3.6GHz processor seems to put many peoples’ minds at ease when it comes to that subject.

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Video Card Drivers

New video card drivers have come down from NVIDIA and AMD recently, even during our testing of this game. This month has had a lot of game releases, and NVIDIA and AMD are hard at work on supporting these games and improving performance. One of the key support items in new games is supporting multi-GPU acceleration with NVIDIA's SLI and AMD's CrossFireX. For Skyrim, NVIDIA released a driver version one day before the launch of Skyrim that brought SLI support to Skyrim. As of this date, AMD does not have a driver that supports CrossFireX in Skyrim yet. A driver is pending, that will give us that support, but it may not arrive until late in the week.

NVIDIA - For all NVIDIA-based video cards in this evaluation, we are using NVIDIA's ForceWare 285.79 Beta package, dated November 10th, 2011. ForceWare 285.79 was released on November 10th, a day before Skyrim and brings with it SLI profile support for Skyrim. This is currently the best NVIDIA driver to use for Skyrim.

AMD - For all AMD-based video cards in this evaluation, we are using AMD's Catalyst 11.11 WHQL driver package dated November 15th, 2011, as well as the Catalyst Application Profiles 11.11 Cap 2.

With this latest driver and CAP there is no CrossFireX support in Skyrim. In light of this we could not include the dual AMD Radeon HD 6970 CrossFireX option in this evaluation. The configuration is unsupported currently, and if you try to run it with CFX enabled you will see negative scaling. It is best to run Skyrim with a single-AMD GPU only currently, for the best performance.