The Elder Scrolls

I tested the effect that every single major graphical setting has on performance, along with several ENB settings, driver settings, and Windows settings on Skyrim SE, on 2017 Hardware, so that YOU don’t have to! WITH PICTURES! (A continuation of my previous post)

Content of the article: "I tested the effect that every single major graphical setting has on performance, along with several ENB settings, driver settings, and Windows settings on Skyrim SE, on 2017 Hardware, so that YOU don’t have to! WITH PICTURES! (A continuation of my previous post)"


Hello everyone,

I've been chatting with some friendly people on the sub about some issues I've been having with my SE build, where my heavily-modded, ENB-running Oldrim build is actually performing BETTER than my completely unmodded SE build with the same ENB. The thread garnered a lot more discussion than I though I'd get, along with many suggestions for things I can try, in order to improve my performance. I've gone an implemented these suggestions in a controlled, half-scientific manner, testing a single variable at a time.

I'm posting the results here to contribute to the community, and to maybe help save other people's time, in case anyone is wondering how many frames they might stand to gain or lose by changing a game setting, or are wondering whether or not they'll really be able to see the difference with a setting on or off. Please excuse any typos, it's nearly 3:00am here.

For context, I'm playing on the following hardware, purchased in 2017:

  • i7 7700k 4.2Ghz base clock Quad-core CPU
  • GTX 1070 Ti Graphics Card
  • 16 GB DDR4 3400 MHz RAM
  • With the entire game directory playing off a Samsung 970 Evo Plus M.2 nVME PCIe SSD.

Please note that I am displaying the game at a resolution of 3440x1440p

Before I get into the results, I'd just like to thank u/zenayurvedic and u/_Jaiim for their suggestions of changes I should implement, settings I should try, mods I should use, etc., and thanks to everyone else who commented.

Testing Methodology:

  • Testing started with a completely unmodded, virgin Special-Edition client, freshly downloaded from Steam.
  • All drivers, be they Windows drivers, Windows Updates, or Device drivers, are fully up-to-date.
  • The ONLY mods installed were "SSE Display Tweaks", and its requisite "SKSE64" and "Address Library for SKSE Plugins" mods. These mods were installed so as to unlock Skyrim's framerate limit, so that I could record the TRUE values my hardware was putting out, and not just "60".
  • Changes to the game's graphical settings were made through the game's Steam launch window, and the resulting SkyrimPrefs.ini settings were pushed through ModOrganizer 2, launched through the SKSE64 Loader.
  • The testing scene consists of a save file made the moment your character exits the cave after the Helgen sequence, and emerges into Skyrim's Overworld for the first time. Weather conditions are sunny with clouds, it's midday, and 1 NPC (Ralof) stands 20 ft away.
  • For each test, I would load the save, and record four FPS values, when looking at four different locations. In order, they are: 1) Looking at the ground near Ralof, 2) Looking STRAIGHT down at my own feet, 3) Looking at the peak of a specific mountain on the horizon, 4) Walking right up to and staring at one of the rocks that makes up the entrance to the cave your player just emerged from.
  • I also took screenshots immediately upon loading the save, so as to compare the effects different settings have on the look of the game.
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Test Results

Click HERE for a picture of the Excel spreadsheet, for easier viewing.

Click HERE for a gallery of screenshots showing what the game looks like with each graphical setting changed.

Results Discussion

A few things I want to draw attention to:

  1. The best bang-for-your-buck graphical options for me to change were to reduce the shadow texture resolution from 4096 to 1024, to disable screen-space reflections, and to disable god rays. Those three changes alone should net nearly 30 FPS, with the God rays being the only change that was really noticeable.
  2. Unfortunately, those gains are not enough to offset the cost of Rudy's ENB Preset, as even with ALL of the game's graphical settings on the lowest possible, I'm only getting around 40 FPS, and that's without any texture mods, or other mods of any kind.
  3. Obviously, this result screams "well then don't use Rudy!" I know, I will test other ENB presets soon.
  4. Interestingly, DynDOLOD did nothing for me, even on its lowest output setting, with low texture resolutions. Medium settings actually cost me some frames.
  5. Playing the game in Fullscreen, Windowed, or Borderless Windowed modes had no effect on framerates at all.
  6. Playing with Steam AND GeForce overlays enabled simultaneously did not affect framerates at all.
  7. Turning off Threading Optimization in my Nvidia driver settings did not affect framerates at all.
  8. Very strangely, the game's built-in Ambient occlusion comes with zero performance loss, even though it yields a noticeable visual improvement. Disabling it did not affect framerates at all. I was so surprised by this, I tested it three times, turning it on and off, and double-checking the settings and .ini's. On the flip side, the ambient occlusion present in the ENB preset has a LARGE effect on framerates.
  9. Even stranger still, the game loses about 10 FPS from just having the ENB binaries installed, even with no preset or effects running (this is expected), but, if you then install an ENB preset, and then disable all of its effects (thereby returning to the same in-game look as before you had the preset installed), you somehow gain BACK those 10 FPS. Weird.
  10. The only recommended trick I have yet to try is to run BethINI.
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Conclusion and Admission of my Stupidity

So, after implementing every strategy given to me in the previous thread, it seems like I'm still kinda out of luck. My baseline framerate of 72.25 is excellent for me, but as soon as I add that Rudy ENB Preset, I lose — 41 — frames per second!!! That's such a massive loss, I just don't understand it. With even one texture mod installed on top of that, I'm down to 25 FPS. I'll try other ENB's, but at this point, I'm not hopeful. I know some people say they're getting better results than me, on weaker hardware… I just don't know how.

Anyways, in regards to the last thread, what I was more focused on there were the effects the ENB had on my framerate, and less-so the effects of game settings. As such, I made a large mistake in my testing: When I changed the game's graphical settings, I neglected to remember that Steam's Skyrim launcher edits the .ini files located in My Documents, but Mod Organizer 2 launches from its own protected .ini's. As such, few of my changes to the settings actually CHANGED anything. That explains why I didn't gain many frames from "lowering" the settings — they weren't actually getting lowered. I am just too stoopud. For this test, though, I made sure to implement the changes to MO2's .ini's.

Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read this in its entirety. I appreciate everyone who took the time to comment on the previous thread, as well, and I would still really really appreciate more suggestions for things I can try. I really want Skyrim SE to work, but as of right now, my Oldrim build is still the better-performing, better-looking build.

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