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Oblivion asked a lot out of hardware when it was released back in 2006. At its highest detail settings, Skyrim is certainly more demanding than its predecessor. To be honest, though, what you see as an improvement doesn’t seem commensurate with the hardware requirements. Thankfully, graphics and CPU technology have both come a long way in five years. And, for gamers with modest PCs, the game does a great job of scaling detail down to manageable levels without sacrificing too much visual appeal.
Skyrim simultaneously taxes CPU and GPU resources. So, if you’re looking to run at ultra detail settings using 1920x1080 and texture transparency AA, you need a Sandy Bridge-based CPU and a Radeon HD 6850 just to hit a 30 FPS minimum. For a smoother experience, consider a GeForce GTX 570 or Radeon HD 6970, or maybe even a dual-card setup. Nvidia hit us with its 285.79 beta driver capable of enabling SLI in Skyrim, while AMD claims its CrossFire driver is on the way. It's just a shame there's nothing to show the folks looking to play this game with a pair of Radeons at launch.
The good news is that you don’t need an uber-rig to enjoy the game. A 2.5+ GHz Phenom II matched up to a Radeon HD 5770 or GeForce GTX 550 Ti is enough to enjoy at least 40 FPS using high-quality details at 1080p, even with FXAA enabled to help smooth out the bothersome aliasing artifacts. That’s a reasonable requirement that probably won't necessitate many upgrades. Best of all, the result looks almost as good as ultra-quality details.
Gamers at the entry-level side of the spectrum should be happy to learn that a GeForce GT 430 or Radeon HD 5570 delivers a 35 FPS minimum frame rate at 1680x1050 using medium details. As settings drop, so do CPU requirements. So, any dual-core processor running at 2 GHz or more should be ample.
That covers the hardware requirements, but what about the game? If you loved Oblivion, you’ll love Skyrim. If you like RPGs but haven’t played Oblivion, you owe it to yourself to give this title a shot.