Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

Summary: This build would work just as well for Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 too!

TOPICS: Hardware

'Your mission, should you decided to accept it, is to build a PC capable of running the new 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' game at 'High Quality' graphics setting or better for under $1,000.'

Seems my readers love the new 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' game a lot. I've had more questions about building new PCs and upgrading old ones to run this game than I have had for Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 combined. It seems like it's a popular game, and one that I suspect will be the game of the year.

Note: This PC would work just as well for Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 too!

OK then, here goes ...

Note: As usual, I won’t be recommending a case or peripherals … there are too many possibilities, and personal choice/tastes are far too varied.

Looking for a review of 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim'? There's a good one over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun.


There's a temptation here to go for top-end, but it's unnecessary. There's also a temptation to go with the latest release over the tried-and-tested, which I think is a mistake.

RelatedHow to: Stress test your new PC to shake out any faults

With that in mind I'd going for the AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition. Not the latest or greatest, but it's a tried-and-tested piece of silicon that;ll give you 3.5GHz out of the box and up to 4.0 to 4.2GHz if you're happy overclocking it.

Note: If you're planning to overclock, you'll need to replace the stock cooler with something better.

The video below is of the AMD Phenom II X4 955 being overclocked to 7GHz. Don't try this at home!

Price: $140


I don't believe is spending too much on a motherboard, but i do think that it's a good idea to keep an eye on the future. This is why I've gone for the ASUS M5A99X EVO AM3+ AMD 990X board featuring a UEFI BIOS and 2 x USB 3.0 ports.

Nice, solid, reliable board with lots of features.

Price: $150

Next -->

Graphics card

Here's where you need some decent horsepower ... but if you buy wisely, you won't have to remortgage your home and sell you first-born!

Skyrim will run on 'High Quality' on systems running NVIDIA's GTX 260 (I know, I've tried it), but I want something more modern and with a bit more power.

I've gone for the XFX HD-687A-ZHFC Radeon HD 6870 featuring 1GB of GDDR5 RAM.

A solid, reliable card.

Price: $170


Since RAM is pretty cheap (you can pick up some really good deals if you know where to look) let’s pack 16GB into this build.

I've gone with Patriot Extreme Performance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) which you can pick up for around $99 if you shop around.

Note: You will need a 64-bit operating system to make use of more than 4GB of RAM.

Price: $99


If you want performance, then SSDs (Solid State Drives) are the way to go. The don’t offer anywhere near the $/GB value that hard drives do, but the performance from even the cheapest SSD is spectacular.

120GB OCZ Solid 3 will set up back around $185, which is more than a 2TB hard drive would cost, but the performance from this is blazing.

Don’t skimp on the storage, get an SSD! Install your OS and programs on this drive. If you want more storage, get a cheap 1TB hard drive like the Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARX for $140. [UPDATE: Fixed error in hard disk pricing.]

Power Supply Unit

Here I’m going with a CORSAIR Enthusiast Series TX650 V2 650W unit which retails for $95.

Total Cost

Here's the final price list:

  • AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition - $140
  • ASUS M5A99X EVO AM3+ AMD 990X - $150
  • XFX HD-687A-ZHFC Radeon HD 6870 - $170
  • Patriot Extreme Performance 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 - $99
  • 120GB OCZ Solid 3 - $185
  • Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARX - $140
  • CORSAIR Enthusiast Series TX650 V2 650W - $95


Add to that total the price of a copy of Windows 7 64-bit (Home Premium will set you back around $99), and you're good to go.

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Topic: Hardware

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  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    Not that I'd ever trust ZDNet with games (Most ZDNet articles center around Angry Birds if they mention games at all), but looks like a decent setup for the price.

    When it comes to drives, though - a game loads into memory; it doesn't stick around on the drive. You'll get shorter loading screens with SSD, but it won't run any faster once loaded. Especially not with 16 GB of memory, as you are suggesting.

    I don't know what loading system Skyrim has, but in nearly all cases games will pre-load the level before you play it, so gameplay and framerate aren't affected at all by the speed (or lack thereof) of the drive.

    If Skyrim has loading screens, then having an SSD will make the loading sections shorter, but still won't affect your framerate once the level has loaded.

    The only game I know of that will truly get a better framerate with an SSD drive is Minecraft, because it is [i]constantly[/i] loading/unloading the world as you move around in it. Very few games work this way, however.
    • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

      you can also get a 450watt power supply and save 50$. If you add that to the 185$ on the SSD you can buy a decent monitor (which should have been on the build anyway)
    • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

      Actually, once get around 6 gigs or more of ram, most of the OS is loaded in ram like cache, more ram and power combinded with faster storage means less loading/unloading of anything being run. There are more resources available for use. IF this wasn't really true then heavy-load webservers wouldn't need more than 4gb of ram as most articles state you only need (and really can take up to 64 gigs or more). If you work in the tech industry and even extensively with hardware then you see the machine starts to run like crap with more load and less resources available. so the basic equation of Ram/power + Faster storage (+ faster read/write/access on flash media/SSd is unmatched from any spinning platter) = Less wait/load time now we add video cards... not some $49 5650/240GT and you get like 120+ frames with all options maxed at the highest resolution and you get sheer gaming joy much better than some store bought HP with a video card. I am a tech and have built too many machines for specific purposes like AV production not done on a mac or high end CAD stations. Trust me. There is a huge difference.
      • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000


        "Actually, once get around 6 gigs or more of ram, most of the OS is loaded in ram like cache"

        And around 16 gigs, you can fit the OS, several background apps, and a good sized game in RAM with no issues whatsoever. Which means the drive barely needs to be accessed at all.

        "IF this wasn't really true then heavy-load webservers . . ."

        *snip* you can stop there. We aren't talking about a web server. We aren't talking about a large virtualized system running on hundreds of blades serving millions of people. The memory requirements for a web server far exceed that of any game.

        Is the drive a resource? Yes, it is. Windows uses it for virtual memory.

        Is it a resource you want to use often? No, it isn't. It's bloody slow, and even SSD is no match for RAM on a consumer level system.

        And I do recognize that it helps - it decreases loading times. If you want a game that loads the next level really fast, go ahead and go with the SSD. But it doesn't affect framerate after everything is loaded.

        All of that being said, it will depend on Skyrim's design and how it handles loading its resources. A well designed game should keep as much of its resources in RAM as possible.
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    The Asus EUFI was very easy to use. Normally there being some setup involved with a bios when building a new machine but I found it pleasent having nothing really to setup once it's been run.

    I'm playing skyrim on an old AMD Phenom 9500 w/ 4g ddr 2 1066 ram and a nice Radeon HD 6850. It runs flawlessly. I plan to upgrade soon to a 6 core bulldozer and 16 gigs of ram but skyrim runs perfect now. I haven't even bothered to get a frame rate capture because I'm absolutely pleased. Graphics maxed. No jitter/lag/stutters in performance at all. This rig isn't exactly the model of gaming excellence but turns out everything with great performance.
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    I am running all my games right now on a Core i7 990x overclocked to 4.2Ghz with
    24gb of quad channel ddr3-1333mhz ram and 2 Gtx 580's in SLI with windows 7
    • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

      for under $1000? wow!
      **hands Knix96 a Trophy**
      • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

        Don't worry about him, he's just a pretender...if he really had the money to dish out he wouldn't have opted for that crappy i7 990x. He would have gotten himself an i7-3960X-EE processor. It's at least 40% faster then the 990X, and has 6 cores/12 threads instead of 4 cores/8 threads.
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    Good article, really....but this article only applies to places like the states. Where I live, if I were to buy those parts that you recommend, it would total to $1,950.
    And besides, the stuff you recommend is TOTALLY over kill for Skyrim.
    I can run Skyrim on MAX with a lowly ATI HD 5770, a Phenom II X2 (overclocked), and 4GB of DDR3 RAM. Thats all you need mate.

    16GB of memory? Over kill deluxe? You'll never use (at this moment) 16 gigs of memory.
    • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000


      Your lying. Simple as that, your system could not POSSIBLY run Skyrim at MAX settings. With 8x Antialiasing and 16x Antisoptic filtering, with everything set to HIGH (or Ultra where avaiable), distance rendering set to max and distant object rendering set to Ultra. NOT F'ING POSSIBLE.

      I run a i7 960 (OC'd to 3.9 ghz), 8 gigs of DDR3 (OC'd to 1890 mhz), twin MSI N460GTX Hawk video cards in SLI (OC'd to 1000 mhz core), a 9800GTX+ for physx rendering. My video setup is at least 3 times more powerful then yours, and I run the game at all MAX settings at 60 fps with an occasional dip to about 40 fps (no lower).

      So either you didn't check your "advanced" menu and setup your distance rendering to max, or your just a plain lier.

      As to the author, I do not have an SSD. Just a plain 7200 RPM IDE from seagate. And the game starts in 7 seconds, and load screens when I zone are less then 3 seconds long. So dropping the SSD and getting another video card to go into crossfire or a pair of SLI video cards (such as mine, the GTX460's a pair of which are only like $260 together but out perform a GTX590 for $600).
      • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

        @JacekR Dude, cool it down. In case your mother forgot to tell you, calling someone a liar (not lier) is bad manners, especially when you cannot actually prove your case.<br><br>It is far more reasonable (and credible) to imply that the individual is mistaken, or exagerating in some way. That way, dialog can continue without the need for flame wars. Bear in mind that it is possible that your uber-system stutters due to some issue outside of the obvious specs you cite. You appear to be running different technology video cards (games often run smoother on one than the other), you are also running different technologies of CPU - and I personally have found large performance differences for specific tasks and games between Intel and AMD at the same clock speed.<br><br>All in all, take a chill and play nice. People might like you.
    • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

      @The_Saiyan You'd be surprised. Many games are running more than 10 GB if you have the memory. On disk, World of Warcraft is more than 26 GB. I imagine it'll try to keep as much of it in memory as possible. WoW is an extreme case, being an MMO, but I'm seeing many games at more than 10 GB on disk.
      • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000


        Just FYI, ES5:Skyrim internally limits itself to using a max of 2 gb of system memory. Although you can change settings in the ini file to increase the amount of ram it uses, I don't remember the exact lines you need to alter (or add if not present) but there are 3 lines that specify the memory utilization in the ini file. (google it if you want to know what they are)

        But I agree, some games use an extraordinary amount of ram. I have games that will load over 5 gigs onto my ram.
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    Keyboard? Mouse? Monitor? or do you just lift them from the ZD offices?
    • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000


      Unless it's broken, you shouldn't need a new monitor, the old one should work just fine.

      As for keyboard & mice...they run $3-5 apiece at the store, not exactly a big contributor to the overall price.
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    While I'm playing Skyrim on Mac OS X through a hobbyist port (I don't game on Windows)... I still see some flaws you could improve in the list...<br>a SSD gets you next to nothing in a gaming machine... especially Skyrim which even on my slow 750gb hard drive running under an extra compatibility layer barely ever shows a loading screen. <br><br>Also I'd suggest spending the extra money from dropping a SSD on actually getting a case so that thing isn't running as parts sitting on a table, and a copy of Windows... then be a real total cost under $1000.

    Saying its under $1000 but leaving out major parts... isn't validly under $1000 unless you leave enough money to get those parts in there.
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    Where the hell are you getting your prices from? A 2010 catalogue? Has nobody at ZDNet been told about the current HDD market? $105 for a 2TB HDD? Don't make me laugh. That's /if/ you can get hold of one.
    Crimson Avenger
    • Read the article again.

      @Crimson Avenger

      Hard drive was *1* TB, not 2, & he said it would be $140. My local MicroCenter currently has over 10 in stock of the similar model WD10EARS for the same price. Or, for the same price, you can get the WD10EALX (Blue, SATA 6Gbps) 1TB drive (over 10 in stock).
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    THIS IS JUST CRUEL! I so wanted to build a pc for battlefield 3 and skyrim... I'd take 64 person multiplayer server anyday. Ended up getting games for xbox, I hate it but more of my friends are more casual gamers. I hate it, but just the way it is.

    hopefully on my next laptop I'll be able to get specs like these. Just like the portability of laptops.
  • RE: Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000

    You can build a machine that can play BF3, Skyrim, etc pretty cheaply. Phenom II is def the way to go if you don't want to break the bank but you want a fast machine that will do everything you want. +1