Skyrim Video Card Recommendations: $50, $100, $150, & $200 – The Best Values
This article will cover the best price to performance options for video cards to run Skyrim at all price ranges from budget to performance. The information presented here has been consolidated and simplified from many different websites such as anandtech, tomshardware, and hardforums.
UPDATE NOTE: This article was written for the release of Skyrim and so it is now out of date. We recommend using our latest GPU buyer’s guide for gaming here. It is targeted for Overwatch, but the cards listed there are still the best values for each price range.
The first thing you’ll need to do is decide on your price range. Several price ranges are listed below. As is usually the case with computer hardware you will get the best value from products that are low to mid-ranged. Hardware that was cutting edge 3 years ago will now be budget priced, yet the performance is the same, and this will always be the case. Decide what kind of premium you want to pay, and how cutting-edge you would like to be.
Luckily Skyrim will run acceptably on older and budget hardware, albeit at lower resolutions and lower detail settings, so you can get by with almost anything. However, it is a game that certainly will benefit from the graphical improvements — adding to the immersion and reality of the world. The sweet spot for video cards is around the $120-$175 range in order to get the best results.
Best Video Card Options for Performance and Value In Each Price Range
Without further ado, on to what you came here for: the best price to performance value for each video card price range. Also be sure to check the “considerations” list below, for some extra considerations that may affect what price range will be best for you.
Price Range: $100-150 (The sweet spot)
This is the sweet spot for price vs performance for video cards and has been for many years. This price range generally offers cards that were on par with cutting edge technology 2-3 years previously. By waiting you can take advantage of the discounts in the market as new technology emerges. The ideal price range is the $125-150 range after rebate. There will almost always be an active $20-30 manufacturer rebate on some card in this price range.
Models to look for that fit this price range
- Geforce GTX 550 Ti
- Radeon 6850
- Radeon 6870 (on sale or with rebate only)
Price: ~$140-$150 (after rebate only)
This is the perfect card for the sweet spot, and is one I decided on for one of my own systems. This card has had an active rebate for almost the entire time I’ve been watching it, which brings it down below $150. Featuring Eyefinity and plenty of power to run Skyrim and other current games at the highest settings and 1920×1200 resolution, and without paying extra for power that won’t be necessary. Savvy shoppers may also note that this product includes a free Steam key for the full game Dirt 3, which is worth about $10-20 if you are able to sell it away.
- Rebate makes card a winner for best value, dropping its price range considerably
- Dirt 3 game included free
- Popular product which means better driver support
Price: ~$130-140 (also rebates sometimes available)
This is also a great option if you want to save a few bucks. The card may start to struggle a bit, especially if you plan on using the Skyrim HD texture pack, but in many cases you probably will not notice the difference. If you’re running a 21″ monitor or less this option would also be a great choice since the lower resolution will require less from the card. The Geforce 550 Ti models are roughly equivalent to the Radeon 6850 models.
- Slightly cheaper option compared to the Radion 6870, with only slightly lower performance
- Great EVGA customer support
- Popular product means better driver support and compatibility
Price Range: $150-200
If you want to have a bit of future proofing, plan to run all the settings maxed, or just have a bit of extra cash to spend, this price range is the higher end of where you get great values and also impressive performance that will get you by for games coming out for at least a couple of years.
Models to look for that fit this price range
- Radeon 6870
- Geforce GTX 560 (non-Ti)
- Geforce GTX 560 Ti (only on sale or after rebate)
Price: just below $200
The MSI Twin Frozr II cards are widely viewed as the best choice for this generation and price range of card. This is a great choice is you really want to max out all the settings in Skyrim and utilize 3 monitor Eyefinity.
- Eyefinity – all you need is this card to run a 3-monitor-wide view of Skyrim
- Amazing cooling prevents overheating and prolongs video card life
- Widely accepted as the best performance in the $150-200 price range for current gen cards.
Price: $180 (also look for common rebates to drop price to $160)
This card fits in the price gap between the MSI Radeon 6870 Twin Frozr II ($200) and the Sapphire Radeon 6870 ($140). If it fits your price range, you’ll get a good value out of this card, but it may be a better choice to go with one of the other two cards for the absolute best deal.
- XFX offers a lifetime warranty if you register the product within 30 days of your purchase
- Shorter than other cards so may be a better choice if your case size is smaller.
- About 3″ shorter than most other current generation cards at 8 to 9 inches, where most cards are about 11 inches.
- Quiet / Lower Heat & Power Consumption
Consideration: HD Texture Pack
Skyrim has recently recently released a high resolution texture download for the PC game. Ideally you will want to be able to run this because it does add noticeable level of clarity and detail to objects nearby. For example when searching the ground for items the textures are noticeably more detailed, rather than being obvious texture patches that are blurry when zoomed in. The HD texture pack is free and can be downloaded from sources like the Steam store. In order to properly run the HD Texture pack, you must have a card with 1gb or more of memory. In order to keep up a smooth framerate and allow you to keep the visual effects enabled and set at high settings, I’d also recommend sticking with the $150-200 price range video cards. You should also be able to get by with something at the high end of the $100-150 range
Consideration: Radeon Eyefinity and nVidia Surround
For an immersive world game like Skyrim, these technologies may be worth the cost. Eyefinity and Surround will allow you to use 3 (or possibly more) monitors, displaying a single image. This means the world will wrap around your peripheral vision, just like it would if you were walking the lands of Tamriel. The main drawbacks to this technology are the strain on your video card, and the unfortunate drawback that the case / bezel around your monitor’s screen will be splitting up the image. Note that you could probably use 2 monitors, which is a more common setup, however this would mean your view would be split right down the middle by the monitor edges–not ideal for aiming or immersion. If you plan to use one of these to expand your display over multiple monitors, stick with the upper end of the $150-200 price range or better. The higher resolution and strain on your graphics card will require this.
Consideration: Your Monitor Resolution
Do you have a 23″, 24″, or larger monitor? If so, avoid the low end budget cards at all costs for gaming purposes. These monitors work best at their native resolutions of 1920×1200 (or 1920 x 1080 depending on the aspect ratio). For smaller monitors – 17 or 19 inch – you will be able to save without sacrificing performance because you’ll be running at a lower resolutions of of 1280 x 800 or 1440 x 900. This will take a lot of stress off your video card. If budget is a primary concern, shoot for a 21 or 22 inch monitor which will run at 1680 x 1050. This is high enough resolution to get detail, but does not stress your video card too much.