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Shadow Details vs. Performance Problem



Hi guys!

First of all (cause this is my first post on this forum) I wanna say that I've been following the development of STEP with great interest over the last few weeks. Therefore I want to thank The Compiler and all the supporting members of the project/forum for their effort to share the discovered enhancements for Skyrim.


I've posted the following problem already on the Nexus forum but so far I didn't get a proper solution.


[Copied from Nexus]

I have a similar problem. Yesterday I tried out Skyrim for the first

time and wanted to test out the optimal graphic settings before really

beginning to play. I only used the old 1.1 version of Skyrim with latest

graphic drivers installed. So I set everything to ultra except 4x AA

(because I don't notice a difference in-game) with 4x SSAA and Quality

Ambient Occlusion through the nVidia Control Panel. I hadn't done any

ini-tweaks or mods installed so far. I just started a new game and ran

straight to Whiterun (because I had heard that it's a good place to test

out performance). So my average FPS (with FRAPS) was 50 and never

dropping under 30. Changing single graphic settings, I quickly noticed

that changing AA, SSAA, AF or Ambient Occlusion barely affected my FPS

at all (either way). The game ran fluidly so far.


Unfortunately, when I got out of Whiterun at sunset, and when the rays

of the sun broke through the branches of a nearby tree my fps dropped to

20-22!!! I made a quicksave and changed the shadow settings from ultra

to high and gained 40 fps!!! running around the area of whiterun with up

to 80 fps. I wanna know if it's possible that this setting can cripple

my gpu so much? (I know that shadows are a big fps killer, but 40

fps???) Besides I think my rig should be able to deal with ultra

shadows. I saw youtube-videos of ppl who had the exact rig as mine and

could run everything on ultra + many graphic mods.




So here's my rig:


Windows 7 64bit


ASUS P8Z68 V-Pro


i7-2600k @3,4ghz


16 gb ram


Geforce GTX 580 1,5 gb VRAM


Corsair GS600

WD Caviar Black 500 GB




Also, I played with the native 1920x1080 resolution on a single monitor,

real time virus scan was disabled, there weren't any other programs

running in backgound (except FRAPS), energy option was set for high

performance and my gpu wasn't overheating. My overall time in-game was

estimated 30-45 minutes. I had to leave Vsync enabled to avoid too many

fps fluctuations.

[/copied from Nexus)


Added: Also the official HD Texture Pack was not installed. The game runs fine as long as the fps stay above 30 minimum. Going further down I notice a change of game pace. I'm not much of a pc expert so I hope that there is an easy explanation for the problem. (Maybe the new patches will be enough to change the problem, you think?)


I admit that I'm a little bit sad right now cause I bought this rig just 6 month ago (so shortly after Skyrim was released) for a huge amount of money. I was thinking that this would be more than enough to run Skyrim on ultra at least without mods/hd texture packs/ultra ini tweaks. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that a single graphic card can do **** these days, even if you spend money like hell for it.


Thanks already! Your work is very much appreciated!

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Hi and welcome to the wacky world of Skyrim performance. I'm afraid even people with 'uber' PC kit have found that Skyrim can stretch their system resources, partly because of the nature of advanced 3d graphics and partly due to some rather poor coding and design on Bethesda's part.


I know it can be a tedious thing, but if you read through some past threads both here and on the Nexus & Official forums you will find much mention of problems incured and solutions found for these issues.


Note especially that shadows in Skyrim are rendered using the CPU (main PC processor chip) and not by the graphics card. Also that game performance can be strongly influenced by the amount of VRAM (dedicated graphics card memory) available, however your cards 1.5Gb should be sufficient until you seriously stretch it with Hi-Res texture mods.


Even on Ultra shadows in the game are very poorly handled and rendered, however some improvements to the base code of the game have been made through the Bethesda Updates and it is worth allowing the game to update - although we could argue all day over which update version is best to run at this time ;)


Personally I envy your PC rig and fps results and to be honest in your position I would simply turn FRAPS off and enjoy the game as your experience is going to be more than pleasant :) In fact you may want to limit your fps to not exceed your monitor refresh rate for the best results. Happy 'rimming :)

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Hey Nachtfrost and welcome to the forums! Nice rig btw *envy*


Bummer to hear about your issues. But yeah, ultra shadows will cause even the most uber rigs to squeal with pain. Its been posted before on these forums, but this set of instructions at nexus helped me gain about 10-15fps on a high shadow setting. Skyrim by default puts me on ultra, which i cant handle with all the mods, but i really cant tell the difference with this tweaked shadow setting set to high vs vanilla ultra.





Other than that, take a look at the Good Performance Hunting thread on the Guides & Info subforum here, some good tips there. 40 fps loss/ gain is a huge difference though. I can imagine 20, but 40, wow. But then again, might just be your rigs setup, one of its quirks.


Also, you mention quality settings for AO, and changing that to performance didnt change your fps? I find that very strange. Jumping from performance AO to quality AO usually results in a large fps hit, even on high end cards. Are you sure your NI setting are being properly applied?


Good luck!

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Well, first of all thank you! I will update Skyrim and see where it gets me. I want to install STEP anyway, so I can kiss ultra shadows away anyway, I guess. :whistling:



Also, you mention quality settings for AO, and changing that to

performance didnt change your fps? I find that very strange. Jumping

from performance AO to quality AO usually results in a large fps hit,

even on high end cards. Are you sure your NI setting are being properly




I'm not quite sure now. I didn't use nVidia inspector but the nVidia control panel. I also often pressed ALT + TAB to change these settings while the game was still running. Does the panel really apply AO then? It may be that there was a minor fps hit of 1 or 2 fps but it happened that just looking around (even in an interior area) made the fps waver +/- 3, so I can't tell the cause.


Hope that I wasn't fooled by the control panel.

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Quick update and new question:


Something went wrong the last time. Changing AO and SSAA affects my performance indeed. Changing both of them 1 step down to Performance/2xSSAA gets me a +18 fps increase, changing only one of them +6/7 fps. Guess I had to restart everytime.


This time I also used ini-tweaks from the last STEP-release. Somehow I could not make out a performance difference between the tweaked high shadows vs. normal ultra shadows (tested only outdoor).

Also, is it normal that the Skyrim launcher detects the tweaked high shadows as ultra because of the changed resolution?


I discovered that Whiterun isn't a good place to test performance for me. Fps rarely dropped under the 58 fps-mark. My rig has more struggles with areas like Riverwood.

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No, your shadow should be seen as high in the skyrim launcher if you use the high shadow tweak. If its being seen as ultra, your tweaks are being overrun. And no, resolution will not have an effect on the name of the shadow quality, if your talking about screen resolution, If its shadow resolution, then 2048 should be detected as high, i think ultra defaults to 4096. If you using high shadows with 4096 shadow resolution then that might be why its being detected as ultra, that or your tweaks are being overrun. Your best bet is to tweak the ini manually, or using WB, and then totally bypass the skyrim launcher by launching via skse. That, or mark your ini's as read only before you open the launcher. Also delete the SkyrimPrefs.ini found in steam/.../common/skyrim/Skyrim folder as it can overwrite the inithat are in your Documents folder. Hope this helps!

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Ok, I did all this and I assume you're right with this statement:


If you using high shadows with 4096 shadow resolution then that might be why its being detected as ultra

For me though, the tweaked high shadows are worthless then (considering performance).
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Just an added question on this topic. While I have learnt to live with (ignore) the terrible object shadows in the world one of the most intrusive problems I encounter is with self-shadowing. By that I mean the shadows on my character that are cast from the model or objects being carried (shield, helm, etc). These are very blocky and have a tendency to 'shimmer' in a distracting way in 3rd person view.


I can't recall seeing this in any of the many posts I've read on shadow tweaking but is there a way to disable only self-shadowing rather than all shadows displaying on the player character (so as not to lose shadow effects from other objects like buildings and trees)?

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