Building the Best PC for ARK: Survival Evolved


Last updated: March 2017

ARK: Survival Evolved is a multiplayer survival game developed by Studio Wildcard in cooperation with Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, and Virtual Basement. In the game, players awake on a dinosaur-filled island and must do their best to survive, which includes eating, avoiding overheating, and much more.

This guide takes a close look at ARK's graphical settings and the impact they have on the game. We'll also give you a good idea of the kind of PC hardware you'll need to run ARK to your own personal satisfaction. If you just want to know what to buy without all the in-depth analysis, you can skip to the Recommendations Section.

If you already have a PC but want to know what settings to use for best performance, check out the Graphical Settings section.

ARK: Survival Evolved is made in the Unreal Engine 4, one of the most commonly used engines in the game industry. The game is quite demanding, especially on the GPU. Despite it not looking particularly great it can easily bring GPU temperatures quite high, largely due to the fact that it is not particularly well optimized. On the CPU front it is not nearly as demanding.

To get started, let's take a look at what Logical Increments tiers are best for playing ARK.


What to Buy

At Logical Increments, we recommend PC builds in "tiers," with each tier containing the most powerful, most reliable, and least expensive combination of parts for that price. We don't list the individual parts in this guide because they change frequently based on local prices and new releases. You can see the latest individual part choices for each tier at the main guide page, which is updated regularly. Open it in a new tab to compare: Logical Increments PC Parts Guide.

High Settings

Compared to other modern PC games, ARK is an extremely demanding game, mainly due to inefficient optimization. The following performance metrics are based on playing the game on High settings, which are not the maximum settings<:

Tier 1600x900 1920x1080 2560x1440 3840x2160
Destitute ($170) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Poor ($220) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Minimum ($300) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Entry ($370) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Modest ($410) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Fair ($460) Borderline Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Good ($530) Playable Playable Borderline Borderline
Very Good ($630) Smooth Smooth Playable Playable
Great ($750) Very Smooth Smooth Playable Playable
Superb ($840) Very Smooth Very Smooth Smooth Playable
Excellent ($1070) Very Smooth Very Smooth Smooth Playable
Outstanding ($1240) Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth Smooth
Exceptional ($1600) Silky Smooth Very Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Enthusiast ($2000) Silky Smooth Very Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Extremist ($3600) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Monstrous ($4500+) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Explanation
Below 20 FPS Unplayable Jerky animation, "lag" and "stutter".
20-30 FPS Borderline Ok for some, too "laggy" for others. AKA "Cinematic".
30-45 FPS Playable Acceptable to most people. Not very good though!
45-60 FPS Smooth Fluid animation, no "lag".
60-90 FPS Very Smooth Very smooth is very smooth to almost everyone.
Above 90 FPS Silky Smooth Criminally smooth. For hardcore and professional players.

Epic Settings

ARK's Epic settings are insanely demanding. Even incredibly powerful gaming PCs have a difficult time running ARK on Epic settings, so attempt Epic settings at your own risk!

Tier 1600x900 1920x1080 2560x1440 3840x2160
Destitute ($160) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Poor ($220) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Minimum ($300) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Entry ($340) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Modest ($370) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Fair ($410) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Good ($480) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Very Good ($540) Borderline Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Great ($610) Borderline Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Superb ($730) Playable Borderline Unplayable Unplayable
Excellent ($870) Playable Borderline Borderline Unplayable
Outstanding ($1100) Playable Playable Borderline Borderline
Exceptional ($1250) Playable Playable Borderline Borderline
Enthusiast ($1600) Smooth Playable Borderline Borderline
Extremist ($2200) Smooth Playable Playable Borderline
Monstrous ($3500+) Smooth Playable Playable Borderline
Explanation
Below 20 FPS Unplayable Jerky animation, "lag" and "stutter".
20-30 FPS Borderline Ok for some, too "laggy" for others. AKA "Cinematic".
30-45 FPS Playable Acceptable to most people. Not very good though!
45-60 FPS Smooth Fluid animation, no "lag".
60-90 FPS Very Smooth Very smooth is very smooth to almost everyone.
Above 90 FPS Silky Smooth Criminally smooth. For hardcore and professional players.

A Note About Frame Rate (FPS)

Frames per second (FPS) measures the number of images your computer can produce every second. Higher frame rates mean that your screen will show more images per second, which means that you will see a smoother animation. Lower frame rates cause a game to appear to stutter, which is generally not enjoyable for the player.

A comparison of 50, 25, and 12.5 FPS.

For the purposes of our PC build guides, we recommend computers that will achieve 60 FPS in your game of choice. Some gamers are satisfied with frame rates as low as 30, but that depends largely on the gamer and the game.

For more information and animations explaining frame rate, please check out our Frame Rate page.

Higher Resolution for Better Gaming

A comparison of several common resolutions.

Resolution refers to the number of pixels on a screen. High resolution means more pixels and generally more space and detail, while low resolution means fewer pixels, and often less space. If you are using a typical (not high-end) laptop or an old screen, you likely have a low resolution. When comparing screens with a similar aspect ratio, it is always better to get a higher resolution screen. Higher resolution will always looks better, as you have more real estate and a sharper picture. The image below shows the difference in real estate between common resolutions.

For more information on resolutions, check our Screen Resolution page.

ARK Hardware Requirements and Performance

Before we discuss how various PC components influence ARK’s performance, let’s take a look at the game’s minimum specifications, according to Instinct Games:

Minimum System Requirements:

  • GPU: 1GB VRAM DirectX10 Compatible
  • CPU: 2 GHz Dual-Core
  • Memory: 4GB RAM

By modern standards, these official specifications are easily achievable by most PC gamers. The “Minimum” tier ($305) on the Logical Increments parts list is roughly on par with Instinct’s official minimum specifications. We would recommend at least our “Superb” tier ($750) if you want to get playable performance on medium-high graphical settings, though lower tiers can perform well on lower settings. This is largely because the game can be extremely demanding on both the CPU and GPU, so the recommended i3-7100 and GTX 1060 3GB will be a virtual necessity.

Recommended GPUs for ARK

ARK is quite demanding on graphics cards, even though it doesn’t look as good as many new games. An anecdotal example of this comes from a comparison with ARK, which maintained a better framerate on higher settings while not working the GPU as hard as ARK did. You’ll want a good graphics card to get the most out of the game’s visuals and maximize your FPS. Essentially, ARK will eat up any graphics card you can afford.

For gaming on Medium settings at 1080p with 60 FPS, we recommend at least a GTX 1060 6GB.

For High settings at 1080p with 60 FPS, we recommend a GTX 1070.

For Epic settings at 1080p, it is virtually impossible to achieve 60 FPS in the game’s current state, but we recommend going with at least a GTX 1070 if you want playable performance.

Though getting 60 FPS while using Epic settings at 1440p is virtually impossible, we recommend a GTX 1080 TI to get playable performance. To get even close to 60 FPS on Epic at 4K resolution, you’ll also need a GTX 1080 TI. Or 2.

Recommended CPUs for ARK

The CPU is an important component for ARK, but the game does not have as high of demands as it does for the GPU.

For Medium to High settings at 1080p resolution, we recommend at least an G4560. If you want to run at 1080p on Ultra settings, we recommend something more along the lines of an i3-7100.

For gaming in ARK at 1440p, we recommend at least a mid-range i5, such as the i5-7500. For 4K, you would likely want an i7-7700K.

ARK Graphical Settings

Boot Options

When you first boot up ARK there are a variety of boot options. This is most likely done in order to increase performance on various systems due to suboptimal optimization.

Launch ARK (Extremely Low Memory)

This setting is recommended for systems with less than 4GB of RAM. It makes the game look quite a bit worse (though it is impossible to get a side-by-side-comparison), but can cause up to an 80% FPS increase.

Launch ARK ('No Sky Effects')

This setting disables some of the Sky effects seen in Ark. On most systems it won’t have a major impact, but may decrease CPU usage a little.

Launch ARK (Low Memory 4GB)

This setting makes ARK look a bit worse but still manages to get the same FPS as in the normal boot mode. It does, however, cause there to be less FPS drops. If your FPS is dipping regularly, this setting could be a good solution.

The majority of the following benchmarks will use the first, typical option: “Play ARK: Survival Evolved”. However, we will also do benchmarks for “Extremely Low Memory,” “‘No Sky Effects,’” and “Low Memory 4GB” to see how these affect performance, especially because it will be pertinent to those with lower-end systems. The others are for playing on different servers or re-setting features so these won’t really affect performance.

In-game, there is also an option menu, which is where the vast majority of setting tweaking is done.

Resolution

Resolution simply affects the display resolution of the game. Higher resolutions will perform worse than lower. For example, there is around an 18% performance impact between gaming at 1080p and 900p resolution.

Graphics Quality

These are the graphics presets which the game uses. Options include Low, Medium, High, and Epic

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Drag the cursor to compare Graphics Quality on Low and on Epic.

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Drag the cursor to compare Graphics Quality on High and on Epic.

Resolution Scale

Resolution Scale is a slider which changes the render quality. Maxing out the slider will display the game at the set resolution, while lowering it will display it at a lower resolution. This causes a loss in image quality but bump in performance.

World Tile Buffers

This affects the amount of graphics memory used to render areas of the map that the player isn’t in. Areas and models are stored in buffer, leading to quicker loading times when going into different areas. Increasing it will lead to better load times and no performance impact on higher-end system, while those with VRAM and RAM may see a performance difference. This is hard to quantify, however, and varies from system to system.

View Distance

This is the maximum distance at which ARK will load models and environments. Lowering it increases performance at the cost of the visual fidelity of farway objects.

Performance impact: ~15% between Low and Epic.

Anti-Aliasing

Anti-aliasing smoothes the edges of objects and models, making them appear less jagged.

Performance impact: ~20% between Low and Epic.

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Drag the cursor to compare Anti-Aliasing on Low and on Epic.

Post Processing

This setting controls visual effects, such as bloom, depth blurring, portal distortion, character lines, light rays, and scene tinting.

Performance impact: ~10-12% between Low and Epic. (Varies slightly by location.)

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Drag the cursor to compare Post Processing on Low and on Epic.

General Shadows

General shadows adjusts the quality, intensity, and abundance of the majority of shadows in the game.

Performance impact: ~25% between Low and Epic.

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Drag the cursor to compare General Shadows on Low and on Epic.

Terrain Shadows

Terrain shadows adjusts the quality, intensity, and abundance of certain terrain specific shadows not covered under general shadows.

Performance impact: ~15% between Low and Epic.

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Drag the cursor to compare Terrain Shadows on Low and on Epic.

Textures

Textures controls the texture quality of models in the game. Surprisingly, this setting has a big impact on visuals without having a significant impact on performance.

Performance impact: ~2-3% between Low and Epic.

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Drag the cursor to compare Textures on Low and on Epic.

Sky Quality

Sky quality is a slider which affects the quality of the sky. This doesn't have a huge impact on performance, but it does change the game's visuals enormously.

Performance impact: ~5% between Lowest and Highest.

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Drag the cursor to compare Sky Quality on Lowest and on Highest.

Ground Clutter Density

This slider affects the amount of clutter that you can view on the ground. These often include bones, shells, and sticks, for instance.

Performance impact: ~15% between Lowest and Highest.

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Drag the cursor to compare Ground Clutter on Lowest and on Highest.

Ground Clutter Distance

This slider affects the distance from which ground clutter can be viewed.

Performance impact: ~5-7% between Lowest and Highest.

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Drag the cursor to compare Ground Clutter Distance on Lowest and on Highest.

High Quality Anisotropic Filtering

Anisotropic filtering is a method of enhancing the quality of textures that are at oblique viewing angles. Basically, it makes things look a little smoother sometimes, and generally has no major impact on performance.

Performance impact: Negligible.

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Drag the cursor to compare Anisotropic Filtering Off and On.

Motion Blur

Motion blur provides a streaking visual effect on objects or characters which are moving, but has no performance impact. Turn it on if you like it!

Performance impact: Negligible

Film Grain

Film grain adds a grain filter to the visuals, making it look like older film. It doesn’t affect performance, so turn it on if you like it!

Performance impact: Negligible

Distance Field Ambient Occlusion

This setting deals with shading and rendering for how exposed each point in a scene that is exposed to ambient lighting. It doesn’t seem to have a noticeable performance impact, but this may change with location in the game world and future updates.

Performance impact: Negligible

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Drag the cursor to compare Distance Field Ambient Occlusion Off and On.

Screen Space Ambient Occlusion

This setting, similarly to Distance Field Ambient Occlusion, deals with shading and rendering for how exposed each point in a scene that is exposed to ambient lighting.

Performance impact: ~10-12% between Off and On.

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Drag the cursor to compare Screen Space Ambient Occlusion Off and On.

Distance Field Shadowing

This setting primarily deals with shadows of objects in the distance, as far as I can tell. It is also worth noting that turning this off supposedly makes it easier to see at night.

Performance impact: ~12-15% between Off and On.

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Drag the cursor to compare Distance Field Shadowing Off and On.

Simple Distance Character Movement

This setting affects the animations of characters and dinosaurs in the distance. It sets them to their most basic possible form which will decrease CPU usage a little bit. It is hard to tell how much impact this setting has, but if your CPU is maxing out then it is worth turning off.

High Quality LODs

This setting basically improves the quality of LOD files, making the meshes look a bit better.

Performance impact: Negligible.

Extra Level Streaming Distance

This setting appears to deal with the loading and unloading of map files into memory, so it likely affects moving between map tiles.

Performance impact: Generally negligible, except on low-memory systems.

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Drag the cursor to compare Extra Level Streaming Distance Off and On.

Color Grading

Color grading is basically a process which alters the colors visible in the game. In the instance of ARK, it seems to make colors just a little bit brighter. It doesn’t have a noticeable FPS impact, so use it if you like the effect!

Performance impact: Negligible.

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Drag the cursor to compare Color Grading Off and On.

Mesh Level of Detail

This setting is relatively self-explanatory. Turning the slider up to the highest setting results in the high quality meshes, while turning it down makes the meshes look worse.

Performance impact: ~25-30% between Lowest and Highest.

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Drag the cursor to compare Mesh Level of Detail on Lowest and Highest.

Note About Other Settings

We were unable the settings Dynamic Tessellation, High Quality Materials, Sub Surface Scattering, and High Quality VFX. These say that they require restart to work, but when we saved my settings and restarted the game they remained deselected. This is likely a glitch in the game, but it is impossible to know their performance impact and their influence on the game's visuals.

Choosing the Best Settings for ARK

If your computer can achieve a steady 60 FPS with all the settings turned up at your desired resolution, then we recommend keeping things as they are.

However, if you’re not reaching 60 FPS, or if you have a specialized monitor with a higher refresh rate and want to get even better performance, there are certain settings you can lower to improve your framerate without sacrificing too much in the way of visuals. Unfortunately, lowering multiple settings will not have a cumulative effect on framerate: If a setting give 10% improvement, and another gives 10%, lowering both will not give 20%, but possibly between 10-15%.

Improve FPS considerably with little to no impact on visuals

  • Lower “Ground Clutter Distance” and “Density”
  • Use the “High” preset instead of “Epic”. This can double FPS and still looks good.

Improve FPS by larger amounts with moderate impact to visuals

  • Lower “Sky Quality”
  • Lower “Terrain Shadows” to at least Medium.
  • Lower “General Shadows” to at least Medium.
  • Lower "Anti-Aliasing".
  • Use the "Medium" preset.

Last Resorts

If doing all of the steps above still does not achieve your desired framerate, try some of the following:

  • Lower "General Shadows" to Low.
  • Very last resort: Use the "Low" preset.

If you try all of the above and still can’t run the game, you may need to upgrade your hardware.


Logical Increments Tiers and How They Fare

To determine how your PC will perform ARK, you’ll need to consider three things:

  1. The resolution you want to play at (usually your screen’s native resolution)
  2. How much graphical detail you want
  3. How smoothly you want the gameplay to run

For our purposes, we aim for a very smooth 60+ FPS with the graphical settings turned to High (not Epic, which requires even greater hardware power). If you’re willing to lower any graphical settings, or you’re happy with framerates lower than 60 FPS, you can get by with an even lower-tier PC. However, due to the demanding nature of the game, we will instead be looking for systems that reach that 30 FPS benchmark on “Epic”, which should be able to achieve 60 FPS on “High”.

Below, we list the the tiers on our parts list that would achieve that 60 FPS baseline on High graphical settings at a range of progressively more demanding screen resolutions.

1600x900

The Superb tier, featuring a GTX 1060 3GB and i3-7100 or i3-7300, will get you very smooth performance in ARK at 1600x900 for around $840.

1920x1080 (1080p)

The Outstanding tier, featuring the GTX 1070 and i5-7500, will get smooth performance at 1080p for around $1240.

2560x1440 (1440p)

The Extremist tier, featuring 2x GTX 1070s and an i7-6900K, will get smooth performance at 1440p for around $3,600.

3840x2160 (4K)

To get close to 60 FPS at 4K with ARK on High settings, you'll likely need a PC on the level of our Monstrous PC, with 2x GTX 1080s and i7-6900K.

Note: As we mentioned in the CPU section of this article, you can reasonably build a PC with these higher-end GPUs and a weaker CPU. However, for each tier, we recommend a strong CPU that maintains a good overall balance with the strong GPU.


Conclusion

Even a powerful modern PC will have trouble running ARK on maximum settings. Unfortunately, the game is quite poorly optimized, though performance increases greatly on lower presets. Hopefully Instinct will be able to work out some of these issues by the time the game is out of Early Access.

We hope this guide has helped you understand the necessary PC hardware for running ARK to your satisfaction. If you want to do further research on PC hardware, please visit our main PC parts list on our homepage.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below, or email us at contact@logicalincrements.com.

About Us

Matthew Zehner is the community manager for Logical Increments.

Logical Increments helps more than a million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.

Sources

  1. Source used for making the table of contents
  2. Source used for making the image comparison slider
  3. GameGPU ARK Benchmarks
  4. PCGamesHardware.de ARK Benchmarks