Building the Best PC for Sid Meier's Civilization

Sid Meier's Civilization VI Screenshot

Last updated: September 2019

Settle in everyone, for your performance guide for what is potentially the best PC strategy game series of all time. I am of course talking about Sid Meier’s Civilization, and in this guide we're going to look at the performance of the most recent in the series (Civ VI) which had its second expansion earlier this year, while also comparing the requirements from the two previous outings in the series, namely Civilization IV and V.

One of the big reasons for this comparison is that there has been a general shift in the in-game graphics design, as well as the general gameplay. Also, VI is the first version to branch out into having a full release on mobile devices, as well as other consoles like the Nintendo Switch.

As with our other guides, we're aiming for a smooth 60 FPS gaming experience with Sid Meier’s Civilization VI at the various common monitor resolutions (1080p, 1440p, and 4K). Whether you haven't had a chance to play a game in the series before, you're looking to update an existing PC to get the most out of the in-game visuals, or you just want to know how much of an impact each of the game's graphical settings have on performance—this guide will lead you on the right path towards an excellent Civilization experience.

In Section 1, we compare the requirements of the older Civ IV and Civ V so you can get a sense of how the info in this guide applies to those earlier entries in the series.

In Section 2, we discuss the official minimum and recommended specifications for Civilization VI, and what kind of performance each set of specs could provide.

In Section 3, we provide four balanced example builds geared toward providing enough power to run Civilization VI at 60 FPS with different resolutions (1080p, 1440p, and 4K).

Finally, in Section 4, we have put together a Civ VI graphics settings guide that will tell you what each graphics option does, and how much each of them impacts the FPS of the game.

Comparison of Civ IV and Civ V

There are a few things to keep in mind here when comparing different generations of this franchise. Firstly, the games evolved just as much as the game studio and the game engine used, resulting in some not-direct comparisons when it comes to hardware needs, game optimization, and more. Secondly, we aren't comparing art style here either, more just the outright performance you can get from the game in each generation.

For a quick baseline, these are the recommended requirements for Civilization IV and Civilization V (CPU, RAM and GPU):

Civilization IV

  • CPU: 1.8 GHz Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon
  • Graphics Card: 128MB Video Card with DirectX 9 support
  • RAM: 1GB

Here's a sample screenshot of Civ IV running on max settings:

Civ IV max settings

Civilization V

  • CPU: 1.8 GHz Quad Core
  • Graphics Card: 512MB ATI 4800 series or 512MB Nvidia 9800 series
  • RAM: 4GB

Here's a sample screenshot of Civ V running on max settings:

Civ V max settings


Essentially, you're seeing an evolution of what you could do with more and more modern hardware, while at the same time developers pushing those systems ever harder. Between Civ IV and Civ V, we go from a single-core Pentium 4 straight to a quad-core, plus you're using four times the RAM and GPU power. However, even with the more demanding of the two, it hardly touches the lowest-tier builds in our main build chart on our homepage. The modern parts in the 'Poor' tier are more than sufficient for Civ V; likewise, Civ IV could be happily run with the 'Destitute' tier.

Yet what is changing here?

Well, the main change that does have a bit of impact on graphics is just the map design itself. With Civilization IV, you had a square layout, so you could generally simplify things as you only needed set resources, terrain, buildings etc. to be in a simple square layout. Civilization V switched this to a hex layout (something Civ VI kept), which allowed for more involved borders, increase in the complexity of strategy, and so on. The complexity jump meant not only fancier graphics to match, but also a more beefy CPU requirement to handle the more complex AI.

As you can see from the shots above, Civilization V really pushed what was possible at the time (as did IV, to be fair), yet the both serve as examples of evolving game design for graphics. Higher resolution textures, shading, enhanced lighting and shadows, dynamic weather... things we all take for granted these days, yet it was already a big task just to get those 3D graphics of IV onscreen, and this shows in retrospect. There's even little things, like improved UI that (in a strategy game) is all-important.

For many, Civ IV was their first entrance into the franchise, and V stands as a modern take on what came before it. They are still fought over for 'best in franchise' status to this day.

Luckily for you, they are both often heavily discounted during sales through the likes of Steam, GOG, and Amazon. So keep your eyes open for a bargain, as they're well worth playing!

Yet what about their younger, shinier brother? Keep on reading!

Civ VI

Civilization VI Official Hardware Requirements

The official system requirements for Civilization VI, according to 2K, are as follows:

Recommended System Specifications:

  • CPU: 4th-gen Intel i5 2.5 GHz or AMD FX 8350 4.0 GHz
  • Graphics Card: Nvidia GTX 770 or AMD HD 7970
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage Space: 12GB
  • DirectX: 11
  • OS: Windows 7+

So, some parts of the specification here do show that this is a game that came out in 2016, before the great CPU multi-core wars that are going on right now between AMD and Intel. I remember streaming with one of those 4th-generation i5's back in the day... good times! Yet it does show that graphically there's a lot more going on here than in Civ V. Part of this will be demands for higher resolutions, but the rest is an improved engine with beefier settings for improved visuals.

One of the nicer things with Civ VI if you're playing now is that, relatively speaking, you don't need something super-powerful to run the game! Not only that, but there is a built-in benchmarking tool, so if you're running on a bit of a mix of hardware (old and new), you can still get an idea of what performance to expect.

There is one more important thing to note before proceeding: the faster you're moving about on the map, the more the game's frame rate does start to tank. This can mean the difference between pushing over 100 FPS when your screen is stationary, to running in the high 60's and low 70's FPS range as you scroll around quickly. This is the main reason for us providing a range of FPS percentage changes to expect in the graphics settings guide below.

And that load drop and frame rate variation is something that does have an impact on the builds in the following section, mainly because our focus is around stable minimum FPS output. So with that being said, let's move onto the builds!

Civilization VI screenshot

Example Civilization VI PC Builds

These builds are designed to provide sufficient computing power for playing Civ VI at 60+ FPS (or 100+ FPS, where noted) at 1080p, 1440p, or 4K resolution.

If you're not sure what resolution you want to play at (or how the different resolutions compare to each other), then take a look at our monitor resolution explanation page.

If you're not sure what frame rate you want to play at (or what frame rate is), then take a look at our FPS explanation page.

We're also not taking into account that you can run mods with the game which can also have an impact. We're just looking at the base game performance here. Your performance may vary massively depending on which mod(s) you are using.

1080p 60 FPS [Low Settings] Civ VI Build ($600)

As mentioned above, the main thing here is ensuring 60 FPS at all times, which is taxing in later games especially when there's a significant amount of AI calculations going on.

With that being said, let's take a look at the parts!

CPU: AMD R5 2600X
Graphics Card: RX 580
Motherboard: ASRock B450M Pro4
RAM: 8GB (2 X 4GB) DDR4-3000
Storage: 512GB Intel SSD
Power Supply: Seasonic Focus 450
CPU Cooler: Stock
Case: Thermaltake Versa H15
Operating System: Windows 10

1080p 60 FPS [Ultra Settings] Civ VI Build ($950)

Whereas the first build was being able to just run the game, this build is all about maintaining that 60 FPS at 1080p with all settings cranked up to the maximum.

As you can see, that performance is coming at a little premium. In fairness, some of this power may be overkill when the game isn't at its craziest, yet when there's a lot going on in a large game, you'll thank us for your smooth 1080p performance!

CPU: AMD R5 3600X
Graphics Card: GTX 1660 Ti
Motherboard: MSI X570-A Pro
RAM: 16GB (2 X 8GB) DDR4-3000
Storage: 1TB Intel SSD
Power Supply: SeaSonic Focus 550
CPU Cooler: Stock
Case: Fractal Design Focus G
Operating System: Windows 10

1440p 60 FPS / 1080p 100 FPS [Ultra Settings] Civ VI Build ($1450)

With either wanting a higher resolution or higher FPS, this build adds the necessary power over the previous build, which includes a beefier CPU and GPU.

As with the above build, you're certainly not going to be struggling for frames with this build in the early game, yet considerations are taken for larger-scale games to give both your CPU and GPU room to keep you over 60 FPS at all times on 1440p (or, indeed, churning out over 100 FPS at 1080p).

CPU: Intel i7-9700K
Graphics Card: RX 5700 XT
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z390 Gaming X
RAM: 16GB (2 X 8GB) DDR4-3200
Storage: 2TB Intel SSD
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 650 G+
CPU Cooler: be quiet! Dark Rock 4
Case: Phanteks P400S
Operating System: Windows 10

4K 60 FPS / 1440p 100 FPS [Ultra Settings] Civ VI Build ($2700)

It is the monster among PCs. This build will be more than powerful enough to run every game you can think of at 4K 60 FPS—yet as we need it for late-game Civ VI, that's what matters here. Let's take a look!

Again, as with the other builds, there's going to be plenty of times when you're well over 60 FPS at 4K with this build. However, with the performance this is outputting, it's safe to say that you'll never drop below that at any point at that resolution.

CPU: Intel i9-9900K
Graphics Card: RTX 2080 Ti
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Pro
RAM: 16GB (2 X 8GB) DDR4-3600
Storage: 2TB Samsung SSD
Power Supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 750 G3
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D15
Case: Corsair 750D
Operating System: Windows 10

Civilization VI screenshot

Civilization VI Graphics Settings and Performance Guide

This section takes a close look at the graphical options in Civ VI, and their effects on the game’s performance.

The developers have arranged these graphics settings into a few categories for general Advanced Options, Lighting, Shadows, Terrain, and Water—so the breakdown below will follow their lead.

The ‘performance impact’ in each subsection below is the measured difference in average FPS between playing the game with all settings at their highest and turning only the setting in question down to the lowest (or off) while leaving all others untouched.

It is also worth pointing out that the performance impact is not necessarily perfectly additive. So if disabling one setting increases FPS by 10% and disabling another increases FPS by 10%, disabling both would not be expect to increase performance by 20%. Instead, the increase would likely be somewhere from 12-18% total.

The next point to make is that the game has dedicated Dx11 and Dx12 modes, which you select before you launch the game. This is more down to your GPU than anything else; if you have a newer GPU, then take advantage of the smoother Dx12 performance, otherwise run Dx11.

Finally, the game's overall FPS is very much determined by how much is being shown onscreen at any given time. The various settings have a compound impact on performance: the larger the game you're playing, the bigger the hit. So if you're someone who enjoys setting up massive cities or having massive battles composed, you've been warned!


Found above the presets in the graphics settings, anti-aliasing impacts essentially every aspect of the game detail in regards to you having smooth or jagged edges. More noticeable when you're zoomed in close, and generally needed less at higher resolutions.

Performance Impact: ~10% between Off and MSAA 8X

Civ VI Anti-Aliasing Off
Civ VI Anti-Aliasing MSAA 8X
Drag the bar to compare Texture Detail Off and on MSAA 8X.

Quality Preset

Without messing around with any individual settings yourself, the game does provide 2 main preset sliders. These come in the form of performance impact and memory impact. You can mix and match these to a point, yet—as you'll see from the other custom options below—there are some things better than others to really get the best out of your system.

The largest changes come in texture detail and lighting on the presets.

Performance Impact: ~45% between Low and Ultra

Civ VI Quality Preset Low
Civ VI Quality Preset Ultra
Drag the bar to compare Quality Preset on Low and on Ultra.

High-Resolution Assets and High-Quality Visual Effects

These two options are placed together mainly because they're very dependent on what is happening on the map, as well as the sheer amount of assets shown on the screen. Expect these to have a larger impact as the game develops.

'High resolution asset textures' is what it sounds like, namely the visual quality level of the asset textures. The 'High-Quality visual effects' options impact the quality and quantity of particle effects.

Performance Impact: ~5% between Off and On


Next up are the two lighting toggles available, Bloom and Dynamic Lighting. Having both turned on together gives a lighting effect similar to what you would see with light through a real camera. It's very much a personal preference thing, but it does have a larger impact the more structures are in view, in regards to dynamic lighting.

Performance Impact: ~5% between Off and On

Civ VI Lighting Off
Civ VI Lighting On
Drag the bar to compare Lighting Off and On.


Outside of the basic On/Off option (shown in the comparison below), the game does allow for a little subtlety in the form of two options for shadow resolutions and cloud shadows. The resolution change is the preferred option here if you're running a lower VRAM card and are wanting the largest improvements, yet the cloud shadows can start to tank your performance as they interact with more and more stuff on screen.

Performance Impact: ~10-15% between Off and On (Environment-dependent)

Civ VI Shadows Off
Civ VI Shadows On
Drag the bar to compare Shadows Off and On.


There's a few different things at work here, and the combination of the four options together is what can have the largest impact in altering performance. However, mainly because of the game's art style, this is the one category where you can really afford to drop down some of the options to improve frame rate without a significant drop in overall visuals.

Let's take a quick look at the options:

Overall Quality

This changes the detail of textures, which results in a little more washed out look when turned down. You'll notice it more when zoomed in close on the various ground textures, especially the mountains.

Performance Impact: ~10-20% between Low and High (Environment-dependent)

High-Resolution Geometry Textures

This is most noticeable on the exaggerated textures (mountains, rivers, cliff faces, etc.), yet by itself it doesn't change much outside of the overall quality setting above.

Performance Impact: ~5% between Off and On

High-Resolution Textures

These are only really worth it when playing at 1440p and above; at 1080p, these are a little harder to distinguish.

Performance Impact: ~5-10% between Off and On (Resolution-dependent)

High-Quality Shader

Having this enabled results in a higher-quality terrain lighting being used. Only really noticeable when zoomed in on objects.

Performance Impact: ~2-5% between Off and On (Environment-dependent)

Ambient Occlusion Options

Options within options! Firstly you have an option to have this on or off, which does change the accuracy of the lighting; but again, due to the art style, I'm not sure how many of you would miss this here. The second option is simply what resolution you want this at, with the lower resolution being useful if you're running the game at 1080p.

Performance Impact: ~5% between Off and On

High Detail Clutter

The last terrain option is for high detail clutter. Which essentially does what it says on the tin: increases the amount and detail of stuff on the various terrain pieces. It does have an impact on frame rate, but it's a very slight visual change at a glance.

Performance Impact: ~2-5% between Off and On (Environment-dependent)

The comparison shot below is between having all Terrain options on and overall quality set to high vs. having all Terrain options off and overall quality set to low.

Civ VI Terrain Minimum Settings
Civ VI Terrain Maximum Settings
Drag the bar to compare Terrain Minimum Settings and Maximum Settings.


All the stuff that isn't land! Which is a fair amount in this game, in fairness. Similar to the Terrain options above, there are sub-options for Water here. Some of them have a higher visual impact than others, but (once again) because of the art style, this is where you can really improve the frames without hugely impacting the visuals.

High Resolution Water

Does what it claims to do: gives you a higher resolution water texture. Only really noticeable at 1440p and above, so you can afford to lose this if you're on the hunt for some frames at 1080p!

Performance Impact: ~5% between Off and On

High-Quality Shader

This option gives the shadows and depth effects of the water a more realistic look (i.e. it looks like you're looking into water from above, rather than looking at a 2D plane). It's a small detail that you'll notice if you're watching the ships going by, but otherwise it's quite hard to see.

Performance Impact: ~2% between Off and On


The refelections give the water a more realistic look—or you can just turn them off entirely.

Performance Impact: ~2% between Off and 4 Passes

The comparison shot below is between having all Water options on and reflections set to 4 passes vs. having all Water options off.

Civ VI Water Minimum Settings
Civ VI Water Maximum Settings
Drag the bar to compare Water Minimum Settings and Maximum Settings.

Choosing the Best Settings for Civilization VI

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 in Civ VI to improve your framerate without sacrificing too much in the way of visuals.

Unfortunately, as we said above the image sliders, lowering multiple settings will not have a straightforward cumulative effect on framerate: if dropping one setting gives 10% improvement, and dropping another gives 10%, lowering both will not give 20%, but possibly between 12-18%.

Improve FPS considerably with little to no impact on visuals

  • Turn off some Terrain options
  • Turn off some Water optoins

Improve FPS by larger amounts with moderate impact to visuals

  • Turn off Shadows
  • Turn off Lighting
  • 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:

  • Turn off Anti-Aliasing
  • Drop down your main resolutions below the screen default
  • Lower any remaining settings to at least Medium
  • Very last resort: Use the Low preset

If you try all of the above and still can’t run Civilization as smoothly as you would like, you may need to upgrade your hardware.

Civilization VI screenshot


Civilization VI is a bit of an oddity in the franchise. The game brings some new gameplay compared to the previous games, and the art style seems really at odds with what you can customize in the graphics settings.

When you consider that its huge maps need to be run on some pretty meaty systems to handle all the graphics maxed, with a CPU to match for the AI... you can see why some hardcore fans of the franchise with lower-spec PCs were frustrated with this one.

The developer is committed to updates and expansions to the game and, hey, with the power of mods you can even make the game look like Civ V, so there's that! That being said, there are a number of paid scenario packs you can buy, as well as two expansions, so Civilization VI can be a rather expensive game if you want to dive deep into it.

If you have any questions about building your PC, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below, or email us at

About Us

Chris is a contributing writer for Logical Increments, and has worked in the gaming and technology industries as a community manager for many years, as well as a live streamer. He has been building PC's for over 11 years.

When Chris is not here creating builds and guides, he can be found at University, studying for a BSc in Video Production as he makes the transition over to the film industry from gaming. You can read more about his journey on his website.

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