Building the Best PC for Fallout 4


Last updated: May 2017

The post-apocalyptic future is bigger and prettier than ever. In Fallout 4, you play as a vault dweller, a survivor of the nuclear apocalypse. You have emerged from your vault 200 years after nuclear war left the world in devastation, and you set out on a quest to kill mutants, build laser guns, and collect Nuka Cola bottlecaps.

This guide takes a close look at Fallout 4'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 Fallout 4 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 sections.

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

Fallout 4 is built on an updated version of Bethesda’s Creation engine, which debuted in 2011 powering the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Taking advantage of the engine’s significantly upgraded features (including physics-based shading and ambient occlusion shadowing), Fallout 4 definitely looks better than Skyrim, but the visual quality still doesn't match some of the nicest looking titles of 2015.

Despite that, the game is still quite tough on hardware. You will need a pretty beefy gaming PC to play Fallout 4 on its highest settings, though a moderately powerful machine should do fine on lower settings and resolution.

Let us take a look at what Logical Increments tier you should build to play Fallout 4.

What to Buy

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.

These benchmarks assume that all of the graphical settings in the game are set to their highest or turned on. You can get even better performance out of your PC if you adjust some of the graphical settings, but we explain that in more detail below.

Standard Fallout 4:

Tier 1600x900 1920x1080 2560x1440 3840x2160
Destitute ($190) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Poor ($240) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Minimum ($340) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Entry ($390) Borderline Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Modest ($410) Playable Borderline Unplayable Unplayable
Fair ($450) Playable Borderline Unplayable Unplayable
Good ($490) Smooth Playable Borderline Unplayable
Very Good ($530) Smooth Playable Borderline Unplayable
Great ($630) Very Smooth Smooth Playable Unplayable
Superb ($750) Very Smooth Smooth Playable Unplayable
Excellent ($1000) Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth Borderline
Outstanding ($1100) Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth Borderline
Exceptional ($1400) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Playable
Enthusiast ($1600) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Playable
Extremist ($2500) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth
Monstrous ($3,500+) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very 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.

*Please note that some of the Fallout 4 benchmarks for dual-card setups (such as those in the Extremist and Monstrous tiers) are extrapolated. SLI and Crossfire drivers have only recently been released for Fallout 4, and we have not seen a reliable source produce benchmarks for them.

Fallout 4 High Resolution Texture Pack:

The Fallout 4 High Resolution Texture Pack improves the game's visuals, but also significantly impacts performance.

Tier 1600x900 1920x1080 2560x1440 3840x2160
Destitute ($190) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Poor ($240) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Minimum ($340) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Entry ($390) Borderline Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Modest ($410) Borderline Borderline Unplayable Unplayable
Fair ($450) Borderline Borderline Unplayable Unplayable
Good ($490) Playable Playable Unplayable Unplayable
Very Good ($530) Playable Playable Unplayable Unplayable
Great ($630) Very Smooth Very Smooth Playable Borderline
Superb ($750) Very Smooth Very Smooth Playable Borderline
Excellent ($1000) Very Smooth Very Smooth Very Smooth Borderline
Outstanding ($1100) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Exceptional ($1400) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Enthusiast ($1600) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth
Extremist ($2500) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth
Monstrous ($3,500+) Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Silky Smooth Very 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.

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.

Fallout 4 Hardware Requirements and Performance

Before discussing how various PC components influence your performance with Fallout 4, let’s take a look at the game’s Minimum and Recommended system requirements, according to Bethesda:

Official Minimum System Requirements:

  • Processor (Intel): Intel Core i5-2300 2.8 GHz
  • Processor (AMD): AMD Phenom II X4 945 3.0 GHz
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Hard Drive: 30 GB free HDD space
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): NVIDIA GTX 550 Ti 2GB
  • Graphics Card (AMD): AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB

Official Recommended System Specifications:

  • Processor (Intel): Intel Core i7-4790 3.6 GHz
  • Processor (AMD): AMD FX-9590 4.7 GHz
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Hard Drive: 30 GB free HDD space
  • Graphics Card (NVIDIA): NVIDIA GTX 780 3GB
  • Graphics Card (AMD): AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB

Now let’s take a look at how each component influences the game’s performance on your PC.

GPU

As with most games, your graphics card will have the greatest impact on performance in Fallout 4. And while the game doesn’t quite look as aesthetically spectacular as some of the prettiest games of 2015, the fact that it’s an open-world game means that the draw distance is quite long (i.e. the game renders objects that are far away from the player), which requires significant graphical power in its own right.

According to GamersNexus, Fallout 4 uses a little under 3 GB of video RAM at 1080p with Ultra settings, but even many 2 GB graphics cards can handle the game at around 50+ frames per second (FPS) on 1080p Ultra. Thankfully, Fallout 4 is still very playable in the 45+ FPS range, which we consider “smooth.”

At 1080p on Ultra, the most affordable graphics cards to achieve high framerates will be the NVIDIA GTX 1050 ti or the AMD R9 380 .

For 1440p on Ultra, you’re better off with the GTX 1060. For 60 FPS at 4K resolution, you’ll need a GTX 1080.

Fallout 4 CPU Requirements

Your CPU will play a role in how well Fallout 4 performs, but not nearly as much as your GPU. Benchmarks from Tom’s Hardware suggest that Intel Core i3 CPUs are enough to handle the game without major hits to performance. You should be fine with a CPU even in the range of an Intel i3-7100 or AMD FX-6350.

If you want to run Fallout 4 on high settings without breaking the bank, make sure you get a sufficiently powerful graphics card, but feel free to save a little money on the CPU. As long as it’s powerful enough, you won’t notice a huge performance difference between a budget CPU and a higher-end one when it comes to playing many games, including Fallout 4.

Fallout 4 RAM Requirements

Bethesda’s minimum and recommended specifications both call for 8 GB of RAM, which is reasonable. If you really wanted to push it, you could get away with playing the game on 4 GB of RAM, but that’s as low as you would want to go.

Fallout 4 Game Settings

Fallout 4 has 20 graphical settings to tweak, and some of those settings have a greater impact on FPS than others. If you’re experiencing unsatisfactory framerates while playing the game, there are a few settings you can lower that may significantly improve your gameplay experience without sacrificing too much visual quality.

In particular, there are three settings that have an enormous impact on FPS, according to NVIDIA*: God Rays, Shadow Distance, and Shadow Quality. Let’s discuss each of those first.

*NVIDIA's excellent Fallout 4 guide was taken down for some reason. This is the cached version.

God Rays: These are part of NVIDIA’s volumetric lighting technology, and they do enhance the look of the game’s environment significantly, making Fallout 4 generally look more epic. But epicness comes at a big performance cost. Switching them to Low from Off will cost you a small ~6% in performance. But turning God Rays from Off all the way up to Ultra can result in a huge ~40% hit to performance. The visual differences between God Rays on Low and Ultra are negligible, so if you’re looking for a way to easily get a performance boost, consider lowering your God Rays settings first.

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Drag the cursor to compare having God Rays on Low and on Ultra.

Shadow Quality: This affects the level of detail in the shadows. On lower settings, shadows look more pixelated and jagged. On high settings, they look smooth and more realistic. You’ll see a ~20% hit to performance between the lowest and highest settings.

Below, we show two comparisons for shadow settings. The first is between Low and Medium, and the second compares Medium and Ultra. You will notice immediately that Low shadow quality is much worse than Medium, but the differences between Medium, High, and Ultra are much less pronounced. If you need to improve performance, Medium quality shadows are a good compromise.

handle
Drag the cursor to compare having Shadow Quality on Low and on Medium.

handle
Drag the cursor to compare having Shadow Quality on Medium and on Ultra.

Shadow Distance: This affects the amount of shadow detail on objects in the distance, making the environment generally look more realistic on higher settings. You’ll see a ~15% performance difference between the lowest and highest settings with shadow distance.

handle
Drag the cursor to compare having Shadow Distance on Medium and on High.

In summary, for best performance:

  • Set God Rays to Low.
  • Set Shadow Quality to Medium.
  • Set Shadow Distance to Medium or High.

Tweaking these three settings will produce the greatest bang-for-your-buck in terms of improving performance without hurting the game too much visually. If you tweak those and still aren’t satisfied with your framerate, continue lowering other settings down to High or Medium.

One other thing: If you’re noticing framerate drops particularly in grassy areas, lower the Grass Fade setting.

Logical Increments Tiers and How They Fare

To determine how your PC will perform Fallout 4, 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 all the way up. 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.

Below, we list the the tiers on our parts list that would achieve that 60 FPS baseline with Fallout 4 at a range of progressively more demanding screen resolutions.

1600x900

The Good tier, featuring a <GTX 1050 TI and i3-7100, will get you very smooth performance in Fallout 4 for around $500 at 1600x900.

1920x1080 (1080p)

The Superb tier, featuring an GTX 1060 and i5-7500, will get very smooth performance for around $850 at 1080p.

2560x1440 (1440p)

The Outstanding tier, featuring a GTX 1070 and i5-7600K, will get very smooth performance for around $1,250 at 1440p.

3840x2160 (4K)

You’ll likely need our Eexceptional tier PC, with 2x GTX 1070s and an i7-7700K to safely maintain very smooth framerates at 4K. That PC will cost you roughly $2,200.

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.


Video

If you want more specific build advice on hardware suitable to play Fallout 4 on a variety of settings, we have a video for that!

Conclusion

Once again: With Fallout 4, you want to make sure your GPU packs a punch. You can, however, skimp a little on the CPU, if you need to save money anywhere. However, our PC build recommendations aim to strike a balance of power between the GPU and CPU -- not because you need a powerful CPU for gaming, but because you ideally want a balanced PC that can handle anything you might need it to do.

We hope this guide has helped you determine the hardware you’ll need to play Fallout 4 to your satisfaction, and what settings to use to help strike a balance between good visuals and good performance. If you want to do any more research on PC hardware, visit 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

James has played Fallout 1, 2 and 3 extensively. He’ll be available again once Fallout 4 is completed.

The Falcon played a little of Fallout 3 and New Vegas. He intends to finish Fallout 4, if he can find the time.

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. Tomshardware benchmark
  4. Eurogamer Performance Analysis benchmark
  5. Gamernexus benchmark
  6. PCGamesHardware benchmark
  7. Geforce: Fallout 4 Graphics Guide (cached version)