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Optimising Oblivion, Part 1
Performance and Visuals

Rendelius, 2006-04-20

In these two articles, I want to show you how I optimized my gaming experience with Oblivion. The first part will deal with performance tuning and visuals, the second one with the mods I use for tweaking the game mechanics. I know there are guides out already - mine will differ with a step to step tutorial how to apply these tweaks and changes.

Before we begin, let me note that these tweaks, naturally, show the best results on my rig. Your mileage may vary because you use different hardware, but I think you can easily adapt the steps I show you to suit your circumstances. I run Oblivion on an Athlon 64 3700+ with 2 GB RAM, a Nvidia 7800GFX 256 MB and a Soundblaster X-Fi Extreme Music edition. I haven't overclocked my system at all, since my motherboard lacks the BIOS to do so. After having done all the tuning proposed here, Oblivion runs with full eye candy (minus some minor things) and shows framerates between 18 (densest forest areas) and 80 (dungeons), being above 30 in about 98% of all moments in 1280x1024 with HDR on. One thing I have learned is that on my system, Oblivion is processor limited - most of the time, it doesn't matter which resolution I use, the FPS will be exactly the same.

But on to the guide now.


Before we apply the first tweaks and mods, I'd suggest that you fast travel to the Tower of Ash, which is situated between the Imperial City and Chorrol. We will go there to find a spot with very low framerates. Once you arrive in Ash, bring up the console by typing "~". Now type "tdt" and hit enter - a framerate counter will be shown in the top right corner of your screen. Now proceed through the tower on the road to Chorrol and to turn left immediately after you have left the ruin. Go into the forest, and watch your framerate. Walk around, find a spot with lots of grass and lots of trees, and when your framerate reaches a low, stop. On my untuned system, the lowest value I got was 11fps, with grass, trees, objects and actors maxed. Now save the game: we will have a reference point for later to check if we actually improve the framerate.

Exit the game now, and we will tune your graphics card. Go to the control panel of your card, and if there is an option to change the quality of the display, set it to "high performance". This will degrade the image quality slightly (it's really hard to notice with higher resolutions), but in return, it should give you a boost in fps. On my system, framerate on my saved spot raised from 11 to 16 with this tweak.

The second tweak we will apply to your graphics card is that we will set coolbits to either 0, 1 or 2 from the standard 3. In order to get this working, you will have to switch off VSync under "Options" in the Oblivion launcher. To set one of the values, go to the "advanced 3D settings" tab in your control panel for your video card (after you have installed the coolbits tweak) and enter the numbers there. Use all three numbers, check with your save game and see which setting gives you the best result. For me, it raised framerates to 19 in the hot spot I saved.

This is the coolbits.exe for NVidia cards (Forceware):

  • coolbits

    I can't tell you exactly how to do this tweak on an ATI card, but someone helpful will certainly post this to our forums.

    I think you want to have a framerate of at least 18 for a rewarding gaming experience. If yours is still below that, what can you do? If you are like me, and want to keep the view distance for obejcts, items, trees grass and actors nearly maxed, there are certain things you can tune now. Turn off self shadowing, shadows on grass and reduce specular light distance. If this isn't enough, turn off tree canopy shades. It all depends on what your GPU is capable of doing. I can't give you a perfect answer, because your system will most likely be different from mine. But if you have to compromise visual appearance beyond what is pleasing to your eyes, then try an .ini tweak.

    Go to the Oblivion.ini in your "My Games" folder and find iMinGrassSize. This variable will influence the density of the grass. The default value is 80. Change it to 110 or 130. Check your fps. On most systems, this will give you a massive boost for your framerate. On my system, I can leave it at 80, but going to 110 will bring me extra display speed. It's a matter of taste and priorities, really.

    Play with the options in the settings panel in the game and the iMinGrassSize value until you have found the compromise that is best for your system. Once you have found it, we will move on.

    Next, if you have more than 1GB RAM, you can do some things in Windows XP to optimize performance. Go to the system panel of XP, and change memory usage from "programs" to "system cache". If you have 2GB of RAM, turn of HD caching completely, so that XP keeps the cache in the RAM. These settings will reduce the stuttering when changing from one area to another (like when you ride a horse). I can assure you that these changes are completely stable with 2GB RAM - it didn't introduce a single crash for me.

    It's my experience that other tweaks in the .ini file that are said to improve performance introduce bugs and instability - so I do not recommend or list them here. If you are adventurous, you can find another ini tweak guide here.

    But as I said, don't be surprised if they make the game crash. Be extremely careful when setting uGridsToLoad to a higher value: It WILL decrease framerate and introduce instability.

    Improving the Visuals

    If your system is comparable to mine, everything we will do now to enhance the visual quality of the game won't have the slightest effect on performance. It will only make the game look better, and boy - how much better it will look!

    Download these files:

  • Landscape LOD Normal Map Fix
  • Landscape LOD Replacement
  • Landscape LOD Replacement (Border Regions)

    Use the readme files to install them properly. It's important that you use the LOD normal Map fix listed here, it's the only one that will not affect your framerate with a 256MB graphics card. The other one is too large, and the visual results are the same. If your video card has just 128MB, your framerates will suffer. You will have to tweak your settings further then to get acceptable framerates.

    Reload the game, go to a place where you can see distant terrain and notice the difference. It's really much better, in my opinion.

    Let's tackle the textures now. Download Jarrods texture replacement:

  • Jarrod's textures

    Personally, I find them much more crisp. They add another layer of realism to the game.

    Now we will change the look of the water. Download:

  • Better imperfect water

    If your card allows it without framerate losses, change these .ini values:


    They can be found under the [water] tag in the .ini. If the framerate penalty is too much, set trees and actors to 0.

    The next two visual tweaks depend on your monitor: If you think that nights and dungeons are too bright, use...

  • Darker Dungeons
  • Darker Nights with Burning Kvatch

    For me, they added a lot of atmosphere to the game. Please note that those two mods will not work with Natural Environments 1.1 - that's the reason why I didn't suggest this popular mod (apart from my feeling that, despite the gorgeous sunsets, I feel the changes in this mod make Cyrodiil look like a postcard).

    If you feel that the vanity camera is too nervous, try:

  • Vanity Camera Smoother

    It makes it easier to look at yourself.

    One big complaint with the original Oblivion is the bulky interface. I am using Dark UI, which looks way better, shows more items per page and is skinned darker to make it less intrusive. Download it here:

  • Dark UI

    Together with the dark UI, use this colored map of Cyrodiil:

  • Colored Map

    Now let's address the way too large fonts. Download:

  • XLM MegaMod German

    Do only use the fonts in there (it's a german mod and the rest isn't useful for English versions), and change the fonts in your ini to:


    Then download these five archives by DarN:

  • Breathmeter
  • Subtitles
  • HUD
  • Info Menu
  • Dialog

    The refine the HUD for the game even further. Breathmeter reduces the size of the display for your breath and colors it according to the breath left, Subtitles makes them smaller and more readable, the HUD changes the size of the meters and the compass, the Info Menu places the information about objects you look at close to them, and the Dialog download makes the dialog options smaller and fits more onto the screen.

    Last, but not least, remove these annoying messages like "loading area" with this mod:

  • No more annoying messages

    This concludes the first part of my article. You should now have a version of the game that is unchanged concerning gameplay, but should look and feel much better due to the visual tweaks and the change of the interface. Well, if your taste and mine are compatible, that is. The second part will deal with gameplay changes and some other nice small mods, and it should be up next week.

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