One annoying feature of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda Softworks is the scenery popping into place—which is to say the high resolution textures replacing the low resolution textures—worst of all the appearance of frozen waterfalls. Sometimes it seems one has to get awfully close to the waterfall before the gorgeous animated water appears. The fish leap up the ugly block of water without a care. Setting distance sliders to maximum doesn’t help the waterfalls. If the artists had created nicer looking low-resolution waterfalls, this might not be as much a bother.

I’m not the only one concerned. Players found a solution within weeks of Skyrim’s release. Read the details on this post, “uGridsToLoad Skyrim.ini Comparisons and Explanation,” at Bethesda Softworks Forums _. The short answer is to set three keys in the skyrim.ini file under [General]:

uExterior Cell Buffer=64
uGridsToLoad=7
iPreloadSizeLimit=51380224

According to the forum thread, uGridsToLoad may be 5 (default,) 7, 9, or 11 and the other two must change to match the formula:

uExterior Cell Buffer=(x+1)^2

uGridsToLoad=x

iPreloadSizeLimit=(x*1024)^2

Trade-offs include a performance hit for higher values of x, increase in memory usage, events possibly triggering earlier than some game mechanics may expect, and unsafe to load games saved at higher x-values than playing due to corruption. So, experiment and keep x before playing or continuing a real game. If using memory-consuming mods, or high-resolution texture mods, then higher uGrids will compound stability problems due to restricted memory. If you desire the most stable game then do not alter uGrids.

I’m playing Skyrim at “High Details” with some distance bars pushed up slightly at 2056x1440 resolution, and ended up choosing x=7. At a single bump the landscape popping distance is far enough not to bother me nearly as much, and my playing experience doesn’t take a hit. Here are some comparison pictures, zoomed-in (cropped image) of the falls outside Whiterun:

"Skyrim screenshot near Whiterun, x=5"

"Skyrim screenshot near Whiterun, x=7"

Notice the frozen waterfalls in the top screenshot and the lack of land detail compared to the second screenshot. Below is the full view.

"Skyrim outside of Whiterun"

Another comparison overlooking Ivarstead, cropped images:

"Skyrim Ivarstead, x=5"

"Skyrim Ivarstead, x=7"

Why didn’t Bethesda Softworks increase the uGrids value in the higher details presets? My guess is stability. Changing uGrids increases memory usage and may cause events to trigger at unexpected times.


Update: If you use USKP, landscape mods, or high-resolution mods, then I highly recommend leaving uGrids at default. Higher uGrids with such mods greatly increases memory pressure resulting in a less stable game with increased chance of CTD.