It's been a few years since the VR Renaissance got off to a serious start, and things are looking for VR. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have now been upgraded to the Cosmos and Rift S respectively, while Sony's PlayStation VR offers an excellent entry point for console gamers, and there are hundreds of VR titles in the Steam store alone. VR is growing, but some steep entry barriers keep interested enthusiasts from taking the plunge.
The biggest barrier is a simple one: price. PC gaming is an expensive hobby, and tackling VR is another $ 300 to $ 700 depending on what you buy. But there are some easy ways to save: The secret is building the right PC for your VR system cheaply, and we know how to do it.
We'll put together the step-by-step process of actually building your system, but check out our suggestions below to see what you need to get started in PC-based VR.
Bare bones: Headset
First, let's take a look at the bare minimum you need for your VR build. We're going to try to stay away from specific prices for this guide, because hardware prices go up and down so often, but when it comes to headsets, we can be a little clearer: the latest HTC Vive Cosmos starts at $ 700, and the Rift S retails for $ 400.
As you can see, the headsets in the most recent generation are very different in pricing. They have also become more similar in some ways (both now use internal sensors so you don't have to set up external trackers, for example). Obviously if you're on a budget, the Rift S is a better option for saving money. However, there is a caveat – due to manufacturing and shipping issues, Oculus de Rift S. no longer sells. This is not a permanent condition, but if you want one, sign up for Oculus notifications and prepare to be patient. Otherwise, the Cosmos is still available right now, albeit at a higher price.
Bare bones: GPU
Next we need a PC, and this is where it gets tricky. . Should you go for a pre-built machine or build a machine yourself? That's not an easy question to answer, especially not now, so let's take a look at what hardware you definitely want to look for, no matter what path you take.
The most important part of your VR rig, next to your VR headset, is the graphics card. This is the part that does most of the heavy lifting when you play games in or outside VR. It will also be the most expensive part, except for the headset. At the moment there is a shortage of graphics cards, so graphics cards are more expensive than they should be – you have to carefully weigh which one you want to go with. We've compared a handful of high-end, mid-range and entry-level graphics cards to VRMark to help you decide.
When we put together a performance guide, we usually try to stick to the actual performance in the game, but VR is a special case. VR games are not designed with ultra-fast frame rates in mind, they just need to maintain 90fps in both head-mounted screens in your VR headset. That's because the refresh rate of their internal displays is typically locked at 80 to 90 Hz depending on the model. VR games and experiences will do everything in their power to maintain a steady 80 to 90 fps to keep everything running smoothly. Spikes that are too high or too low can affect the experience in unpleasant ways. Usually a little old nausea. So let's look at the numbers.
Each score here represents the performance of a graphics card in the VR benchmarks. The Orange Room is the easiest benchmark, the Cyan Room is the intermediate size, and the Blue Room is the most demanding. What we are looking for is a graphics card that performed well in the Orange Room and achieved a good score in the Cyan Room. Those two benchmarks best represent the entry-level and midrange graphics we're going for. In a perfect world, we would only recommend the graphics card that performed the best but this is not a guide to building the most expensive VR rig possible. Thrift is a concern here.
For reference, a score of 5,000 in the Orange Room is considered a pass for most VR experiences. For the more demanding Cyan Room, a pass score is 3.088 and for the high-end 5K Blue Room, a pass score is just 1.082. We are looking for a pair of graphics cards that get at least 5,000 in the Orange Room, and are getting close to the Cyan Room.
Looking at our results here, the cards we would recommend are the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, AMD Radeon RX 570 and RX 580. All three of these graphics cards achieved sufficient numbers in the Orange Room and Cyan Room. The GTX 1060 and RX 580 passed all benchmarks so they should be our best contenders.
Bare Bones: CPU and RAM
Your CPU and RAM are also Important, but regarding both components you should look at how to fix bottlenecks appearance. With 32 GB of RAM and a top-notch AMD Ryzen Threadripper, your performance won't have as much of an impact as with a capable GPU. For your CPU and RAM, you want to stay pretty close to the hardware recommendations for the Oculus Rift. That means at least a 7th generation Intel Core i5 processor – something like an i5-7500 – or an Intel Core i3-8100, which is roughly equivalent to the Oculus-recommended processor, the i5-4590. Plus, at least 8 GB of RAM, though going up to 16 GB in the future, wouldn't be a bad idea.
For the Core i3-8100 processor, you're probably looking at about $ 120, and maybe $ 70 to $ 100 for the ram. But, as we said, the prices of PC components are a bit complicated at the moment.
Don't Buy, Build
That's right. Due to the current status of GPU pricing, consider purchasing a system with the desired GPU and upgrading other components later. Hear us: Most PC manufacturers out there all offer a desktop computer with the hardware we'd recommend for a better price than you'd likely buy the components yourself – with a little research.
We recommend that you start by visiting our list of the best gaming desktops to see what some of the top machines look like and what specifications they have. As you will notice, these options start at over $ 1,000 and all can easily handle VR … but may be out of your budget.
Then check out our roundup of the latest cheap gaming PC deals to see what you can find with cheaper machines taking into account the top specifications for easy comparison. Currently, the ABS Rogue SE Radeon RX 580 Gaming PC for $ 750 and the Dell G5 Gaming Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti Gaming PC for $ 830 seem like strong options to consider for a budget model.
Final Notes: You can't skimp on graphics
As we said, pricing is the biggest problem you're likely to face when assembling a VR-ready PC right now, and nowhere is that more apparent than buying of your GPU. If you put one together yourself, you end up paying more than you should pay for a decent graphics card – and that's the only part you really can't cut back on.
Your best choice right now is probably to look at the basic system requirements recommended for a headset and see if you can find it at an affordable price. For example, Vive recommends at least an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 480 – which are quite similar to the benchmark recommendations we discussed above.
You can check the prices on these models and a few newer chips for a comparison (if the stock on older GPUs is low, they may be even more expensive than newer models). Either way, you're probably looking at paying a minimum of $ 300 for your graphics card unless you're willing to wait the market for prices to drop again.
If you add up the cost for this whole, you will see that it costs about $ 1,000, including headset, to build everything from scratch for a VR machine – and that doesn't include components like monitors and cooling systems . There is currently not really a way to get the prices under that unless you are really finding a good deal or starting to look for used components.