In 2016, consumers can choose between two different VR headsets: the Oculus Rift, or a new contender that changed things up: HTC teamed up with Steam VR. But what’s the best machine to power your VR headset?
In general, we think you don’t need desktop computers anymore, but these are still your cheapest options if you want a PC that can play VR games. You see, virtual reality requires a lot more horsepower than the average PC, so you need good dedicated parts.
So we set about looking for the best VR-ready PCs you can buy. Thankfully, in the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive battle, your hardware requirements are the same. Here’s what both recommend as your minimum specs:
- Video Card: Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
- CPU: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or AMD FX-8350 equivalent or greater
- RAM: 8GB RAM or greater
- Video Output: HDMI 1.3 video output
- USB Ports: 3x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 port
- Operating System (OS): Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer
Some PC makers already offer ready-made units with these specifications, but as always with high-end gaming rigs, it’ll be cheaper to build your own.
Our Recommended Config (Under $850)
Don’t buy into the silly fears about building a PC; you can quickly assemble your own unit, and it will cost far, far less than buying any pre-made branded unit.
We scouted some of the configurations recommended by reviewers and tech enthusiasts, and found a mid-range pick that we believe offers the best value for your money:
- CPU: 3.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 4590
- Motherboard: ASRock H97M Anniversary Edition
- RAM: 8GB (2x4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3 (2133MHz)
- Video Card: Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 480 with 4GB RAM ($219)
- SSD: 64GB A-DATA Premier Pro SP600
- HDD: 2TB Seagate Barracuda
- Cabinet: DIYPC GameMax-BK
- PSU: 500W Corsair Builder (80+ Bronze)
- OS: Windows 10
- Total cost: $834.15
The newly released Radeon RX 480 series of graphics cards has been receiving rave reviews for its ability to crunch virtual reality games on a budget. Heck, it made a three-year-old PC VR-ready. With an average price of $200, it seems like the best option to get a VR-ready graphics card without breaking the bank for an Nvidia GTX 1080 or even the GTX 1070.
At the time of writing, the Nvidia GTX 1060 is just hitting the aisles (especially with models from third-party manufacturers) and tests so far indicate the Radeon RX 480 offers better value. Both these cards are noted to be great for Full HD, but might struggle with 4K resolution.
As for the other specifications, the Core i5-4590 is going to be good enough for most VR games. The SSD is only for the operating system, so it’s optional, but we highly recommend it instead of an HDD alone. And nothing so far indicates that you need more than 8GB of RAM unless you have plans to Alt+Tab a VR game in the middle of playing it.
Plus, you could probably make this even cheaper with Kannon’s tips to get the best deals on PC parts.
Budget Buy: Dell XPS 8900 SE
The Dell XPS 8900 SE meets the exact minimum specifications required by the Rift and is officially recommended by Oculus. It’s the cheapest PC to get that certification.
There is nothing remarkable about this one, and it looks exactly like any other PC you might buy. Here’s a quick rundown of the salient specs:
- CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400
- RAM: 8GB DDR4 (2133 MHz)
- Graphics: 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970
- Storage: 1TB HDD
By itself, the XPS 8900 SE retails at $1,199, but it’s currently discounted by $200, making it the only off-the-shelf VR-ready PC that you can buy for less than a thousand bucks. For $999, this is the budget choice, but you’ll do better if you build your own instead.
In fact, if you live in the US, you can get a better system for much cheaper if you’re willing to ignore the Dell brand. For example, CyberPowerPC’s AMD Six Core Configurator costs $795, is VR-ready, has an SSD+HDD combination, comes with the RX 480 graphics card, and raises the RAM to 16GB.
The Big Boy: Acer Predator G6
Acer’s Predator series is known for being optimized for gaming, with several professional gamers using these as their rig. The Predator G6 is what you need for a high-end VR gaming unit right now, which will still stay relevant for a couple of years.
While we believe you shouldn’t future-proof your PC, the Predator G6 tries its best to give you peace of mind. Here are the salient specs:
- CPU: 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K
- RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2133 MHz)
- Graphics: 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980
- SSD: 256GB
- HDD: 2TB
The Predator series comes with a few gamer-centric tweaks built into it. For example, the top of the cabinet has a Turbo button that you can push to overclock your CPU for maximum performance while gaming. Then there’s the packaged Steel Series gaming keyboard and gaming mouse, which saves you a few bucks once again.
And let’s face it, that tyre-like chassis looks pretty darn cool, doesn’t it?
VR-Ready HTPC: Origin Chronos VR ($1750-$3050)
Virtual Reality gaming requires a little space to play when you’re actually wearing the headset and moving around. For a lot of people, that means your VR gaming PC should sit in the living room. You can’t have a big ugly computer cabinet in your entertainment center, can you? Well, you don’t need to, thanks to Origin’s Chronos PC.
This tiny, gorgeous box made it to our list of the best mini PCs you can buy, and why wouldn’t it? Origin lets you customize every aspect of the configuration, and can even fit in a Nvidia GTX 1080 card. It has a custom liquid cooling system that keeps high-performance parts running smoothly without an issue. And it can be placed vertically or horizontally, which makes it easy to fit into existing entertainment centers. Also, you are likely to use this with your TV, so you save on the cost of a monitor as well.
Here’s the Origin-recommended configuration for the Chronos VR, which totals up to just above $3,000. That might be overkill though, so feel free to customize it as you see fit:
- CPU: 4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7-6700K
- RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2666 MHz)
- Graphics: 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Founder’s Edition
- SSD: 256GB
- HDD: 2TB
The only issue with the Chronos is that it’s not as easy to upgrade as a normal PC, and for certain parts, you might have to ship it back to Origin to add upgraded hardware. So yes, you get a top-of-the-line system in a small box that looks good enough to sit in your living room. But you’ll have to compromise on the DIY part slightly.
What’s The Best Monitor for VR?
All of the ready-made gaming PCs come with Windows 10 preloaded, while you’ll have to buy it separately if you’re building your own rig. Windows 10 is better for gaming, so we’d suggest getting that instead of Windows 7 or 8, or upgrading.
The Rift or the Vive is a headset for the virtual reality experience, but you need a regular monitor for everyday computing. So at the end of this article, you probably know which VR-ready PC you will be buying or building, but do you have any recommendations for what’s the best monitor to go with this?
Also, while we’re talking VR headsets, let’s find out where we MakeUseOf readers stand. Are you #TeamOculus or #TeamVive?