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Building a PC for Virtual Reality

Hardware manufacturers are tripping over themselves to build flashy virtual reality head mounted displays but the PCs to power these devices receive little attention.  HMDs such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are only one half of the VR equation.

The Requirements

As VR awareness becomes more mainstream the big question for most people is,

“Can my PC handle it?”

The answer is likely “No.”  VR content requires a powerful gaming PC to pump out the high frame rate required to make the experience fluid and enjoyable.  Many people will have to upgrade their graphics card or invest in a new PC to meet the minimum specs required.  What are those specs?

Oculus and HTC have both released official recommendations for  PC system requirements and interestingly the specs are almost identical.

HTC Vive

  • Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better
  • CPU: Intel Core i5 4590 or AMD FX 8350 or greater
  • RAM: 4GB or more
  • Video port: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2, or better
  • USB port: 1 USB 2.0 or faster port
  • Windows 7 SP1 or newer

Oculus Rift

  • Graphics Card: GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better
  • CPU: Intel Core i5 4590 or greater
  • RAM: 8GB or more
  • Video port: HDMI 1.3
  • USB port: 2 USB 3.0 ports
  • Windows 7 SP1 or newer

The main difference between the two requirements is the amount of RAM and the number of USB ports.  The Rift requires more of both. The good news is RAM is cheap and any modern motherboard should have the correct number of USB ports.

The PC Build

If building your own PC seems too daunting don’t worry, you can buy an Oculus Ready PC bundled with the Rift and save yourself some stress.

The recommended specs are a good starting point for the build.  One of the main goals for a VR PC build should be flexibility.  If you’re going to invest the money in a PC now it’s a good idea to make sure the hardware will still be relevant 12 to 18 months from now.  At the same time you should resist the urge to purchase today’s top of the line components.  You’ll be paying a premium for a slight performance edge that will be eroded when the next generation of GPUs arrive. Save that money and upgrade later.

After doing some research I knew I was interested in building what could be described as a budget performance PC.  I wanted my overall build to be inexpensive, have flexibility for future upgrades, and have the power to meet and exceed the Oculus and HTC recommended specs. I wanted to invest some money upfront in the processor and motherboard so they wouldn’t have to be upgraded later.

Here’s what I put together:

i5

ProcessorIntel I5-6500- New Skylake processor from Intel, will offer excellent performance for the cost.  This more than meets the recommended specs.

msi

MotherboardMSI Intel Skylake B150 LGA 1151 - Modern and inexpensive.  More than enough USB 3.0 ports for the Rift.  This is a great foundation for a new PC and will support upgrades over the life of the PC.  Great BIOS screen for easy setup.

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Graphics CardEVGA GeForce GTX 1070 – The new generation of GTX cards.  Great performance at a slight premium, this will hold you over for quite awhile.  If you’re looking to save some money consider the GTX 970.

ram

MemoryKingston HyperX FURY Black 8GB – Nothing too special here, starting off with one stick, it’s easy to drop in a second down the road.

evo

StorageSamsung 850 EVO – 250GB – Solid state drive for the OS.  Note that this is on the small side, you may want to spend a little more money upfront here and buy a larger drive  I plan to add in a 3.5 SATA disk in a few months for game storage.  I’ve had bad experience in the past with SSDs so I prefer to stick with a brand name.

cooler

CPU Cooler – Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO – A best seller for a reason.  Inexpensive, quiet, and enough cooling if you want to overclock.

case

CaseCorsair Carbide Series 200R – Nice budget case for the money with plenty of cooling.  The case adds two additional USB 3.0 ports in addition to the motherboard, just make sure you install the correct drivers after you land the cable.

psu

Power SupplyRosewill 650W ATX12V – Nice power supply to support future upgrades, the modularity of cables helps keep things clean.

win10

OS - Windows 10 Pro USB –While I still prefer Windows 7, I can’t recommend it for new builds.  Windows 10 is the future and it comes on a USB stick for easy installation.

VR System – Pick your poison here, the Rift and Vive are both available through Amazon with Prime shipping.  Don’t forget Oculus Touch either.

This should be everything you need to put together a nice gaming PC with upgrade potential.  I included Amazon links for everything but I recommend you shop around.  I was able to save some money on the processor and motherboard with a combo deal through Newegg.

Never built a PC before?  It’s easier than you think, everything snaps together.  I recommend the step-by-step guide at Tom’s Hardware.

Rift Banner

Building the Rift PC

If you were waiting months and months to build a Rift PC now is the time to start ordering parts.  CV1 is officially on the horizon! Oculus has released the official recommended specs for the PC hardware to power the Rift.  This is a smart move as it standardizes the experience for developers and end users.

Surprisingly my generic VR PC build was very close to the recommended specs.  This build will focus on the recommended Oculus requirements and provide you with the exact parts you need.  The goal was to build a capable PC with quality components that would meet the specs without greatly exceeding them.  I also made some decisions in order to make future expansion or upgrades easier.

The big question for most people will be, “What specific components are best for the Rift?” It can be hard to mix and match parts to find the right combination.  Here is what I would recommend:

Intel i5 CPU

ProcessorIntel Core i5-4590K – Haswell processor from Intel, will offer excellent performance for the cost.  Also consider the  Intel Core i5-4690K which slightly exceeds the recommended spec.  Note that this includes its own cooler and fan, nothing else is required here!

PNY GTX 960 GPU

Graphics CardEVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB GDDR5 – Good performance for the price, EVGA makes a great card.   It’s great that Oculus set a fixed GPU bar for the Rift, just keep in mind that one day this may need to get replaced.

MSI Motherboard

MotherboardMSI ATX DDR3 2400 LGA 1150 – supports Z97, modern and inexpensive.  (2) USB 3.0 ports for the Rift.  This is a great foundation for a new PC and will support upgrades over the life of the PC.  Great BIOS screen for easy setup.

Kingston RAM

MemoryKingston HyperX Blu 8GB 1600MHz 240-pin DDR3 – A single stick of 8GB will leave room for expansion.  I would recommend two sticks right off the bat for 16GB but this is an easy upgrade in the future.

Samsung SSD

StorageSamsung SSD 840 EVO-Series 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III – Solid state drive for the OS. Also consider a  3.5 SATA disk for game storage.  I’ve had bad experience in the past with SSDs so I prefer to stick with a brand name.

Corsair Case

CaseCorsair Carbide Series 200R – Nice clean case that is solid and inexpensive. Beautiful with plenty of quiet cooling.

Power SupplyRosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550 – Decent power supply to support future upgrades

OS - Windows 7 64-bit OEM – The old standard here, I prefer it over Windows 8

The RiftOculus Rift – Available directly from Amazon

This should be everything you need to put together the perfect Rift PC with upgrade potential.  Budget versions of this are possible but this PC is a quality build for the Rift.  I included Amazon links for everything and recommend them for their Prime shipping and ease of exchanges.

Here is the complete list with totals:

Component Link Price
Processor Intel Core i5-4590K $199
Graphics Card PNY NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB GDDR5 $320
Motherboard MSI ATX DDR3 2400 LGA 1150 $85
Memory Kingston HyperX Blu 8GB 240-pin DDR3 $104
Storage Samsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch $78
Case Corsair Carbide Series 200R $66
Power Supply  Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550 $70
OS Windows 7 64-bit OEM $135
Total  $1057

Never built a PC before?  It’s easier than you think – everything snaps together.  I recommend the step-by-step guide at Tom’s Hardware.

 

Building a PC for GTA V

GTA V has been one of my favorite games of the last and now current generation of consoles.  A PC port is on the way and it will benefit from higher horsepower machines and a lively modding scene.

Rockstar introduced a first person mode to the game when it made the leap to current generation consoles.  The mode begs for Oculus support and we’ll see it one way or another soon after the game’s release.  The open world of Los Santos is gorgeous and ripe for exploration with the current DK2 or the CV1.  Consider future support by the popular iCEnhancer mod and you’ll have a near photo real gaming experience.

The rumored  recommended hardware requirements are as follows:

  • CPU –  Intel Core i5 3470 @ 3.2GHZ  or AMD X8 FX-8350 @ 4GHZ 
  • GPU – NVIDIA GTX 660 2GB / AMD HD7870 2GB
  • RAM – 8GB

The game will be an absolute monster, especially if it requires a +75 fps frame rate for Rift support. These requirements are nothing more than a starting point.  We’re going to need a beast of a machine for a comfortable Rift experience.

Here’s what I would recommend:

ProcessorIntel Core i7-4790K – New Haswell processor from Intel, will offer excellent performance for the cost.  You can overclock it too but performance will be fine right out of the box.

MotherboardMSI Z97-G45 – supports the Z97 chipset, modern and flexible for different builds.  This is a solid foundation for the system.

Graphics CardEVGA GTX 970 Superclocked 4GB – Not exactly cheap but this card delivers excellent performance for the price.  Don’t skimp here.  I’m actually tempted to recommend a beefier card here but prices get out of hand pretty quickly.

MemoryCrucial 8GB 240-pin DDR3 – I’m recommending two 8GB sticks.

Storage Samsung SSD 850 EVO 250GB – Solid state drive for the OS.  I’ve had bad experience in the past with SSDs so I prefer to stick with a brand name.

CaseCorsair Carbide Series 400R – Nice clean case that’s easy to work on with plenty of cooling.

Power SupplyRosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 650W – Very nice power supply to run the system and support future upgrades if necessary.

OS - Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit – Everyone’s favorite Windows OS, I still prefer it over Windows 8.

This should be everything you need to put together a solid gaming PC that can tackle GTA V.  The system is built with upgrade potential so with carefully selected upgrades (namely the GPU) this rig can keep you current for the next few years. Total cost is around $1400 which is downright reasonable for a new gaming rig built from the ground up.

Headphones for the Rift

Headphones are preferred for the Oculus Rift as they provide a much more immersive experience than speakers.  There are many wired headphones that will work well with the Rift but one of the key requirements is comfort.  Wireless headphones may be preferred to eliminate the inevitable tangle of wires when wearing and storing them with the Rift.  Latency is a concern with wireless headphones and most Bluetooth headphones introduce a noticeable amount.

Here are my two picks for headphones.  The wired Audio Technica set is comfortable and the cord can be disconnected at the ear to make untangling wires much easier.  The Sennheiser wireless set is rechargeable and uses a digital signal to eliminate any interference. I’m personally using an older pair of the Sennheisers, the RS140 model that has been discontinued.

Wired: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Wireless:  Sennheiser RS 160