Best PC for VR gaming?


We’ve been worrying about this for a while: what are the best PC specifications for VR gaming?  Is it premature to buy a new VRPC now?  Is SLI worth it?  Maybe my current PC is going to cut it?  Or, if I spend enough, can I future-proof my rig against the expectations of upcoming VR games?  What about the consumer versions of VR hardware.. will they invalidate any current purchases and render my system obsolete?!

It’s seems pretty clear that VR is going to dominate the hardware sales drivers in much the same way as Crysis: promising unreal graphics enrichment for the price of, basically, a new PC.  Crysis always left the average PC feeling exhausted, cheap and inadequate; forcing you to play at a fraction of the frame rate you’d normally be willing to accept.  Because, well, shiny (soo shiny).

Intolerable Droolty

Riding the crest of the VR wave means we submit ourselves to the reduced frame rate a little too often; pushing ourselves to the limit of our gut’s endurance and driving up our tolerance.  Push it too far, though, and you’re back at the bucket.  All the while wondering what it takes to run things smoothly ‘enough’.  I’m sure I’m not the only one to momentarily consider building a small super-computer to avoid the whirling pits of VR-induced motion sickness.  Of course, it doesn’t stop me though.

VR Gaming Ready Super Computer
Overkill? Tell that to my bucket.

We can’t help it!  We’re enthusiasts.  We’re willing to take the potential threat of waves of nausea for the high of being immersed, even for a minute, in another world.  It’s exciting enough to keep us coming back for more, and like any tolerances, they build up.

The State of the Art

Let’s cut to the chase: Nvidia are the only graphics card manufacturer who have built a VR-friendly card.  What’s that?  They haven’t actually built it yet, but are just selling cards with VR stickers on and expect you to wait for their upcoming VR support?  Oh, yes, good point.  Well, at least they seem to know what they are talking about.  Fingers crossed they can deliver.

With that caveat in mind… another caveat.

Judder != Frame rate

Beware, the line between judder and frame rate is all too easily blurred, largely due to the fact that they look almost exactly the same.  You turn your head and the image chops and stutters, giving your mind the equivalent of a drunken strobe dance.

It is important to note that while your PC may be pushing the required amount of pixels, the application itself may be at fault for the judder.  While even Crysis (a well-written yet demanding game), brought systems to their knees, VR applications are often written by hobbyists and fledgling game companies and not all of their code is mature and optimised for existing platforms.  Worse still, they might be highly proficient at 3D transformations (increasing frame rates), but really suck at handling real-time head-tracking (increasing judder).  Realistically, all you can hope to achieve by system configuration is increasing frame rates to the level where they never, or rarely, dip below the magical 90fps.  You can follow the handy guides for limiting system conflicts, bottlenecks and smoothing overall throughput but, generally speaking, judder is out of your hands.

VR Gaming PC Specs

The aim here is to balance price against raw grunt, multi-tasking ability, quietness and future-proofing against the expected demands of the consumer-ready versions of VR HMDs.  It wasn’t easy.  In case you’re wondering: where economically viable (e.g. RAM) we chose a configuration that may be better than the system requires, so you can scale-up other parts of the system without worrying about bottlenecks.

VR Game Development PC

We’ve gone with a 6-core Haswell CPU that supports enough PCI lanes to run multi GPU setups as well as an M.2 card for fast load times.  This is a story-so-far, there’s a chance it will change with the consumer release benchmarks.

  • Intel i7 5930K: 6-Cores at 3.5Ghz, 15Mb of L1 cache and 40 PCI lanes
  • MSI X99S SLI Plus Motherboard
  • Avexir 16Gb DDR4 RAM: 2400Mhz
  • Samsung XP941 256Gb Ultra M.2 PCIe SSD
  • 2 x 4GB MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming Edition in SLI
  • Hitachi Deskstar 7K4000 4TB HDD
  • 1000W Corsair RM Gold Series PSU
  • NZXT H440 Midi-Tower
  • 2 x Samsung 27D850D/T Monitor (2560×1440)
  • Xigmatek Gaia II CPU Cooler
  • Cherry MX G80 Mech Gaming Keyboard
  • Gigabyte M6900 3200 DPI Mouse
  • Add Case Fans to taste

Total Cost: ~£2400+VAT

Hmm? The plastic? Oh, it’s umm, for reducing infra red tracking errors. Yes.

VR Gaming PC

One way or another, rendering two different views is going to work best on a multi-GPU setup.  We really can’t see it going any other way.  Whether Nvidia makes good on their promise to develop driver support for this feature in their 9-series GPUs has yet to be seen, but someone is going to crack it and so we’re sticking to the SLI setup.

  • Intel i5 4670K: 4-Cores at 3.5Ghz
  • MSI Z97M Gaming 7 Micro ATX Motherboard
  • Corsair Vengeance Pro Red 8Gb DDR3 RAM: 2400Mhz
  • Plextor M6e M.2 PCI-E 256GB SSD
  • 2 x 4GB MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming Edition in SLI
  • Seagate 2TB 7200RPM SSHD
  • 850W Corsair RM Gold Series PSU
  • BitFenix Prodigy Micro-ATX Case
  • Acer K272HUL Gaming Monitor (2560×1440)
  • Xigmatek Gaia II CPU Cooler
  • Cherry MX G80 Mech Gaming Keyboard
  • Gigabyte M6900 3200 DPI Mouse
  • Add Case Fans to taste

Total Price: ~£1400+VAT

The Eyes Have It

Both of these VRPC specs were the result of DAYS worth of investigation into the best bang per buck.  We’re using both configurations for our office PCs and are really looking forward to benchmarking with VR Direct support.  Obviously, it’s not within everyone’s budget (power has never come cheap) and there may be some items of personal taste in there (love that Prodigy case in blue!) but overall the aforementioned balance has been the primary focus.  We hope that whatever you choose, you get fluid performance and not a projection of fluids.

As an aside, it’s fair to share with you that we’ve been wondering whether developing your own tolerance is actually a good or a bad thing.  It feels bad, sure, but so does beer the first few times…

Will the ability to deal with simulated realities become an evolutionary advantage?

OK, yes, this is highly philosophical, but it’s been remarked upon that we’ve stopped evolving due to a lack of need.  While that is, of course, bollocks, I’ve often wondered what might be a new agent of rapid change.  It’s hard to see how being submerged in an alternate reality might help you get laid in this one, but stranger things have happened…  If you look at the last few decades, being a pro sportsperson has mean money, influence, land-grabbing and offers of sexual congress (just ask Peter Crouch*).  Already computer game tournaments have achieved multi-million dollar prize pools, their winners are respected and influential.  Seeing the parallels?  Has all this stomach-lurching lopsidedness been worth it?  For one, I do hope so.  At the very least, that means I might get to procreate…

When the World VR Cup kicks off in 2020, where are you going to be?  Coughing into a bucket?  Or clapping with a bouquet?  Either way, I don’t care, just get on with it – VR world cups (of anything) just sound too fricking awesome.

* when asked what he’d be if he hadn’t been a footballer, he answered: “a virgin”.

What are your VRPC specs?  Do you have a pre-built VR gaming PC or do you just have one in mind?  Share yours with us in the comments below…

Toby Worth

Toby Worth

Project Lead at VR-Gaming
I'm an incorrigible space cadet and a proper Knerd (crusading nerd).
Really enjoying things now the 21st century is getting into full-swing.As a self-appointed evangelist of ideas that are ahead of their time I will happily talk at you over ale.
Toby Worth

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Pimp your purchase power
  • Arv

    Where on earth are you doing your shopping..? You’re getting robbed!!!

    Haven’t built mine yet, will be doing it in two parts. The main rig in November:

    Intel Core i7 4790K 4GHz
    Noctua NH-D15 cooler
    Gigabyte GA-Z97-X Gaming 3 motherboard
    16GB Kingston HyperX Fury RAM 1833MHz
    CoolerMaster CM Storm Stryker case
    EVGA 850W G2 Fully Modulated PSU
    120GB Kingston SSD

    Keeping my hard drives from my current PC and will transfer them over. Will be using the on-board GPU until May next year and then get one of these:

    Radeon R9 Fury X

    Then get my Oculus Rift stuff in November next year. I’ve gone for an 850W PSU because as VR gaming develops I’ll be getting a second Fury X to run in Crossfire later on down the line.

    Good times ahead!!!