VirtualReality101 VR Ready PC

PC Builds For VR Experiences

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR Headsets deliver high end VR experiences, but they need powerful PCs with lots of processing power that can render content at 90FPS for both eyes. If that rate is not achieved it can lead to nausea while enjoying the VR experience.

 

On this page we’ll take a look at the manufacturers behind the range of VR Ready PCs, learn how to check if your PC can deliver the full VR experience, and find out the best ways to upgrade or build your own.

 

Key Specifications

VR Ready Standards

Models

Upgradeable PCs

Build Your Own

Buying Advice

Advantages

Test Tools

 

With the first releases of high end VR headsets came the realisation that many home computers are not built with the right level hardware to enjoy the full experience.

If you have a Vive or Oculus Rift, the chances are your PC build is not up to scratch.

Great VR gaming means minimal latency with no lag, high frames per second delivery, and high powered graphics.

Fortunately the problem is known. The solution is known.

Many of the major manufacturers are developing VR ready PCs – built and delivered ready to make sure the virtual reality experience is free from technical issues.

But you may just need a higher performance graphics card, a powerful CPU, and additional memory in your existing setup.

Upgrading yourself is an option.

Quite simply, if you want high quality VR you’ll need a powerful PC. And there are different ways to get it done.

 

 

Specifications – What You’ll Need

Very simply, the minimum key elements that go into building a VR PC are:

The VR Headset

PC with USB 3.0 – 2x USB 3.0 ports and HDMI 1.3

CPU – Intel Core i5- 4590 equivalent or better

8GB+ RAM of Memory

Windows 7 SP1 or newer

Graphics card – GTX 970 (desktop) or GTX 980 (notebook) GPU

+ the standard peripherals

Note that in the early days of VR these are seen as minimum spec recommendations. There may be some games which will need higher power to render perfectly without any judder or lag problems for the player.

 

 

The VR Ready Standard

Nvidia kicked off the VR ready trend by creating the new standard, having already positioned themselves as one of the champions of VR technology with the GeForce GTX VR Ready program VR programme.

NVIDIA® GPUs deliver the fast frame rates essential for the VR experience, along with other critical technical capabilities such as Multi-Res Shading which improves performance by up to 50 percent while keeping image quality and lowering latency.

That programme was kicked off to enable ”NVIDIA’s set of APIs, libraries, and features that enable both VR headset and game developers to deliver amazing VR experiences”.

The new VR ready initiative is clearly designed to cement Nvidia’s position as one of the leaders in the field. As a hardware manufacturer, if you’ve got PC builds to the right specs, you get to display the Nvidia VR ready logo. All great promotional stuff.

The initiative was welcomed early on with names like Dell, Acer, Asus, and HP all working hard to get models ready.

With much discussion about the elements that are needed to get intense, perfect experiences with the likes of Rift and Vive headsets, it’s clear what’s required. See the full list in the build it yourself section below.

Some of the major manufacturers have taken up the gauntlet and announced releases of one or more models that’ll be up to scratch.

Learn More

 

 

Dell AlienwareAlienware VR Ready PC

The Alienware line from computer giant Dell is well know for high performance PCs. Dell are kicking off their VR ready version with a deal which basically discounts the price of an Oculus Rift. $1600 all in.

Their $1200 Alienware X51 R3 delivers the specification required to run virtual reality applications using the Rift headset – an Intel i5-6400 Skylake CPU, 8GB of onboard DDR4 RAM clocked at 2133MHz, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970), and a 1TB hard drive. You’ll need to fork out extra for a keyboard, mouse and monitor.

Order the Oculus Rift at the same time as the X51, and Dell lower the PC price to $1000. The Rift will set you back the other $599.

Other add-on options in the range include graphics amplifiers which see a price cut to $100, but remember that if you’re buying the whole VR ready ensemble it would actually be cheaper to buy each element separately through other electronic discount stores.

 

 

AsusASUS VR Ready PC

Specifically designed to meet the specs required to experience virtual reality on the Oculus Rift, ASUS vr ready models include the ASUS G11CD and ROG G20CB.

At time of writing in early 2016, you’ll get a discounted price offer with any purchase of a Rift headset.

After placing your order, you get a follow up invitation to get hold of your high power PC through a link to the ASUS online store.

 

 

HP Hewlett Packard

Going by the name of the Envy Phoenix, HP’s built for VR PC has been designed with complete optimisation for the HTC Vive in mind.

High power will be needed to display the Vive’s excellent virtual reality imagery to avoid the risks of lag/blur and motion sickness, and by working from the ground up HP have ensure that their PC will work perfectly with it.

That doesn’t mean to say you won’t be able to hook it up to any other headset of course, but Vive owners are likely to get best results with the Phoenix.

We know the graphics card is the key element of any VR PC, and by using a Radeon R9 390X or a higher powered GeForce GTX 980 Ti, HP’s build is definitely going to be ready to handle any virtual reality content the Vive can throw at it.

Other elements include an overclocked Intel Core i7 K-series processor, with liquid-cooling, Bang & Olufsen audio, and an LED lighting system that indicates system temperature as it fluctuates.

All this operates alongside a 2TB hard drive and 32 GB memory providing enough space to handle a considerably sized content library.

Prices start at $1,700. UK prices yet to be revealed.

 

 

HP Laptops

Using a PC for your VR experiences is great, but what you lose in the deal is the mobility factor. There are early signs of developments of VR ready laptops, with HP already reportedly placing some attention on Chromebooks.

Early indications are that the HP solution in this area may be some form of mixed reality offering that combines VR and 3D printing features. And it’s likely to be more of a software focused solution rather than hardware.

More details will become clear in time, but if the plan comes off we could see tools that could be used from a content creation perspective – creating 3D content for virtual reality.

 

 

Cyberpower

In a partnership built around the HTC Vive – probably the headset that will deliver the most intense VR experience – Cyberpower are creating a two machine range of VR ready, 4K resolution machines that are reported to kick off in the $1000 area.

Known as the S-series, and with an Intel Core i5 Skylake processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 900 Series video cards, this looks like a powerful effort that’ll be ready to handle the interaction with the Vive admirably.

 

 

zSpace

While not giving the full VR experience, the all in one computer from zSpace is worth being aware of – particularly from a learning perspective. It allows the user to don a set of glasses, and then view virtual 3D type images on the screen. Look at the screen normally and all you’ll see is blur.

The glasses contain tracking sensors which interact with the screen to present the images, found online by using any browser.

It’ll be late 2016 before we see the model on the market. Expect a price of around $1500 which covers the full cost, including monitor, keyboard, tracking glasses, stylus, and an inbuilt AMD Fire Pro graphics card.

Clearly there’s no VR headset to buy, and clearly it’s not real VR in the form that we’re generally covering here, but at the $1500 price it may appeal as an alternative to other rigs which will burn your wallet to the tune of a few hundred dollars more.

 

 

Zotak Magnus EN980

This VR ready model has been announced but not yet ready for sale. When it does arrive it’ll sit in the bracket of space-saving PCs, and resolves the overheating problem seen in some units by employing a built in water-cooling system.

Zotak describe the gamer-focused device as “going beyond the recommended specifications”, meaning it should give high quality VR experiences. The description goes on top state ”All the performance is housed by a newly designed case that encompasses function and style. Designed with a functional minimalistic approach, it incorporates the water-cooling system, and the shape and surface dimensions to provide great effectiveness in heat dissipation, further strengthening the cooling process with the help of natural aerodynamics.”

 

Xotic

Xotic PC have lined up a selection of 5 desktop PCs and 7 laptops all coming with sufficient specs that are ready to run VR applications.The desktop PC models include the Executioner Z170 VR, Exodus Mini Z170 VR, Exodus Z170 VR, Recon Z170 VR, and Scourge Z170 VR.Each comes with a ‘ready for VR’ basic configuration that includes the same processor, motherboard, memory, GPU, storage, and power supply. The difference between each model is basically in the chassis size, with prices ranging from $1429 for the baseline config of the Mini Z170R up to $1729 for the baseline Z170VR.

 

Origin Chronos VR

The Origin Chronos sits within a grouping of compact VR ready PCs, designed to fit comfortably in smaller spaces. But small doesn’t mean weak in this case, with the $1800 model giving high end gaming performance.

The rectangle shaped device sits perfectly flat or standing vertically, with its roughly 14 x 12 x 4 inch dimensions holding a powerful VR ready GPU which can be seen through a see through window.

Plug and play connection ports are situated at the front, with additional USB/ethernet/jack/coaxial connections at the rear, as well as ports for connecting extra monitors.

On the performance front the GTX970 video card acts to provide smooth and high powered gaming.The only obvious negative, though not a big one, is some noticeable noise from fans. Overall this looks to be a great option for anyone lookin to use a PC powered headset for a taste of some great VR experiences.

Falcon Northwest Tiki

We already know that buying a VR ready PC can put a big hole in your wallet, but when you start looking at the even more powerful machines that hole can very quickly grow much bigger.
The Northwest Tiki is one such device that fits this scenario. It’s extremely powerful and reasonably compact, but comes with a near $5000USD/£3450GBP/AUD$6400 price tag will frighten many of us away.
Those prices might have you believing that it is in fact one of the most powerful virtual reality PCs on the market, and you’d be right of course.
Where that does place the Tiki though is into the bracket of PCs that will offer some protection as virtual reality experiences grow in complexity and their requirements for additional processing power. The next generation of VR games may well need even more power to deliver the necessary 90 fps.
So if you want to be future-ready – and have the bank balance available – this high-powered solution from Falcon may well be worth paying some attention to. It may even be possible to build to a high enough entry level spec for a lot less than the full kit price if you’re prepared to work on building up components by hand.

Upgradeable PCs

Hard core gamers will know all about the powerful components needed to run intense, processor hungry games on a desktop setup. There are a handful of well known hardware manufacturers who already have these types of machines on the market, any of which could feasibly be upgraded to run VR games if they weren’t already capable.

Examples include the MSI Vortex PC – just about the size of a large kettle, this device is capable of delivering 4K resolution games over dual graphics cards – plus the the Origin Chronos, the Origin Omni, and Maingear Drift. Both of which look like high end games consoles, with the inherent power to run the heaviest games effectively.

 

 

Build Your Own

Ready made builds will have their benefits, but the cheapest way to ‘get good VR’ is to do it yourself.

It’s still not cheap, but for just under $800 you should be able to do it.

Here’s what you need (and remember these are the recommended specs for a smooth Oculus Rift experience, other headsets may vary).

The VR Headset

PC with USB 3.0 – 2x USB 3.0 ports and HDMI 1.3

CPU – Intel Core i5- 4590 equivalent or better

8GB+ RAM of Memory

Windows 7 SP1 or newer

Graphics card – GTX 970 (desktop) or GTX 980 (notebook) GPU

+ the standard peripherals (mouse, monitor, keyboard)

 

If you want to go the expensive, future-proof route and build a high spec device that should be able to handle next generation developments in VR, then take a look at this CNET guide on building a VR ready desktop.

 

 

Buying Advice

Getting a PC properly built for virtual reality is not cheap. If you’re starting from scratch you’re looking at a considerable sum for a PC and headset together. So cutting any corners on the price might be a sensible approach.

Pretty much the only way at present you can do this is by building yourself (see the section above).

In these early days of development – and not just for the PC, but the virtual reality headset as well – there’s not a lot of point looking for deals on pricing. The Dell Alienware deal for the Oculus Rift and the PC combined when bought at the same time is the only one I’m aware of.

After release of the first high power headsets you might be able to pick one up from an unhappy buyer at a reduced price (along with their high end PC) but that’s going to be an unlikely scenario.

Either way, there are plenty of places to buy either the headset or the PC, or both.

 

 

Advantages Of Using a Desktop PC For VR

While the lack of mobility can be seen as a disadvantage to desktop PCs, it’s worth taking a look at the advantages too. Stuff which might soften the blow of any high ticket purchase you need to make.

First up is the battery life issue in laptops. No such problem in a mains powered PC of course. Plus given you’ll probably have a laptop or smaller device as well, the PC can act as a robust backup solution.

That question of mobility is not all it’s cracked out to be either, especially when it comes to the peripheral VR devices which all need to be connected up. Until we get some breakthrough development in wireless VR headsets, there are going to be wires lying around connected to expensive HMDs. Arguably you won’t want to be moving the whole setup around too much.

 

 

Test Tools

We’ve seen that you’ll need a hot PC to be prepared for the full VR experience, but how do you know your set up is up to the job is you don’t buy a badged VR ready model?

The answer may lie in using a benchmarking tool.

 

VRMark

One company to keep an eye on in this sphere is Futuremark. They’re already known for the 3D performance tool known as 3DMark, and the virtual reality edition is under development. It’ll be available under the name VRMark.

VRMark will deliver a combination of tests designed to bombard your PC with data and expose any limitations in the CPU or graphics hardware.

That’s all well and good for the PC element of the solution, but what about the headset performance?

VRMark is being developed to handle this rather cleverly, with a set of cutting edge capabilities that will measure the potential performance under different conditions for the whole VR solution.

Of course, different people have different physiological responses to different VR experiences, and taking that into account in measuring system performance won’t be easy. There needs to be a lot more study and analysis of user experience and reactions to work out an answer to this.

Still, VRMark look set to take pole position in VR PC benchmarking solutions.

 

Oculus Rift Compatability

For a more straightforward test option Oculus have released a downloadable compatability tool that you can run on your PC. The tool is designed to tell you whether your PC meets the required specs. https://shop.oculus.com/en-us/cart/

If you don’t want the hassle of testing and just want to know all the different PCs available, try this page at CNET for a full list as of end march 2016

 

Summary

Clearly the VR PCs hitting the stores early on will be built to complement the Rift and the HTC Vive.

But don’t forget that other more powerful headset models are likely to appear in future.

That may mean being ready for a constant upgrade cycle if you’re going to be jumping on whatever great headset comes out next.

 

To End Up……

It’s clear that if you’re ready for VR, you need to be Ready for VR. Or at least your PC does.

Unless you’re taking your fix of virtual reality entertainment with a smartphone type headset or an untethered one, the only way you’ll get the best experience is with a powerful computer.

As time goes on, and the first headsets are either wildly or moderately successful, we may find that the desktop PC and monitor that’s taken a back seat to phones and tablets in recent years enjoys somewhat of a resurgence.

There’s a lot more development to come.

The early VR ready PCs will be adequate for the first rounds of VR experiences. As more and more models hit the market, and use of virtual reality grows, we’ll see the development of even more powerful and realistic experiences.

These may need even more powerful machines to deliver the full benefit.

The PC is definitely not dead. It just needs something more, and that something is virtual reality.

The time is right. The technology is ready.

See the full range of VR ready PCs at the Oculus page. https://www.oculus.com/en-us/oculus-ready-pcs/