The VR Upgrade for Personal PC

Games 10.10.2016

To enjoy quality virtual reality on your PC, in addition to purchasing your choice of VR glasses, a brand new computer may be necessary, or at least a hardware upgrade. A good quality VR-enabled PC can quickly become expensive and, in combination with VR hardware like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, this new technology is quite the expensive pastime. Anyone thinking of creating a VR system for their PC and who would like to be able to do so as cheaply as possible, needs to carefully consider desired components and figure out what the optimal ratio is between price and performance. In order to help find this intricate balance, we will explain some of the most important points for consideration and what hardware is currently useful for VR.

Interested in VR? Assembling a Computer by Yourself

The most important and first step is getting the right computer. Currently, it is cheaper to assemble your own PC for virtual reality than it is to buy a complete system. Although this tip is old news to many gamers, many still lean towards complete systems. The reason for this is people often feel insecure about their abilities to build their own computer, afraid that they might do something wrong. However, you need not have any fear of assembly, because present components and connections are designed in such a common sense and user-friendly way that nothing can really go wrong. Even beginners should have no problem, especially when consulting online manuals and video tutorials. So if you need to buy a completely new system for VR and want to save a considerable amount of money, you should look into the costs and demands of building your own VR PC system.

VR for PC—What is Important?

It is vital to have the proper technical components, like high-performance eyewear displays, in order to achieve a quality virtual reality experience, as PCs are working to peak capacity with these headsets—especially when games and applications are shown in high graphical fidelity. Ultimately, those looking for full performance and wanting to play graphically demanding games with advanced settings require an expensive, high-end PC. However, for those who merely want to experience VR, affordable virtual reality PCs—so-called "entry level" PCs—are also available. The hardware within the computers at this end of the spectrum, however, is more or less a compromise between price and performance—it is good enough for the average beginner in VR, but too weak and of too low quality for graphics enthusiasts.

It is also important to know that games must constantly run at 90 frames per second—in both Vive and in Rift—for the VR experience to be both authentic and enjoyable. PC hardware weaknesses that create a slump in frame rate quickly spoil the virtual reality experience. To ensure the best possible graphics settings that provide a constant frame rate, the graphics card is the most important hardware to consider for VR. Without a modern GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) the dream of achieving a quality virtual reality experience on your computer becomes unlikely very fast.

The Graphics Card – The Most Important Piece of Hardware for VR

When trying to find the right hardware, it is naturally easier for those who are willing to spend a lot of money. High-end models such as the GeForce GTX 1080 or the Radeon R9 Fury X are exceptional for virtual reality, but cost almost as much as the glasses themselves. For the average player with a limited budget, these are not necessarily an option. Those looking for more favorable variants should consider 390x cards like the GeForce GTX 1070 or Radeon R9; just keep in mind that this means sacrificing image quality. For bargain hunters who want to experience VR on their PC, you can consider entry-level models of the manufacturer: The GTX 1060 and AMD Radeon RX 480 are located in the lower price range and offer competitive performance to the top models of previous generations.

Processor: The Heart of the Computer Upgrade for VR?

Although as far as hardware goes, the processor is not as essential for VR as the graphics card, but its importance should not be underestimated—particularly not in the HTC Vive, since calculations of laser sensors are taken over by the processor. A current Intel Core i5 or equivalent AMD CPU is sufficiently equipped for virtual reality; however, this raises the question of how you want to invest in new hardware in the future. The more current and powerful the CPU, the longer you will be able to go without needing a new upgrade—regardless of whether the PC is specially built for virtual reality or is an all-round gaming computer. Similarly, with the memory, an 8 or 16 GB DDR4 RAM offers enough power to run VR on a PC; however, investing in more memory allows you to operate longer without having to upgrade and retrofit.

Conclusion: VR for PC is a Costly Affair

Those who would like to experience virtual reality at home on their own computer will most likely need to dig deep into their pockets. There is simply no way around this fact. The technology is there, but it is still relatively inaccessible for the average gamer, due to all of the premium hardware that is required in addition to the expensive VR goggles. With the entry-level models by graphics card manufacturers, virtual reality becomes a little more affordable, allowing more people to consider it. In the end, everyone needs to decide for themselves whether the purchase is worthwhile. There are many VR applications that are currently offering mini-game VR experiences, which can be helpful for exploring the potential of the technology before you heavily invest. Extensive role-playing and action genres are not currently available as mini-games. As a cheaper alternative to experience VR on your personal computer, those interested in VR can test it with the upcoming PlayStation VR, Samsung VR, or other variations such as Google Cardboard. The other option is to be patient and wait to see how the market develops.