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How to build a cheap, VR-enabled gaming PC

  HTC Vive Deluxe Audio Strap
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends

It's been a few years since the VR renaissance began, and it looks good for VR. HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have now been updated to the Cosmos and Rift S, respectively, while Sony's PlayStation VR is an excellent entry point for console gamers and there are hundreds of VR titles in the Steam Store alone. VR is growing, but some steep entry barriers keep interested enthusiasts from taking the plunge.

The biggest barrier is a simple one: price. PC games are an expensive hobby, and VR costs an additional $ 300 to $ 700, depending on what you buy. However, there are some easy ways to save: The secret is to build the right PC for your VR system at low cost, and we know how to do it.

We won't go step by step Assemble your system, but read our suggestions below to see what you need to get started with PC-based VR.

Bare Bones: Headset

First, let's take a look at what you need for your VR build. We'll try to stay away from certain prices for this guide because hardware prices go up and down so often, but when it comes to headsets, we can be a bit clearer: the latest HTC Vive Cosmos starts at $ 700 Rift S costs 400 U.S. dollar.

As you can see, the prices of the headsets in the latest generation have differed greatly. In a way, they're similar (both now use internal sensors so you don't have to set up external trackers, for example). If you're working on a budget, the Rift S is of course a better option to save money. However, there is a catch: due to manufacturing and shipping difficulties, Oculus no longer sells the Rift S. This is not a permanent requirement, but if you want one, you need to sign up for Oculus notifications and prepare for them. Otherwise, the Cosmos is still available at this time, but at a higher price.

Bare Bones: GPU

  AMD Radeon RX 590

Next we need a PC and this is where it gets difficult. Should you choose a prefabricated machine or build one yourself? This question is not easy to answer at the moment. So let's take a look at what hardware you want to look for in any case, no matter which way you go.

The most important part of your VR rig next to your VR headset will be the graphics card. This is the component that does most of the heavy lifting when you play games in or outside of VR. In addition to the headset, it will also be the most expensive component. There is a shortage in the graphics card market at the moment, so graphics cards are more expensive than they should be – you should carefully consider which card you want to work with. We compared a handful of high-end, mid-range and entry-level graphics cards to VRMark to help you make the decision.

When we put together a performance guide, we usually try to maintain actual performance in the game, but VR is a special case. VR games are not designed for ultra-fast frame rates, but only need to maintain 90 fps in both head-mounted displays in your VR headset. This is because the refresh rate of the internal displays is usually set to 80 to 90 Hz depending on the model. VR games and experiences will do everything they can to maintain a constant speed of 80 to 90 fps to keep things looking smooth. Peaks that are too high or too low can have an uncomfortable effect on the experience. Usually a simple old nausea. So let's look at the numbers.

Each score here represents the performance of a graphics card in the VR benchmarks. The Orange Room is the simplest benchmark, the Cyan Room the intermediate benchmark and the Blue Room the most demanding. What we're looking for is a graphics card that performs well in the Orange Room and scores a decent score in the Cyan Room. These two benchmarks best represent the entry-level and mid-range graphics that we're aiming for. In a perfect world, we only recommend the graphics card that performs best . However, this is not a guide to building the most expensive VR rig. Satisfaction is a problem here.

As a reference, a score of 5,000 in the Orange Room is considered a passed grade for most VR experiences. The score is 3,088 for the more sophisticated Cyan Room and only 1,082 for the high-end 5K Blue Room. We are looking for a couple of graphics cards that reach at least 5,000 in the Orange Room and almost pass by in the Cyan Room.

  Prices for VR graphics cards

If we look at our results here, it means that they are cards. We recommend the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, the AMD Radeon RX 570 and the RX 580. All have three graphics cards received top marks in the Orange Room and the Cyan Room. The GTX 1060 and RX 580 passed all three benchmarks, so they should be our top competitors.

Bare bones: CPU and RAM

  Photo of the 9th generation Intel Core processor
Intel Newsroom / Intel Corporation

Your CPU and RAM are also important. Regarding these two components, however, you should consider how to avoid bottlenecks. 32 GB of RAM and a top-class AMD Ryzen Threadripper don't have as much of an impact on your performance as a powerful GPU. For your CPU and RAM, you should follow the hardware recommendations for the Oculus Rift pretty closely. This means at least one 7th generation Intel Core i5 processor – such as an i5-7500 – or an Intel Core i3-8100, which roughly corresponds to the i5-4590 processor recommended by Oculus. Plus at least 8 GB of RAM, although increasing it to 16 GB in the future would not be a bad idea.

For the Core i3-8100 processor, you are likely to expect about $ 120 and maybe $ 70 to $ 100 of RAM. As already mentioned, pricing for PC components is currently somewhat complicated.

Buy, not build

  Dell Inspiron 5675 test on table
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends

Right. Based on the current state of the GPU prices, you may want to buy a system with the desired GPU and update other components later. Listen to us: Most PC manufacturers offer a desktop computer with the hardware we recommend at a cheaper price than you would probably buy yourself – with a little research.

We recommend that you start first Visit our list of the best gaming desktops to see what some top-line machines look like and what specifications they have. As you'll find, these options start at over $ 1,000 and can handle VR with ease. However, they may be outside your budget.

Then check out our summary of the latest cheap gaming PC deals to see what happens you can find with cheaper machines, taking into account the top line specs for easy comparison. Currently, the ABS Rogue SE Radeon RX 580 gaming PC for $ 750 and the Dell G5 gaming Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti gaming PC for $ 830 are a good option for a budget model.

Concluding Remarks: You Can't Save Graphics

As mentioned earlier, pricing is the biggest problem you are likely to encounter when assembling a VR-ready PC. Nowhere is this more evident than when you bought your GPU. If you put one together yourself, you'll end up paying more than you should for a decent graphics card – and that's the only component you really can't save on.

Your best choice right now is probably review. Review the basic system requirements recommended for a headset and see if you can find them at an affordable price. For example, Vive recommends at least one NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 – which are quite similar to the benchmark recommendations discussed above.

You can check the prices of these models and some newer chips to make a comparison (if the inventory of older GPUs is low, they may be even more expensive than newer models). Either way, you'll likely want to pay at least $ 300 for your graphics card unless you're ready to wait for the market to see prices drop again.

If you added up the total cost, you will. See that it costs around $ 1,000, including a headset, to build everything from scratch for a VR machine – without considering components like Monitors and cooling systems. There is currently no way to lower the prices below unless you really find a lot or are looking for used components.

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