How to Build a Virtual Reality PC

March 23, 2016 | By Mason Dunlap | PCDIY

The Oculus Rift is shipping soon, and the HTC Vive recently went up for pre-order. You’ve decided it’s finally time to build a gaming rig so you can strap your buddy into a VR headset and watch them freak out playing horror games.

Virtual Reality

Okay, in all (virtual) reality, you’re probably building a VR-ready gaming PC for yourself. Incidentally, a rig built for VR will also be able to tackle many high-end, non-VR titles, so you’ll be set for high definition PC gaming as well!

Let’s get into the types of hardware you’ll need.

Graphics Card Requirements

VR gaming is going to be GPU intensive. While early VR titles likely aren’t going to be the sharpest looking, actual frame rates are going to be extremely important.

If your GPU can’t keep up and pump out enough frames per second, you’re going to be in for a very jolting and nauseating experience. That’s right, you can actually get something called virtual reality sickness, which is akin to motion sickness. This is why developers are producing VR game titles with minimum frame rates of 90fps.

If you don’t feel like throwing up in your brand new VR headset, then you’ll want to make sure you select a powerful graphics card for your build. Currently, the recommended minimum  GPU is an NVIDIA GTX 970 or an AMD R9 290. One of these two cards should get you to the 90fps floor needed to avoid virtual reality sickness. You’ll still get a fair bit of mileage out of one of these cards when it comes to standard gaming as well.

Processor Requirements

While most of the VR buzz centers around frame rates and visual fidelity, it’s important not to forget that your PC will need to do a fair bit of processing to make all your peripherals come together smoothly. Even if you don’t have the handheld devices for tracking hand movements, you’ll still have a headset and tracking devices to process.

If you want to avoid any issues with bottlenecking that will kill your VR experience, you’ll want at least an Intel Core i5-4590 CPU. This will ensure that your PC can process all of the incoming data from the headset and other peripherals so that you’re getting the real-time, virtual reality experience promised.

RAM Requirements

Just like with your CPU, the same goes for your PC’s RAM: you want to avoid bottlenecking at all possible to avoid disruptions that might shatter the experience of actually being immersed in a video game. 8GB of RAM is the minimum amount recommended, and fortunately, this should be achievable for the majority of users due to low prices and a plethora of options.

Motherboard Requirements

When selecting your motherboard, aside from making sure that all your other hardware components are compatible and fit together, you need to make sure you have enough available ports to accommodate all the VR peripherals. The total amount you need will vary by VR headset manufacturer and how many additional accessories you have, so check each manufacturers website for the recommended port numbers. Don’t forget to factor extra peripherals into your calculations!

Operating System Requirements

The minimum required operating system is Windows 7 64-bit, so fortunately, most people will already be good to go in this regard. I personally like my Windows 10 and DirectX12, but this isn’t 100% necessary for VR gaming (at least not right now).

Power Supply Requirements

VR-ready PCs will be packing bigger graphics cards, and possibly better cooling to keep their temperatures down as well, so be sure to select a big enough power supply unit. You’ll want to make sure your PSU has plenty of headroom in case you upgrade to a better GPU in the future as VR titles can accomplish greater levels of visual fidelity. You’ll also want to remember that your VR headset and some peripherals will require power from your PSU as well, so it’s better to leave yourself with more headroom than not. Individual wattage requirements will vary by build, so be sure to use something like PCPartPicker’s power calculation tool to see how much your rig will need.

Other Hardware Options

From there, all you need are storage devices and aftermarket coolers (if you want them). If you want to “future-proof” your VR gaming PC a little bit and have the budget, it might be wise to get a bigger GPU, such as a GTX 980 or higher. Game developers will eventually gain more experience creating VR titles, and we are sure to see more graphically beautiful and demanding VR titles down the road. It won’t hurt to buy a bigger graphics card up front to make sure you won’t be left out when these types of games release.

If you already have a gaming PC and don’t want to build a new one from scratch, you should check out our article about upgrading a PC for VR. Also, be sure to check out this sweet VR-Ready ASUS ROG Manta build on our blog!

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Mason Dunlap

Mason Dunlap

Mason “MasonRL90” is a Social Media Specialist, Rocket League Ops, and Influencer Program Manager at NZXT. His goal is to grow the Rocket League community through great content and personal involvement in the scene.