When to Upgrade a PC for VR Gaming

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the chance to suit up with a VR gaming headset and take a seat in a giant robot, or float around in a virtual zero-gravity space environment, all while probably accidentally knocking over some lamps in my living room (who needs them in VR, anyway?).

My body is ready.

But is my PC ready?

If you are considering picking up a VR headset, you’re likely asking yourself the same question. This article will cover some of the basic requirements for VR and how to upgrade your PC to meet them.

Hardware Requirements for VR Gaming

Let’s cut right to the chase: VR gaming is going to demand a lot from your PC. Because of the nature of VR where the screens are literally strapped to your head, smooth and fast framerates become more important than ever. They’ll deliver more fluid and believable visuals, as well as avoid jarring and uncomfortable viewing experiences.

Can you imagine trying to play a game at 30fps with the screens mere inches away from your eyes? I know I’d definitely take a hard pass on that one.

With VR, gone are the days of 60fps even being an acceptable framerate floor. 90fps is where games are going to run (at least), and you’re going to need a graphics card that can keep up.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s going to be rendering images across two displays?

Let’s take a look at one of the most hyped VR headsets: The Oculus Rift.

The Rift will run at a resolution of 2160×1200 at 90Hz, and in order to deliver a proper experience, Oculus recommends the following hardware specs:

  • CPU: Intel i5-4590 equivalent (or greater)
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent (or greater)
  • RAM: 8GB (or greater)
Yeah...I think I'd rather build my own.
Yeah…I think I’d rather build my own.

Testing PC Hardware for VR Gaming

If you still aren’t sure whether or not your PC is currently fit to handle VR after looking at the recommended hardware list above, Steam offers a nifty test tool called SteamVR Performance Test (don’t worry, it’s free). I recommend installing and running the test, because after about 2 minutes, the application will give you an easy-to-read display that denotes whether your PC is “Not Ready,” “Capable,” or “Ready” to handle a VR headset. It will also provide feedback about what components might be holding your PC back so that you know exactly what to replace and where you can hold onto some coin for other purchases.

I ran the SteamVR Performance Test on my machine for this article, and you can see my results below:

When to Upgrade a PC for VR Gaming

As you can see from the readout above, my current PC configuration is limited by my GTX 960 graphics card. It can basically meet the 90fps floor needed to deliver a fluid viewing experience on something like the Rift’s 90Hz displays, but it might not be able to render visuals that aren’t slightly disappointing to look at. And, as the program as points out, some games might not even be developed to run at the low resolutions my card is only capable of producing.

In short, you’ll be able to identify whether your PC is bottlenecking at the CPU or GPU with this test.

When to Upgrade GPU for VR Gaming

VR rendering is going to be highly GPU intensive. It’s likely that if you need to upgrade a piece of hardware in your PC to get ready for VR, it’s going to be your graphics card.

According to the Rift’s official recommended requirements, a GTX 970 (or AMD 290) is going to the minimum you should upgrade to. However, it definitely won’t hurt to pick up a more powerful card to give yourself some extra headroom for bigger VR titles that are going to try to deliver on both the framerate and visual fidelity fronts.

If your current GPU doesn’t cut it, you have a couple options available: snatch up a card that’s currently available on the market, or wait a little bit for new GPU models that are developed with VR in mind. This completely depends on your budget and whether your care about owning a graphics card that “just works” for VR, or you want a “future-proof” one that will accommodate VR games down the road boasting quality that we’ve only just begun to imagine.

Personally, I’m going to sit on my GTX 960 for a while longer and wait to see what NVIDIA releases in the future.

When to Upgrade CPU for VR Gaming

With VR, you might find bottlenecks occurring in your CPU if it’s anything less powerful than an Intel i5-4590 equivalent. Consider the fact that VR isn’t just about rendering game visuals on a screen; it’s also about tracking your headset and any additional peripherals in 3D space and processing all of that information quickly! Your CPU will need to keep up, since latency will detract from the realistic sensation that your body’s movements are affecting what is happening onscreen.

I don’t know about you, but I want to know exactly how close I am to my living room wall before I run into it. A powerful enough CPU will make sure to process that information in an appropriate amount of time.

When to Upgrade RAM for VR Gaming

RAM shouldn’t be a huge worry for most gamers because it’s arguably the easiest and most affordable of any potential upgrades you might need. If you’re below the recommended 8GB threshold, additional RAM can be purchased and attached to your motherboard (provided you have extra available slots) with relative ease. Just be sure to match the clock speeds and manufacturer of your existing RAM if you are adding additional units.

Other Hardware Upgrades to Consider for VR Gaming

Each VR headset is going to require a different number of ports for its peripherals, so be sure to check the requirements and whether or not your motherboard has enough of them. You might also need a bigger power supply unit to accommodate the headset and any GPU upgrades you’ve performed, so be sure to run those calculations beforehand!

All these upgrades are worth it if you have a game you’d like to experience in VR. Personally, if there’s one title I really hope to see and play on the VR platform, it would have to be a Sword Art Online game. I could definitely do without the whole “If I die in the game, I die in real life!” part, though.

What sorts of games are you looking forward to playing in VR? Will you be upgrading your PC for VR gaming?