Virtual reality can provide newcomers with an experience unlike any other. Being immersed in a completely different world was once the realm of dreams, but can now be achieved via a remarkable piece of modern technology.
However, virtual reality is an expensive technology to get into. A good headset itself will set you back somewhere $400-$600. And to actually drive that headset, you’ll need a pretty potent computer.
Desktop computers capable of driving VR headsets are often looked at as impossibly expensive and out of reach for the majority of users out there. That’s not the case anymore as we’ve seen some pretty capable computer components available at affordable prices.
If you’re into building your own PC, you can save a lot of cash and definitely build one in an economic budget range.
VR technology requires power from specific components of a computer, most notably the CPU and the graphics processor. The prices of these components have come down relative to the performance they offer, and it is now possible to build a truly budget gaming system which will be able to handle VR duties.
You can now build a VR gaming system on a budget of around $700-$900 that will be able to play games in VR at decent frame rates with good quality visuals.
In this guide, we’ll be looking on how to build a PC that will work well with popular headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Rift. We’ll also be guiding you on where some extra money can be spent to further elevate the VR experience if you so desire.
This is the benefit of building your own PC, you can upgrade components as you see fit anytime you want!
Let’s take a look at how to build a budget VR ready rig!
How to build a budget VR ready rig
The Intel Core i3-7100 is a dual-core processor that runs at 3.9GHz and is able to provide some pretty impressive amounts of performance. Software enhancements in VR technology have brought the requirements of processing from a CPU further down and the Core i3-7100 fills them perfectly.
This is the absolute bottom-end of what will make for a capable VR-focused CPU so you might need to upgrade if you want better visuals from your games. But at the price it’s being offered, this processor does its job pretty well. Expect to upgrade it in a year or so if you want to step up your VR experience.
For some extra cash, you’ll be able to afford the latest in Intel’s budget processor offerings. The Core i3-8100 has some pretty obvious advantages over the 7100 in that it has 2 more cores to play with. Modern games take great advantage of an increased core count and it can also help in other multi-threaded applications.
Since processors can be quite finicky to replace, we recommend that you get the 8100 if your budget can make room for it.
You might have noticed that we haven’t mentioned any AMD CPUs. That’s because their performance often lags behind similarly priced Intel CPUs and can often vary from one game to another. The new Ryzen processors are quite impressive but on the budget end, we still recommend Intel CPUs for their reliable performance.
The graphics card in your system will be the component that gets taxed the most by your games. And for that reason, it absolutely needs to be able to be up to the job of providing an adequate amount of power. Skimping on a graphics card will lead to a nauseous experience in VR which will put you off the idea altogether.
The Geforce 1060 3GB is a very capable graphics card that will run most VR games smoothly at respectable quality graphics settings. This is the absolute minimum when it comes to graphics cards and going any lower will mean an unimpressive VR experience.
Spending $50 more will bag you the 6GB version of the Geforce 1060. Spending extra to get 3GB of video memory might seem like a bad idea, but can prove to be worthwhile for better performance in memory-intensive games, which would be most of the modern games anyway. The extra memory also guarantees more reliable game performance as a whole and we definitely recommend the 6GB version for this reason.
A motherboard plays a major role in whether your PC will be upgrade-friendly or not. Believe it or not, we actually recommend going with a good motherboard over a good processor or graphics card. That’s because a motherboard will be the most difficult component of your PC to upgrade and for this reason, it has to be able to accommodate better components in the future.
The Gigabyte Z370 is a gaming-focused motherboard and will provide you with years of service. It supports the latest Intel processors and provides headroom for upgrades in the future as well.
If you’ve decided to settle on an older Intel processor, the ASRock can be your motherboard of choice on a budget. It’s not gaming-focused but has DDR4-2400 support and features four USB 3.0 inputs. The money saved here can be used for a faster processor or graphics card.
The amount of RAM you have won’t drastically affect your VR experience. HTC and Oculus both recommend at least 8 gigabytes of RAM for a smooth and lag-free experience. Upgrading to more RAM is never a bad idea but you shouldn’t do that on account of gaining better visual quality or frame rates. 8GB of DDR4 memory will be plentiful if you’re strictly considering things on a budget.
Most people will tell you that you absolutely need a solid state drive for the best performance. They might have a point, but the best performance isn’t exactly what we’re looking for here. We’re concerned with affordable performance, and a traditional magnetic hard drive will do the job here. It might be slower but you get a ton more space to store what matters: video game and operating system files.
You really don’t want to cheap out and buy a low wattage power supply because this is the component that’s responsible for providing power to all components in your PC. And you definitely need your PC to have enough power to run.
The SeaSonic 550W guarantees that the components listed in this guide will be able to run in harmony with no problems whatsoever.
What’s more, you’ll still have headroom to upgrade to more powerful components in the future with enough power to handle them. 550 watts is just the right amount of power for a budget system even if you foresee yourself making upgrades in the future. Unless you’ll be switching to absolute top-notch and power hungry components, 550 watts will be sufficient.
Following the above list of components, you’ll be able to build yourself a respectable gaming PC for around $700-$800.
Bear in mind that you won’t be able to experience the absolute cutting edge in virtual reality with this setup but it will be enough to satisfy most users. And because it’s a custom PC, parts can be swapped for better ones down the road.
The most important upgrade you can make to your gaming PC is that of a video card. This is a good starting point and if you see that VR is definitely something you need more of, consider getting a Nvidia GTX 1070 in the future, as it provides excellent performance at a reasonable price.
If you have decided to stick with building a budget VR gaming rig, take a look at our guide on where to start in virtual reality.