If you want to experience cutting edge virtual reality gaming (and enjoy other VR experiences too, which we discuss below), a well-specified PC is a must. Modern VR headsets will take advantage of all the raw power you can throw at them, so it makes good sense to splash out on the best hardware you can afford.
The two most popular VR headsets, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, both hit the marketplace in 2016. They both come with a detailed list of minimum hardware requirements. It’s best to try to exceed the minimum specifications and at least conform to the “recommended” requirements. Computer hardware moves on fast so machines that only just scrape through the requirements now will become outdated frustratingly quickly. One option is to buy a desktop or laptop that’s already adequately specified for VR. Both of the key headset manufacturers have partnered with PC makers to produce “Vive Ready” and “Oculus Ready” PCs. However, with VR still primarily popular with computer enthusiasts, many will want to upgrade or build a PC themselves. This article is intended to help with that.
What Can you do with VR?
While gaming is the first thing application for VR that will spring to mind for most, there are an increasing number of other emerging uses for the technology – once you’ve got your VR rig set up and working.
Working people with VR hardware will soon be able to hold meetings that are just like being there, without the inconvenience of travel or the awkwardness of a stilted video chat. You’ll get a good idea of what’s possible by checking out the beta of Facebook Spaces. Virtual reality tech also takes online gambling to a whole new level. You only need to imagine seeing a player’s expression in real-time during a streamed game of online poker to understand what a game-changer this is. The live casino options available at Betway Casino are an indicator of where this technology is heading. Also, software such as Oculus Gala 360 offers a virtual travel experience that equals the “wow” factor of VR gaming.
With over six million headsets shipped last year, VR is finally on the way to going mainstream, and the tech is getting more exciting all the time. So, what do you need?
Operating System Software
Before we move onto hardware, we should mention that right now (at the time of writing), Windows is the only operating system option for Oculus or HTC VR setups. The Oculus founder has pointedly raised before the fact that Macs don’t meet the minimum specifications. However, some reports suggest that Mac support may be around the corner. Both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require Windows 7 SP1 or later, in a 64-bit installation. With Windows 7 SP1 released in 2011, it’s likely most people are already running a supported version.
According to the official recommended hardware requirement sheets for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, both require a processor equal to or better than an Intel i5-4590. (The Rift will run on an Intel i3-6100 according to the minimum specifications, but as discussed at the start, this means no “future proofing” whatsoever). Unless you’re a true enthusiast with an encyclopedic knowledge of processor model numbers, you may struggle to know where yours fits into the range. This useful resource from Laptop Mag will help you find out.
Both HTC and Oculus state fairly low RAM requirements for their setups, a minimum of 4GB or 8GB respectively. However, a shortage of RAM will always produce a computer that crawls along. 16GB is a wiser minimum amount for virtual reality and shouldn’t break the bank. More is always better when it comes to memory. At the time of writing, an 8GB RAM upgrade costs less than US$40.
With graphical effects at the forefront of modern VR, it’s no surprise how important the graphics card is in a modern PC setup. For both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, the manufacturers recommend a NVIDIA GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 480 as a minimum. As with processors, it can be hard to find out exactly where a specific graphics card sits in the range, thanks to confusing model numbers. It makes sense to use the Oculus compatibility tool, HTC’s complete graphics card list, or a manufacturer reference sheet to be totally sure of compatibility.
One big difference between the Rift and the Vive is the way that the hardware wires into your computer, and the resultant need for USB ports. While the Vive only needs one USB port (2.0 or later), the Rift needs three USB3.0s and one USB2.0, if you go by the recommended specifications. This is a significant number of ports that plenty of laptops or small form factor desktops may struggle to provide without an upgrade.
Finally, while no manufacturer puts forward any strict requirements for hard drive or solid state disk configuration, it’s worth pointing out that SSDs will always make for a faster computer, and are an upgrade that many people would consider well worth the extra investment.