The final version of Oculus Rift will be shipped to the first lucky owners in late March.
The headset will be available at $399, which is quite costly (but the package also includes headphones and a controller, so with some assumption, this price can be considered to be within reason. You can read our the best android controller review, if you want to take him seperately from headphones).
The major problem is that you will need a very powerful computer just to run applications in VR.
Recommended VR-ready PCs at Oculus site start at $1000.
Though at Amazon they are a bit more expensive: Asus starts at ~$1289 Check the current price
and Alienware by Dell costs ~$799.
Surely, they promise to sell it bundled with Oculus at $1600 in future, but for now this is only a promise.
But why pay extra money if we can build a powerful PC ourselves at much cheaper price. We managed to stay within ~$818. We are going to consider various builds and try to make the most of money spent.
PC for Oculus Rift
The developer site specifies the following system requirements:
Video Card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD R9 290 equivalent or greater
CPU Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
Memory 8GB + RAM
Video Output Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
USB Ports 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
OS Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer
As we can see, it's all about computing power.
Why is that so?
The consumer version of Oculus uses a dual-lens setup - two screens with a resolution of 1200х1080 and a refresh rate of 90 Hz (DK 2 has only one screen with a resolution of 1920x1080 split in two) - so the graphics processing unit must do twice as many computations as compared to the normal mode. Also keep in mind that modern computer hardware was not designed for VR experience.
It follows thence that VR-gaming requires pretty much top-of-the-range hardware.
Before proceeding directly to builds, just a line to explain how I reasoned. If it's all about raw computing power - let's focus on a processor and a graphics card.
We'll start with a chip.
Minimum specs indicate a i5-4590 processor. This chip is based on the time-honored 2013 Haswell architecture and falls into medium price bracket (priced around $200).
The key difference from Core i7 processors lies in the lack of HyperThreading.
INTEL has twice reviewed their technological process since i5-4590 launch. And came up with new Broadwell and Skylake architectures which boast improved energy efficiency and a number of other bells and whistles.
But there has been no fundamental changes in processor power so for now it's the most powerful chip under $200.
Here is a list of more powerful CPUs, which are guaranteed to perform well with the Rift: Core i7-3770, -3770K, -3820, -3930K, -3960X, -3970X, -4770, -4771, -4790, -4770K, - 4790K, -4820K, -4930K, -4960X, -5775C, -5820K, 5930K, -5960X, -6700K, -6700, Core i5-6600K, -6600, -6500, -5675C, -4690K, 4670K
It seems we have a decent choice - 4th generation top models or 6th generation non-premium models will suffice.
What about AMD chipsets? Will they handle it? Aren't they going to melt through the Earth crust?
Most likely they won't do. Current AMD architecture is not capable of producing required computing power.
Graphics processing unit for the Oculus Rift
GTX 970 recommended in the minimum specs was tested on developer versions of Oculus. With DK2 this card performed consistently well at high graphics settings in all games without exception.
But the final Oculus version has two screens with a resolution of 1200x1080 instead of one with a resolution of 1920x1080. Demand for computing power may be said to have been increased by half.
So it is safe to suggest that the GTX 970 will not handle maximum graphics settings in a number of titles.
My other concern is the amount of GPU memory. Even now, 4 gigabytes are only just enough in some cases. Besides there is a clear trend - the higher the resolution the more video memory is required.
Lots of titles will surely need more memory for VR. But GTX 970 has only 4 gigs onboard as well as most GTX 980 models.
Therefore, to be on the safe side I would buy a card with 8Gb of memory.
And in this case I incline to 8Gb options based on AMD architecture. On top of it, some of them may cost less while having comparable power.
For example, R9 390 power is comparable to GTX 970 but 8 gigabytes of VRAM allow for better performance in many games with resolution better than full HD.
So let's look at PC build for Oculus: This configuration will suffice for VR-playing at high settings through the next year and a half lifespan. Our goal is to built a system with an optimum price/performance factor and squeeze it in a small PC case.
Intel CORE i5-6500 (Skylake, LGA 1151)
Cooler Master Hyper TX3
Gigabyte Micro ATX DDR4 NA Motherboards GA-H170M-DS3H
MSI Computer NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 GAMING 4G
Kingston HyperX FURY Black 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 2133MHz DDR4
WD Blue 1TB WD10EZEX
EVGA 600 B1 80+ BRONZE, 600W
Thermaltake CORE V21 Black Extreme Micro ATX Cube Chassis CA-1D5-00S1WN-00
In the end, we managed to build a PC and stay within ~$818. Not bad, huh? Especially compared to pre-built models starting at $1,400?
Why did we choose these very components:
Skylake-based processor was chosen due to its reduced energy consumption and lower heat output - fewer cooling issues.
MSI GPU was chosen for two reasons:
Quality components (Military Class IV of the US military standard MIL-STD-810G), increased power supply, solid cooling system and consequently higher overclocking possibility.
Privately, I like the way it looks.
Skylake-based processors support DDR4 and DDR3L memory (DDR3 support can be implemented by a manufacturer as a "duct tape" - but still avoid using it). We opt for DDR4, especially considering that prices went down and some extra speed wouldn't go amiss.
PSU with a 600-watt output is more than enough. This PSU has all necessary pins for graphics connection. 80 PLUS certification allows us to save a little extra on electricity.
Thermaltake CORE V21 case is notable for large capacity and good ventilation at the right price.
What else can be added/changed?
SDD: we can add an SSD drive and install OS there. As we strive for maximum system performance at the lowest cost we choose the best option. Of course, we could buy the most hyped 2Tb SSD and its cost would exceed the price of all other components.
Instead we buy 240GB disk. It's just enough to install essential things you need to install on your SSD: OS, virtualization software, games themselves. And some extra space is going to be left for future use. Lesser capacity may prove insufficient and greater capacity is most certainly not needed. SanDisk SSD Plus for ~$120 fits perfectly for our task.
Laptops for VR
The situation with VR-ready laptops s is even more grievous.
Firstly, models with sufficient computing power practically do not exist.
We will need a laptop with either laptop version of GTX 980 (there is only a couple of models on the market and they start at $2,500) or with 980m and 970m in SLI mode - such as MSI GT80 Laptop for a ~$2799.
This option is not suitable for the Oculus. So, for now, we cannot reliably recommend any laptop model.