Building a PC that can run your VR headset(s) might seem like a challenge, but in reality, it isn’t any more complicated than building one for any other purpose. There are some additional things to keep an eye on, but at the end of the day, your new VR-PC won’t look too different from any other kind. It will be a little more expensive – there are certain hardware component minimums that you won’t be able to go under without risking your headset not working. At the bare minimum, you’ll want to budget for $800-$1k to build yourself a PC that actually runs your games.
Any less, and you run the risk of either not being able to power your VR headset at all, or ending up with a laggy setup that struggles to put out an acceptable FPS rate. For a build like this, you won’t be able to cut too many corners when it comes to components, but we’ve made sure to assemble some helpful tips and minimum requirements so that you can build yourself a machine for as small a budget as possible!
Step 1: Make a list of what you need
As with any PC, you’ll want to start out by making a list of all the parts you need. You’ll have to allocate your budget slightly differently from how you would for a normal PC, since your CPU and GPU will take up the lion’s share of your build, more so than for other builds. Think of VR headsets as double-display monitors each at least running at 90Hz – and that’s without considering the additional processing power that this type of device requires as well. In other words, there’s a lot of ‘oomph’ required from your VR PC – and when building one, you’ll want to make sure you meet the demand, so you don’t get disappointed down the line!
Tip: If you already have a PC and want to test if it’s VR-ready, you can download the SteamVR test that Valve put on their Steam platform for free, and run it – it will check whether your current build is capable of handling a VR headset, and if it’s not, it will even give you some specific upgrade recommendations.
Step 2: Finalise the budget, pick the parts
Once you’ve made a list of your requirements, you’ll want to work out your exact budget so that you can pick your specific parts. For a VR build, you’ll want to allocate most of your budget towards the CPU, GPU, and RAM, since they’ll bear the brunt of the technical demand.
Below is some info about what you need to accommodate into your new VR build, and also a few tips on how to make the most of your money while doing so!
For a VR-capable machine, your CPU should at minimum be a quad-core model – the minimum is generally either an Intel i5-7500 or Ryzen 5 1600, depending on whether you prefer Intel or AMD. Please remember that as with any PC build, your choice of CPU will have an impact on what motherboard and CPU cooler you select down the line. If you want to go above the minimum specs needed for most games, you’ll be looking at an Intel i7 or Ryzen 7 instead – but these are a fair bit more expensive and depending on your budget, might not be an option.
Running a VR headset with your PC will pose quite a challenge to your hardware. In order to prevent issues with overheating and potentially thermal throttling, you really won’t want to skimp on a good CPU cooler. If you can, go for a liquid cooling solution as they are generally more efficient and quieter, although they can cost a little more. If that isn’t an option for you, make sure you instead select a good-quality air cooler. The stock coolers that usually come with your CPU tend to not be particularly efficient – you really want to make sure your cooler is up the task for a VR-capable PC!
A VR rig doesn’t necessarily pose any additional challenges for your motherboard, but generally, you’ll want to select one with as many USB 3 ports as possible. This will ensure optimal performance for your VR headset, without slowing yourself down or bottlenecking your parts with weaker USB connections.
Most VR headsets don’t support HDMI connections, and instead, require a DisplayPort 1.2+ connection that’s easily accessible to connect the headset to. Consider this when picking your motherboard so you don’t end up with an incompatible or awkward setup later.
When building a VR-ready PC, you might want to consider a few additional things when it comes to your PC case – for one, you’ll want to make sure it fits the space you have ready for it without impacting cable-placements. You’ll need easily accessible USB and DisplayPort ports, and you’ll likely have some additional cables connected at all times, so consider that when choosing your case.
The graphics demand of a VR headset is multiple times higher than that of a normal gaming rig. Compared to a standard 1080p 60Hz single-monitor setup, even a basic VR machine will need to provide at least 4x the performance to be able to run a VR headset such as the HTC Vive or Valve Index.
The absolute bare minimum graphics card you’ll need to run any VR headset at all is the equivalent of an NVIDIA GTX 1070 – but to get some decent performance, you’ll be looking for a 20 series card such as the RTX 2060, or even an RTX 2070. These cards are often out of stock, so you might have to look around for a while to find one, or be a bit flexible on exactly what model card you buy for your new rig.
The absolute minimum RAM that you’ll need for a VR-capable PC is 8GB. Depending on your specific headset, you might need slightly more, but either way, you’ll want to try and go for 16GB if it’s possible within your budget. As technical demands rise, using 16GB will definitely have your PC perform better. A lot of VR games already list 16GB as the recommended RAM as well.
Just like with any sort of gaming rig, you’ll probably want to install games – and since VR games can take up a decent amount of space on your drives, you’ll want to either go for a sufficiently roomy SSD, or, if you’re trying to keep things cheaper, an HDD. Given the already high demand that VR gaming places on your system, you might not want to deal with a slower HDD, and instead go for something like an NVMe SSD for maximum read and write speeds. Of course, these are somewhat more expensive and might therefore not fit your budget build. However, if you can fit them in, you’ll definitely appreciate the improved speeds that an NVMe offers.
When it comes to the power supply for a VR-capable machine, the same things apply as for any other PC. Make sure you select one that supplies a sufficient amount of power, and leave at least 10-20% of tolerance.
Tip: Use an online tool such as PCpartpicker.com to make sure you are correctly calculating the energy requirements of your build – that way, you won’t run the risk of accidentally getting too weak a PSU and risking the integrity of your machine!
Step 3: Hunt for deals
A VR-capable PC requires several relatively pricy parts to be able to work – so it might be worth shopping around or even waiting for some good deals. Particularly when it comes to getting a GPU, the market is full of price-gougers and parts shortages, so keep an eye out for both good deals and potentially workable alternatives to the exact part you chose. You might get lucky and come across a great deal. Be sure to look around in different shops to make sure you don’t pay more than you need to.
Tips: If you end up with spare cash after you’ve gotten all of your parts, consider potentially upgrading your RAM or cooling solution to something better – even adding some case fans could help your new machine stay cool!
Step 4: Assemble!
Assembling a VR PC is much the same as assembling any other kind of PC – you can either do it yourself after getting all the parts, or you can find a local shop that offers it as a service. If you decide to build it yourself, use some of the many available online guides in order to work out exactly what you need to do. Keep in mind that cable management is important – especially if you plan to upgrade your VR PC a little down the line.