Now that we've tested nine new PCs (eight desktops and one laptop) specifically built for use with virtual reality headsets, there are a few key takeaways:
- VR is an expensive hobby. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets cost $599 and $799, respectively, and the PCs required to run them start at $999 and go up from there (all prices discussed here are in US dollars).
- Unlike many PC gaming experiences, just hitting the minimum required specs will actually give you a good experience, at least with the first couple of generations of VR games and apps. Virtual reality software needs to run at a steady 90 frames per second per eye, but even the least-expensive desktops tested here worked well with every VR app we tried.
- There are many design and feature options to keep in mind. Do you want a PC that's as small as possible? If so, there are a couple of smaller chassis options, but those require trade-offs in terms of expansion and available configuration options. Do you want a huge, floor-hogging tower? Then be prepared to make space for it. If you're an upgrader, make sure the desktop you choose has easy tool-free access to the interior.
- Should you buy now, or wait for the next generation of components? There's always something new around the corner, but this is a good moment to take stock, as Nvidia's new GeForce 1080 graphics cards are, or will soon be, available as an option in most of the systems listed below. Unless you're going for the minimum required spec, it's an upgrade worth considering (and we'll be testing some 1080-based PCs in the near future).
For anyone interested in virtual reality, the takeaways above are important to keep in mind, as the PC you have today probably won't run either the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, unless it's a fairly recent tricked-out gaming desktop. Required system specs include a recent Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU, and a desktop graphics card -- at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD R9 290. That also means even a new gaming laptop that cost thousands won't work, unless it's one of a very small handful of laptops that squeezes in a stripped-down version of the desktop Nvidia 980 graphics card.
And while the rock-bottom price for a new VR-ready desktop is still around $999, that's only after a bundled discount from Oculus for buying a headset and desktop together. If you're looking to spend more, the sky's the limit, and we've tested PCs that cost north of $4,000 (as mentioned earlier, all prices discussed here are in US dollars).
For both the Oculus and Vive headsets, the system requirements are built around maintaining a steady 90 frames of animation per second, per eye. Even the lower-end machines tested here should do that for the first generation of VR games and apps, but you may want to invest in more than the minimum required specs to be assured of a smooth experience in the more intensive VR games coming in the future.
Based on extensive hands-on testing in the CNET Labs, the sweet spot for price and performance is right around $2,000, which will cover a current-gen Core i7-6700K processor and a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics card, plus a decent amount of hard-drive space for large game files. Spending more allows for upgrades to the even faster GeForce 980ti graphics card, more RAM and additional solid state storage, plus extras such as cool designs, ergonomic keyboards, overclocked parts and personalized service and support. New 1080 series GPUs from Nvidia are just starting to trickle out, and we'll update our results once we test these new graphics cards.
We've tested a large lineup of VR-ready PCs, both in traditional benchmarks and in the specialized VR tests offered by Oculus and Valve (the latter intended for the HTC Vive). The Oculus test is a simple one: it checks the PC's components against a set list of approved parts and gives a green check mark if the CPU, GPU, RAM and other specs match the requirements. The Valve test, called SteamVR, offers a similar check, but also runs a short graphical benchmark, simulating a stereoscopic view of a game, and returns a numerical score.
In the Oculus test, each system received a green "pass" check mark, as expected. In the SteamVR test from Valve, the scores ran from 6.5 to 11, which represents the very top of the scale (a nod to Spinal Tap, perhaps?). Here are the scores (keeping in mind the SteamVR test has been updated a few times and isn't the most consistent benchmark we've ever used):
Any of the systems discussed here are highly configurable. In this roundup, we've selected configurations all along the price spectrum, covering the minimum specs required for VR to highly specialized machines intended for VR developers. Note also that built-to-order PCs can fluctuate in price, as component prices and availability shift, sometimes on a week-by-week basis.
If you'd prefer to build a VR-ready PC from scratch, that's one way to save some money and make sure you only get the parts and features you want. We've got a full guide on how to build a VR-ready PC here.
Editors' note: This story was originally posted on March 25 and updated on April 15. It has now been updated again with new benchmark scores and links to new full reviews.
Dell XPS 8900 SE
$1,199 ($999 after Oculus bundle discount)
The most mainstream of the VR-ready systems, this Dell is touted by Oculus as one of the company's hand-selected Oculus Ready PCs. With a Core i5 CPU and Nvidia 970 graphics card, it hits the minimum required specs, but no more. In actual hands-on use, it worked perfectly well with the first-gen VR games and demos we tried, but those were mostly very simple games without challenging graphics. This plastic box isn't terribly attractive and doesn't offer liquid cooling or other high-end features, but the $200 discount when purchased with an Oculus Rift headset makes it a good budget buy. Read the full review of the Dell XPS 8900 SE here.
$1,199 ($999 after Oculus bundle discount)
This mini-tower Alienware has a very similar hardware configuration to the Dell XPS 8900, which makes sense, as Dell makes both machines, and they cost the same (and even offer the same Oculus bundle discount). The trade-off here is in style, size and design. You're getting a smaller, sharper-looking chassis, but also one that's less upgradable, at least compared to the large XPS case, which has plenty of room inside for expansion.
Origin PC Chronos
A great-looking small desktop that's a fraction of the size of big tower models. The highly customizable system packs in liquid cooling and has some very clever magnetic rubber feet that make it easy to switch between horizontal and vertical orientations. The version tested here went with a lower-end GeForce 970 graphics card to keep the price reasonable, but it also comes overclocked for an extra performance boost. Read the full review of the Origin PC Chronos here.
Lenovo Ideacentre Y900
Lenovo has been building a reputation for excellent gaming PCs for a few years now, especially with its reasonably priced Y-series laptops. This desktop is massive, but not the ugliest we've seen, with some red accent lights and a clear side panel. This config hits the Core i7/Nvidia GeForce 980 sweet spot, and includes a hefty keyboard-and-mouse combo with plenty of macro keys. Read the full review of the Lenovo Ideacentre Y900 here.
Acer Predator G6
Similar in configuration and price to the Lenovo Y900, this Acer desktop goes off the reservation in design, looking like an armored tank tread. It includes a front-accessible hard drive bay, but the side panel needs a screwdriver to remove it. The included Steel Series keyboard and mouse is excellent, and some software overclocking for the CPU can be activated by pushing a big red "turbo" button on the chassis. Read the full review of the Acer Predator G6 here.
The Avatar has a cool look that's a little different than most gaming desktops (as long as you have the space for it). The chassis is really striking -- it's a matte-black box with a curved front panel and raised feet in the front and back, and it promises both sound-dampening and extra airflow via a mesh top panel. Read the full review of the AVADirect Avatar here.
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55
Velocity Micro makes excellent custom gaming PCs with an understated, buttoned-down look. Only a clear side window and some blue accent lights give away that this is a gaming desktop. Two big selling points for this configuration are the VR-ready panel on the front, offering access to the HDMI and USB ports needed to hook up a VR headset, and the inclusion of the Nvidia 980ti graphics card, which is a step up from the standard 980 card. Read the full review of the Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 here.
Origin PC Eon17-SLX
One of the only laptops that can run VR hardware, this massive overclocked 17-inch from Origin PC manages to squeeze in a desktop Core i7 processor and a version of the desktop 980 graphics card designed by Nvidia to fit into an oversized laptop case. You're paying for all the extra engineering, but this is the only way to run VR on a laptop right now, and it's also one of the fastest systems in this roundup. Read the full review of the Origin PC Eon17-SLX here.
Falcon Northwest Tiki
Smaller than most, but also more powerful and more expensive. The Tiki from Falcon Northwest is one of the main machines VR developers, including those at Oculus, use to create content. This very high-end configuration has an Extreme Edition Intel Core i7-5960X CPU, the faster Nvidia 980ti graphics card, and 6TB of storage on top of a a superfast PCI Express 512GB SSD. It's the most-expensive VR-ready PC we've tested, but also the fastest. Read the full review of the Falcon Northwest Tiki here.
Benchmarks and configurations
We'll be fully testing and reviewing several of these computers in the coming weeks, along with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift VR headsets. Below are some more traditional game-related benchmarks for each system, showing how they perform in non-VR tasks.
|AVADirect Avatar VR Desktop||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980Ti; 500GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Acer Predator G6||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 2TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Alienware X51||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 1TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Origin PC Chronos||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); OC 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 250GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Lenovo Ideacentre Y900||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 2TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Dell XPS 8900||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 1TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Origin PC Eon17-SLX||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD|
|Velocity Micro Raptor Z55||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980Ti; (2) 256GB SSD RAID 0 + 2TB HDD|
|Falcon Northwest Tiki||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 3GHz Intel Core i7-5960X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHZ; 8GB Nvida GeForce GTX 980Ti; 512GB SSD + 6TB HDD 5,700rpm|