There is no shortage of desktop PCs (and even a handful of laptops) that meet the minimum specs required for the first generation of consumer virtual reality headsets. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive ask for recent Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, either an Nvidia 970 or 980/980ti graphics card, plus the right combination of RAM, video outputs and USB inputs (parallel requirements for AMD-based CPU and GPU are just as strict).
Easy enough, if you're willing to spend $1,200 or more, but most of the desktops we've tested that fit the bill are gaming rigs in the most classic sense of the word. That means they're big, they're heavy and their designs lack a certain cosmopolitan flair. (That's if we're being generous. If not, we could say they look like big dorky gaming machines.)
Fortunately, a handful of companies have managed to squeeze the required hardware into much smaller, more attractive boxes. Of the VR-ready desktops we've looked at, Alienware (owned by Dell) offers a reasonably priced X51 mini-tower at the low end of the spectrum; and we tested a midrange, midprice version of the excellent Origin PC Chronos (which includes clever removable magnetic rubber feet). But the most powerful VR-ready PC we've tested to date is the Falcon Northwest Tiki, a mini-tower desktop that manages to fit in more powerful components and more storage than we've seen in any of the full-size desktops in our VR-ready lineup.
Of course, it's also the most expensive. This benchmark-crushing configuration costs around $4,900 in the US (that's about £3,434 and AU$6,376, but non-US orders will have to contact the company for a custom quote), and includes an extreme edition Intel Core i7-5960X CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980ti graphics card, and a very fast 512GB PCI Express SSD plus a whopping 6TB of standard hard-drive storage. Note that as component prices shift, the exact cost of any build-to-order PC can move up or down a bit. If you stick to parts at the lower end of the required VR spec, the price can get down to around $2,000, but at that point, you might as well opt for something like the entry level Asus or Alienware $999 (after bundled Oculus discount) specials.
|Price as reviewed||$4,900 (approx.)|
|PC CPU||3GHz Intel Core i7-5960X|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz|
|Graphics||6GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti|
|Storage||512GB SSD + 6TB 5700rpm HDD|
|Optical drive||DVD Burner|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)|
If you're serious about VR, and are ready invest in a $600-$800 headset, plus a compatible computer, it's worth thinking about future-proofing. The base Core i5/GeForce 970 combo should run any of the first wave of Rift/Vive experiences at the required 90 frames per second per eye, but most of those games are fairly simple experiences, in many cases little better than demos. What happens when the next generation of VR games, or the one after that, comes closer to top-end PC game graphics? To run those future experiences at 90fps, you'll need a very powerful machine, and that's why it may make sense to buy for next year's games, rather than the ones available right now.
Keep in mind, however, that the current generation of Nvidia graphics cards has been around for almost two years, and an update is widely expected sometime later in 2016. What that might mean for VR is unknown, but a GeForce 980 or 980ti is going to be more than good enough for high-end gaming for a good while to come.
The Tiki reviewed here came with a custom blue paint job, which adds a hefty $375 to the cost (but it's got an automotive-like shimmer and looks great). The heavy aluminum base is painted to match, and provides a major point of design differentiation between this and the Origin PC Chronos, another mini-tower VR-ready PC. The Chronon sits on removable magnetic rubber feet, which allows it to shift between vertical and horizontal setups. While the Tiki can't lie on its side with the base attached, it does anchor the system, and prevents anyone from accidentally knocking it over, as one might conceivably do when tethered to a vision-obscuring virtual reality headset. Both designs have their advantages.