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Next-generation gaming PCs put to the test

These new desktops all feature powerful new Nvidia GeForce 1080 graphics cards for unmatched gaming and VR performance.

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The rise of virtual-reality headsets, including the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, has led to a surprising arms race in gaming desktops, a category that's languished in the past few years.

Adding fuel to the fire is a new generation of graphics cards, the most important component in a gaming or VR-ready PC. Nvidia has new desktops cards, led by the GeForce GTX 1080 (replacing the previous-generation 900-series cards). At around $600 in the US (which works out to £560, AU$815) it's reasonably priced for a flagship card, and will be joined by the lower-cost GeForce 1070 and GeForce 1060 cards.

AMD also has a new generation of GPUs, led by the Radeon RX480, which promises basic VR performance in a $199 card.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The case for new graphics cards

We've already tested nine VR-ready desktops with previous-generation Nvidia 980 graphics cards, all of which will provide excellent performance in the first generation of virtual reality games and apps. This new roundup covers desktops with Nvidia 1080 graphics cards, including a couple of systems with dual GPUs. Current-gen VR experiences (and frankly, most PC games) can't really take advantage of the extra power from running two graphics cards at once (Nvidia calls a setup like this SLI), but adding a second card is a form of future-proofing against the next few generations of games.

We're already seeing the first examples of game content that requires new GPUs. Nvidia has just released a free demo called VR Funhouse that uses advanced physics and only works with newer cards (either 1000-series cards or the slightly older 980Ti cards).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The verdict is that these new cards, part of the first wave of PC components at least partly designed with VR in mind, offer amazing performance. A single Nvidia 1080 card is expensive, yes, but not outrageously so. And the pair of dual-card systems we tested showed a big boost in our tests as well, but keep in mind, you can always add a second card later on if your PC case has room for it.

Of course, none of this will come cheap. While the least-expensive VR-ready desktops are available from around $999 in the US (roughly £716 or AU$1,390), that covers only the minimum system requirements -- an Intel Core i5 CPU and Nvidia 970 GPU -- a setup that already feels dated. In contrast, the newer desktops tested here were configured to cost from $2,200 to more than $6,000.

One especially exciting highlight is the inclusion of two versions of a new all-in-one gaming desktop. Both Origin PC and Digital Storm have versions of this chassis, which features a 34-inch curved display. Behind the back of that display is enough room for desktop-level CPU and GPU components, making this a rare VR-ready all-in-one, and one that's upgradable down the road, thanks to easy component access.

Note that most of these are build-to-order PCs, and exact prices and available components can shift over time. These prices are all in US dollars and are current as of this week. We'll be updating this feature in the near future with more new Nvidia 1080 desktops and new test results (including just-arrived entries from Falcon Northwest and Acer).

Editors' note: This story was originally posted on July 17. It has now been updated with new systems from Acer and Falcon Northwest and new benchmark scores.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Alienware Aurora

$2,279

This new design from Alienware sits between the giant Area-51 and the smaller Alpha. It's also got the easiest-to-open case I've seen on an Alienware desktop in years, plus room inside for a new Nvidia 1080 GPU and three hard drives. Our unit had a few upgrades, but the Aurora starts at $799, and configs with the Nvidia 1080 start under $2,000. Read our full review of the Alienware Aurora here.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Acer Predator G1

$2,299

This baby brother to the massive Predator G6 desktop we tested with the first wave of VR-ready PCs keeps the same over-the-top look, but squeezes it down to a mini-tower format. The sci-fi tank-tread design is still there, and there's still room for a slot-loading optical drive in front, plus not one but two pull-out headphone holders (which is kind of a cool party trick, but not something I'd use all the time). Inside is a full Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, and for a limited time, if you buy one of these, you'll get a custom rolling suitcase to go along with it.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Velocity Micro Raptor Z55

$2,794

We reviewed a version of this system with the Nvidia 980Ti graphics card for our initial VR-ready PC roundup. Now, the same understated, buttoned-down look has a new GeForce 1080 card, and for about the same price. This is a great built-to-order PC if you want something that fades into the background, with a subtle black brushed-metal finish and minimal branding.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Origin PC Omni

$3,380

One of two versions of this curved-screen all-in-one PC we're currently testing. Boutique PC makers such as Origin PC take these chassis and customize them, adding their own components and testing and tweaking for maximum performance. The highlight is the 3,440x1,440-pixel, 34-inch curved display, but there's also a Core i7 CPU and an overclocked Nvidia GeForce 1080 card around the back. Read our initial hands-on with the Origin PC Omni here.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Digital Storm Aura

$3,419

Another take on the same general idea, this time from Digital Storm. Both of these all-in-one gaming PCs had roughly similar configurations, cost around the same, and offered similar performance. Plus, thanks to the inclusion of desktop components (most all-in-one PCs use mobile parts), they work with VR headsets. My only reservation about these all-in-one systems is that some games don't work well, or require extra tweaking, when played at the native 3,440x1,440 21:9 resolution.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Falcon Northwest FragBox

$5,942

The compact FragBox is one of my all-time favorite gaming desktop cases. It's smaller than the Alienware Aurora, but still has room inside for dual Nvidia GeForce 1080 graphics cards and a top-end Intel Core i7-6950X CPU, plus all the liquid cooling required to keep such high-end components running smoothly. It's no surprise this was one of our top performers. In this build, a few extras, such as a huge 6TB storage drive and 64GB of RAM, helped drive the price up (as does the custom red paintjob). You can put together a really nice high-end configuration for about $3,000 if you go through the online configurator carefully.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Origin PC Millennium

$6,050

One of our favorite midsize desktops (which is an odd term for something to gigantic), this desktop uses a custom chassis that can be configured with the access window on the left or right side, and the motherboard can be rotated 90 degrees for better airflow. This is one of our dual-1080 systems, which is why it's so expensive (and it's the only system we've tested so far with Intel's Core i7-6950X Broadwell-E processor). Plus, both the CPU and GPUs have been expertly hand-overclocked, which is why it's our overall performance leader.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Digital Storm Velox

$6,236

A massive desktop with more fans than I've ever seen on a gaming PC, plus twin Nvidia 1080 cards, liquid cooling, a 1,000-watt power supply and a cooling channel that runs through the bottom of the chassis. All that adds up to a gaming desktop that runs very cool, but is also much more quiet than I expected. And if you like showing off your high-end components, this has the biggest side-panel window of any of these systems.


Benchmarks and configurations

Below, you'll find benchmark results from the first wave of Nvidia 1080 desktops we've tested. Some have overclocked CPUs or GPUs, as noted in the listed specs. One of the only VR-specific tests, the Steam VR test from Valve, is practically useless at this level, as every system here hit the top score of 11 out of 11. Futuremark, maker of popular benchmarks such as 3DMark, is working on a high-end VR benchmark test, but it's not available yet.

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Origin PC Millennium
10,384
Digital Storm Velox
9,859
Falcon Northwest Fragbox
9,220
Origin PC Omni
5,427
Digital Storm Aura
5,036
Alienware Aurora R5
4,973
Acer Predator G1 710
4,936
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55
4,717

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Bioshock Infinite gaming test

Digital Storm Velox
334
Origin PC Millennium
309
Falcon Northwest Fragbox
276
Origin PC Omni
241
Alienware Aurora R5
232
Digital Storm Aura
230
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55
221
Acer Predator G1 710
192

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in fps).

Steam VR performance test

Origin PC Millennium
11
Acer Predator G1 710
11
Falcon Northwest Fragbox
11
Origin PC Omni
11
Alienware Aurora R5
11
Digital Storm Velox
11
Digital Storm Aura
11
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55
11

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Multimedia multitasking test 3.0

Origin PC Millennium
79
Falcon Northwest Fragbox
81
Digital Storm Velox
85
Digital Storm Aura
128
Origin PC Omni
133
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55
133
Alienware Aurora R5
152
Acer Predator G1 710
157

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance.

Geekbench 3 (Multi-core)

Origin PC Millennium
40,631
Falcon Northwest Fragbox
39,935
Digital Storm Velox
34,473
Digital Storm Aura
18,845
Origin PC Omni
18,103
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55
17,894
Alienware Aurora R5
16,904
Acer Predator G1 710
14,465

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

System configurations

Origin PC Millennium Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.4GHz Intel Core i7-6950X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; (oc) (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 3TB HDD
Origin PC Omni Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 500GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Alienware Aurora R5 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 256GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Digital Storm Velox Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.3GHz Intel Core i7-6900K; 30GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; (2) Nvidia GeFroce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Digital Storm Aura Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4.2GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 3TB HDD
Acer Predator G1 710 Micorsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-6700; 30GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 8GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Falcon Northwest Fragbox Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6950X; 64GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; (oc) (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 6TB HDD