VR System Build Guide Spring 2016: High End at $2500
A system worthy of VR!
Early this year I started getting request after request for hardware suggestions for upcoming PC builds for VR. The excitement surrounding the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive has caught fire across all spectrums of technology, from PC enthusiasts to gaming enthusiasts to just those of you interested in a technology that has been "right around the corner" for decades. The requests for build suggestions spanned our normal readership as well as those that had previously only focused on console gaming, and thus the need for a selection of build guides began.
I launched build guides for $900 and $1500 price points earlier in the week, but today we look at the flagship option, targeting a budget of $2500. Though this is a pricey system that should not be undertaken lightly, it is far from a "crazy expensive" build with multiple GPUs, multiple CPUs or high dollar items unnecessary for gaming and VR.
With that in mind, let's jump right into the information you are looking for: the components we recommend.
|VR Build Guide
$2500 Spring 2016
|Component||Amazon.com Link||B&H Photo Link|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-5930K||$527||$578|
|Motherboard||ASUS X99-A USB 3.1||$264||$259|
|Memory||Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB DDR4-3000||$169|
|Graphics Card||ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Ti STRIX||$659||$669|
|Storage||512GB Samsung 950 Pro
Western Digital Red 4TB
|Power Supply||Corsair HX750i Platinum||$144||$149|
|CPU Cooler||Corsair H100i v2||$107||$107|
|Case||Corsair Carbide 600C||$149||$141|
|Total Price||Full cart - $2,519|
For those of you interested in a bit more detail on the why of the parts selection, rather than just the what, I have some additional information for you.
Unlike the previous two builds that used Intel's consumer Skylake processors, our $2500 build moves to the Haswell-E platform, an enthusiast design that comes from the realm of workstation products. The Core i7-5930K is a 6-core processor with HyperThreading, allowing for 12 addressable threads. Though we are targeting this machine for VR gaming, the move to this processor will mean better performance for other tasks as well including video encoding, photo editing and more. It's unlocked too - so if you want to stretch that clock speed up via overclocking, you have the flexibility for that.
Update: Several people have pointed out that the Core i7-5820K is a very similar processor to the 5930K, with a $100-150 price advantage. It's another great option if you are looking to save a bit more money, and you don't expect to want/need the additional PCI Express lanes the 5930K offers (40 lanes versus 28 lanes).
With the transition to Haswell-E we have an ASUS X99-A USB 3.1 motherboard. This board is the first in our VR builds to support not just 2-Way SLI and CrossFire but 3-Way as well if we find that VR games and engines are able to consistently and properly integrate support for multi-GPU. This recently updated board from ASUS includes USB 3.1 support as you can tell from the name, includes 8 slots for DDR4 memory and offers enough PCIe lanes for expansion in all directions.
Looking to build a PC for the very first time, or need a refresher? You can find our recent step-by-step build videos to help you through the process right here!!
For our graphics card we have gone with the ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Ti Strix. The 980 Ti is the fastest single GPU solution on the market today and with 6GB of memory on-board should be able to handle anything that VR can toss at it. In terms of compute performance the 980 Ti is more than 40% faster than the GTX 980, the GPU used in our $1500 solution. The Strix integration uses a custom cooler that performs much better than the stock solution and is quieter.
Another option for anyone that is interested in a front panel HDMI port: EVGA has a pair of GTX 980 Ti cards with the VR Edition label, to facilitate exactly that!
The storage configuration gets a big upgrade here, moving from a SATA-based SSD to a Samsung 950 Pro. The 512GB drive uses PCI Express and NVMe to improve throughput to 2.5 GB/s reads and 1.5 GB/s writes, giving us blazing fast speeds for boot, game loads and more. It's definitely more expensive than the 500GB SATA options, but for a $2500 build, it seems like the logical move. I've also upgraded from a 2TB to a 4TB hard drive from Western Digital. If you have extra budget consider multiple drives in an array for redundant storage.
We've used a 750 watt Platinum rated power supply from Corsair, the HX750i, which should be enough juice to double up on the 980 Ti graphics cards while remaining efficient and quiet at modest workloads. Corsair also provides the H100i v2 all-in-one liquid cooler for the CPU as well as the 600C case, a very unique design. It's big, has tons of space for building in and rotates the motherboard / components by 180 degrees and flips it, with the window on what you might consider the "wrong" side of the case. In terms of usability it is a fantastic design and will look great on your desk or next to it.
You won't find a deep dive of performance testing in this VR build guide but we did want to give potential builders an idea of how this system looks. Since it exceeds all the recommended specifications from both Oculus and HTC/Valve, it should be capable of running all the launch games on either platform.
Below I have included results from 3DMark to help those hardware savvy enough to know a reference point for total system performance, the Oculus Rift compatibility tool result and a score from the Valve SteamVR performance test.
Our system screams performance on all of the tests above. The ASUS GTX 980 Ti Strix and the Core i7-5930K processor result in 3DMark FireStrike score that is 66% faster than the $900 entry priced build and 54% faster in the SteamVR Performance Test. Note that the SteamVR performance test caps at a score of 11.0 - otherwise I would expect the GTX 980 Ti to scale above that. This rig will not only be able to power every VR game and experience that is released this spring but will give you the headroom for more games with more intense and improved image quality throughout the year.
Clearly the $2500 system isn't going to fall in the budget window for most of our readers, but if you have the cash this is a system that will not only prepare you for the VR gaming future but will make you the envy of your friends and family. Now's the time to not just invest in VR gaming but also in the joy of PC gaming over consoles, and with the build we have outlined here, you have the flexibility to do it.