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VR System Build Guide Spring 2016: Budget Cost of $900

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Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Various

The entry point for PC 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.

Looking for all of the PC Perspective Spring 2016 VR guides?

This build will focus on the $900 price point for a complete PC. Months and months ago, when Palmer Lucky started discussing pricing for the Rift, he mentioned a "total buy in cost of $1500." When it was finally revealed that the purchase price for the retail Rift was $599, the math works out to include a $900 PC. 

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With that in mind, let's jump right into the information you are looking for: the components we recommend.

VR Build Guide
$900 Spring 2016
Component Amazon.com Link B&H Photo Link
Processor Intel Core i5-6500 $204 $204
Motherboard Gigabyte H170-Gaming 3 $94  
Memory 8GB G.Skill Ripjaws DDR4-2400 $43  
Graphics Card EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Superclock $309 $334
Storage 250GB Samsung 850 EVO
Seagate 2TB Barracuda
$88
$71
$88
$71
Power Supply EVGA 500 watt 80+ Bronze $49  
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $29 $28
Case Corsair SPEC-01 Red $52 $69
Total Price   Full cart - $939  

For those of you interested in a bit more details on the why of the parts selection, rather than just the what, I have some additional information for you.

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Starting at the beginning, the Core i5-6500 is a true quad-core processor that slightly exceeds the minimum specificaiton requirement from Oculus. It is based on the Skylake architecture so you are getting Intel's latest architecture and it is unlikely that you'll find an instance where any PC game, standard or VR, will require more processor horsepower. The motherboard from Gigabyte is based on the H170 chipset, which is lower cost but offers fewer features than Z170-class products. But for a gamer, the result will be nearly identical - stock performance and features are still impressive. 8GB of DDR4 memory should be enough as well for gaming and decent PC productivity.

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!!

The GPU is still the most important component of any VR system, and with the EVGA GeForce GTX 970 selection here we are reaching the recommended specifications from Oculus and HTC/Valve. The Maxwell 2.0 architecture that the GTX 970 is based on launched in late 2014 and was very well received. The equivalent part from the AMD spectrum is the Radeon R9 290/390, so you are interested in that you can find some here.

Continue reading our selections for a $900 VR PC Build!!

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Storage is being dual-wielded here with a 250GB Samsung 850 EVO SATA SSD and a 2TB hard drive from Seagate. Building a gaming PC today without an SSD of some type and capacity is a poor decision - the speed difference you get with Windows start time and game loads is absolutely noticeable. But since the 250GB capacity will only hold 5-8 PC games (if we estimate around 30GB each on average) you will want to larger, lower cost storage for other games and for media.

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The power supply and CPU cooler are pretty standard units that are known for quality and performance. Finally, picking a case for a build is always a task - so much of it comes down to style and preference. The Corsair SPEC-01 is a solid selection for about $50 that offers a decent feature set, is easy to build in, and looks good at the same time. 

Our total price? $939 at the time of this writing, in line with expectations and in line with what Oculus set out as a goal months back. How does it perform?

Performance Results

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 meets all the recommended specificaitons 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.

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Clearly the Core i5-6500 and the GeForce GTX 970 are providing a good amount of gaming horsepower for VR gaming as well as just good-old standard gaming. We hit all the check marks on the Oculus tool and the SteamVR result is 7.1 which is well into the "Ready" category from Valve.

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There you go - for just about $900 you can put together a PC to prepare for the world of VR with the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, while also bringing you into a magical world of PC gaming. If you have questions about the build process, component selection or anything else, leave us a note in the comments below!


March 21, 2016 | 04:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

+$800 for the VR headset

March 21, 2016 | 08:23 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I was thinking the same thing. And this is just any 970 build... redundant and misleading.

March 21, 2016 | 05:18 PM - Posted by JohnGR

GTX 970 is already losing ground compared to the competition, and async compute, if I am not wrong, it is something good to have for VR. I remember something about Nvidia being catastrophic in something?
Anyway, I think people should stop advising a GTX 970 for any build that will do anything more than 1080p gaming. I think it is about time to stop looking at GTX 970 as a small miracle, like what it was when it came out. This is not 2014.

March 21, 2016 | 05:34 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

You are welcome to that opinion. My talks at GDC this last week revealed a couple of things:

  1. Devs love asynch compute but realistically think it will hit "2-5%" performance advantages in the best cases.
  2. Oculus and HTC both seeded GTX 970 GPUs to all devs to target to.
March 21, 2016 | 06:59 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I suspect that by targeting a 970 that they are setting the bar quite low since VR specs require that the minimum frame rate be 90 fps. With the resolution and the minimum frame rate targets, the "default quality" settings will be very low compared to playing on a VRR display where you could target 60, and not care much if it occasionally falls to 40. To maintain 90 all of the time, the actual average frame rate target would probably be more like 120 fps or more. With the quality settings that low, the 3.5 GB of memory probably will not be a limitation.

The only reason to target the 970 right now is because of the massive installed base. Does it make sense to buy the card targeted as the minimum when building a new system? I would say that only makes sense if that is only what your budget will allow. The 390 with 8 GB is near the same price though. The larger memory capacity may come into play quite quickly, even with relatively small increases in detail. Also, if you want to play on a regular high resolution display, or muti-monitor set-up, then the extra memory capacity may come in handy. People are generally not just going to play VR games.

If buying right now, I would definitely be going for a 290 or 390, since I have a high resolution regular display, but I don't have any specific brand loyalty. I have had cards from both. Personally, I would hold off for a while anyway, to let the VR tech and software infrastructure mature a bit. Also, with 14 nm parts coming out this summer, it seems like a good idea to wait and see what they offer. It would have been nice if the 14 nm parts had come out slightly before the headsets, rather than slightly after.

When you guys get some headsets in for testing, I would want to see results with older hardware. Most of the audience here already has a PC, so they would mostly want to know what video card to get or will their old over-clocked i7-920 with a new video card be sufficient. There are obviously a lot of people still running sandy bridge, ivy bridge, and haswell processors. I suspect most of these will perform acceptably, as long as they are an i5 (quad core variant).

March 22, 2016 | 12:18 PM - Posted by remc86007

Additionally, the 3.5GB of vram limitation is likely a bigger issue with VR than with 2d gaming because stutter with VR can ruin the experience completely.

March 25, 2016 | 01:06 PM - Posted by remon (not verified)

2. Lower common denominator.

March 21, 2016 | 05:44 PM - Posted by sensacion7

I'm wondering if the "value build" FX6300/970FX combo and GTX970 coming in $200 cheaper would do... Think so

March 21, 2016 | 06:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The 6300 really chokes when the game gets intense. Would not recommend 4 year old CPUs anymore.

March 21, 2016 | 07:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

In the comments for a previous story, someone said that a old core 2 quad (some QX9xxx variant) actually tested out as VR ready. That was a super high end processor from about 2008 or so though. I suspect it is because of the cache. That processor was essentially 2 dual core chips with 6 MB of L2 each for 12 MB on chip. The current i5s only have 256k L2 and then 6 MB of L3 shared by all 4 cores. I wouldn't discount all old hardware. The lower end stuff is going to have trouble maintaining the minimum frame rates though. An old i7-9xx chip with 8 MB of L3 may do fine though. The extreme edition parts (salvaged Xeons) will have much greater longevity due to the much larger caches: upto 20 MB.

March 21, 2016 | 05:48 PM - Posted by DieH@rd (not verified)

+Windows +Monitor

March 21, 2016 | 06:17 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The general assumption is if you're going VR on a PC instead of a console, you already have those. Not to mention, a lot of steam titles are Linux compatible. Plus, places like Kinguin have $20 Windows keys.

March 21, 2016 | 06:23 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I've actually used Kinguin three times in the past, all with good results. 

March 22, 2016 | 12:01 PM - Posted by remc86007

I have used them successfully too, but recently I have become aware of some ethical concerns with using them and I don't think I will in the future.

March 21, 2016 | 08:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Facebook Rift and the spyware known as Windows. It's a fitting combination, at least.

March 21, 2016 | 08:03 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Odd choice with the GTX 970 3.5+0.5GB when the R9 390 performs better in most scenarios and has more than double the usable VRAM (8GB)

March 22, 2016 | 01:06 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

They did mention it, they just didn't feature it. It seems a bit bogus (at least to me) to recommend the 970 when the 390 is a significantly better value. I guess they will get a lot of comments about it though.

March 22, 2016 | 07:25 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Everyone seems to forget Nvidia's huge efficiency advantage with regard to DX11 drivers. Running a game at 90-120fps will really magnify that advantage. I saw this when I had an R290 running Project CARS. My CPU utilization was sky-high when I tried to run at 90fps, whereas with my (later) GTX970, it was far lower. I was actually CPU limited on the 290, and it capped my frame rates pretty badly. This was on a 4.6ghz OC'ed i7-2600k BTW (in case you were thinking I was running AMD or i3!).

At high FPS, CPU utilization really begins to be a factor. And AMD never did get around to sorting out their DX11 driver efficiency issues.

March 21, 2016 | 08:21 PM - Posted by Bhappy (not verified)

The 970 is factory overclocked, requires less power and therefore you can use a cheaper psu than a 390, also nvidia cards generally have better software support and aren't gimped in new games like amd cards are

March 21, 2016 | 09:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I understand the cheaper PSU maybe, but better software? really? do you have an Nvidia card?
The last Nvidia driver was so good it was giving people BSOD's, LOL
And you have it the other way around, Radeon cards perform MUCH better in newer games in comparison to Nvidia cards, Nvidia cards in this case are behind the curb because their cards don't have hardware support for asynchronous compute.

March 22, 2016 | 12:07 PM - Posted by remc86007

As an Nvidia and AMD owner I completely agree with this. Lots of new games need the full 4GB...I get stutter in the Division when I look in a completely new direction and my vram usage temporarily goes over 3.5GB and then back down. It's not like I have the settings too high, the two 970s in SLI are getting framerates in the 70s, they are just running out of vram.

March 21, 2016 | 09:53 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/nvidia-driver-364-47-pulled,31370.html

Superior software indeed. Not to say that AMD's drivers don't have their own issues, but unless you're running Linux, the drivers from both sides are generally good with occasional hiccups.

Also, buying the 970 is supporting false advertising.

March 21, 2016 | 10:00 PM - Posted by Bhappy (not verified)

Both companies have issues with their drivers, but generally AMD don't release game ready drivers anywhere as frequently as nvidia, also whether you like it or not nvidia includes more notable features in their software that amd will sometimes attempt to copy, ie shadowplay, dynamic super resolution, variable refresh rate, etc. Only time will tell if if asynchronous compute will make much difference in new games. The fastest single gpu cards are all nvidia cards. There's a reason why nvidia controls approx 80% of the discrete graphics card market. Amd always massively overhypes and overpromises and under delivers but they never seem to fail to make losses quarter after quarter.

March 22, 2016 | 12:36 AM - Posted by khanmein

ryan, y don't u recommend EVGA B1 600W since is same price with 500W?? :x

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DGHKK7M/?tag=pcper0a4-20

but i suggest spend a lil bit more on PSU like EVGA G2 (superflower)

if no mistake B1 (FSP) which is not too shabby.

i'll definitely get the cheapest brand with 1x8GB ram 2133 MHz & asrock H170 Pro 4 ATX is way better choice.

FYI, skylake mobo is very sensitive with ram selection & so far crucial is best option. (even pugetsystems mentioned)

GIGA mobo is great if the board is on the more superior side (higher price) but the only issue with GIGA tend to release to many revision on mobo even gpu as well that can confuse novice consumers.

http://www.amazon.com/Crucial-PC4-17000-Unbuffered-288-Pin-CT8G4DFD8213/...

http://www.amazon.com/ASRock-DDR4-Motherboards-H170-PRO4/dp/B0148DP41E/r...

March 22, 2016 | 02:26 AM - Posted by DisasterArea (not verified)

Interestingly I failed all the VR tests on an old rig based on a Xeon5670.

After clocking it yo 3.96ghz and replacing the GTX680 with a GTX980Ti - it is now showing as being fully VR ready. (Oculus doesn't agree, but it isn't actually testing the card...)

I wonder how far down the road a (Westmere?) 6 core CPU will last?

March 22, 2016 | 05:36 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How will the VR experience be affected with a standard 7200rpm hard disk instead of the SSD? I'm asking because if it doesn't affect it, we can put the money into a 6600k to improve minimum framerates and consistency.

March 22, 2016 | 02:14 PM - Posted by 85739gary

Nice, entry level VR build! Thanks...

March 22, 2016 | 02:14 PM - Posted by Hit_Marker (not verified)

Oh come on guys, no more fanboy wars in this article. PLEASE!?! I can't go to a tech site anymore without the fanboys coming out the woodwork.

March 23, 2016 | 11:45 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's always fun reading about people getting their panties in a knot when someone builds a system with a GTX 970.........seriously people???!!

In 99% of the scenarios out there the 3.5GB VRAM issue with the 970 is null and void.

Both the 390 and 970 are good cards. 8GB VRAM a little overkill on the 390 though as it doesn't have the horsepower to run 4K well. The 390 has a very slight edge over the 970 at 3K.

March 23, 2016 | 05:22 PM - Posted by remc86007

Have you watched a 970's vram usage in new games above 1080p? It is constantly pegged at 3.5GB and stutter occurs with some frequency. There is no way I'm buying a VR headset till I get a better card with more vram.

March 23, 2016 | 07:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

OMFG Ryan, come on bud. STOP BEING SO FUCKING POOR! If you're going to build a god dammed VR Rig, you better spend at least $2000. $900/VR PC is only going to make you sick, fail and need multiple RMA's, issues, and is gonna look like shit. It's entirely the dumbest thing you can do. I'm not sure who's idea this was, but it's a bad one. Ryan, no worries, I'll still read all your stuff, and share it all with my followers and clients and shit, but please, stop being so damn POOR. Although, now that I have a 5 month old son, I have to admit that I know the true meaning of the word "conservative spending".

March 23, 2016 | 07:58 PM - Posted by 85739gary

You might have missed this part at the beginning of the article:

Looking for all of the PC Perspective Spring 2016 VR guides?

$900 Budget VR Build Guide
$1500 Mid-range VR Build Guide
$2500 High-end VR Build Guide (soon)

"Your" high end [$2500]build is coming soon...:-)

PCPer rules!