The specs are in, and they’re big. The PC that consumers will need to power Oculus’s imminent consumer VR headset will need to be predictably high-powered, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach.
Though the requisite high-performance PC may set you back a pretty penny, the specs aren’t something to skimp on. The VR experience relies on maintaining high frame rates—in excess of 75fps. Latency and sub-75fps frame rates effectively remove you from the VR experience entirely and may make you feel nauseous.
Here’s what Oculus recommends to power the Rift:
- NVIDIA GTX 960 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
- Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
- 8GB+ RAM
- Compatible HDMI 1.3 output
- 2x USB 3.0 ports
- Windows 7 SP1 or greater
It’s a hefty computing machine, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for relatively serious consumers and gamers. All told, you can build this machine for right around $1,000—about the same cost as a new business-minded laptop.
If you’re already a Windows user, don’t consider yourself married to OSX, or you just like the idea of diversifying your collection, this build just might be a great pick for your next rig. However, if you’re more comfortable hanging out toward the middle of the Tech Adoption bell curve and you’re willing to wait it out for a bit, these components will likely come down in price and we’ll likely see companies building and selling machines with this specific set of standards in mind.
Weighing in on the reasoning behind these specs, Oculus’s Chief Architect Atman Binstock says: “There are three key VR graphics challenges to note: raw rendering costs, real-time performance, and latency.”
Essentially, the Rift headset puts out some incredible resolution (2160×1200 at 90Hz) and consumes somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 million shaded pixels per second. Your average flat monitor games, by way of contrast, require only 1080p resolution and consume only 124 million shaded pixels per second and require roughly a third of the graphics processing power.
All this to say that the graphics card in your machine is vital to being able to run the Rift. Not only is the speed and power with which it’s able to process graphic information paramount, but that fourth bullet point is an important one. The NVIDIA GTX 960, for the record, costs $200, which isn’t a horrible price for a good graphics card, especially when you take a look at the cost range for popular gaming graphics cards.
Binstock says, “Many discrete GPU laptops have their external video output connected to the integrated GPU and drive the external output via hardware and software mechanisms that can’t support the Rift.”
What does that mean? In laymen’s terms: The HDMI signal can’t be routed through some external component that’s integrated with the graphics card because said external component may not be up to the task of “supporting a 297MHz clock via a direct output architecture.” To simplify further, you must be able to plug the Rift’s HDMI cable directly into the graphics card, and almost no GPU laptops have this capability. It may be coming, but for now, laptops aren’t a great pick for running Rift.
Now for the CPU: The Intel i5-4590 will get the job done, but the newer i5-4690K model may be a better pick. It offers better performance, doesn’t cost too much more (around $40-50), and is unlocked (denoted by the “K”), which allows for overclocking, meaning that you can push the processor’s limits to eek out a bit more speed. Careful, though—with great power comes the threat of instability.
As far as the rest of the components are concerned, there are no real surprises. Most computers have at least 8GB of RAM standard and keeping an eye on USB 3.0 will be important, but shouldn’t present much of a problem.
You could feasibly grab this machine for under $900 or swap out a few components (like the graphics card) and step up to that $1,000 mark. For now, it’s not exceedingly easy to find PCs with the right specs on the shelf for a great price—though they do exist, case in point this CyberpowerPC. However, you can bet that as the release gets closer, more companies are going to be looking to sell PCs that are spec’d to play nice with the Rift.
So the bad news? You’re likely going to have to upgrade. And if you prefer laptops, then you’re looking at upgrading to a model you’re not all that enthused about. You’re also going to have to play nice with Windows, as Oculus is halting further development for OSX and Linux systems for the time being. Binstock suggests the team is planning to continue, but there’s currently no timeline for such compatibility right now.
There is some good news: Binstock says these specs will be the standard for the life the device, so once you get your machine properly upgraded (or buy an entirely new one), you’ll always be Rift-friendly.
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