Virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift and Vive are awesome, but they aren’t cheap, and neither are the systems that power them. Thanks in large part to AMD’s $200 RX 480, however, a VR-ready gaming system is more wallet-friendly than ever. While we tried to choose parts without rebates, prices do fluctuate, especially on the hard drive, case, and power supply.
Without further ado, here’s our $600 VR build.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-6400||2.7 GHz Quad-core||$180|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-H170M||MicroATX LGA1151||$77|
|Memory||HyperX Fury Black||2 x 4GB DDR4-2133||$32|
|Graphics||AMD RX 480||Full review||$200|
|SSD||Corsair Force LE||240GB||$55|
|Case||Fractal Design Core 1000||MicroATX Mid Tower||$25|
We’re trying to reach maximum budget efficiency here, which on any other day might swing us toward AMD for the processor. There are a few factors that led us to an Intel Core i5-6400 instead, however. One is that chasing an older Intel chip, like the Core i5-4590, doesn’t save us a lot of cash, and it locks us out of DDR4, which is going to provide a performance boost on its own.
Our ideal chip is the entry-level Skylake Core i5, which runs about $180 without the help of sales or rebates. The comparable chip from AMD is the FX 8350, an eight-thread chip with a 4.0GHz base clock. The Skylake Core i5 has quite a few advantages over that chip, including power efficiency, performance, and feature set. It’s a little more expensive, but between that and DDR4 support, the Intel chip offers a palpable performance boost.
It also means better future-proofing, since we can leverage Intel’s newest chipset. While nothing is confirmed, it’s very likely the Kaby Lake chips will still support H170 motherboards.
The cheapest LGA1151 motherboard on the market is Gigabyte’s H110, but that chipset is awfully limiting. In particular, it lacks the proper PCIe lanes to support a full-sized GPU. As such, we splurged a bit and went for the slightly more expensive GA-H170M-DS3H. With a full 16 PCIe lanes, the H170 chipset is well suited and wallet-friendly at just $77, even if it’s a little above the even $50 for the H110 version.
There’s not much to say when it comes to RAM. At publish time, the HyperX Fury X Black was the most cost-efficient memory option available, and had been for quite some time. Our dual-channel DDR4 kit, with a 2,133MHz base clock, is just $32.
As far as quantity goes, we pretty much agree at the Digital Trends office that eight gigabytes is the sweet spot for modern gaming. It’s also the minimum requirement for the Rift, and leaves a bit of headroom over the 4GB necessary for the Vive.
Here, AMD’s brand new RX 480 is the obvious choice. The lowest-end card from Nvidia that supports VR is the GTX 970, and the best price we could find there was just under $300. For $100 less, the RX 480 puts up more than respectable numbers, and is certified with both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
We reviewed the newest Radeon offering and found that it smashed the GTX 960 in real world performance tests, managing both Fallout 4 and Battlefield 4 at right around 60 frames per second, at 1440p resolution, with the graphical settings cranked to the maximum.
SSD, PSU, and case
These three parts are more open-ended than the others on the list, and our specific choices were based on sales that were happening as we were writing this piece. Make sure to head over to our full PC part selection guide for more general guidance, but we’ll also check out each part below as it applies to a budget-friendly VR rig.
First up, the hard drive. Hard disks have largely fallen out of favor, except as data storage, so we’re going to rely on a solid state drive for our operating system and programs. While 120GB drives are much cheaper, they’re also much less useful, and doubling the size means twice the games. We chose the Corsair Force LE because it was on sale, but there are plenty of options in the price range.
Our power supply is once again based off of what was available as we wrote the article. The main rule for buying a power supply is making sure to stick to reputable brands like EVGA, Corsair, Cooler Master, and NZXT. After that, efficiency is key, so choosing a PSU with at least 80+ certification is a good idea.
The case is more of a personal preference than any other part on this list. You’re the one who has to look at it, so choose something that’s aesthetically pleasing. Apart from that, aim for something with good cable management and room for a full-length graphics card. Front-facing USB 3.0 ports are becoming the standard, and help a lot when setting up the Rift or Vive.
Excluding these three components, the build adds up to about $480, leaving $120 left to spend. We spent it somewhat evenly, but you might choose differently — for example, you may downgrade to a smaller SSD and pick up a slightly nicer case.
The most crucial pieces of this build are the CPU and GPU. Intel’s processors are the current king for gaming, and the Radeon RX 480 is the only real video card option for a budget-friendly VR rig, at least until Nvidia releases its GTX 1060.
But the point isn’t really which SSD you choose, or whether you prefer the ATX or MicroATX form factor. It’s that performance per dollar is on a sharp incline in the PC gaming world. AMD is targeting that market, reaching new levels of efficiency.
This build is a testament to that. For just $600 — the cost of an Oculus Rift — you can have the other half of the setup, a rig we priced out at almost $1,000 before the RX 480 arrived. Just make sure to use our PC build guide so you don’t fry it before you get to try it.