When we discuss virtual reality equipment, we're usually talking headsets and controllers. But when it comes to high-end VR gear, the requisite gaming PC is a major investment that can't be overlooked. Let's get familiar with the PC requirements for running the leading VR headsets Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
If you're pleasantly surprised by Oculus' low minimum requirements, you have its new "asynchronous spacewarp" (ASW) technology to thank. With ASW, Oculus is able to mimic the benchmark 90 frames per second rendering speed using half the amount of frames, and by extension, a fraction of the power.
Oculus has partnered with a number of manufacturers to create Rift-ready PCs. This makes it easier to find a compatible setup, but you don't need one of the Oculus-sanctioned machines to explore VR with Rift. Either way, expect to pay around US$800 for a recommended-spec (90 fps) system, and less if you get a deal or already have accessories like a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The upcoming ASW (45 fps) systems will start at
Of course, price increases as the specs go higher-end, and if you want an Oculus-ready laptop, expect to shell out serious bucks. For instance, the Alienware AW15R3 laptop starts at $1,250 (reduced over the original listed price of $3,072); the Aorus X7 V6 Gaming Laptop will set you back at least $2,300.
As you can see, the minimum requirements for the Vive are a little higher than the Rift's. That's because HTC hasn't enabled an equivalent to Oculus' futuristically-named rendering algorithms. It's true that it can get by on less RAM, but that's an inexpensive component that's easy to remedy.
In terms of hardware, there is one advantage to running an HTC Vive over the Oculus Rift: It requires fewer ports. Rift requires HDMI and USB cords running from the headset to the PC, plus another USB port for the first optical sensor, and one more each for the optional Touch controllers' sensor and 360-degree tracking sensor. The Vive only needs the HDMI and USB cords running from PC to headset (with a controller box in between). Its base stations (laser-powered 360-degree tracking equipment) plug directly into wall outlets, without anything additional for your headset or PC.
Ports aside, Vive PCs will cost more than minimal Rift-compatible ones, though many machines will run either. HTC's recommendations include the HP Envy Phoenix, which starts at $979, and the Alienware Aurora, starting at $1,530 – but any of the above Rift-ready machines we mentioned will work with the Vive too. There are many configurations available, so be sure you're ordering one with Vive-friendly (generally the same as "VR-ready") specs.
If you're wondering if a PC you already own fits the bill, HTC has helpfully included a "Test My PC" button on its website. It can identify the updates necessary for your current machine to play nice with Vive.
Of course, DIYing is always an option for the adventurous. Online communities are rife with accounts of home-built VR-ready gaming machines, and you may even save a few bills in the process.
For more about high-end virtual reality, check out New Atlas' picks for the year's best VR headsets.