The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will start to ship in March, but you won’t be able to use it if you don’t have a relatively powerful computer. If you’ve already pre-ordered one for $599, and haven’t gotten the memo, or are interested in buying one and want to know how much the computer required would cost, this is your one-stop shop.
First thing’s first: what’s a “relatively powerful computer?”
In May 2015, Oculus released its minimum specifications that a computer would need to run games and applications displayed through the Rift.
The processor and RAM required are pretty standard, actually, and can probably already be found in most modern PCs. The recommended processor, Intel’s i5-4590, was released in May 2014, and can hardly be called cutting-edge. As for RAM, 8GB is pretty much the default in any laptop used for more than surfing the internet and Microsoft Word.
However, the graphics card is the most expensive part of the entire endeavor. The two suggested, Nvidia’s GTX 970 and AMD’s 290, run from $320 to $370, a little rich for the taste of most casual gamers. They both support 4GB of memory, dedicated to processing textures and graphics, and if they weren’t powering the Rift, could easily support 4K gaming at a reasonable framerate.
Building your own PC
If you’re building your own rig, three parts does not a computer make.
In addition to a CPU, RAM, and graphics card (also called a GPU), you need a case to put everything in, a power supply to distribute power to each part, and a motherboard to connect all the parts.
A great tool to compile your own build is PC Part Picker, a free site that walks you through every piece of the computer you might need. I made a quick build that came in under $1000, with the operating system and monitor included. (I’ve also personally used that model of monitor, it’s a budget choice that still delivers great, accurate 1080p graphics. And it’s bright.)
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant
I used all of Oculus’ recommended specs for the CPU, graphics card, and RAM, and then got a 1 TB Western Digital hard drive to take care of storage, with a decent motherboard and more than sufficient power supply.
If I wanted to really speed things up, I could have added a 120 GB solid-state drive for the operating system and other choice files for about $45, and used the 1 TB hard drive for storage. I also didn’t include a CPU cooler, because chances are you won’t be pushing the CPU past the point of regular stock cooling. (Also, you have to be careful about how large of a cooler you can actually fit in the case.)
I actually overbuilt this a little, too. For instance, the power supply (which is not something to normally skimp on), is nearly twice as powerful as it needs to be. We have no idea about what the Oculus’ power draw would be, but the USB ports that will power the head-mounted display can only provide 2.5 watts each, so even if the Rift used two, we’re only talking a 5W bump. That’s a far cry from the nearly 200W extra I budgeted.
You could also skimp a little more on the motherboard, and chances are you have an installation of Windows to upgrade for free. If you only wanted a VR machine as well, you could probably pay less for a monitor, or buy one used for much cheaper.
The Rift itself costs $599 through pre-order, so added to my projection, the real cost for both would be just under $1600. Of course, you would still need a mouse and keyboard, but who doesn’t have a few of those lying around the house?
Buying a PC
Starting this week, Oculus has actually announced a few deals for computers bundled with the Rift itself.
These PC/Rift packages will start at $1500 (plus tax), and are guaranteed to meet the minimum specs. (However, they don’t include a monitor like I did, and after tax comes out to more than $1600, depending on where you live.) But, you do get those guarantees, and you don’t have to build it yourself (even though that’s the fun part). Dell and Asus are the main manufacturers, as well as Alienware (which is owned by Dell). Oculus says that more manufacturers will be added later.
The deals are available at Best Buy, Amazon, and the Microsoft Store. The package will still include all the Oculus goodies, like the headset, sensor, remote, an Xbox One controller, EVE: Valkyrie Founder’s Pack, and Lucky’s Tale.
The Oculus Rift officially ships in March, although pre-orders are reportedly backed up until July. However, these deals say that they ship in late April, so if you need a PC and don’t want to wait until summer for an Oculus, this might be a smart move.