After so many years of promises, the world of virtual reality (VR) gaming hardware that’s accessible to everyone—at least, to everyone with a decent-size credit limit—is upon us. Whether you have followed the Oculus Rift since the launch of the VR headset on Kickstarter in 2012, or are just now coming into the fold, a lot of radically new gaming worlds are out there, waiting for you to jump inside. But before you dive in, you need to consider your PC’s specs, above all else. A subpar VR experience is worse than no VR at all, as we’ll explain.
VR gaming is very demanding, so a powerful gaming desktop or laptop is required to run titles smoothly on the Oculus Rift. Pushing detail-rich graphics to the headset’s two high-resolution displays placed inches from your eyes is strenuous, and a basic laptop or a productivity-minded desktop just won’t be able to keep up.
This graphics-power hunger is one of the biggest obstacles to mainstream success for the Rift and VR in general, as it potentially adds the cost of a pricey gaming PC (or at least the cost of relevant upgrades) to an already-expensive headset. Note that much of what we discuss in this story also applies to the other major competing consumer-VR headset, the HTC Vive, but that model does have a slightly different set of requirements. And Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets, which nominally resemble the Rift and HTC Vive, are a whole other ballgame; more on those later.
Many enthusiasts view today’s VR as a glimpse of the future for gaming, so it’s up to you to decide if the one-of-a-kind experience is worth the outlay for the supporting hardware. At a given price out of the gate, desktop PCs are generally more powerful and better equipped for VR than laptops. So if a desktop solution appeals to you, read on. If a mobile solution is more your speed, head over to our guide to the best laptops for VR.
What Are the Oculus Rift’s System Requirements?
Oculus provides a list of specs that tells you exactly what you need to at least clear the floor for running VR games on the headset, as well as a slightly different list of suggested specs for running it optimally. Your graphics card will be the key factor, but your processor, memory, and inputs play important roles, as well.
If your current rig comes up short of the below requirements, but you’re prepared to spend as needed on a fully configured desktop PC, fear not. The table at the top of this story displays the recent systems we’ve reviewed that are best suited to run the Rift smoothly. There are a lot of details and nuances to pick through, though, so some Rift-specific guidance will go a long way.
So, we’ll run down each component in greater detail following Oculus’ bulleted recommended and required specs, which are listed below. Meeting the recommended specs is all well and good, but an even more powerful system will provide the best frame rates now and in the future.
Recommended Hardware: Oculus Rift
• Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or better; AMD Radeon RX 480 or better
• Processor: Intel Core i5-4590 or better; AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or better
• Memory: 8GB or more RAM
• Video Output: One compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
• Input: Three USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port
• Operating System: Windows 8.1 or later
Minimum Required Hardware: Oculus Rift
• Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti or better; AMD Radeon RX 470 or better
• Processor: Intel Core i3-6100 or better; AMD Ryzen 3 1200 or FX-4350, or better
• Memory: 8GB or more RAM
• Video Output: One compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
• Input: Three USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port
• Operating System: Windows 8.1 or newer
Still not sure if your system makes the grade? Oculus offers a free downloadable tool that scans your computer and tells you whether each component passes or fails. It’s a straightforward way to figure out whether or not your current rig is ready. The program is small and takes only few seconds to gauge your hardware.
Get VR-Ready on (Almost) Any Budget
As we noted, even in the case of VR-capable systems, desktop PCs are generally more budget-friendly than gaming-grade laptops. While the most expensive desktops—loaded with dual GeForce GTX 1080 graphics cards, fancy processors, and tons of RAM—will drive the Oculus Rift best, a system with a single video card can certainly cut it, and you can get a VR-ready desktop for around $ 1,000.
These usually will be relatively compact, simple towers, but don’t underestimate their functionality. They likely include a GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, 8GB or 16GB of memory, and a more-than-capable processor. Not only will that make a decent machine for general use, but you may notice it meets or beats the suggested specs for VR.
You could easily spend $ 2,000 or more on a truly powerful VR-ready desktop. (Some insane showcase builds can land between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000.) But hitting what you need specifically for VR can be much less expensive. You can always build your own rig to save some money, if you have the technical know-how, but the big manufacturers offer a range of affordable prebuilt systems that will check all the boxes. Just don’t forget that you’ll need a monitor, and maybe some speakers, to go along with it. (You won’t use them when you are within your VR world, but for everything else.)
Main Consideration? The Graphics Card
The biggest component that will make or break your system for VR is the video card, so it’s a good place to begin, and to allot the most budget if you’re strapped. Unlike most non-gaming desktops and laptops, which employ only the relatively weak graphics silicon integrated in the CPU, the gaming-minded consumer desktops you’ll pick from for your VR rig should include a discrete video card. You’re off to a better start by the mere inclusion of a discrete card from the jump, but not all of cards are powerful enough to drive VR. As you can see above, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 480 are the minimum cards recommended for smooth VR gaming.
On the AMD side, upward from the Radeon RX 480 you have the Radeon RX 580 (the RX 480 is technically a last-generation card), as well as the newer, higher-end Radeon RX Vega 56 and RX Vega 64. All of these cards exceed the Rift-recommended models, but you’ll see the Vegas only very seldom in prebuilt desktops.
While not every card you’ll see in a prebuilt PC will be VR-ready, the GeForce GTX 1060, as Nvidia’s middle-of-the-road option, can be found in many budget-focused desktops. If you are really looking to save, a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti or Radeon RX 470 will get the job done. You may not get the same performance out of them as from a GeForce GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 480, which is a deal-breaker for some, but they can help you meet the VR floor for less money.
Beyond its VR abilities, the GeForce GTX 1060 is a popular card for a reason: It’s well suited to general non-VR gaming with many modern AAA titles at 60 frames per second (fps) at 1080p. However, while 60fps is the target for non-VR gaming, frame rates are handled a bit differently with a VR headset, which is designed to display at 90fps per eye for maximum effect and smooth graphics.
Also worth noting: To forestall motion sickness, the recommended sustained frame rate is 90fps, too. Frame rates that waffle below that mark can be—literally—nauseating for some users. So while frame-rate goals don’t translate exactly from standard gaming, you’ll want to pay strict attention to the headset makers’ minimum specs. The consequences for low frame rates with VR can be more dire than with an ordinary game on a monitor. It can get you sick!
With that in mind, even with a GeForce GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 480, you could see some dropped frames at maximum settings in VR. This problem is particularly noticeable and irritating in VR, where the display is right on your face and encompassing your whole visual field, potentially causing nausea, as opposed to on a screen a couple of feet away. Going further up the graphics card hierarchy to a GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 will help you run games smoothly at higher settings, which may make the difference in whether or not it makes you sick, if you’re prone to that. These higher-end cards will allow you to hit ideal frame rates more consistently, but you’ll have to weigh that against the added price. Of course, you’ll also see their benefit in non-VR games, so there’s that added benefit, especially if you mean to play outside VR on a high-refresh-rate 1080p monitor, or a 1440p or 4K display. (For even more detail, see our guide to the best graphics cards for VR.)
Processor, Memory, and Ports
Beyond the graphics card, the core-component hardware requirements for VR are somewhat easier to hit. As far as the CPU goes, even at Oculus’ recommended level, all you need is at least an Intel Core i5-4590 (that’s “Haswell” or fourth-generation Core, an old chip generation by now) or an AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or better.
These suggestions are not high bars to hit, particularly on the Intel side. The newest computers are equipped with Intel’s latest eighth-generation “Coffee Lake” processors, which are much quicker than the recommended and required CPUs. Any Core i5 or i7 in that or the previous generation (“Kaby Lake”) will do nicely.
Whether you opt for a Core i5 or a Core i7 (the latter better for more intensive processing tasks and not a prerequisite for VR gaming), both are quick and efficient in eighth-generation form. Even if you can only swing a desktop Core i3 eighth-generation CPU (not quite as common in your average desktop build), you’ll hit the minimum for VR—just don’t expect quite as speedy performance in daily use.
The required 8GB of memory is both adequate for VR and useful for general computing. For most experiences, that amount won’t slow you down, though it is widely true that the more RAM you have, the better. We certainly wouldn’t advise against 16GB, however, if you can fit it in your budget—your system will be quicker overall, and gaming in particular will benefit. If you’re looking to push demanding games at high or maximum settings, consider loading up 16GB or more instead of the 8GB minimum. RAM prices nowadays, though, may mean you need to make a tradeoff between a better video card and that extra 8GB. For a VR PC, we’d opt for the better graphics first.
The Rift, to put it bluntly, eats up a lot of ports. You will need to check a lot more carefully for the right ports on a VR-ready laptop, however; most desktops should have what you need. Having enough readily accessible outlets to plug in all of your headset’s connectors is the main concern here, and knowing which port type you’ll need requires checking the fine print.
The Rift needs an HDMI 1.3 port and three USB ports (ideally, two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port). While you should still confirm that the desktop you’re eyeing has these on board, the average home PC offers a handful of USB ports to cover your bases, and any current-generation video card we’ve mentioned above should net you the HDMI 1.3 output you need.
Is Windows Mixed Reality Worth a Look?
While the above requirements refer specifically to the Rift (and largely apply to the HTC Vive), another group of options out there has a different set of demands: Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Microsoft worked with partner manufacturers to launch a series of these less expensive headsets for PCs, among them the HP VR1000-100 and Acer AH101-D8EY.
They’re built off the Microsoft Hololens platform, but they don’t really offer much in the way of augmented reality, and the Windows ecosystem is still pretty barren compared with the Steam and Oculus offerings. They can run other software, but they do so less effectively than the two leading headsets, both in terms of hardware and performance. They are an alternative if you want to save some money, or have specific use cases for the Windows platform, but without significant additions and improvements, we’d strongly recommend the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive if gaming’s your main aim.
Outside of the key areas we’ve already covered are a few more to think about. As mentioned, you will, of course, need to grab a monitor, even if you are mainly interested in VR. You’ll have to set up your system and install the relevant VR software and games, but any display will do for that. That said, if you want to watch Netflix or play non-VR games on this screen, too, you ought to budget for a nicer monitor. Budget between $ 200 and $ 300 for a nice HD (1080p) or QHD (1440p) screen, depending on the size you want. (See our guide to the best gaming monitors.)
You’ll also need somewhere to store all of this software, but your options are very flexible. Even a run-of-the-mill 500GB hard drive is fine for the job, and not too expensive. Many consumer desktops now include a 1TB hard drive as standard, often paired with a speedy solid-state boot drive for Windows and a few key apps. Game installations have gotten pretty big—some come in at 50GB or more—so you’ll want to take that into account if you’re planning on a large library. Hard drive storage has gotten much cheaper, so splurge on that 1TB drive if you need it, but know that adding SSD capacity will be a pricier proposition.
The Best Computers for Oculus Rift Included in This Roundup: