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We built a VR-ready computer for less than $800 (and you can too)

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If you’ve tried the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual reality headsets, you know that their high-end VR is in another class above mobile VR experiences like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. Problem: the headsets are expensive ($599 for Oculus, $799 for the Vive and its controllers) and the powerful PCs you need to run them even more so, since they’re typically well north of $1,000.

But there’s a path to good VR that’s not as hard on your wallet: You can build your own VR-ready PC, and it’ll cost you a lot less than ready-made ones like the model being bundled with the Rift.

Certainly, building a PC isn’t for everyone, but these days it’s a lot easier than you might think, and if you’re looking for the most inexpensive path to VR, it’s definitely the way to go. We went ahead and build our own VR-ready PC using the components below, and we encourage you to do the same if you’re interested. If you run into trouble on the nitty-gritty details, there are plenty of videos and PC-builder sites out there that can help.

What you need

We wanted to see how just how cheap we could go when building a VR-ready computer without sacrificing quality. Of course, a $700 computer won’t quite match the speed and clarity of a $2,000 computer, but for VR gaming on a budget, it’ll have to do.

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have pretty much the same hardware requirements, so we used Rifts recommended specifications for our baseline. The Vive only needs half as much RAM as the Rift, but if you plan on doing any modern gaming youll want to stick to Rifts recommendations:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5 4590 or AMD FX 4300

  • RAM: 8GB

  • Video card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290

  • Operating system: Windows 7 (64-bit) or later

To see what your computer is already equipped with, search System with Cortana or the Start menu search bar. This will bring up a list of your system’s hardware, and once you figure out what you need to upgrade, or if you just want to build a system from scratch, the rest is pretty easy.

For our VR-ready build, we looked at processors with four or more cores (Intel over 3.3GHz, AMD over 3.9GHz), 8GB of RAM, and video cards with 4GB of memory or more and a core clock close to or over 1GHz. We also used a small solid-state drive for storage.

Our cheap and stable build

Here is what we used in our DIY virtual reality computer:

  • Processor: AMD FX 8350 4.0GHz eight-core

  • RAM:G.SKILL Ripjaws Series8GBDDR3-1600

  • Video card: AMD Radeon R9 390 Sapphire Nitro

  • Storage: Kingston 120GB solid-state drive

  • Motherboard: MSI 970 Gaming

  • Power supply: Corsair CX600M 600W

This build cost us $767, though that doesn’t include a Windows 10 license, which costs about $80 (or $119 direct from Microsoft). The total costhere at PC Part Pickeris about $815 (though part costs fluctuate) and that does include a copy of Windows 10 64-bit and a standard ATX-size case. If you already have a copy of Windows the price PC Part Picker price would bearound $735.

Our custom VR computer standing next to an open Alienware Area 51

Image: keith hopkin/mashable

If you’re starting completely from scratch, keep in mind that you’ll also need a monitor, keyboard and mouse, which will bump up the total computer cost to about $950 depending on the quality of your peripherals. (Of course, don’t forget the cost of the headsets themselves.)

Right off the bat, if you avoid Intel processors and Nvidia video cards, youre going to be saving a nice chunk of money. While AMDs processor architectures arent as tight as Intels, they are a whole lot cheaper and still pretty comparable with Intels recent Core i5s and i7s. Dollar for dollar, youll also save a lot by going for AMD video cards over Nvidia unless you want to go super high-end, but be prepared to pay.

Comparing to retail builds

Out of Oculus’ VR-approved desktop computers, Dell’s XPS 8900 is the most affordable and least impressive at $1,200 (with the Oculus included). It has 8GB of RAM, a Core i5 processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 video card and a 1TB hard drive. While it’s equal in RAM to our custom build, its processor and video card fall short.

Lets jump up to theAsus G20 desktop, which will cost you $1,950, $1,450 without the Rift. The big upgrades in this model are double the RAM at 16GB and a 512GB solid-state drive instead of a 1TB hard drive. While the solid state has less space, it runs a lot faster than your standard hard drive. This build has more RAM and a quite a bit more storage than our custom build, but still falls behind performance-wise with a baseline processor and video card.

A more upgraded Asus G20 bundle costs $2,200, which will net you a Core i7 processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 video card and 1TB hard drive space on top of a 256GB solid state drive. That’s a step up from the custom build, but with Nvidia’s new 1000-series video cards coming out soon, you could build an identical computer for a lot less money.

The intense-looking Asus G20

Image: asus

The highest end bundle is with the Alienware Area 51, which admittedly isnt much better than the upgraded Asus G20. The Area 51 drops down to a 128GB solid-state drive, but it includes 2TB of hard-drive space for an overall storage boost, an upgraded six-core i7 processor and liquid cooling. For these upgrades, youll be looking at a $3,150 bundle. It’s super beefy but super expensive, and you could build something identical to that for less than $1,500.

If, after reading this, you don’t think building a PC is for you, I’d go with the upgraded Asus G20, which will get you the best and longest-lasting performance for your dollar.

But how exactly does our Frankenstein PC handle VR compared to the beast of the Alienware Area 51? Stay tuned to Mashablefor that future story.

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Originally found athttp://mashable.com/